Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Fireworks & Buckets

Some of us are originally wired to put people into one of only two buckets-- they are either in or out; you either like them or you don't. Sadly, this leaves people with a very small margin of error, and as a result first impressions count for a tremendous amount. But as it turns out, some people can talk a great game in the beginning, and others need more time to warm up and share parts of themselves with others.

In dating, I found overtime that my in-or-out mentality was perhaps overly harsh, so eventually I created 3 buckets: (1) yes; (2) no; and (3) maybe. With this latter category, I learned to suspend judgment and not expect a "wow" moment right away. Letting go of the fireworks wasn't easy, but as more than one friend pointed out to me those with fireworks in the beginning had a proven tendency to burnout quickly. Under the "wow" spell, we tend to ignore some pretty major red-flags, so perhaps when you come to this realization, you may want to implement a different approach.

As a romantic, it may be really hard to let go of the love-at-first-sight scenario, but after my marriage blew up in flames, I decided I did not want to go through that again. So as it turns out, I have come to appreciate what they mean when they say the slow and steady burn is far more durable and enjoyable. Finding love the second time around, when you are older (and hopefully a bit wiser) is totally different from when you were in your 20's. The wow now stems from a different point of view-- I am far more touched by the little acts of kindness versus grandiose gestures. To be able to trust someone these days, when we are all so surrounded by temptation, and to be able to rely on the consistency of someone's love and affection creates a far deeper wow than any of the fireworks displays out there.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Making a Clean Break

In today's Washington Post there was an article about break-ups in the age of modern technology. I've obviously been involved with many break-ups professionally over the past 14 years, and I suppose personally over the last 20 years. Technology has definitely made it easier for many to limit their communications and rein in their emotions by sticking to text and email versus an actual phone call or in person meeting. Depending on how long you have been together, however, text or email won't always cut it, and if you have stuff you need to exchange, there is no avoiding the in-person meeting. Whatever method you use, I strongly encourage people to try and keep it civil-- short and sweet is often best. Not every email or text requires a response, and sometimes silence can say it all. If you have to say something, just remember that things can go viral fast, and there is that old adage "hell hath no fury like a woman scorned." BTW, men are quickly proving themselves to be hot heads too these days! So, try to keep it clean and exit with your dignity. Instead of telling someone all the reasons s/he is so lousy, try sticking to some oldies but goodies:

1. I have a lot on my plate right now, or I am just too busy to date right now. (Translation: you really aren't going to rank as a priority in my life.)
2. I am not ready to commit to anyone right now. (Translation: you are NOT the one for me, and I want to keep my options open.)
3. There is just something missing, there isn't that extra something here. (Translation: You are just not hot enough, nice enough or smart enough for me.)
4. I still have a lot of issues I need to work through. (Translation: I'm not over my past relationship(s) and being with you isn't really helping me make any progress.)
5. This isn't working for me.(Translation: I think I can be way happier with someone else.)

I've only rarely kept in touch with exs-- my ex-husband, who shares custody of my son, is obviously one of those very rare exceptions. But in general, I think it is hard for people to maintain a friendly relationship with an ex, especially if it wasn't mutual or one person was completely blind-sided by the break-up. Of course, anybody that lacks boundaries or exhibits psycho tendencies is best cut out of your life completely. No matter what though, always try to take the high road. It is a small world, and you never know who you will run into-- especially within these elaborate social media connections.

Friday, August 24, 2012

With Relationships, Perfection Is The Enemy of Good

Voltaire is credited with the saying, "perfection is the enemy of the good." No where is that more appropriate than in personal relationships. No one is pefect-- we all have our flaws, and sadly those who are stubbornly waiting for Mr. or Ms. Perfect to come around are probably going to die alone.

For those of us motivated to share our lives with someone, we need to learn to pick our battles. I have learned to accept that it's not possible to have it all, so instead I just do my checklist to make sure that the good outweighs the bad. I admit that my attitude adjustment didn't happen overnight, and in large part stems from having witnessed so many people throw away their spouses or friends like disposable Kleenex.

What I see every day as a divorce lawyer is very sad, but I have to say it has also saved me. There is a lot of good out there, and I do believe that in order to appreciate the good you have to experience some of the bad stuff.  But those who seek perfection will be sorely disappointed in life.  Thankfully, by giving up my quest for perfection I have come to appreciate the true beauty in our flawed human existence and the bonds we choose to form while on this Earth.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Understanding Athletes

