Saturday, June 28, 2014

How Do You Define High Maintenance?

The phrase "high maintenance" seems to come up a lot, and whenever it does, I cannot resist asking some basic follow up questions, such as:

1. Do you expect someone to provide for you financially, or can you hold your own?  Being self sufficient is a great sign that you are not high maintenance, at least from a materialistic point of view.  If you can't carry your own weight, however, well that is a big problem, especially if you have champagne taste on a beer budget-- and by that I am referring to working with your own sources of income.  The magic number seems to be an income of $70,000, at which point most professionals I know in the DC Area can live decently-- a very attractive quality to those in the dating scene that aren't interested in adding someone new to their payroll.

2. Do you do thoughtful things for others, or do you just expect others to cater to your every need?  If you are considerate of others, and do nice things for them on a regular basis to show that you care, then wanting someone to reciprocate is not high maintenance.  But if you just expect everyone around you to kiss your ass while you do nothing in return, that is just plain selfish.

3. Do you take care of yourself, or are you just holding others to an impossible standard?  If you stay in shape and eat healthy, dress nicely and put effort into your overall appearance, then you have every right to want a partner that shares in these values.  However, if you have let yourself go, you cannot expect to attract someone outside your league-- let's be real, 10s don't marry 2s.

4. Do you know how to discipline your emotions and communicate effectively?  This one is a biggie-- because we will all get upset at some point.  It is simply not possible for someone to meet all our expectations 100% of the time.  When this happens, can you have an honest discussion with your partner about the things that are bothering you without flying into a rage, completely shutting down or having a tantrum?  No one wants to deal with someone that is a total loose canon.

As long as you can hold your own financially, don't hold others to a higher standard than yourself, and are not an emotional basket case, then I think chances are you are not high maintenance, although there will always be some insecure a-holes that will call you that because the fact is deep down inside they realize they can never live up to your standards for a partner.
The fact is the more self-sufficient and successful you are in your own right, the harder it will be to find someone that can keep up with you.  That doesn't mean you should date down because the reality is that won't work-- deep down inside you will always know you deserve better.  You have every right to be picky about the people you choose to let into your life, so what this means is that you will have to be a bit more patient simply because quality people are hard to find.  

There is nothing wrong with having high standards-- as long as you are able to hold your own at that level.   To me, that is not high maintenance at all, and no matter what, just remember 10s don't marry 2s!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Do You Think You Know Your Type?

Even though I am 100% Hispanic, I have always gravitated towards the all American guy next door.  Meanwhile, my college roommate always went for international guys.  But God clearly has a sense of humor-- she fell in love with my "type" and they have been happily married for 10 years now, and here I find myself raving to her during a recent visit about the Brazilian musician in my life that is making my heart melt these days.

Her reaction is very similar to all those around me-- apparently everyone else could see that my "type" wasn't really working for me, and after all these years we can all now understand why: there was just way too much getting lost in translation.  Unfortunately, the more I advanced in my education and career over the last 20 years, the less surrounded I found myself by people with a similar ethnic, cultural and artistic background, and so sticking within my own social circles I kept repeating the same broken pattern until finally one day I decided to broaden my horizons and break out of my norm.

If you want to successfully date, then you have to view it as a social experiment and go in with an open mind.  Meeting new people has always been an exciting adventure for me, and I've always felt like I could learn something-- good or bad-- from each encounter.  It is about stepping outside your comfort zone, and testing your capacity for love and understanding of others until one day you find that perfect person-- the one that steps into your life and allows you to see why it never worked with anyone else before.

It took me over 20 years to realize what my real "type" is so cut yourself some slack if you are not sure about this-- in fact give yourself some points for questioning whether you are on the right track.  Embrace your curiosity and don't be afraid of the answers.   When you listen to your heart, it will all make perfect sense.  While many will come into your life for a season, or perhaps a specific reason, very few are those bonds that last a lifetime.  The more open you are to what the universe presents to you, the more likely you are to reap life's beautiful rewards.

I thought I knew my type, but I was dead wrong.  The average American guy next door is never going to understand me, and sadly, every time I tried to settle for what seemed good enough I found myself immensely disappointed, frustrated and irritated beyond belief.  Ahora entiendo.  

How will you know when you discover your real type?  Because that person will exceed all your expectations.  Until that day comes, just enjoy the journey. :)

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Why is Relocation With a Child So Difficult?

