Monthly Archives: June 2018

Are You a Realist or a Romantic For Your Relationship

In romantic relationships, people are generally either realists or romantics. Very few people describe themselves as endowed with both a romantic spirit and a realist’s practicality. At the same time, many men and women search for relationships that are both exciting and stable, passionate and long-lasting. Yet, as many of us can attest, finding and sustaining this kind of a romantic relationship is hard. It requires partners learn to tolerate and cultivate both romantic and realistic parts of their own personalities.

Realists

Realists try to accept other people as they are, without insisting on improvement. They focus on making their relationships run smoothly and do not demand or crave fireworks. As a result, their romantic life tends to be stable and predictable, yet not particularly passionate or exciting.

My client Valerie is a realist. She grew up with a depressed, emotionally withdrawn father and now looks for closeness and connection in her relationships with men. At the same time, her love affairs lack spontaneity and excitement. Emotional stability and sexual monotony eclipse experimentation and surprise.

But Valerie complains that her romantic relationships become dull. And she blames her boyfriend for their joyless, lackluster romantic experiences. What she doesn’t realize is how precious this stability is to her—even when it borders on boredom.

Romantics

By contrast, romantics value and pursue spontaneity and surprise. Some romantics are so afraid of boredom and repetition that they refuse to commit to one person. Thomas, a gay man in his thirties, prides himself on being an incorrigible romantic. His ideal partner is a charming intellectual with the body of a fitness model, and he refuses to settle for anybody less than his fantasy man.  Romantic love, he states, should not be sullied by bickering about household chores. Unfortunately, that perfect relationship remains a figment of Thomas’s imagination and he struggles with loneliness.

Reconciling reality and fantasy

People often realize it would be a good idea to keep one foot in reality and the other in romantic fantasy. But how do you do that?

Whether you are a romantic or a realist, it’s tempting to look for a partner whose personal qualities complement your own.  However, the same traits that were attractive in the beginning: “she was so fun and romantic” or “he seemed so grounded and reliable” can become the source of tension and frustration as time goes on.

Valerie and Thomas both turned to therapy to make sense of this struggle. I invited them both to examine their roles in romantic encounters; roles often outside of their conscious awareness. As they explored their habitual–and often overlooked–ways of thinking about the romantic and realistic traits in themselves and their partners, I asked them to consider the following:

  • Explore the romantic and realistic streaks in your personality both as gifts and potential limitations. For instance, idealizing your lover’s beauty and cleverness can make a romantic relationship more exciting and less likely to become boring. However, you may be ignoring red flags, such as a partner’s inability to make or keep commitments.
  • There is always a tension between the need for routine and stability on the one hand, and desire for surprise and spontaneity on the other. The same romantic or realistic traits that are so attractive in a partner at the beginning of a relationship can become the most bothersome as time goes on.
  • Cultivate traits that might not come naturally. Valerie has given herself permission to be less serious and act with more spontaneity. Similarly, Thomas is coming to terms with the fact that sexual passion without commitment has its limitations.   Along the way, they are gradually learning to tolerate and appreciate the unavoidable clashes between fantasy and reality, love and desire.

As they become more appreciative and accepting of the inescapable tensions between reality and romance, Valerie and Thomas experience their new romantic involvements as both exciting and grounding, intriguing and intimate.

Info Caregiving and Complicated Family Dynamics

Caregiving for an aging, ill parent is a common, though generally gruesome, experience. And, witnessing and experiencing family violence is also a painfully common reality. As a culture, we have slowly learned to be able to talk more about each phenomenon thus removing some of the pain, isolation, stigma and turmoil of each. Yet, nowhere do we really talk deeply about what it means to care for an aging and ill parent who also happens to have been an abuser.

According to The National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP (2009), 65.7 million caregivers make up 29% of the U.S. adult population providing care to someone who is ill, disabled or aged. The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that 43.5 million of adult family caregivers care for someone 50+ years of age and 14.9 million care for someone who has Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia (2012). And, caregiving is gendered: an estimated 66% of caregivers are female.

