Saturday, December 12, 2015

How Much Is Luck A Factor In Love?

A lot of people these days focus on how lucky you have to be to meet the right person, but really is that truly such an act of serendipity? Isn't the more remarkable feat the ability to preserve that love over decades?  Seriously, if you talk to couples that have been married for 20 years or more, and you ask them about their marriages, few if any focus on how they met their spouse and instead most of them will tell you about how lucky they were to have weathered life's storms together.  Maybe if we talked more openly about these "storms," we could better prepare couples for the road that lies ahead.  Here are 4 common challenges that can either make or break a relationship:

1. Family Deaths- Whether it is mourning the death of an unborn child, or a close relative that has been around for decades, people need to grieve each loss, and each person must go through the grief cycle at his/her own pace.  Feelings of loss are dealt with differently, but if you can find a way to stay connected during this difficult time, it will definitely deepen your bond.

2. Financial Loss- Whenever somebody suffers a job loss or major financial setback that risks the family's financial security or otherwise negatively impacts the family, it is going to take a toll on the couple.  Even though we all know there is no such thing as a risk-free investment or guaranteed paycheck, when these kinds of stressors present themselves, they really don't just test our character, but our relationships.

3. Health Issues-   If you marry someone healthy, and then later the person becomes ill either physically or mentally, it's impossible to predict how you will really handle the situation, and maybe it depends on the illness.  A lot may be sympathetic towards a physical illness, but not so much when their spouse develops an alcohol or drug addiction, or begins to exhibit classic behaviors attributed to untreated depression, anxiety, or a high conflict personality disorder.

4. Life Transitions- If you marry young, you run the risk of not only not knowing what your spouse will be when s/he grows up, but not knowing yet who you really are and the direction you want to take with your own ambitions.  If you marry later in life, you run the risk of being very set in your ways or being married to someone that is cemented in his/her way of doing things, which will make negotiations and/or the ability to compromise harder.  Either way, it will always remain unclear how you will respond to someone's decision to change their identity, career, home base, or lifestyle.  Anyone at any time can choose to change jobs, move to a new location, or revisit their priorities in life, and if you are fortunate, you and your spouse will be on the same page with these changes.

Regardless of your socio-economic status, none of us are immune to death, financial loss, health issues and life transitions. These are all inevitable challenges we face in life, and they will test our  best relationships.  Those that manage to work through these issues together, actually do grow closer, whereas those that choose to deal with tough times separately, create a divide that deepens over time until the chasm is simply too vast.

Needless to say, luck is a huge factor in partnering with the right person to support you through life's trials and tribulations.  But, since we cannot control luck perhaps we can focus more on the effort involved in keeping the love we find.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

7 Things To Consider Before Leaving Your Spouse

If you find yourself struggling to keep it together during the holidays, you should know that you are in really good company.  When you feel that you have nothing left to celebrate together, and you dread spending the holidays as a couple, that is a pretty clear indication that it is probably time to part ways.  But before you say adieu, here are 7 things to consider: 

1. Get legal advice.  Beyond asking a friend, who may play a lawyer on tv, you really should consult with an attorney to learn about your rights and obligations;

2. Prepare a budget.  You need to understand what it will cost you to be out on your own, so based on your income and/or available savings you can determine what you can afford in rent, etc.;

3. Explore Housing Options.  We all need someplace to crash at the end of the day, and do not feel humiliated if you have to move back in with your parents or use a sibling's basement for awhile.  Many of my clients have had to do this on a temporary basis, and I have found that they all benefited from the love and support of their relatives during a very trying time.  Having a great family network that can spare you from going bankrupt is nothing to be ashamed of, but rather should be viewed as an admirable quality.

4. Secure Your Mail.  To protect your credit and privacy, you want to make sure your mail is safe-- and I'm not just referring to snail mail, but email.  Change all your online passwords to email, FaceBook, etc. asap and notify the post office to get mail forwarded elsewhere, even if it is a PO Box.

5. Take an Inventory.  Go through your home and list all the things of value, maybe even take pictures.  Also try to get a snap shot of your family's finances, including all assets and outstanding liabilities.

6. Establish Separate Accounts.  Set up your own bank account and credit cards independent of your spouse.  Even if on a temporary basis, you continue to use joint accounts to pay joint bills, eventually you will need to do your banking separately.

7.  Disconnect on Social Media- There is no reason to remain friends with your estranged spouse on FB or to follow each other on Twitter.  Seriously, remove all opportunities to snoop on each other, and try to lay low with others on social media, at least until your case is over. 

If you are lucky, you will be among the 70% of couples that are able to divorce in a cooperative, if not amicable manner.  Nonetheless, I urge you to rely not just on family and friends, but to find a counselor for emotional support during this emotional process.  As you grieve the loss of your partner and the life you envisioned together, it is critical that you realize you are not alone and that once you get past this rough transition phase, things will get better over time.    Indeed, after about a year you should feel a thousand times better, looking ahead to a new year and a new you.  In the meantime, hang in there and just take things one day at a time.

By Regina A. DeMeo, Esq. in Bethesda, MD
Focusing on Family Law for 17 years

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Are You Tired Of Bending Over Backwards?

All relationships require effort, but in healthy ones the give and take should feel about equal.  If you feel like you are putting in more of an effort than the other, or you don't feel satisfied with the return on your investment of time and/or money on someone, eventually you are bound to hit a wall.  This is normal, and when this happens, you will find yourself lacking the same motivation you once had to do or say nice things, plan anything fun, buy thoughtful gifts or even hug.  Then what do you do?

Hopefully, when you catch yourself losing enthusiasm in a relationship you once held dear, you can have an honest conversation with the other person to try and repair your bond.  Together,  if you are both committed to working things out, you should be able to come up with strategies to improve your relationship.  Unfortunately, however, some people are incapable of receiving critical feedback.  Truly, these people are not going to be able to hear you say that they did or said anything wrong.   So if you are dealing with one of these people, repair efforts may not be very fruitful, and sooner or later you will realize that instead of being able to connect more with this person, you need to switch gears and start building a wall.  Why a wall? Because you need to protect yourself from further injury by creating boundaries.