Summertime is finally here, and that is typically when most parents that want to move try to do so-- but make sure you know your rights and obligations before you do so.  If you have an existing court order or agreement regarding custody that gives the other parent regular access, then you have to take into account how your move will impact the custody schedule.  In court, our standard is easy: what is in the child's best interest?  To make this assessment we look at many factors, but usually convincing a court to allow a move that will take a child away from all his friends, school, doctors, and the other parent is not easy.

Sadly, some people ignore court orders or agreements and just do what they want.  Well, just know that there can be severe consequences for that.  In 1980, the U.S. enacted the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act, which makes it a federal crime for a parent to move to another state with a child in violation of a court order.  And if you move overseas without permission, you will likely trigger a Hague Convention proceeding, where the Central Authority of another Hague Convention country will ask the foreign courts to order the return of a child to the U.S.  The State Department, which can be of great assistance in these cases, maintains a list of all countries that are signatories to the Hague Convention here:

If a parent takes a child without the other's permission, time is of the essence in tracking down where they have gone, and in addition to calling the local authorities, there are many resources available, including the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children:

Rather than create total last minute chaos for everyone, try to have a conversation upfront with the other parent-- you may be surprised.  In several of my relocation cases, the parents have been able to work out alternate schedules without the need for a trial-- although we always make sure to submit the final agreement for court approval so that everything is legit.  If you cannot work out an agreement, then be prepared for a lengthy trial process-- just because you think it is an emergency, doesn't necessarily make it a judicial emergency.

In the end, while every parent has a Constitutional right to move wherever s/he wants to go, that doesn't give that person the right to just move with a child in violation of established agreements or court orders.  It took two people to bring the child into this world, and like it or not, for the next 16-18 years after s/he is born, they will have to work together to coordinate a custody schedule that promotes that child's best interest.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Relationship and Marriage Advice | The Gottman Relationship Blog: Relationship Alphabet: M is for Money

This is a must-read for all those about to tie the knot: Relationship and Marriage Advice | The Gottman Relationship Blog: Relationship Alphabet: M is for Money: M is for Money By Zach Brittle, LMHC Usually, when two people get married, they stand up in front of their friends and family and t...

The Good, Bad and Ugly About Divorce

Let me do the bad news first-- if you are getting divorced, your assets will definitely take a hit, and if you have to pay alimony and/or child support, your monthly income will be going down substantially until your ex and/or your kids are off your payroll.  On top of all this, if you have to litigate, the national average for a litigated divorce is about $25,000 per person  (that basically covers 83 hours of an attorney's work at $300/hour, which is a bargain in most major cities).  So, given that in general the less you fight, the more you save, from a simple economics point alone the goal should be to avoid court and try to work things out amicably through mediation or collaboratively with counsel trained to keep things calm.

The good news is that over 70% of divorcing couples do work out an agreement without the need for a trial, and afterwards they manage to maintain at least a civil working relationship for the benefit of their children. Furthermore, studies show that most children are resilient, and that as long as their parents do their best to minimize disruptions and not put them in the middle of heated arguments, kids can weather this setback and bounce back just fine.  (For more detailed info, check out Robert Emery's "The Truth About Children and Divorce.")  As for the adults, most will be able to stabilize things within 2-5 years, during which time they create a new social life, find new meaning in their lives, and enjoy their new-found freedom away from all the pain, sorrow, or loneliness sustained in a loveless marriage.

Now let's talk about the ugly, which I purposefully saved for last.  These are the 30% that want to fight and air all the dirty laundry.  I avoid these like the plague more and more because there are some seriously destructive forces at work here.  There is a lot of negativity and hostility between couples in what we call "high conflict cases" and inevitably, litigators absorb all this negative energy around them.  Dark forces are seriously at work when two people absolutely hate each other and want to spew venom at one another at any cost. These cases usually involve severe mental health issues and addictions, often with multiple incidents of domestic violence and/or emotional abuse.  This is a side of humanity I would prefer never to have seen, yet on a weekly basis I am reminded that it exists, and what I have learned beyond any doubt is that no court order can ever do justice to the pain and suffering endured in these cases, which is why it is up to the individuals involved to put an end to all the madness.