So, what about caregiving that takes place amidst complicated family dynamics such as abuse and control? It is important to acknowledge how common family violence is. Most acts of domestic violence go unreported so the statistics on this are even harder to decipher. One in four women report having experienced domestic violence. Two million injuries and 1,300 deaths are caused each year as a result of domestic violence, and more than three million children in the United States witness domestic violence in their homes every year (National Coalition Against Domestic Violence 2015).

It’s one thing to know the prevalence of these issues; it’s another thing when the magnitude of it all hits home. My adoring and abusive dad was very sick for almost eight years, and this gave me time to reflect on and wrestle with the complexity of his behavior and personality and the effects it had on me. As an only child with parents who split up very late in life, in their sixties and seventies, I was enmeshed in other complicated ways of caring for my dad after the divorce.

It was in the context of caregiving and writing about it that I have had to think about my resistance—to my dad’s abuse, his affection, his illnesses, and ultimately his death, and I have also had to think about all the things that drew me close to him—to his abuse, his affection, his illnesses and his death. Yes, precisely the same things that repelled me had gravitational pull.

Family violence is a dynamic process, not an event, that takes varying shapes and forms, often over years, and it can be lodged in caregiving. Caregiving, also a process and not an event, can be lodged in a context of family violence.

Years ago, I shared with a colleague in film studies my idea for writing a book about these intertwined phenomena, and he said, “I can imagine if it were a film, the trailer would be, ‘Caring for the parent who didn’t care for us.’” It surely sounded like a slick line. Over the years of describing this project to others, they have summed it up much the same way as my colleague, attempting to package it neatly and absolutely, with not much gray area. It’s as though people interpret that there is care, and then there’s the absence of care.

But, the thing is, that rendering is less than truthful. I wanted to learn to care well and lovingly for my dad in spite of, and maybe even because of, his history of abuse.

Caregiving and family violence are each predicated on dimensions of ambivalence. Of what it means to stand on a precipice of love and fear. And what it means to navigate betweenforgiveness and blame, care and disregard, and resilience and despair.  It’s about figuring out how we might come to live our own lives better in and through grief and healing.

For me, healing from abuse has been multi-pronged—besides therapy which I think is profoundly useful, I have found healing through teaching and researching about family violence, counseling abusers, working with survivors, and writing about it. But, far and away, the most significant healing has occurred for me in two ways—first, perhaps surprisingly, actually being nestled in the uncomfortable, painful and intimate caregiving relationship with my dad— and then writing about that creatively in memoir. I never would have imagined that healing from abuse could have occurred in the context of caregiving, but for me, it did.

A childhood friend told me that the most meaningful advice I had given him when he was caring for his father with dementia was to make new memories. Both caregiving relationships and painful family dynamics present us with this redemptive, healing challenge.

Eight Signs You’re a Romantic Introvert

Introversion can be defined as “the tendency of being predominantly interested in one’s own mental life.”[1] When it comes to matters of the heart, an introvert may think, act, and communicate in ways that are different than those who are moreextroverted. Sometimes her or his intentions are misunderstood, or overlooked.

Here are eight signs that you may be a romantically inclined introvert, excerpted from my book: “Relationship Communication Success for Introverts.” Although this article focuses primarily on dating and courtship, many of the ideas examined below apply to committed romantic relationships as well.

Of course, each individual is unique, and some introverts many exhibit few or none of these signs. Nevertheless, the characteristics identified below are consistent with multiple studies and writings on the topic of introversion.[2][3][4][5][6] Many introverts are likely to have at least a number of the following traits:

1.   Looking to Meet “The One”    

Introverts often adopt a more thoughtful, introspective approach to courtship, and tend to take romantic relationships seriously, often from the outset. Instead of “flirting around,” “casually dating,” or “playing the field,” many introverts focus primarily on finding “the one” partner who is right for her or him, and then settling down. For introverts, the “game” of courtship and dating involving multiple prospects is often tiresome. When someone who may be the right partner appears, and a committed relationship forged, dating rituals are quickly left behind with a sigh of relief.

