Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Love & Modern Technology

Some new stats were recently released, and I have to say they leave me greatly concerned about our society's ability to maintain healthy, loving relationships. The two that give me the most pause are the following: (1) 15% of the people surveyed said that they would rather give up sex than go without their iphones for a weekend. (2) 65% said they wouldn't be able to live without their iphone, while another 1% said they couldn't live without Facebook. Seriously?

Don't get me wrong, I embrace modern technology and all it has to offer to help us professionally or facilitate our personal connections-- but to actually feel like you can't live without your phone for a weekend or that you'd prefer the company of some gadget over your partner is ridiculous. Clearly this instrument is filling a void that isn't actually being addressed. To develop true personal connections, you need to make time for that person and show them that they are a priority in your life. No one I know has ESP, so unless you actually reach out and tell that person that you are thinking about them, wondering how they are doing, and that you want to see them-- how is someone supposed to know that they rank in your life?

Checking in with a "hey" text is a start, I suppose. But so much can get lost in translation when you rely on written communications. I want to hear the tone in someone's voice-- and nothing beats seeing the person actually smile or laugh in response to something you've said or embrace you when you walk through the door. As I said last night in a panel discussion, love is like a plant-- you need to water it and give it sunlight. If you don't, it will die. I wish I'd come up with this notion myself, but actually it was one of my mental health colleagues that told me that. Hopefully by sharing this idea, you guys will remember to use your gadgets wisely to stay connected, but don't lose sight of the need to put the electronics away and give your loved ones undivided attention-- a good partnership stems from a couple's ability to make the other one feel special. There isn't an ap for that!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Striking a Balance Together

This weekend, I had the pleasure of attending a beautiful wedding on Maryland's Eastern shore. It was a second wedding for both bride and groom, and the rabbi did a lovely job of pointing out the strengths that they each brings to this new union. Their styles are indeed different-- the groom is more of a strong, quiet type, while the bride is much more outgoing, assertive and independant. The message we were all left with was that some of the best couples learn to play off their different strengths and balance each other out. That is so true, from my what I have gleaned from the successful couples I know, as well as my own experience. When I'm with someone that is at least on par with my competitive, aggressive and opinionated nature, unfortuately if an argument arises, it quickly can become a battle of wits and wills. Even after all my training as a mediator and Collaborative Professional, I have my moments, and so I recognize that I am far better suited with someone that can remain calm and even-keeled. Realizing that we will get into fights, I continue to look for resources we can all use to reminder us how to resolve conflict in constructive ways. Luckily there are a lot of resources out there, and it's no secret that Dr. Gottman is among my favorite, but this week I've been reading "Focus on Forever," which is an AAML (American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers) publication. It is a quick read and provies tips for good listening and avoiding the "Lover's Panic," which is when you start to blow things out of proportion and believe you've made the wrong life choice in a partner. There are also recommendations for promoting loving negotiations and good workbook exercises you can do with your spouse/partner to gain a greater understanding of one another. Finally, there is a section on how you should discuss money, which is the topic I get to cover in tomorrow's lecture at the University Club in DC. The best thing it says in this book is that money issues are never really the issue-- it is more about control, security, self-esteem and love. In the end, if we are ever going to make an attempt at a life "happily ever after" we have to accept that conflict is bound to come up along the way. Only by communicating effectively will you truly understand one another and strike that difficult balance between my time, your time and our time. The art of compromise, saying I'm sorry, realizing that your partner cannot meet 100% of your needs, and that you need to pick your battles are all lessons you glean over time. It takes great insight to accept that happiness is not contingent on anyone else, but rather that you are responsbile for finding your own joy. The right mate is someone that accepts all these realities and is committed to building a solid foundation, working through whatever issues may come up, and yet despite all of life's challenges remains an eternal optimist that still believes in happily ever after.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Father's Day, Redefined

For years I dreaded Father's Day. Everyone else I knew had some reason to celebrate, except me. I knew nothing about my dad, and I always just wondered stupid things like whether I looked like anyone from his side of the family, if anyone had eyes similar to mine, did I inherit any of his traits... Basic things that so many of my friends took for granted. Without any pictures or stories to glean this information from, I was left wondering for many, many years-- until now.