To be perfectly candid, if I advocated for everyone to have their day in court, I would make a lot more money, however, my joy comes from helping people minimize the bad, see the good, and avoid the ugly.  I see it as my duty to save people from their hellish situations at home, but each client alone must decide whether s/he chooses to walk towards the light or into the darkest parts of their soul.  Hearts of darkness do exist, and if you opt for an ugly divorce you will be walking into the heart of pure darkness.  Instead, I hope you choose the light and keep this quote from Helen Keller in mind: keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see the shadows.

Friday, June 20, 2014

4 Main Reasons So Many Second Marriages Fail

While many say falling in love is sweeter the second time around, and I sure hope they are right, the stats are quite staggering-- over 70% of second marriages fail.  Why is that?  Well, there are 4 main reasons from what I have observed over the years as a matrimonial lawyer:

1. Not Enough Time to Reflect- After the divorce, most people run.  I don't mean that literally, I mean that figuratively. We run away from the pain by avoiding things like coming home to an empty house, spending quiet time with our thoughts, allowing ourselves time to grieve a major loss.  Instead, we pack our calendars with things to do and go out of our way to stay busy and entertained with others, basically to avoid the feelings of being alone and lonely.  How do I know this?  Because I was one of the best runners ever-- I poured all my energy into work and my son, constantly made plans with others and kept myself highly entertained for years while avoiding the pain and loneliness of an empty house, until ever so slowly and gradually I started to calm down and seek a calmer pace, and with the gift of time, I started facing the big questions I'd been avoiding like: why did my marriage fail?  What role did I play in the demise of our relationship?  What should I do differently the next time around?  Before we move on to the next marriage, we should all go through this exercise, as painful as it may be, so we can hopefully avoid making the same mistakes again.

2. Rushing Into Things- The desire to re-establish a partnership is so strong for those of us that enjoyed being married, that many of us will try to rush into a committed relationship, sometimes before the ink is even dry on the divorce decree.  But why rush things?  Take your time getting to know someone, their family and friends.  Have fun and travel together.  Enjoy the honeymoon phase for as long as you can before you get into heavy discussions about merging households and managing budgets.  See how you do as a couple for 365 rotations around the sun, through good and bad times, and take big changes in baby steps.  Too many major changes at once can cause a lot of instability, which may well jeopardize the stability you crave of living happily ever after under one roof.  Pace yourself and make sure that you guys are indeed a good couple.  If you are, then time will always be on your side.

3. Money- The financial devastation caused by divorce cannot be overstated.  Regardless of whether you only had $100 or $100Mn to divide, the fact is after a divorce you will find you have a hell of a lot less that what you once thought you had at your disposal.  In addition to the hit on your financial cushion, there are often lingering obligations of child support or alimony that will weigh on people for many years after their divorce becomes final, and as a result these ongoing payments will drain the resources available in your second marriage.  Whenever others have to suffer because of our poor choices, there is always going to be some resentment, so this is normal-- but if you cannot minimize the negative impact or worse, you need to ask your new partner to pick up the slack for you because of your past mistakes, I promise you this will not go over well.

4. Kids- Hands down this is the biggest challenge to any marriage.  The fact is when kids are involved, it is impossible to always make your partner your #1 priority.  Children have needs and require attention that will take time away from your spouse.  In an intact house we are more forgiving of this fact because we are both responsible for bringing the children into the mix, but with blended families, the dynamics are far more complicated and can be very tricky.  Step-children will not always take to their new step-parents or siblings, and the age of the children plays a huge factor in terms of not just their demands, but also their openness to adding new members to their families.  Studies show that after age 13, a child is far less likely to bond with a step parent-- not that it is a bad thing to strive for, but the fact is that they already have an established notion of how they define family and their peers matter more, so they simply won't be too interested in re-creating the Brady Bunch, and trying to force this is a recipe for disaster.

As you can see, navigating all these complicated issues involving emotions, finances and children can be very tricky, and so it is easy to understand why so many second marriages fall apart.  But perhaps if we were more open and honest upfront about the challenges second marriages will face, then we can prevent major disasters from occurring later down the line, and this is precisely why I spend so much time talking not just about the law, but also the emotions, finances and future family structures with my prenuptial clients.   While I remain a hopeless romantic at heart, I cannot ignore the statistical realities-- so let's identify the problematic issues, address them, and then change the odds so that they may always be in your favor.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Are You Comparing Apples with Apples?