2.   Seeking Trust and Dependability in a Mate

Many introverts look for reliability from relationships in general, and romantic partnership in particular. Reliability, along with trust, fulfill the core needs of many introverts: safety and security for the more emotionally oriented, and predictability for the more analytically oriented.[6] Most introverts, of course, seek a combination of all of these needs.

To be sure, many extroverts desire safety, security and predictability from a partner as well. However, instead of being primary and central needs, they are more likely part of a mix of other qualities sought by extroverts (especially during courtship) such as fun-loving, spontaneity, adventuresome, social savvy, charisma, etc.

3.   In Courtship, Hinting and Hoping to Get Noticed

When I was young, one of the adult tutors who volunteered at my school was an intelligent but quiet man. Years later, I learned that he was romantically interested in one of the teachers. But instead of expressing himself directly, he hoped to catch her attention with his volunteer work, which lasted for quite some time.

Some introverts express their romantic interest in a higher context manner, which simply means that they tend to hint, imply, or put themselves in an opportune situation, and hope to get noticed.[7] An introvert may be active in the hinting and positioning, but passive in waiting for the romantic prospect to take notice and respond.

Of course, this indirect approach to courtship may or may not yield desired results, and could generate mixed-messages and misunderstanding. For some romantic introverts, this is a source of hidden longing, disappointment, and heartache.

4.   Spending Time Thinking or Reflecting About Love

Being more introspective by nature, many introverts spend time thinking and reflecting about romantic relationships, far more so than their extroverted counterparts, which tend to focus more on action. This analytical process may include the period prior to dating, when one contemplates the qualities of an ideal mate, as well as during courtship, when chemistry and compatibility of the relationship are evaluated closely (more on this in point number eight).

5.   May Enjoy Fantasizing About Romance

Since research suggests that certain introverts tend to be fantasy prone, it is not surprising this characteristic applies to romantic fantasies as well. Some introverts enjoy fantasizing about, or “losing oneself” in romance, whether the fantasy is based on a real life scenario or fiction. This is especially true for introverts who are more emotionally oriented, and may apply to some cerebral introverts as well. Forms of fantasy engagement may include, and are not limited to reading, writing, entertainment viewing, internet surfing, gaming, art making, or just regular daydreaming.

From romantic interludes to sexual fantasies, these are parts of the rich and multi-faceted inner world of the introvert.

6.   Prefer to “Take it Slow” in Courtship

Once an introvert begins to date a romantic prospect, she or he may prefer the relationship to progress slowly but steadily. In many ways, this is healthy and plays to the introvert’s strengths: The opportunity to get to know the partner better, and observe whether the relationship will progress satisfactorily over time. For some introverts, a fast and intense romance – like loud noise and bright lights – can feel overwhelming. It’s better to take things slowly and steadily, in order to forge a more reliable relationship.

7.   Even in a Happy Relationship, Need Time to Recharge

For many introverts, even when they’re in a satisfactory romantic partnership, it is still important to have alone time, both to recharge one’s batteries, and reflect on the progress of the relationship. For introverts, this is an important aspect of relational health, as having “downtime” provides the inner retreat necessary to reorganize and rejuvenate, before reaching out again.

8.   Processing What Went “Right” or “Wrong” After a Date or Dispute 

During courtship, it’s natural to want to process details of a positive or negative romantic outing after the experience, and consider what might have gone “right” or “wrong.” Both extroverts and introverts do this. However, whereas an extrovert may do so publicly, often as a form of socialization with others, introverts tend to do this either quietly within oneself, or privately with one or two confidants. In some cases, an introvert may risk over-analyzing a relationship. However, since most introverts prefer to observe and reflect before they speak and act, this internal process is an important tool to help make better sense of, and feel more at ease with navigating a relationship.

The Time When Your Teenager’s “In Love”

There was this song that came out when I was 13 years old.  It was by Dan Folgelberg, and I played it over and over again on my Pioneer turntable.  It went like this:

“Longer than there’s been fishes in the ocean.  Higher than any bird every flew.  Longer than there’s been stars up in the heavens.  I’ve been in love with you.”