Boundaries are the limits we set for others not to punish them, but rather to prevent us from getting hurt.  So for example, if I feel like I am always the one making an effort to reach out, do nice things, etc. and I find myself constantly disappointed by the other person's lack of response, then I will stop going out of my way for this person not as punishment but rather to spare myself any further disappointment. Now is it possible, and in fact probable, that the other person will think I'm being mean?  Of course, but remember we each are entitled to have our own perception of reality.

How do you know when you need to set up boundaries?  Easy-- when you sense that what someone expects or asks of you is going to seriously hurt you or it goes completely against who you are, then you need to listen to how you feel-- pay attention to how your gut feels tight, and your breathing has probably stopped, and how your mind is desperately racing to find a way to escape.  All these are signs that you need to respectfully create a safe-place for yourself.

So, as the holidays approach and the pressure mounts to try and satisfy everyone, please stop and take a few deep breaths.  If you find that your are tired of bending over backwards for someone that does not appreciate your efforts, maybe the best holiday gift you can give yourself this season is a backbone made of steel-- and reinforced in concrete.  Seriously, stop trying to be such a people pleaser and instead take some of that caring tendency and apply it to yourself.  Establish boundaries that will work for you, knowing that those that deserve your love and efforts will always be there for you.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Is Your Step Family Refusing to Blend?

I have really come to despise the term "blended family," and it turns out I'm in very good company.  In fact the National Stepfamily Resource Center discourages the use of that word because the very term sets up an unrealistic expectation, which just further complicates an already difficult situation that at least 42% of Americans can relate to by having at least one step relative.

Sadly, couples that remarry with children have almost a 70% chance of divorcing, and the number one reason is this:  fights over their children-- not just because of the time and/or money they require from a parent, but often it is the whole attitude adjustment (or lack thereof) to the new family dynamics.

Venting to your partner isn't really going to be helpful, but venting to friends actually might.  If you have friends that have already been through a step-family experience, gaining their insight might ease some of the pain by normalizing the process you are going through.  If you don't want to talk about the issues in public, then there are plenty of great books on the subject, including "Stepcoupling" by Susan Wisdom and Jennifer Green, and one of my all time favorites: "Stepmonster" by Dr. Wednesday Martin, who points out that only about 20% of adult children actually feel close to their stepmother.

There are a variety of reasons why step families fail to blend, but that does not actually mean that they cannot learn to function effectively.  The hardest part is just accepting that your bunch will not be anything like the Brady Bunch.  But if you think about it, how can it be?  If we are truly honest with ourselves, we can all agree on this very harsh reality: just as no one ever aspires to be a step mother,  no child ever dreams of  having a step mom.

Blood is definitely the tie that bonds, and when you don't have, well.. what do you have?  It makes sense that the parents in a step family have to make their marriage a priority.  Their relationship has to be rock solid to prevent the whole house of cards from crashing down.  And if there is one thing all divorced parents want to avoid more than anything else is putting their kids through yet another round of marital turmoil.  So, before things get too ugly, it is imperative that stepfamilies with issues get the resources they need to establish a good foundation for working through their family conflicts.

Thankfully, there are great counselors specializing in step couples, as well as list servs and podcasts that share useful tips for second marriages with kids.  Another key resource is the National Stepfamily Resource Center:

So, if your stepfamily doesn't want to blend, let it go.  Focus on the good things you have in life, including your partner.  Apply your love and energy to those that appreciate it.  Don't let others rain on your parade-- easier said than done, for sure.  But I think with each passing day, you can detach a little more from that which you had envisioned, and with each new day you can go on to redefine what will be your own happily ever after.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Is A Good Man Hard To Find?

Perhaps in Flannery O'Connor's time, a good man was hard to find-- because let's face it in all generations prior to mine, men were mainly primed to be good providers.  But in the 21st century, where women can provide for themselves, find a sperm donor, and live a single life without any of the shame once associated with those that remained unmarried, men have really had to step it up. So, with the pressure now on for GenX guys and all those that follow to be much more than just good providers like their fathers, or their fathers' fathers, here are 3 ways I see plenty of men rising to the occasion:

1. Caring Fathers- Unlike the men of their father's generation or anyone before then, today's men are expected to be involved fathers, sharing in all of the child-rearing responsibilities.  Indeed, today's dads can be seen everywhere changing diapers, pushing strollers, taking their daughters to ballet class, making time to chaperone field trips, attend parent-teacher conferences and school functions, etc.  And, even when the marriage fails, I see my male clients step up to the plate, trying their best to maximize their time with their children and support them financially to the best of their ability.  Does that mean I never encounter dead-beat dads?  Of course not, but my point is that after 17 years in the business of helping families through a divorce, I have found dead-beat/absent fathers to be an incredibly rare minority.

2. Supportive Husbands- Contrary to what was expected of men of prior times, today's man is not just expected to provide financially for the family and keep it in his pants, but he's expected to also know how to be an emotional support to his wife.  Despite everything they have learned as boys to not show too much emotion, we expect them to come home and open up their hearts and minds to further develop a deep emotional bond that we so long for with our partners, and guess what? Most of them actually try-- they really do try, at least to the best of their ability, and this is where it is important to remember that saying you cannot expect a fish to climb a tree.

3. Good Role Models- Throughout my entire life, I have been blessed with incredible male role models/mentors, and I know from my other female peers that I am not alone.  With such few women making it to the top (less than 15% of us make it to the CEO/partner level) who do you think is actually mentoring those of us that make it?  9 out of 10 times, it is men.  Men like legendary Robert Morgenthau, who wrote my letters of recommendation to college after my internship at the Manhattan D.A.'s office.  Men like Father Schall, a Jesuit priest at Georgetown University, who was my favorite advisor.  Men in all the prominent firms that I worked at for over 8 years in the DC Area, who guided me through the various stages of my 17 year legal career.