It seems that many of my peers still fall into this trap of comparing their own marriages to those of their parents or grandparents, and somehow if the marriage isn't picture perfect, or worse ends up in a divorce, they feel like it is a huge failure that will reflect poorly on them.  But to think this way makes NO sense whatsoever, and here are 3 simple reasons why:

1. Life expectancy- It was much easier to stay married to someone for life when you only lived to be 41 back in the day.  However, it's a heck of a lot harder to put up with someone for double that amount of time now that we are expected to live into our 80's or longer.

2. More options for women-  Thanks to tremendous advances in technology, medicine, and in the academic world, women in the 21st century are far better educated, better paid, and better able to manage their family-life choices than they were just 40 years ago.  As a result, we have the ability to take care of ourselves and make our own families, without the need for a man to stick around.

3. Social changes- The increased acceptance of varying family structures has enriched our lives while significantly decreasing the stigma of not being part of an "intact family." Indeed, we now have gay marriages recognized in 17 U.S. states and over a dozen countries around the world, and the rate of live births to unwed mothers is now above 40% in our country.  Blended families are much more common now, and with over 50% of married couples splitting, "divorce" is thankfully no longer a dirty word.

All these forces have combined to create a more fluid world, which I find to be quite forgiving and beautiful. The fact is we all make mistakes-- especially those of us that marry young.  That doesn't mean that our children, the product of those marriages, are a mistake or that they need to suffer for the sins of their parents. We need to do our best to minimize the negative impact of divorce for their sake, but at the same time we need to cut ourselves some slack.  Too many parents seem to carry the guilt of a divorce for far longer than is healthy or necessary-- and I do feel your pain, I was once there myself.  But if you want to move forward and help everyone get to a better place fast, then you have to let go of this notion that you somehow failed at anything.  Instead, you have to believe that there was a major lesson your family needed to learn here, and hopefully this will prevent an even larger mistake from occurring in the future.

To move forward, you need to forgive and let the past go, which I know is easier said then done. It may take a long time for you to rebuild your own financial safety net, social life, and identity (typically 2-5 years), but at least the point is that it can be done.  And while you are trying to dig yourself out from under, don't allow negative thoughts to creep in, for they will just hold you back.  Let's be real-- no one will really miss celebrating your 25th or 50th wedding anniversary, in fact now we all tend to question those that actually last that long.

The reality is that while our grandparents may have set a beautiful gold standard, these are drastically different times with an incredibly mobile society filled with temptations beyond anyone's imagination 50 years ago.  Like it or not, there is a new world order, and in our times, things will continue to change at a rapid pace, including our definition of successful marriages and what we consider acceptable family structures. Personally, I see a successful marriage as not one that necessarily lasts forever, but one that at least ended in a dignified manner, and where parents can put their differences aside to co-parent in the best interest of their children.  Does this sound too good to be true?  Not by a long shot-- I see it and live it every day.

So, comparing apples with apples, look less at what your ancestors' marriages were like and look more to how your peers handle their successful relationships.  We cannot be expected to replicate what our grandparents had during their lifetimes, but we can certainly aspire to make them proud by being decent human beings and doing our best to bring honor to our families, in whatever way we choose to structure them. :)

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Is There Really a Mid-Life Crisis?

Is there really such a thing as a mid-life crisis?  Well, I wouldn't actually call it a "crisis," but rather a wake-up call that seems to occur when people hit their mid to late 40's.  Why?  Well, simply stated it has a lot do with the gift of finally having some time to think.

The fact is that in our 20's and 30's most of us are so busy establishing our careers, finding a partner, buying a house, and having babies, that we rarely have time to think beyond our family's immediate needs.  Then a funny thing happens in our 40's when we hit the half-way point of our life expectancy-- our kids become more independent, our careers are more established, and we start to see not just our parents, but some of our own peers get sick and die, which inevitably forces us to face our own mortality and find answers to some big questions, and I do mean BIG questions like:

1.      What's the point of it all?

2.      Am I really happy?

3.      What have I done with my life thus far?

4.      What's my real purpose here?

5.      What do I want to do going forward?

As we work through these questions, not everyone is going to decide to change life partners.  Some just want to move to a different location or change careers, some want to modify how they spend their money or how they spend their free time.  Inevitably, however, when you are part of a family, these kinds of major changes don't happen in a vacuum-- it only takes one person's desire for change to have a drastic impact on everyone around them.  I call this the ripple effect-- and sadly, not everyone is going to be 100% on board with the waves of change, so they will resist any modification to life as they know it.  This is what often leads to an unforeseen chain of events that 9 out of 10 times results in the need to restructure family ties, and that is what I then have to address every day as a divorce lawyer.