There is a small percentage of us that get to compete nationally, train at the Olympic Training Center, and enjoy the spotlight at an early age. I was a hard-core athlete until I retired from being an Elite rhythmic gymnast after my freshman year at Georgetown, because I knew I did not want to be a professional athlete and that there was too much risk in taking a year off to train for the Olympic trials. Instead, I focused on becoming a lawyer, but it was not an easy shift to give up this huge part of my identity. To this day, many of my former classmates write to me and say that whenever they watch the Olympic gymnasts they think of me. It is amazing that 20 years post-retirement, I still have people asking me if I'm involved at all in my former sport. Just to be clear-- I made a clean break when I retired, but the ability to perform and put up with major pressures are skills that have lasted me a lifetime. My former athletic abilities are clearly tied to my ability to watch what I eat, be disciplined about getting enough sleep and exercise, never experimenting with drugs, and being goal-oriented. I'm not afraid to go on tv or radio, give public speeches, or share my thoughts through publications and the social media. Clearly some of America's best trainers played a huge part in making me who I am today, but I want to make sure people understand that it all comes at a hefty price. I did not have a normal childhood-- I was not well-grounded-- I was addicted to external validation-- I sought overall perfection and was very impatient with others not wired like me-- I was intense and way too addicted to adrenaline rushes. It is only by becoming a mother and finding my family that I have finally become more grounded, and the external validation has lost its appeal. I've found a patience I never knew I was capable of, and I've learned a value in taming in the adrenaline-junkie inside me. Employers love hiring athletes, and in the dating world many are attracted to certain qualities that we possess, but those around us need to remember that everything comes at a price. There were huge voids in my life that I was trying to fill, and only over time, following some life-altering experiences did I learn how some of my strengths could also be a weakness. It is particularly hilarious to me that my son said to me the other day, "you know mommy, you wouldn't be a top lawyer if you didn't have me." He has no idea how true those words are, but one day I'm sure he will realize how grateful I am for becoming more human as a result of him.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Comparisons Aren't Always A Good Thing

In general, comparing notes can be helpful. In the business world, it's always good to know what the average compensation rate is for your particular field. In the athletic world, you need to know what your competitors are doing in order to stay in the game. As parents, it is incredibly helpful to know what other families have done in certain common situations, so that you can learn from each other. Even in dating, it is helpful to know what others have struggled with or found useful in order to better gauge your expectations-- but just beware that sometimes comparisons can be detrimental in relationships. I know a couple that got married after 3 months of dating, and they've been together for over 45 years; I know another couple that dated for 9 years before getting married, and they then called it quits after 20 years. I've heard it all over the last 14 years while counseling people through a divorce or drafting the right prenup, and the one thing that is very clear is that there is no magic formula as to how long it should take a couple to commit-- we all have our own demons to battle, and depending on where we are in our own personal journey when love finds us, it may take us a while to truly fall in love, while others may find love at first sight. I do think that those of us that have been burned by a failed first marriage, need to give ourselves time to heal. We also need to re-evaluate our priorities. The second time around will not be like the first. For me, this time around, I will not be marrying someone in order to build a family-- the baby factory is now closed, and as a result age differences, religious views and parenting choices are not as important as they once were. As a breeder, I would be looking for different criteria. There are others who don't feel the way I do at all-- and so my point is that what works in one relationship may not work for another. Some people are fine with a long distance relationship and maintaining separate households indefinitely-- that just doesn't work for me. So, what may be motivating one couple to get married, may not be the same for a different pair. Bottom line is that love doesn't work on a concrete timeline that can be applied to everyone-- it is whatever works best for you.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Recovering from a Failed Marriage

For many of us, divorce is a life-altering event. Those of us that do not wish to repeat that experience again, may opt to delve into our past, question our current choices, and think long and hard about the path we want to take in the future. For those of us that go deep, the more wounds we examine, the longer it may take before we are ready to commit to a serious relationship. Sadly, the stats show that over 70% of second marriages fail-- mainly because too many people mistakenly marry the rebound person, or don't take enough time to gain true insight into themselves or allow their wounds to heal. Wanting to avoid pain and seek pleasure is normal human nature, but in this particular case rushing into another relationship without giving yourself the opportunity to truly mourn the loss of your first marriage, may cause you a lot more pain down the road. Divorce has a devastating impact on a person's emotional and financial well being, and if there are children in the mix, it is particularly critical to shield them from volatile situations as much as possible. Recently, I came across two great books (1) The Truth About Stepfamilies and (2) Remarried with Children to help set realistic expectations about blended family situations. Merging two households later in life is not easy, but knowing what to expect and having the tools necessary to deal with issues as they arise is a wonderful step in the right direction. Thankfully, there are plenty of psychologists, family therapists, suuport groups and local parenting classes that are readily available to assist families navigate the road towards a second chance at happily ever after. I fully believe it can be done and that we can improve the current stats-- but first, you have to give yourself the time to heal. Recovery takes time, and it can vary from one person to the next-- in my case it took 7 years. Then again, I had a lot of baggage to work through, but my advice is to be patient and kind to yourself. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and I've discovered it is beautifully bright beyond my wildest dreams.