Now, are any of the men I have come to love and admire throughout the years perfect?  Of course not-- and neither are any of the women I have come across the last four decades.  We are all flawed, and we have all made big mistakes at some points along the way.  But actually the biggest mistake I see today is predominantly the belief among women of the 21st century that a good man is hard to find.  If this really is the mindset among today's modern women, then Houston we really have a problem.

Life is not meant to be lived alone, and men are not just sperm donors that we need to have babies.  Men have certain strengths that we don't have, just as we bring qualities into their lives that otherwise would not exist without us.  They are the ying to our yang, and together with the right life partner, we learn to achieve balance.  Will it be perfect all the time? Of course not-- but don't let perfection be the enemy of the good.

So, next time you hear someone say or you find yourself thinking that a good man is hard to find, I hope you will encourage that person or yourself to stop and take a good look around.  There are plenty of good men out there-- good role models, caring dads and loving husbands are everywhere-- and I for one, am eternally indebted to them.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Are You Having a Rough Year?

If you feel like 2015 hasn't been your year, especially if you have gone some through difficult transitions either at work or with your family, there is some good news for you: the year is almost over!  Seriously, there are less than 8 weeks left to go here, and while none of us can go back and un-do what has been done, we can all think positively and start making plans for a brighter year ahead. Here are 3 key areas to think about:

Health- if you are not happy with your work out or eating habits, the holidays is probably the worst time to try and implement some changes, but there is nothing like the start of a new year to set a new routine in motion!  At least explore options for a gym, personal trainer, or maybe meeting with a dietician to set you on the right path for 2016.

Finances- if you want to earn more or spend less next year, now is the time to plot out what changes you can make to have a more balanced budget.  Many of us need help figuring out the best strategies to pay down debt and save for retirement while also putting money aside for our children's education, and these questions are best discussed with a CPA or financial planner to make sure you are not making decisions based on just your emotions.

Relationships- if you realize that some of your personal relationships could stand some improvement, you are definitely not alone!  Maintaining relationships is hard work-- especially with those you love.  Your spouses, children and other close relatives often do not share the same personality as you, and sometimes things get lost in translation.  Luckily, there are many great books or coaches trained to guide you through the process of learning to communicate better and manage your expectations.

When my divorce clients first come to me, I warn them that they are in for a rough year.  There is a lot of upheaval in that first year as you create a new identity for yourself, learn to manage your own finances, and have to build all new routines. If you think about it (which I really didn't until I got remarried this year) same is true for those who just got married.  Lots of change all at once is very stressful, even under the best of circumstances.  So you know what my best advice is to all those that feel like 2015 hasn't been an easy year?  Be kind to yourself.

This holiday season make sure you plan something fun for yourself.  Take some time to just be alone and enjoy some peace and quiet.  Don't wait for someone to get you the best gift ever or plan the best date for you-- do it for yourself.  This year is almost over, and if there is one thing you can do it is this: make sure  you end it on a high note so you can  be sure to start 2016  on the right foot.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Are You Thinking of Getting Engaged?

The holiday season is a popular time for people to pop the question.   And soon thereafter, engaged couples will begin to plan for the big day-- finding the right venue, deciding on the perfect menu, developing the guest list, and selecting all the necessary vendors for the special day, all of which will cost an average of $25,000 per wedding, and in the DC Area yields about $1.1 Billion a year in business.  Needless to say, this is an intense endeavor with significant demands on your time and finances, so before you take that big step try to take a step back, and just ask yourself these 4 key questions:

1. What are the reasons you want to get married?  The motivating factor should not be because you are tired of the dating scene or feel external pressure either as a result of a biological clock ticking, finances, or having a visa that is about to expire.  It is also not healthy to want to play the role of a savior-- although we all want to help those we love, it grows old when one person constantly needs to be rescued by the other. Furthermore, applying the sunken cost logic, i.e. we have invested too much time or money into this relationship to call it quits is very faulty logic.  If things are not good now, it is not likely to miraculously get better by committing yourself financially and legally to one another.  Indeed, the only real reason you should want to tie the knot these days is because you genuinely love that other person (accepting them the way they are and not the way you wish they would be), and you cannot picture life without him/her being a part of the many adventures that lie ahead.

2. Are you in sync about finances? First there is the issue of paying for all the costs associated with a wedding, which is no small undertaking.  But beyond that are much deeper questions:  How important is it for both of you to save vs. spend?  How will you manage a household budget?  Will you want to keep separate accounts or create a joint account, and who will manage them?  Do you want a prenup to define what will remain separate versus joint? Are you both self-supporting? If not, are you worried about alimony?  If so, do you want to ask for a waiver or set caps in the event of a divorce?  If all these questions seem overwhelming or are a sore subject between you, then ask for help-- invest in a consult with a legal or financial expert to help you structure your partnership in a way that will work for both parties.

3. How well do you resolve conflict?  Conflict is inevitable when there are limited resources, and here the main two often in dispute involve time and/or money.  So, how do you find a resolution?  Your communication styles and tolerance for conflict will differ, that is normal.  But, are you able to hear each other's points of view and address one another's concerns respectfully? Do you feel like you work well together as a team?   If not, are you willing to work with a couples counselor to develop strategies that will enhance your relationship?  

4. What are your dreams and aspirations?  We all have a vision for what we want out of life, and each of us has a Constitutional right to actually pursue our own happiness.  But, when you get married and join forces with someone, you need to make sure that you are both in agreement as to your family's core values and vision for the future.  Put bluntly, you cannot move the tandem bike forward unless you are on the same page as to where you are heading and the pace you want to use when pedaling. 

For all those about to take the plunge this holiday season, please  know that you are not the only one who wants a happily-ever after, all those that love you want that for you too.  Just take the time to carefully think through these 4 basic questions before you go shopping for that very expensive piece of jewelry, for it is indeed true that the life partner you pick is one of the most important decisions you will make in your life.  

Regina A. DeMeo, Esq.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Is Heartbreak In the Air?