Interestingly enough, most divorces are actually initiated by women, not men.  The current stats show that over 65% of divorces after age 50 are filed by women-- and I think this number will continue to increase as our financial independence and life style options continue to grow because let's face it-- 100 years ago a woman's life expectancy was only 40, whereas today it is 80; meanwhile, our work options outside the home were almost nonexistent a century ago, and yet in the 21st century (as of 2008 to be exact) women in their early 20's and 30's are now better educated and are out-earning their male counterparts resulting in the growing realization that staying married in order to survive and/or raise children really is a choice, not a necessity.

Another point that I had not considered until I read "The Female Brain," is that hormones play a huge part into how a woman's brain functions, and as more studies have been conducted, they have learned that indeed as the "mommy brain" phases out and the fog starts to clear, we do become less tolerant of always sacrificing our needs for the benefit of all those around us.  In our 40's and well into our 50's we start to really advocate for ourselves and indulge in our own desires more, and even though I have yet to reach menopause, I can already see how far less tolerant I am of miserable situations compared to 10 years ago-- life is simply too short to keep putting up with b.s. and many my age share this point of view.

So, maybe now you can start to understand why in my industry we see such a huge spike in divorces around the mid-life timeframe, which for a variety of reasons causes  people to re-evaluate their lives and find the courage to make drastic changes where necessary.  Personally, I don't see this is as a "crisis" at all, but rather an opportunity to re-assess where we are and address the problem areas in our lives that are preventing us from finding true peace and happiness.  If your life partner chooses to be part of the solution, that is fantastic, and if not, oh well... sometimes you have to let part of your life go so that something better can come along.  Just know you are not alone, and no matter how it all plays out, this too shall pass.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Where Do You Rank?

Like it or not, we all get ranked throughout life.  Starting early on as athletes and scholars, long before we ever start our professional careers, the powers that be start tracking those of us considered to be the elite competitors, and while there are certainly some sweet rewards for being a top performer, what they don't tell you and you just learn over time is that it is all actually quite meaningless-- unless you have someone special to share in your struggles and rejoice in your triumphs.

To truly feel like a rock star, the truth is that you actually have to find love first.  Ironically, the more focused you are in seeking perfection and pursuing of all those trophies, ribbons, awards and prizes out there, the harder it is to find someone that can understand you and relate, and in the meantime what you will encounter is a lot of envy and jealousy, along with a ton of users and fair-weather friends.  The sad reality is that the higher you climb up the ladder, the harder it will actually be to find someone that actually respects you and loves you regardless of whether you are on fire or in a slump, but believe me it is totally worth holding out for this.

How do you know when somebody truly loves you?  It should be super easy to tell because they will have an incredible ability to make you feel special, and in your heart of hearts you will know beyond question that this person thinks the world of you.  Without any effort, you will find yourselves just checking in with each other every day, and neither of you will have any doubt that the other one cares deeply about you.  You will both go out of your way to make each other's life just a little bit easier and more pleasant.  You will take pleasure in both the extraordinary events and daily rituals you enjoy together.  And, with each little act of kindness, you will demonstrate to one another on a daily basis that you are a priority in each other's life.  As a result, as each day passes you will grow fonder and fonder of this person, who will take you to a whole new level of connection that you never imagined possible.   It will seem as though that person was made just for you, and finally together you have found heaven on earth.

Finding a love that transcends this world is not easy, but when you develop a deep mutual bond with someone that loves you without limits, you will always feel like #1 regardless of where you may rank in the outside world.   The external validation will cease to be as important as it once was because you will see just how fickle the adoration from outsiders can be compared to the consistent love and admiration provided at home by your beloved, who will show you endless compassion without passing any judgments.  When you find this person, you will instantly understand why it never worked out with anyone else, and you will feel inspired to do anything and everything to protect this special bond-- and you should.