This past weekend, I got to enjoy my first Father's Day with my dad, who came to DC for the Fancy Food Show. Many of my friends think of me as someone who dares to dream big-- yet never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would get to spend Father's Day with my own father, and now that we have had a little over a year to get comfortable with one another, the pictures and stories I always craved are finally being shared with me. Turns out, both physically and in my personality, I seem to have a strong resemblance to my paternal grandmother. I've chased many kites in my life, but I have to say the sweetest one was reconnecting with my dad, who has finally helped me piece together this ridiculous puzzle from my past. In record time, we have made major progress in getting to know and understand one another, but definitely this weekend was a true turning point for us. To see him in action, in his element, was truly a sight to behold. I am so proud of him, and so happy to have the opportunity to hear his pearls of wisdom.

The tears from last year are now dried up, and we are able to just laugh at the funny twists and turns that our lives have taken to get us to this point. I hope that no one else ever has to go through what I went through before they could enjoy a simple Father's Day celebration. People need to understand that all children crave to know their makers and understand their family's story. Regardless of whether a family stays together in one house, blood ties will remain, and it is important to promote a connection with both parents and extended family whenever possible, excluding extreme circumstances with safety concerns.

 Re-negotiating family ties are never easy, but those who do it carefully and gracefully with the child's interest at heart, do reap the greatest rewards. It is not easy for some people to see this at the time of a divorce, but someone can be a crappy spouse and still be a good parent. Having realistic expectations is also key-- some dads may not be able to make it to every baseball or soccer game; they may not be able to share 50/50 custody; they may not even be capable of holding down a job and paying regular support. Kids don't need to believe that their dad is Superman, but just knowing who gave you life and being able to understand a bit about your maker in itself is priceless.

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Reluctant Poster Child of Divorce

All I ever wanted in my personal life was to experience an intact family. My parents never married, and it took me 38 years to finally find and reconnect with my father. My own marriage ended in divorce 7 years ago, and it took me a very long time to get over that loss-- even though I am by most people's perspective considered an expert in the field as a divorce lawyer. There are many factors that led to my slow recovery from this major setback in my personal life, but I eventually learned to channel that pain into something useful through my writings and lectures. Finally, after 14 years of watching so many families fall apart, including my own, I get the ultimate opportunity to make things right-- I get my own t.v. show to help families deal with a variety of issues by having guests come to talk about the most common problems that we all may face in life. I never intended to be the poster child of divorce, but sometimes life has a funny way of making things happen for a reason, and I find myself in the strange position of being able to look back now and connect the dots. My career as a national gymnast made me goal-oriented and fearless; my academic years taught me the importance of sharing our gifts and ideas; my professional years have taught me that even the most brilliant people struggle with personal relationships, and it is truly up to each individual to define his/her own success. If I cannot help others improve their lives with all the information I have gathered over the last 14 years while guiding families through difficult transitions, then in my opinion, I will have failed all those that helped to create me. Every little story, journey or idea that anyone shared with me throughout these years has played a part in getting me to the point where I can comment on radio, tv, books or lectures about the importance of preserving our relationships as best we can-- even if sometimes we cannot all continue to live under one roof. Many times, I have heard people say that they have not told a soul about the fact that they are getting divorced. This is truly the most non-sensical thing to me-- it is precisely when your life is falling apart that you need to reach out to your friends and family the most. Your support system is meant to be there during these times of need, and divorce should no longer be seen as something shameful. It happens to the best of us, and maybe it needs to happen in order to make us a little more human, a little more humble, and maybe a little bit wiser or kinder. I wish I could have gotten to the point I am now without having experienced so much pain, but I now understand that it never could have happened any other way.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Importance of Making Lemonade Together

In law school, most of us had this stupid idea that we were meant to work hard at firm jobs, and 7-9 years later, we would make partners at which point life would get so much easier. Oh to be young and naive once again... for those of us that have now been out for 14 or more years, it's like being Neo from the Matrix and all of the sudden realizing the picture we had been painted was all just a scam.