Have you noticed a surge in break-ups recently?  Well, you are definitely not alone.  As we adjust to the cold weather season, knowing that the holidays are around the corner, many men see this as time to "hibernate and cuddle," but unfortunately what many don't realize is that for women (who tend to plan much further ahead) this is the time to end something that isn't going anywhere.  Why?  Easy-- because 1) there is no point in trying to get through the holidays with someone you are no longer in love with, and 2) the sooner you stop going down a dead-end street, the sooner you can go find a more promising path-- maybe even before New Year's Eve if the stars align just right.

This my friends is one of the best examples of how women and men think differently.  Year after year, I have heard so many of my male clients say they would have just continued with the status quo.  As long as work is good and home life is comfy, 9 out of 10 guys will just let things lie.  But women, hmm ...we  really are an entirely different breed.  We let our minds (and often our emotions) race ahead, and as we check in with our girlfriends we wonder out loud, "what's the plan for the holidays?  are we getting engaged?  are we moving in together? are we going to talk about having kids in the new year?" Or if we are already married with kids, we may be thinking, "how are we going to spice things up?  does he realize I'm not feeling emotionally connected? what efforts is he going to make to focus on us?"

Now, if you don't think you are on the same page with your partner, before jumping to any conclusions, try to ask yourself these 3 basic questions:

1. Do you think your partner cares about you?
2. Is your partner willing/able to hear you?
3. Do you think your partner can change?

If the answer to all three questions is "no" then there really isn't any point in trying to work anything out.  But if there is still love and hopes of a brighter future together, then an open and honest conversation about what can be done to fix things is in order-- preferably at a mutually convenient time when neither one of you is too emotional.

When you have "the talk" remember to keep an open mind.  Don't assume anything for I have yet to meet a single human being with the ability to read another person's mind, regardless of how many years they have been together or how much love they once shared together.

Also, respect that there are gender differences-- the way guys speak is vastly different from how women speak.   While 21st century men have made great progress at learning to meet the heightened expectations women now have of their male partners, the way they continue to socialize among each other is vastly different from how women socialize together.  For example, the men I know generally don't talk much about their feelings-- certainly not with their other guy friends, and they are wired to want to find a quick fix.  So if you are going to raise a problem with them, make sure you filter out too much emotion and try to offer some viable options for a solution.

In the end, the solution may just be that it is time to go your separate ways.  That doesn't mean that either party is not worthy of being loved, it just means that the effort required to maintain that particular relationship is just too much.  I don't mean to say that we should expect love to be easy, but it certainly should not be difficult.

Is heartbreak in the air?  Maybe so, but you live, you learn and you will both move on.

Monday, October 19, 2015

How Flexible Is Your Thinking?

This week, I am looking forward to presenting at the annual conference for the Academy of Professional Family Mediators on the topic of Flexible Thinking.  Obviously the majority of those in the audience, given their chosen profession, probably already have a proven ability to think flexibly, but the challenge for us is still this: how do you teach others to be flexible thinkers?

Flexible thinkers have a demonstrated ability to see problems from various points of view, and they don't see conflict as a failure, but rather a challenge that requires some creativity in order to find a solution.  If you are a flexible thinker, you don't see things as black or white.  It's not your way or the highway.  You are open to possibilities.  You listen with genuine interest.  You collaborate well with others and enjoy brainstorming.  You share ideas readily, and appreciate feedback.  You draw others into your world with diverse backgrounds and expertise.  And as you pull all of these things together, you see magic happen.  Truly, if you have experienced this you know what I mean.

Now, if none of what I just said resonates with you does that mean it is game over?  No, not at all.  It does mean you will need a guide, and there's a lot of work ahead for you.  But the payoff is immense, both professionally and personally, for the less rigid you are in life, the easier it will be to ride the waves as they come--and to pick up the pieces if/when it all comes crashing down on you like a Tsunami that appeared without warning.

When I first began mediation almost a decade ago, I was still stinging from the raw feelings of immense failure and defeat following my own divorce.  I naively thought that my mediation cases would be easy, because I stupidly assumed that those choosing mediation instead of litigation must value the preservation of goodwill.  In fact, that is not always the case, and often the motivating factors may well just be to 1) spend less in legal fees or 2) avoid disclosing embarrassing details in an open courtroom.  It turns out, the reasons a couple chooses mediation does not matter at all, but to get them to the finish line, it is critical that they get past their positions and learn to articulate their needs, wants and concerns in an honest and respectful manner so that we can then start to brainstorm options, and eventually find a solution that in the end works for everyone.

First, we need to establish some ground rules:
1. Take turns speaking-- listen with empathy and express yourself respectfully;
2. Stick to "I" statements, don't speak for the other person;
3. Don't pass judgment or try to place blame;
4. Try not to guess someone's motive, instead just ask "why?
5. Focus on the problems at hand,  and not the past.

Second, we have to check in with how everyone in the room feels as we delve into serious discussions about the problems at hand.  Are they all calm?  Is anyone getting upset?  If so, we need to take a break and find a way to relax because it is not helpful to be emotional when we are trying to talk about difficult issues.  Also, we need to pay attention to how different people respond to conflict-- turns out not everyone likes to fight (something that probably comes naturally to those of us initially trained as trial lawyers).  Some people freeze, some want to flee, and then there are those that will just forfeit.  So I caution you to be aware of these 4 Fs.

Third, instead of a free for all, have a structured conversation.  What are the common goals/concerns?  What are the issues? Find common ground first, then split up on the brainstorming part keeping in mind that no idea is a bad idea, it just may not work.  After you have developed all the options you can think of, simply see if there are some you could consider-- no need to rush to a decision, just sleep on it if you have to, without shutting down any option that you did not generate.  Then, agree to come back at a specific date/time to try and conclude the matter.

Does this sound simple?  I bet it does, but it is the hardest process I've ever had to manage.  Indeed, court is much easier, believe me-- especially when you are not dealing with flexible thinkers.  But do you know what the real irony is here?  That if all these couples had tried these tactics DURING their marriage, then they may not have to learn then on the back-end as part of their divorce process.