Ultimately, where you rank anywhere else really won't matter once you find that one person that thinks you are the best no matter what.  Here's hoping you find that special someone because as my favorite Dean Martin song says, "you are nobody until somebody else loves you, so find yourself somebody to love!"

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Is 50/50 Really Fair?

At the risk of opening up Pandora's Box here, let me confess upfront that in my experience, it is incredibly rare to see truly equal partnerships.  Most couples do not earn exactly the same, the division of labor at home is rarely equal, and the family resources we have available to us in the future can differ vastly, which may not play a significant factor when everyone continues to co-exist under one roof, but can greatly impact the landscape of what your life will be like post-divorce.

In DC and MD, where I have been practicing family law the last 15 years, we do not have community property, but rather our laws state that in the event of a divorce the court has the authority to distribute the marital assets equitably.  What is an equitable distribution?  It means the court can assign to each party the assets in whatever manner it deems fair and reasonable after taking into account many factors, including the contributions made by each party during the marriage.

Looking closely at how modern families function, it has become incredibly clear to me that those expecting a 50/50 division of household responsibilities are setting themselves up for a major fail.  Instead, you need to be able to realistically discuss a division of chores that is equitable-- taking into account the demands of each person's job and the amount of flexible time s/he has while also recognizing that each individual is entitled to pursue some other interests, like sports or music that do not necessarily involve any other person in the house.  If you cannot find a way to balance (1) me time, (2) our time, and (3) work time, you are both setting yourselves up for failure, and when that day comes, I promise you that you will hate having us outsiders analyze exactly how much you each made, spent and contributed to the creation of joint wealth, while dinging each person for any "bad choices" that may have led to the dissolution of your marriage.

In court, we generally tend to reward those that make good choices and punish those that make poor life choices, but when it comes to property division, sometimes I do feel like our tendency to want to simply divide everything 50/50 isn't really a fair reflection of the time, energy, and money contributed by each party towards the well-being of the partnership.  Of course, the question then becomes how much is really at stake and how much are you willing to pay for a legal fight to try and convince a court to deviate from a 50/50 split?  Sometimes, it is just easier to divide everything evenly and call it a day, but that doesn't necessarily make it right.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that freeloaders drive me crazy like nobody's business.  Luckily, this is rarely the case in a long term marriage because let's face it, who is going to put up with that kind of attitude for years?  But at the other extreme, it bothers me immensely to see truly hard working spouses pulling in major bank not get any credit from the other spouse in the end because instead the focus is on their lack of contribution to the division of labor at home or how emotionally unavailable they were while working like a dog.  Well, guess what?  You cannot have it both ways.  Salaries in excess of $100,000 are not handed out like candy, and they rarely require putting in just 40 hours a week.  It is very hard to just leave work at 5pm so you can make dinner or attend school plays, and coaching a team or being part of a carpool is going to be very tricky to negotiate with most bosses when you have a high-level job.  Let's give these people some props for what they did right, instead of just focusing on what they failed to do at home, especially if at the end of the day they leave you in a fairly secure financial position, which is an incredible gift that deserves proper recognition and appreciation.

In the end, no court can order an individual to say "thank you" for all the hard work that was done during a marriage, but hopefully you will find it in your own heart someday to appreciate the sacrifices that each person made to create and maintain a family.  And if you do want it to last, then I truly hope you do take to heart that equitable doesn't necessarily mean equal.  The key is to figure out what is fair and reasonable, have realistic expectations of each other, and appreciate what you each bring to the table.  Is a 50/50 view fair on all fronts?  I'm suggesting to you that this is an impossible standard to uphold, but I leave it to you to figure this out for yourself.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

5 Reasons Why Transitions Are So Scary

Yesterday, I attended an interesting seminar, where Carolyn Wilder, who is a Certified Professional Coach that focuses on working with women in transition, was one of the presenters.  She did a great job of explaining why transitions can create so much anxiety for people.  Simply put, her point is that there are 5 basic needs that we have to meet to feel happy and safe, and unfortunately when we are going through life transitions, i.e. a new job, new place to live, new marriage, new baby, becoming an empty nester, retirement, death or divorce, it only takes one of these 5 needs to be thrown off whack to make us feel off kilter:

1. Financial Security- if you are not sure how you will meet your basic financial obligations, this is a huge problem.  I see it every day in my divorce cases, and that is why I spend so much time teaching and advocating about financial literacy.  Women today cannot rely on their husband's for financial support.  You have to be able to pull your own weight in the event something horrible happens.