I learned the chords on my guitar.  I hummed it while I rode my bike to and from school.  I mouthed the words as I shaved the blond peach-fuzz that was sprouting where a mustache might some day take hold.  I was smitten by this song.

The way I figured it, there were any of a number of girls in my 7th grade class whom I could easily imagine entirely and without any conflict whatsoever loving until the end of time.

Isn’t that funny?  I could totally picture, at the pudgy age of 13, falling utterly and “I-don’t-give-a damn-who-knows- it” in love with about 30 different girls.  My love would be absolute and uncompromising, just like in the Dan Folgelberg song.  It just didn’t matter that much to me which girl I’d be in love with.  It was like any girl would do.

I was in love with the idea of my being in love.

Here’s another embarrassing revelation:  I used to have this thought-experiment that I’d do with my friends when we were at camp. If, and here you just insert the name of any girl who has currently kidnapped your ability to be rational, if that girl was with you, on the shores of a lake like the one we had at camp, under the pine trees and staring at the reflection of the full moon as it painted a silver streak across the water, and if the night were just a little bit chilly, and if we both were startled and tickled to hear the lonesome call of a midnight loon, then there was no earthly way that either of us would be able to resist making out that night.  It was as if my friends and I figured that there were these settings, these songs, these perfect scenarios, where the potential for romance, the opportunity to kiss someone, was among the most fundamental laws of nature.

You can see that Valentines Day for me, in my dreams, was near epic.

Now I hope I’m a bit wiser, and without question I’m a lot older, but still I have to admit that this love thing doesn’t always add up.  I don’t even think it’s supposed to.  If it added up, there’d be no Shakespeare or slow dances or gushy texts that today’s teens wish they hadn’t sent.  I mean, think of Romeo and Juliet.  For goodness sakes, they just met!  And they’re going to die for each other?  That’s how crazy things can get.

Nevertheless, in honor of Valentine’s Day, and because these elusive subjects are kind of my job, I’d like to try and tackle love.  I harbor no illusions.   I don’t think I’m likely to bring any kind of grand profundity to understanding this funky emotional dalliance.  Love just plain doesn’t make sense a lot of the time, and indeed, much of the suffering that comes into my office is about the stubborn unwillingness to accept this painful realization.

“Help me,” kids say, “to understand why all this has happened.  Why did it feel so totally right and then become so horribly wrong?  Why were we so sure, after we tried on each other’s glasses and found that we seemed to share the same prescriptions, that we had found a soul mate?  And why, WHY, does it hurt so much now that it’s over?”

I can’t really answer that question except to say that it just does.  It hurts.

This stuff doesn’t lend itself to explanation.  It never has.  In fact, as parents we get ourselves into trouble when we try to explain this cliche to our kids.  More on that in a bit, but first, let’s look at the research.

To be sure, there are some pretty cool findings.  Much of the academic literature is categorized under the term Affiliative Behavior.  For example, there are lots of studies that suggest that the capacity to solve disagreements with a loved one improves the longer you’re together.  Well, duh, you might say.  You might reasonably conclude that the capacity to resolve disagreements with your romantic interest HAS to improve with time or else the relationship fizzles and dies.  That’s kind of true, but that’s not the punch line.  It turns out that many people in the early fazes of romance, what people who study love call “romantic attraction”, have virtually no disagreements.  It is as if the two people who are together are in synch with the universe.  The disagreements come later, after the “romantic attraction” progresses towards “romantic attachment.”  That’s when the two people who thought they were amazingly in synch find out that they have disagreements.  There’s even data to suggest that the you can present people who have just fallen for each other with clear examples of where they powerfully disagree, and it’s not just that they choose to ignore these factors.  It’s as if these factors never even existed in the first place.

If you think about the exquisite pain of a dissolved relationship, the notion of being in synch and then jarringly out of synch makes sense.  Being shoved back into the world of individual differences is soul crushing.  It’s like losing a piece of yourself, because for that brief, early period of romantic attraction, you lose track of where you end and of where the other person begins.  We shrinks could try and warn kids about some of this, but it wouldn’t’ do any good.  It’s in our species’ DNA to romantically merge.