Indeed, marriage counselors use a lot of the techniques described above in their sessions with couples.    Now just imagine if more people would actually avail themselves of these services when things first become difficult instead of waiting until it is too late?  Surely we can all agree that it is so much easier to clean a surface wound than to heal a deeply infected cut.  So if you think you need help with your flexible thinking, don't delay in getting help.  The resources are out there, and if you want to change, I believe you can.

So now go back and ask yourself, how flexible is your thinking? Could it be better? Of that, I have no doubt for even after all these years I am humbled each day by the realization of how much I have yet to learn.  However, hopefully together, we can at least give each other an "A" for effort-- for at least trying to preserve some basic sense of humanity by demonstrating empathy and respect at least for those we love, even as we see these two basic skills quickly slip away from our society.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

What Is Your Window of Opportunity?

In the medical world, they say every minute counts when it comes to restoring blood flow to stroke patients.  It is believed that the maximum amount of time to start administering blood clot dissolving treatment once symptoms of a stroke start is 4.5 hours.  The more time you lose, the greater the chances of causing irreparable damage to a person's brain.  May I suggest that the same is true when you have a blow-up with your significant other.  Time is simply not on your side when it comes to repair work.

While we all need time to cool off after an upsetting situation, research suggests that within 20 minutes you should be able to calm down.  During that time, take a walk, a soothing shower, perhaps sit still in a quiet room and take several deep breaths.  Collect yourself and your thoughts.  Start to think with your frontal lobe, not the emotional side of your brain, and then do something.  Try to think of at least one thing you can do to repair the situation at hand.  Remaining immobile should not be an option.  Why? Because each minute that goes by without taking action is just depriving your heart of the love it needs.  Simply stated you could act quickly to make the wound nothing more than a minor paper cut, or allow the wound to deepen with time into an infected gash requiring a major operation that may or may not succeed.

All significant relationships will face challenging times, it is how you face those challenges that makes or breaks you.  Unfortunately, there are many out there that are conflict avoiders.  Obviously, I am not one, but inevitably in every marriage that I encounter there is always one person that is more assertive and another that is more passive, and when these two personalities have to tackle a problem, their conflict styles are bound to clash.  The passive person feels the other one is being aggressive and in response becomes defensive or simply shuts down.  This is very infuriating to the other, who can quickly cross the line from assertive to aggressive, and hopefully you can see how quickly a minor dispute can erupt into World War III.

No one is capable of withstanding repeated blows without any injury.  No one.  We are all human, and we do all bleed.  Keeping this in mind, together with the analogy of the stroke situation, the next time an issue comes up with anyone close to you, try to quickly remove yourself from the fiery situation, calm down, and then within 20 minutes start to think: what is my window of opportunity?  How can you get things flowing again before it is too late?

We have all loved and lost.  Looking back we may rewrite history and convince ourselves that certain relationships just were not meant to be.  But be honest- it is not always that simple, and indeed if we are being truthful with ourselves we can recognize that a lot of our personal losses stem from one thing: our inability to see that window of opportunity to make things right.

My dad says, "people see what they want to see."  Here's hoping you see the opportunities for repair that stand before you and that you find a way to act prior to having that window close forever.  

Thursday, September 3, 2015

What Changes Do You Most Want To See?

With just a few weeks to go before my life is drastically altered, I have been reflecting a lot on all the changes that have occurred in the past 10 years while I was "in between husbands."  Usually, those people that are motivated to re-marry do so within 2-5 years of their divorce, but alas not all of us feel the need to tie the knot so quickly after being burned.

When your vision of a life happily ever after goes up in flames, it's okay to take your time and mend your broken heart before you go in search of love again.  And while you are at it, here are some changes you may want to consider:

1. Physical Health- How comfortable are you with your own body?  If you want to lose weight or tone your muscles, change your workout or maybe even get some medical intervention to fix things you don't like about yourself, go do it!  Focus on yourself for a bit, and don't feel guilty about it.  The great thing about setting physical goals is that within a short period of time you can really start to see results, and this will boost your spirits greatly.  The undisputed fact is the more positive your energy is, the faster you will recover from whatever heart break or disappointment comes your way.

2. Intellectual Stimulation- Are you bored at work or at home?  Having a great mind is a gift you should not squander.  We all suffer lulls either at home or at our jobs, but rather than allow your brain to just atrophy find something new to learn and challenge yourself.  Learn a new language online or in a classroom, sign up for continuing education courses that will either help you advance in your career or maybe assist you with changing jobs.  Or maybe it would be fun to teach? Volunteering to teach kids is a great way to give back and connect with your community, and the questions they ask are so insightful.

3.Emotional Intelligence- I've met a lot of brilliant people with the emotional IQ of a pea.  Seriously, there is not a single person I know that can claim to have mastered emotional intelligence, and that is because it is a work in progress, and we are all constantly learning as we react to different environments, experiences and life challenges.  There are tons of great life coaches for one-on one sessions, seminars for those seeking a group setting, or there is always the library (or internet) full of books on psychology and spirituality.

Awareness of your mind, body and soul is key.  Even if you are not religious, it should be obvious why this is considered the holy trilogy: to find harmony, all three areas must be engaged.

Over the past decade, I'm not going to lie, I spent a lot of time in the gym-- mainly to stay sane while juggling work, parenthood and the Dating Game, but overtime I did change the focus of my workouts, and now they are much less aggressive (like kick-boxing) and much more about preserving strength and flexibility (thanks to yoga).  I've also lost count of how many classes and books I have read not just to advance my career but to improve my social IQ, and the proof of those results can easily be verified by my CV.  But each journey is different, one size does not fit all.

So my message today is that you should find your own path.  Don't sit back and just wait for Prince Charming to come knocking on your door and make magic happen.  Go out there and live your life to the max!  Be the change you want to see in you-- and keep working on your mind, your body and your soul.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

What Do You Like Most About Being Single?