2. Identity- you have to be secure in who you are as a person.  Your identity should not be tied to any one particular role in life, i.e. being a good mom, wife, or employee.  You may switch careers, your kids will leave the house, and your spouse may die or divorce you.  What are you going to do if these things happen?  As painful as it is to go through an identity crisis, it does teach us that what we do doesn't define who we are.

3. Socialization- do you have friends outside of work or your home?  Funny how everyone is your best friend while you are on fire-- until one day you or not, or you leave a company, and then you barely hear from previous co-workers.  This is why you cannot put all your eggs in one basket, and you can't have your entire social life revolve around family.  Kids will grow up, and they will cease to want to hang with their parents; meanwhile it is perfectly normal for your spouse to want his/her own independent time to hang with the guys or enjoy a ladies night out.  We all need to have friends we can call our own.

4. Purpose- while this will certainly change as we go through the different decades, we all need to have a purpose in life.  Early on it might be sports, forming a career and/or finding a partner.  Later in our 30's, we tend to focus on raising our children.  In our 40's and 50's we may start to want to connect on a larger scale with charitable causes.  Whatever it is, just make sure you find something that makes you excited to wake up in the morning and makes you feel life is worth living.

5. Structure & Time Management- we are all creatures of habit to some extent, and knowing how our days or weeks will be structured gives us a great deal of comfort.  The sooner you can establish some norms regarding your daily or weekly schedule in a new environment, the sooner you will feel at ease.

As I listened to Carolyn's lecture, it suddenly became so clear to me why my divorce clients' lives are thrown into such upheaval.    Basically all 5 of these needs are disrupted all at once, and while some of us adapt quickly to change, many do not.  The financial, emotional and social devastation caused by divorce cannot be overstated, especially for those that sacrificed so much of themselves for the greater good of the family or never saw the end coming.  To start over after such an immense setback is never easy-- but it can be done.  I know because not only have I been helping people through this process every day the last 16 years, but I myself had to go through it many years ago.  It is true when they say that what doesn't kill you only makes you stronger.

Thankfully, there is a life after divorce, and indeed it can be beautiful, exciting, and filled with far greater joy and love than you ever imagined-- but it takes hard work and discipline.  You have to make sure you are financially solid, secure in yourself, that you find a purpose, establish a routine that works for you, and above all else, find a good group of friends that will love you and support you no matter what.  True friends are not easy to come by, but you will know when you've found one because s/he is not just good about helping you in a time of need, but also in celebrating your successes.  There are not many that I can count in this category, but they know who they are, and we all know that  I could never have come this far and still maintained my faith in love without all those that lifted my spirits all these many years, and now I'm just happy to repay that favor.

So, hopefully this helps explain why transitions are so scary.  But, don't let yourself become paralyzed by fear.   Instead, find a way to face your fears-- look at them as challenges that will help you grow.  And if you still feel overwhelmed, well just remember you don't have to do it all alone.   There are plenty of amazing professionals trained to help guide those that feel lost, and I for one will always be eternally grateful to my life coach for being my guiding light through some pretty major storms.   Hope you find your own guru to guide you through your time of need!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Can You Stop Yourself From Going Psycho?

Way too many people let their emotions run wild, especially when they get upset. Now, we all say things and do things in the heat of the moment that we may later regret, but some people really go off the deep end.  I'm certainly not qualified to address the issues of those with major psychological disorders, but for the rest of us sane individuals that sometimes lose our temper, there is tremendous hope for learning to discipline your emotions.  It takes practice for sure, but it can be done.

When you feel yourself getting upset, your heart probably starts to race, your mind starts to race and/or you should notice that your muscles are tightening up.  Literally, it is as if you are preparing for battle.  Well as soon as you feel these things occurring, picture a pause button, hit it and take a step back.  Before launching into a tirade, ask yourself this: what is the outcome I really want from the exchange that is about to occur?

In law school, I was trained to strip all arguments of emotions-- we stick to facts, and we gather as much evidence as possible to support our statements.  Outside of court, I use the same tactics when I get upset with someone--- I stick to the facts and try to calmly explain why I'm upset or disappointed.  I'll be honest sometimes I'm not so calm, but I still stick to the specific set of events that made me unhappy.  Why? Because just telling someone that I'm upset isn't enough.  To say that I don't feel loved isn't going to help us find a solution together. If you want your partner to help you address an issue, then you have to clearly explain the basis for your feelings and invite that other person to then join you in developing a joint solution.