Adults, and especially parents, play a super-important role in all of this.  There are studies that measure kids’ response to their parents’ attachment to each other and to the kids themselves. You can even measure these attachments by assessing in parents and kids the content of a brain chemical called oxytocin.  Though this is way oversimplified, it turns out that the more oxytocin you see for parents in their own relationships and the more oxytocin you see in parent-child relationships, the more likely it is that the kids will themselves enjoy relationships characterized by longevity and the capacity to withstand conflict.  In short, if parents demonstrate how to get along with themselves and with their kids, then their kids are measurably better at getting along romantically.

Still, parents quite understandably might feel flummoxed when they see their own kids stagger from the fickle tricks of Cupid’s arrows. If your teen is head over heels for someone, don’t spoil it and tell your little lovebird that it isn’t love.  First of all, that’s kind of missing the point.  This is a crush.  I’ve always thought that we call it a crush because that head over heels feeling literally has the capacity to be soul crushing.  Anything that powerful isn’t about to yield to mere logic.  If you tell your teen that he’s not in love, or if you insist that her love isn’t real, you probably won’t start an argument. Your son or daughter will just think you’re talking nonsense. Then they’ll listen to whatever their version of the Dan Folgelberg song is and dance out of the room.

Parents, when your teen is in the midst of all this, just hold on to the side of that ancient roller coaster.  Remember that your kid has his or her hands in the air.  The rollercoaster is gaining speed, and the ride, by definition, is going to end.  You want to be good and steady if and when things go south.

Because, as a rule, most teen romances go south.  That’s not a tragedy.  That’s the way of the world.  Teens are practicing romance, and your job as parents is to be there to pick up the pieces and put things back together again.  That’s not the same thing as raining on the parade.  If that break-up occurs, don’t try to explain it.  I know this is shrinky (I’m a shrink, after all), but go with the feeling and not the logic.

Don’t say: “Listen, son, of course you broke up.  This is just a teen romance.”

Say something more like: “I remember when I broke up with my girlfriend.  It hurt like hell.  Let me know if you want to talk about it.”

And then watch your child for signs of not bouncing back. Remember that most of us survived that heartbreak, but also know that this is a very vulnerable time.  Check in, empathize, and be available.  That’s the best you can do, and that’s actually pretty awesome.  It is one of the most wonderful and painful aspects of being a parent.  That’s what gets the oxytocin flowing for the next go-around.

It’s quite a ride, this love thing.  It just doesn’t make all that much sense, but then, think back to that first crush.  Did it ever make sense?

Valentine Day

Valentine’s day may have its origins in the Lupercalia, an ancient Roman, and possibly pre-Roman, pastoral festival. The Lupercalia were celebrated on the ides of February, and subsumed the spring cleansing ritual of Februa, which gives the month of February its name. By purifying the city and purging it of evil spirits, the Lupercalia brought health and fertility. Priests sacrificed a goat and a dog to the god Lupercus, whose image, nude but for the girdle of a goatskin, stood in the Lupercal, the cave in which a she-wolf (lupa) suckled Romulus and Remus, the mythical founders of Rome. Lupercus is associated with Faunus, the Roman equivalent of Pan, the Greek god of the wild.

The origins of St Valentine (or Valentinus, meaning ‘strength’) are so obscure that, in 1969, the Catholic Church removed him from the General Roman (liturgical) Calendar. There are at least three early Christian saints by the name of Valentinus. One was a priest in Rome, the second was a bishop in Terni, and the third was martyred in Africa. The flower-crowned skull of one of the first two Valentines can be venerated in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Rome. In 496, Pope Gelasius I established St Valentine’s February 14th feast day, perhaps to replace or Christianize the rowdy Lupercalia. St Valentine, usually represented with birds and roses, became the Patron Saint of courtly love, lovers, affianced couples, and happy marriages, and also beekeepers, epilepsy, fainting, and plague, among others.