As my decade of being single finally draws to an end, I've been reflecting a lot on what I have enjoyed most about being on my own the last 10 years, and here is what I have so far:   

1. You wake up and go to sleep when you want to, without anyone else disturbing you;
2. You eat what you want, when you want;
3. You spend what you want on whatever you want;
4. You make your own plans on your free-time;
5. You can be as neat or as messy as you want to be at home;
6. You never wake up surprised that your favorite snack/drink is gone from the fridge;
7. You can plan whatever trips you like without the need to compromise; and
8. There are no arguments at the end of the day-- just peace and quiet.

Now while all of this may resonate with many and sound great, let's be realistic-- there is a reason why about 80% of Americans get married, and I highly doubt the motivating factor for most is to have kids or gain financial security.  The truth is that life is so much sweeter when you have someone special by your side.  If I am completely honest with myself and all of you, for the past decade, that special person has been my son.  He filled a void for me that would otherwise have been unbearable.   

I realize that many in the single scene either fall into the category of "empty nesters" or have not yet started a family, and so they will not be able to cope with the Dating Game the way I did the past 10 years, and for those my advice would be to find some other way to fill your emotional tank with love and joy.  The game itself does suck, that is just a fact-- it is full of people with different (sometimes quite dishonorable) agendas, and there is a lot of rejection and disappointment that you will have to endure until you find that right fit.  But quitting is not an option unless you are prepared to live a life in isolation.  So, you must persevere creating almost a Teflon coating over your heart so that all the outrageous insults and injuries you may endure do not stick to you as you continue moving forward playing 20 questions with as much dignity, integrity and grace you can muster.   

Sunday, August 23, 2015

What Skeletons Are In Your Closet?

In light of the whole Ashley Madison scandal, I am sure millions out there are now counting the days until their secret is revealed, especially those that used their government or military emails that now risk severe consequences not just personally, but professionally.  And then at the other extreme we can all picture a whole other camp of individuals relishing in the fact that these people that broke their sacred marital vows are now being exposed, in fact almost branded with a virtual scarlet letter.  Where you fall on this hotly debated topic depends a lot on how honest you are with yourself about the skeletons you have in your own closet.

No one is perfect, and since none of us are currently sitting in the position of ultimate judge or jury on any of the cases that may result from this unfortunate breach of online information, let's just take a moment to think about the current turn of events.  Over the last 10 years, modern technology has completely changed our lives.  The search for anything, including a sexual partner, is now possible with just a few swipes or keystrokes from the comfort and privacy of your own home.  And yet, everything is now captured digitally, and just about everyone around you now has a camera and immediate access to the internet, allowing anything to go viral instantaneously.  So, it is super easy to obtain just about whatever you want-- but it is also ridiculously easy to get busted.  This is the simple truth of our times.

Now, in the case of Ashley Madison users, at least they were being honest about their marital status.  In so many other websites, apps, or even just your local bar down the street, you will find complete liars that profess to be single, separated, or together but living apart-- ready to leave their spouses once the kids go off to college.  These unhappily married folks have been around for centuries, and will continue to exist long after this current scandal is forgotten for one simple reason: keeping a marriage together is hard work, and not everyone is up for the challenge of working through issues both in good and bad times, through sickness and in health until death brings an end to their holy union.

A lot of people delay the decision to divorce simply because of finances.  The reality is it is much easier to split expenses and live comfortably in a two-income household.  And as the years go by, and you are accustomed to a certain life-style, I find a lot of people try to convince themselves that they are better off with the devil that is known vs. the devil that is unknown.  Hmm.. while this is all true, it still begs the question, is this really a way to live?  But ultimately, while some of us may be incapable of making the choice of staying in a loveless marriage, there are others who may make a different choice for reasons that we may never fully comprehend-- and the fact is it's not really any of our business.

Rather than gossip about what others are doing in their marriages, I think a far better use of our time would be for each of us to open up that closet full of skeletons in our own homes, and focus on making peace with our past mistakes.  Give those old ghosts a proper burial so they will stop haunting you.  Make amends if you can with those still living, and going forward remember this old saying: two people can keep a secret only when one of them is dead.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

5 Signs Your Relationship Is Dysfunctional

Are you wondering if your situation normal?  Lots of people ask me this question, and honestly I no longer know what is "normal" but to me the more appropriate question is this: does your relationship work for you?  If you are having your doubts, then obviously something is wrong.  Here are 5 common areas of concern:

1. Lack of Trust- This should be self-explanatory.  You simply cannot have a healthy relationship without trust and respect.

2. Lack of Commitment- Are you both committed to staying together and working through life's challenges?  We all suffer setbacks, illnesses, financial loss, and family drama.  The key question is will your partner be with you through the good times and the bad?

3. Conflict Avoidance- Let's be honest, very few enjoy conflict, but it is a part of life.  We all have different points of view and will not always see eye to eye with our partners, and yet you have to be able to talk candidly about your concerns and work through issues together.  Avoiding conflict and faking happiness will not work out in the long run, it never does.

4. No Accountability-  Do you check in with one another on major decisions, or do you each just do your own thing?  If you are truly part of team, then you cannot continue to operate as two separate entities.  You need to keep your promises to each other, and hold everyone in your household accountable for staying on task with the mission/vision/values you have established for your family.

5. No Results- We all have goals, and hopefully the goals you have established together with your partner are being met-- for example the goal to get married, buy a house, have a child, save for retirement, have "date night" at least once a week, travel twice a year, etc.  If those goals are not being met, you will find frustration, anger, disappointment and resentment are all going to build and the result of that will not be pretty.

All of these are common issues people face, not just at home but apparently also at work.  Patrick Lencioni wrote a book "5 Dysfunctions of a Team" dealing with the corporate world, and as I listened to an interview with him going through these points I could see the parallel between our two worlds.  Here is a link to a short video that explains his concept further:

Monday, August 17, 2015

Is Your Wedding Budget Realistic?