Plenty of people have disappointed me in life, and I'm sure I've disappointed many because it is inevitable that we will all have expectations of others that just cannot be met.  We each can only love to the best of our capacity, and our partners can either accept that or they'll find the need to move on.  It really is that simple-- we can't change others, we can only change our expectations, and if someone's best isn't enough for you, there really should not be any hard feelings.  When someone leaves, it is not a reflection on you-- it is simply a statement that they need more, and at that point I'm begging you not to explode.  Why?  Because it won't do anyone any good.

You need to be able to get past your hurt feelings in the immediate moment and look at the bigger picture. What is the point of causing a scene or creating drama?  How is it helpful to call someone names or use foul language?  Has berating someone, making threats, stalking, or bullying ever made anyone seem endearing or likable?  No.  So you see, if you lose it on someone, you are just giving them ammunition to use against you-- and believe me I do use it as ammo in court, where we do not take kindly to outbursts and poor use of judgment.

We all get angry at times because someone has disappointed us, but rein in those emotions as best you can.  Before you say anything, take 3 deep breaths, and as quickly as you can, identify the factors that are driving a particular emotion so you don't just go ballistic on someone without a real explanation.  Then, after you have said your peace, give the other person a chance to explain his/her side of the story.  Listen with an open mind, and if after hearing each other one of you finds it is impossible to move forward, then find a way to exit gracefully, and if you find there are complicated emotional or legal issues that have to be addressed, then find a professional you trust to help you through it.  That is after all what we are trained to do, and you too can train yourself to react differently when faced with adversity.

At the end of the day, the goal should always be to leave a situation with your dignity and integrity intact.  It is wisdom and inner strength that get you to that goal, so the more you exercise building up those gifts, the easier it will become for you to exercise good judgment and avoid going psycho. :)

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Can You Appreciate the Blessings of a Bruised Knee?

There is a book for parents called The Blessings of a Bruised Knee, which basically suggests that sometimes as parents we have to let our children suffer the consequences of their own actions so that they can learn from their own mistakes.  As hard as it is to let them fall, sometimes we must so that they can hopefully develop the skill of modifying their own behaviors.  I must say, this same approach should be applied not just with kids, but all loved ones in your life.

Too often as a divorce lawyer, I have heard my clients explain how much they covered up or overcompensated for their spouse's shortcomings.  Psychologists refer to these people as "enablers" because their actions actually allow the spouse to continue with his/her destructive behavior unharmed.  If their patterns of behavior cease to be tolerable, and yet you don't want to leave the relationship, then you are going to have to stop being an enabler-- and let that person suffer consequences for his/her actions because sadly, that is truly the only way someone may come to realize that his/her behaviors need to change.  (I say may because some personalities simply cannot admit that they have any issues-- it is everyone else's fault, but never theirs.)

Parents quickly learn how hard it is to control our own children's behavior.  Indeed, all we can do is model good behavior, and dole out either punishments or rewards based on their actions.  Well, what's funny is that I have realized over time that this same concept applies to our adult relationships.  No one can ever control another's behavior, so all we can do is apply self-control and how we react to things that happen in life.

When you find that someone's behaviors are upsetting you, I'm begging you to try and detach from the situation.  Strip the emotions out of it as best you can and try to identify specific issues that you want addressed.  Then, I think you need to try and have an honest conversation with the other person about what is not working to see if you can jointly come up with a solution.

My belief is that for every problem there is a solution-- it just may not be the solution you want or think is ideal.  You may want someone to stop drinking, stop working so hard, or stop bullying you all the time, but if they are unwilling to change, then you alone have to be prepared to change how you behave, even if that means walking out and/or watching the one you love take a fall.

With respect to love, let me be perfectly honest: the best life lessons I've learned are actually not from a bruised knee, but a bruised heart.  Getting divorced and later calling off a wedding were both incredibly unpleasant experiences, but guess what?  As awful as these things sound, I survived, I moved on, and I somehow I didn't lose my faith in love.  Here's hoping you too will learn to appreciate the blessings that come with all the love and loss that life has to offer.