Over time, legends grew around the figure of St Valentine. According to one prominent legend, he was a priest who attracted the opprobrium of Emperor Claudius II. Believing that bachelors make better soldiers, Claudius prohibited marriage for young men, but Valentine continued to marry them, and, when challenged, attempted to convert Claudius to Christianity. To punish him for his insolence, Claudius ordered that he be beaten, stoned, and beheaded. While in prison awaiting his ordeal, Valentine fell in love, or made friends, with Julia, the blind daughter of his gaoler Asterius, and sent her secret letters signed ‘from your Valentine’. He restored Julia’s sight, and, beholding this miracle, Asterius converted to Christianity.

It is not until the epoch of courtly love in the Middle Ages that the feast of St Valentine became linked with romantic love. The earliest evidence of this association is fromParlement of Foules (1382), a poem by Chaucer to honour the first anniversary of the engagement of Richard II and Anne of Bohemia: ‘For this was on St Valentine’s Day (seynt Volantynys days), When every bird/bride (byrd) cometh there to choose his mate.’ In England, birds do not start mating in mid-February, but by the Julian calendar in use in Chaucer’s time, 14th February would have fallen on what is now 23rd February. The oldest known valentine is a rondeau (a mediaeval verse form) to his wife from Charles, Duke of Orléans, who had been captured at the Battle of Agincourt (1415) and locked up in the Tower of London: Je suis desja d’amour tanné, Ma tres douce Valentinée…

Valentine’s Day as a romantic holiday is one of the several things that Shakespeare helped to popularise, with these lines in Hamlet spoken by Ophelia: ‘To-morrow is Saint Valentine’s day, All in the morning betime, And I a maid at your window, To be your Valentine.’ By the 18th century, gift-giving and exchanging cards made of lace and ribbon had become commonplace in England. In the 19th century, the custom spread throughout the English-speaking world, and then, in the later 20th century, well beyond. Today, Americans spend some 30 billion dollars a year celebrating Valentine’s Day, which, after Christmas, has become the most popular card-sending holiday. Women buy 85% of all Valentine’s Day cards, but men buy over 70% of flowers and, according to the National Retail Federation, fork out twice as much overall!

Here Tips for Your Wedding Photoshoot

You think: “Photo Shoot, whoopee!” Or do you just think: “Photo-shoot … meh”. What your response may be: Let’s look at the photo shoot in perspective. It is by no means the most important part of the day! It is not even the most important part of the wedding photography! A picture of your mother with a tear or the laughter of your brother, after 10, 20, 50 years are more valuable. It’s about the stories, the moments, the little spontaneous things that are almost invisible during big moments. These pictures are more important than the one picture of you in that beautiful forest with a perfect composition.

TRUE?
Yet, if you guys are so nicely dressed, it’s nice to have photos showing well how you look. Of course to have a little fun. Sorry, no one could give a complete list of all the beautiful places in your country, but your photographers can see an area which is eligible and how he can shinen you! Your photographer will therefore always considered doing.

HOW LONG?
How long does such a shoot, is quite different, but most couples choose to one and a half hour schedule (excluding travel). Of course they all are open to a shorter (or longer) photo shoot, but your photographer know experience that he can shoot a nice variety of photos at this time without the need to rush.
WHEN?

You meet for the first time during the ceremony? In that case, it is of course not possible to place the photo shoot for the ceremony. No problem! You can then immediately after the ceremony or getaway during the reception slip to take nice pictures. Remember, you think you during that time not to socialize with your guests and bubbling. Many find obviously unfortunate, so most couples therefore choose to shoot a place where you do not have to travel far. Usually that is so in and around the wedding venue.

If on the other hand you have a meeting before the ceremony begins, it gives more opportunities for the photo shoot. It is then not necessary to let the guests only and Wedding photographer Washington DC, Virginia Maryland are more flexible in choosing a cool place.

Regardless of when you meet for the first time during the wedding: it is still possible to insert a brief photo opportunity during the so-called “golden hour”. So they can at the end of the dinner a bit secretly go out for some pictures during a beautiful sunset. And you guessed it: this is somewhat dependent on the weather.