If you have been through this drill once before, then these numbers won't surprise you, but if you are getting married for the first time, prepare yourself for a little sticker shock.  The average cost of a wedding in the U.S. is about $25,000.  You may wonder, how can this be?  Well, let's think about what costs are involved here:

1. Church/Synagogue- The fees for using a church or synagogue vary, depending also on whether you are a member or not, but for budgeting purposes let's just assume $850 including the officiant's fee.

2. Flowers- Depending on what you want this can get very expensive, but again for sake of simplicity let's use $600 as a place-holder.

3. Dress- Stupidly, I spent $1,000 on my first dress, which was a beautiful silk gown that was never worn again.  I'm not doing that this time around, but even so good luck finding a nice man's suit for the groom and a nice dress and shoes for the bride for under $1000, so let's go with that.

4. Grooming- Every bride I know wants her hair done a special way for the big day, plus makeup and of course you need a mani/pedi the day before, with tips this will run at least $150.

5. Rings- In addition to an engagement ring, you will need wedding bands.  I realize sky is the limit for some, but I'll just use $10,000 for the sake of this argument.

6. Music- Whether you get a DJ or band, I doubt you can get away with less than $400 unless your friend is giving you some steep discount.

7. Pictures-  Unless all you want is a selfie to show at the end of the day, you need to hire someone to capture the special day, but do you really need the whole day?  And how many people do you want on staff?  What is the final product you want-- a complete album or just digitals? Do you want one of the best photographers in the industry or are you willing to give someone relatively new to the scene a shot?  I've heard of people paying as much as $4,500, which I personally think is insane.  I'm going with $800 as a more realistic average number.

8. Rehearsal Dinner- Even if you do a low key BBQ in your backyard, with food and beverages you can easily spend $500 celebrating with family and out of town guests the night before.

9. Reception- Obviously the more people you are feeding, the more expensive the reception is going to be, so think long and hard about how many guests you really want at your wedding.  For budgeting purposes, even a small group of 50 people at $50 per person is going to cost you $2500-- not including any site fees you may have to pay depending on the venue.

10.  Stationary- You need invites and thank you notes, plus postage.  Let's go with $250 on the modest side, obviously realizing this will go up as the number of guests goes up.

11. Honeymoon- Hopefully you realize I have saved the best for last, and if you have followed the math thus far you are already $17,000 in the hole without taking into account the special trip that is all about you as a newly wed couple.  It is a trip you will always remember, and it is the one thing (other than the rings) that you will really remember when it is all said and done.

It is no wonder that so many couples are thinking twice about taking on all these expenses.  It is a huge upfront cost, but then again nothing worthwhile ever comes cheap or easy-- and just wait until the kids come!  Planning and paying for a wedding is intense, but it is an important right of passage. Working through the emotions and the finances of this event is just the first of many challenges a couple will face together.  Consider this a huge lesson in what matters most to each person and his/her ability to communicate and compromise.

There may well be times during the wedding prep where one or the other will be on the verge of a heart attack as these difficult discussions about budgets and family dynamics come up, but perhaps going in with a realistic budget as set forth above will help keep things calm.  And when in doubt, ask friends and family for a reality check, and with a little help from the village your big day should turn out just fine.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Do You Feel Like It Is Groundhog Day?

Remember that 1993 movie with Bill Murray, where he keeps waking up and the day keeps repeating itself? If you are stuck in a vicious cycle, it is normal to feel like you are starring in Groundhog Day. While the topic you may be arguing about is different, the same fight is going replay itself because the core issue remains unresolved.  Here is an example:

Day 1- you fight about the dishes in the sink.
Day 2- you argue about the clothes not in the hamper.
Day 3- you have a fit about the trash not being taken out.
Day 4- you get upset because there is not a single sweet text message sent.
Day 5- you get fired up when you find someone forgot to pay a bill, or pick up the dry-cleaning, etc.

By Day 6 you are in big trouble for one very simple reason-- for a relationship to be happy and healthy you need 5 positive interactions to one negative, yet in this scenario you have had 5 straight days of blow ups.  You don't have to be math genius to figure out the odds are now stacked against you, unless you can find a way to reboot.

To break away from a series of bad-spells, you may actually need to get away, maybe spend a day apart and do something you enjoy on your own.  You can vent to someone you trust if you need to, with the goal being to purge the negative energy.  Then, maybe try to get away together-- even if it is just a romantic dinner, a concert, movie, day hike-- whatever helps remind you of the love you share and the bond you have created over time.

Building on the positive energy, when you return to your normal routine, it is important to gently start to tackle the real issue that is haunting your relationship.  Brace yourself, because repair work is not easy.  You will need good communication skills and insight in order to work through rough patches in a relationship.  We all have them, but at the end of the day if you are committed to understanding one another and finding solutions together, you should be able to get past the bumps in the road.

At the end of the day, the issues that upset us the most are pretty easy to identify-- we all want our partner's empathy, attention and respect.  Bill Eddy suggests we remember this as "EAR."  With this in mind, go back to the fights about the dishes, the clothes, the trash or other chores and you can see that the real issue is about a lack of respect or consideration.  And it is human nature that when someone insults you, you become far less inclined to be nice to them-- you will either fight or flee, argue or shut down.  We have all been there, but unless you want to continue starring in your own version of Groundhog Day, you and your partner are going to have to find a way (together) to break the vicious cycle.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Are You Looking for A Roadmap?

Once upon a time, most of us knew exactly what was expected of us and we yearned to meet those expectations: get an education, find a good job, have some fun until you find a nice partner, and eventually start a family.  About 80% of women will accomplish this by the time we are 40, but then a funny thing happens, as we realize we are at the half-way point in our life expectancy-- we find ourselves asking some difficult questions: can I keep working the same job and/or living with the same partner for another 20 years?  Are there things I have left undone and still want to accomplish before it is too late? And beneath it all is the ultimate question: what do I need to be truly happy?