So here is the real deal-- firm jobs are actually super hard to find; getting on partner track is even harder. Once you get there, if you last (and about 40% will not) you then have to buy into the partnership-- with no guarantee as to whether the firm will last, the kind of business it will continue to generate, etc. This is why so many lawyers are disenchanted with their career choices, and it is now crystal clear to me why so many suffer from anxiety, stress and/or depression. What was once a solid career choice is no longer a profession, it's become for most a normal business focused on the bottom line.

Because divorce does not discriminate, I have also learned that most people in other fields are in the same predicament at jobs with no guarantees-- bankers, realtors, sales people are mainly on commission. Doctors, therapists, hair dressers and other service providers are also entirely relying on their clients paying for their services. Those that are true W-2 employees are rare, and even they have to worry about their job security in this precarious economy. The only ones in fact that are the most stable are government employees and educators at higher learning institutions. This truly helps explain why I see so many people stressed out and stretched thin financially these days.

To add to all these wows, the DC Area is a particularly tough place to call home. Many have moved here for job opportunities or to puruse a higher degree, and they have very little family support near by. Given the transient nature of this area, friends come and go, and so many people I know focus on work to the exclusion of so much else. I accept all these realities, and routinely suggest good coping mechanisms to others to help deal with all these stressful factors, but the one I really want to emphasize the most is the need to choose a partner wisely. A good partner is not just someone who will be with you for the fun times. We can all have fun during the honeymoon phase in a relationship, but to truly succeed in life, you guys need to be able to weather both highs and lows togethers.

Everyone is always happy when things are going splendidly, and who doesn't want to be around the girl who is the life of the party? But what happens when s#%t hits the fan? It will happen eventually, and what I like to find out sooner rather than later is what happens when I have an off day? How will that person react when I don't meet their exact expectations? When plans fall apart- does your partner have a meltdown or help you come up with some alternative solutions? If you can't count on someone on a low day, you really need to think carefully about the long-term potential of that relationship. As one of my dear friends from high school recently pointed out, the best partners (and ones that last) are those that help you make lemonade out of lemons.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Recognize Your Gifts, Use Them Wisely

Lots of people ask me what they can do versus what they should do-- and as most people have gathered from my public service announcements lately, I have really grown tired of the games after hearing some of the worst divorce stories ever over the past 13 years. The fact is that there are over 311 Million people in the U.S., but only about 1.2 Million licensed and actively practicing lawyers. Over 40% will leave private sector by the time they reach my level, leaving very few of us "in the game." Many of my female colleagues will bow out of the race, for a variety of reasons-- although many of my male peers like to just say that, "they self-select out." Well, I have chosen not to opt out, but that doesn't mean I have to play by the old school rules either. Thanks to modern media, ideas can spread quickly. Tonight, I get to share some of my thoughts on family law issues for Money Matters, which airs on Montgomery County Cable and goes live online soon afterwards. On a regular basis, I also get to go on Sirius XM and discuss current family law issues. Later this month, I will present two webinars for my alma maters Georgetown and GWU. None of these endeavors are paid, but the joy I get from helping others understand complex issues is like no other. The fact is I have come to realize that my knowledge is a gift, and it is not one I feel like using as a weapon. Hopefully, together we can bring out each other's gifts and inspire each other to use them wisely.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Why Do Some Girls Love the Bad-Boy Types?