Friday, August 17, 2012

As Parents, We Need to Keep an Open Mind

This week on Cristina Radio, in connection with the whole Jackson family custody saga, I was able to weigh in on the importance of keeping an open mind with custody arrangements. The fact is that there can always be some change in circumstances that might necessitate a modification of the custody schedule. As kids grow up, they can endure more time away from each parent, such that extended overnights and fewer transitions may become a more appealing arrangment for the family. Some children become very passionate about sports and/or academic activities, and the parents will need to work together to promote the child's involvement in a variety of social opportunities. Divorced parents are also highly likely to remarry, and this change in the household dynamic has to be navigated very carefully-- not in a vacuum, but rather with everyone involved. The more open parents are to adapting as their family needs change, the better off everyone will be-- especially the children. Asking courts to deal with these kinds of issues should really be the last resort-- not only is the judicial system totally backlogged, but the adversarial nature of our legal system does little to promote goodwill within families. Seeking the assistance of a family therapist is a far better route, where children actually get a voice, and the goal is to create a win-win solution for everyone. For some of us, it may take some work to appreciate the value of sitting down and openly discussing issues with others, but if we love our children and want them to be well-functioning adults, then teaching them to model our behavior as they see us work through family problems outside of court is probably one of the best life lessons we can give them.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Intentional or Not? It Does Make a Difference.

We all get disappointed at times, and those of us with an aggressive personality tend to show our disappointment in an angry way, versus a more passive personality that would just get sad or shut down. Whether you can deal with your partner's conflict style is a key question for anyone contemplating a committed relationship-- and you should not delude yourself into thinking the style will change. Old habits die hard, and the fact is that those that we love are the ones that can hurt us the most. Our expectations of them are far greater than of anyone else around us. So, whenever I need to hit re-set, I start by asking myself whether my expectations were realistic. We also have to take into account whether the person that committed the transgression intentionally did something that hurt, or was it accidental? As a lawyer, it's been drilled into me that intent makes all the difference in the world. I also realize that I pay far more attention to word choice and actions than most. After all, there are only 1.3 Million licensed, practicing attorneys in the U.S. out of a population of over 311 Million. I accept, as my brother has lovingly pointed out, that I am a "mutant." Funny thing is that most people do not realize that those of us with these hard-core exteriors are actually protecting a very vulnerable interior. This is why it takes some of us an extra long time to get over setbacks. Recognzing that we all recover at a different pace, I will say getting some exercise, a good night's sleep, and having an open discussion of what went wrong when you are both calmer can go a long way to fixing an issue quickly. By seeking an understanding of how the problem occurred, with a focus on finding a solution for the future versus trying to prosecute the other person, you should be able to de-escalate the situation quite effectively. Remember, to be in a committed relationship means more than just an agreement to be exclusive and to go out and have sex regularly-- those are great first steps, no doubt. However, a commitment to make things work means you accept there will be challenging moments and you will not walk away when that happens. Instead, you are agreeing to stick it out, work through problems and develop a deeper level of understanding. If the intent is to stay and grow together, that is what you are really committing to, and if you are not in sync on that, well then... time to move on.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Divorce & Domestic Violence

Tonight on air I get to discuss domestic violence, which research suggests occurs at least once in most divorces-- and I do sincerely mean divorces in all socio-economic classes. Many incidents go unreported-- and this is not just a female issue. I cannot tell you how many men are ashamed to discuss the violence they have endured. The biggest problem with this issue is that there are often no medical reports, pictures, witnesses or police reports. This means in court we are left with a he-said, she-said dilemma. Realizing that it is normal for tension to run high when a marriage is dissolving, most couples in my experience will often agree to a consent stay-away order, often without a finding of wrong doing in order to protect a person's ability to obtain security clearance or minimize any impact on someone's record. The legal system encourages people to seek anger management classes and will order supervised visits to ensure a child's safety when necessary. Rarely, however, will visitation completely be terminated, and most orders expire after one year unless the original order is violated. In most of my cases, these incidents wind up being the final wake-up call that the family needs to accept just how dsyfunctional things have gotten and that a separation is truly what is best. Too often I have heard people say they should have left sooner-- that they let "minor" incidents go in order to keep the family together for the sake of the children. Well, without some major intervention, bad incidents usually just get worse, and it is well documented that exposing children to unsafe conditions can have a detrimental affect that will last a lifetime. As soon as one person starts to feel threatened or believes that s/he is unsafe in any way, it is important to gather information as to what your legal options are and seek some psychological counseling. Simply hoping things will improve is not an option when domestic violence creeps into your relationship-- love is supposed to be a nurturing gift, not one that leaves you with a black eye or worse.