This topic has come up a lot lately, so as the Carrie Bradshaw of the divorce world, I guess I feel compelled to shed some more light on this topic. (1) Some people date these problem accumulaters because they like feeling needed. I suggest getting a job that fulfills this role and finding someone more put together to enjoy your down time, otherwise you will never have any down time. (2) Some people go for fixer-uppers either because they have self-esteem issues or they believe that someone who needs them, is less likely to leave them. Again, better to spend time working on yourself and then finding a good match instead of settling for a basket case that will drive you bonkers in the long run. (3) Many have the mistaken notion that they can change a person over time. Here is a newsflash- people are probably on their best behavior when dating; rarely does behavior improve after you all say "I do." (4) It is often said that opposites attract. Maybe, but I will just add that they rarely last. If you are not in sync with major core values, this is a recipe for disaster. (5) Sometimes, you just want to have fun and smart girls know they will never fall in love with a player. If this works for you, and you realize what you are doing, then great-- but just remember what they say about those that play with fire...

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Great Dates Don't Need to Be Expensive

This may come as a shocker, but as much as I love dressing up and going out to a nice restaurant, some of my best dates have actually been super low-key and cheap. I love just staying home and cooking together-- no need to rush, you won't be disappointed in your meal, and afterwards you have a plethora of movie options thanks to Netflix streaming or On-Demand.

On a beautiful day, for those of us fortunate enough to live in the DC Area, there are plenty of places to go for a hike surrounded by beautiful views. All you need are some crackers, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and some water, together with a great companion to have a good time. Kayaking along the Potomac is also relatively inexpensive, and most of the musuems in DC are free. Soon we'll have free movies outdoors, and many places have free concerts on certain evenings. Walking along the river, touring the monuments at night, or taking a garden tour with a trip to the gelato store as a treat, are all great ways to enjoy your partner's company without breaking the bank.

We all need to work on our love stories, and by no means do I mean to discard the importance of celebrating special occassions. What I do want to emphasize is that many great memories can be built enjoying simple activities. Those of us that are goal-oriented may need big-ticket prizes to look forward to every now and then, but we shouldn't expect them all the time. The best sign that a couple is on the right track is when they can have an honest discussion about finances, and when they can both agree to help one another lay low in order to save for something-- like a big trip, house, wedding or whatever the shared prize may be. If you can't stick to a budget and help each other out while dating-- it is only going to get worse.

Red flags should go up immediately when someone doesn't want to talk about finances at all, or insists on nothing but fine dining all the time. A high-maintenance date doesn't miraculously turn into a low-maintenance spouse. What is going to happen when the going gets tough? Cheap dates can be a ton of fun with the right person, and they are also a great way to screen for people that are for real and those that are not.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Divorce Does Not Discriminate

Over the past 14 years, I've learned so much about life from my clients-- and I think that is primarily because divorce impacts both genders of all races and socio-economic classes. No matter who you are, whether rich or poor, there is no way to truly insulate yourself from the possiblity of a divorce. 80% of Americans will marry, so approximately 40% of us will unfortunately have to deal with the sad reality that our vision of growing old "happily ever after" with our spouse has vanished. Putting aside the emotions, the economic reality of separating into two homes is never pleasant. There are issues of child and spousal support that need to be addressed, in addition to the division of assets and debt. These days, there is a lot of debt to divide and far less assets now that home values are depressed. When couples split, all of the sudden a once comfortable lifestyle may disappear when they have to maintain two separate households. Since I don't believe in sugar-coating things, I don't hide these realities from my clients, and in my opinion it is best to realize early on which battles are worth fighting and which ones are not. The only ones that truly gain from long, drawn out battles are the lawyers going to court. The fact is, however, very few people these days can afford protracted litigation, and that is precisely why I advocate so much for people to either mediate, collaborate or try private, cooperative negotiations outside of court. If you could see things from my perspective, you would perhaps understand why I believe that nasty divorces are dying out-- it is not necessarily because the pain isn't as intense now as it once was-- it is because the economic reality of our time dictates that fewer people can afford a court brawl. Our economic situation has impacted everyone across the board, it is just that not many people talk about it publicly. Again, it is because divorce does not discriminate that I can see how our economy impacts all sectors of our society, and if there is one good thing that has come out of the recession, perhaps it is that people are not taking divorce so lightly anymore-- and when they do decide to head down that path, hopefully it won't be a war path.