Those that find themselves contemplating the road that lies ahead are not having a mid-life crisis, but rather are reassessing where they are versus where they want to be.  At this critical juncture, many often first default to looking for a new roadmap.  Indeed it is wise to read and learn about the journeys of others, mainly to gain courage and inspiration.  Ultimately, however, you need to do some soul-searching on your own-- dig into your past and make peace with it.  You need to understand and appreciate the bizarre series of events that transpired to get you to where you are today.  Then, you need to let go-- forgive the past and surrender to the unpredictable nature of what the future holds in store for all of us.

After my divorce, I delved deep into my past and went in search of answers about my family's complex history.  Once I pieced that puzzle together, I stupidly tried to zoom ahead, which is how I wound up calling off an engagement that never should have happened.  In the year that followed, I meditated every day and spent a great deal of time reading spiritual books, with my favorite being "The Way of the Peaceful Warrior."  Only after I truly accepted that there really is not much I can control in this world did the full picture come together in all its splendor.

So, don't waste your time looking for a roadmap that does not exist.   Instead, embrace the notion of navigating your own vessel through unchartered waters.  There will be storms, no doubt.  But there is a reason they say "smooth sailing does not make for skilled sailors."  Face each challenge building on the courage you have developed with each trial and tribulation you have endured thus far, and look ahead with and open mind, genuine curiosity and cautious optimism.    With time, you will truly appreciate that there is no road map.

Build your own path, and in the meantime enjoy the journey.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Are You Trying To Negotiate With The Devil?

Some people just cannot be reasoned with, they simply will not budge.  The art of compromise is not part of their emotional tool box- so it's either their way or the highway.  When you hit this wall (and we all do at some point with toxic people) the question actually becomes quite simple: is it worth the fight or should you just give in and walk away?  Answering this question, however, is not so simple-- but here is some food for thought:

1. How well do you know your enemy?  If you are going to fight, you better know your opponent's weak points and strengths.  And you need to consider what do they have on you and what are they capable of doing?  Are they willing to borrow, beg and steal to fight to the bitter end?  If so, can you (and those around you) stomach that?

2.  What resources are at your disposal?  Is there even a higher power you can appeal to if the other person won't budge, and what are the transaction costs involved with that process?  A common phrase we use with clients contemplating litigation is that we all have principles worth fighting for-- but can you afford the fight?  Literally, before you go to war you have to have a war chest.

3. Is there nobility in quitting? There is a value to ending a battle, especially for the sake of restoring peace and sanity into your life, particularly when kids are involved.  Battles take a toll on you physically and emotionally, not to mention financially.  So do you really need to prove a point, or can you cut your losses with this toxic person and move on with your dignity intact?

There is a great book by Professor Mnookin "Bargaining with the Devil" that discusses the various factors one should consider in a cost-benefit analysis before launching WWIII, and Bill Eddy's books including "It's All Your Fault"  has wonderful tips for dealing with high conflict personalities, but at the end of the day, no one but you will be able to look deep inside your heart to determine whether you can live with yourself if you put down your sword and forfeit the fight.  Only with age and maturity have I learned the beauty in this simple truth: you are the one being irrational if you expect an irrational person to be reasonable.

Stop trying to negotiating with the devil.  Either fight or walk away, just own the choice in the interest of preserving your own sanity.

By Regina A. DeMeo, Esq.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

What Is "Ours" Versus "Yours" or "Mine"?

This is a question that plagues me every day-- either in my prenup consults or with those about to embark in the divorce process.  Explaining the law is easy, but getting couples to agree on what should be part of the marital pie is often not easy at all.

With a prenuptial agreement, couples can redefine upfront what will be considered separate versus marital during their marriage.  Some choose to waive a right to making any claims for alimony in the event of divorce, others prefer to set caps on the duration and/or amount.  To a detached person acting like a scribe, these may seem like straight-forward issues, but as I sit there talking it through with my clients the reality is there are a lot of complicated emotions that need to be flushed out well before each couple says "I do."

Throughout the years, I have come to understand that there is a wide range of attitudes out there about what people feel entitled to in a marriage.  Not everyone agrees that everything accumulated during a marriage through employment efforts and savvy investments should be "ours."  Particularly, those that are over 40 and/or entering a second marriage with assets are much more prone to want to protect their own nest eggs and minimize the risk of having someone else on their payroll.  I know it sounds harsh, but it is true.  Those willing to remarry later in life mainly seek a life companion, which is so amazingly uplifting and yet it begs the question: what are you going to build together?

On the flip side, for those that unfortunately face a divorce without a prenuptial agreement, there are a lot of unknowns that will need to be addressed and the reason for all the uncertainly is that fundamentally there are severe differences of opinion between estranged spouses as to what is fair and reasonable with respect to either a support award or division of assets.   It's just not easy for two opposing sides to agree on what is "ours" and how should we split it all?

Given everything that is at stake, before you get too ahead of yourself in planning a future together with someone, sit down with your significant other and ask yourselves some difficult questions, including what is going to be yours versus mine?  What do we want to build together?  And, do we want to put these agreements down on paper?  If there is some resistance to this notion simply ask "why is that?"  Also, be prepared to articulate your concerns and deal-breakers.  Understanding each other is the key to resolving conflicts, which are an inevitable part of married life.

Money talks are not easy, I know.  But if you want to live happily ever after, you have to be on the same page with your partner as to what it is that you are creating together versus "yours" or "mine."

By Regina A. DeMeo, Esq.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Are You Challenging Yourself Enough?

If you are feeling a bit bored, or complacent, and you are tired of the same old, same old then it is obvious you need to challenge yourself a bit more.  If you want to shake things up, here are 3 key areas to consider working on:

1. Professionally- what goals have you set recently?  What steps are you taking to achieve those goals?  Long after we have completed our studies and established our careers, we need to continue to find opportunities for learning and expanding our minds.  Thankfully there are plenty of great webinars or continuing education programs out there, and if you feel you need some personal assistance find a mentor or career coach that can give you an extra push in the right direction.

2. Personally- are your personal relationships bringing you joy and/or helping you grow emotionally?  If not, it's definitely time to try something different, and since you can't force others to change, focus on yourself.  Are your expectations too high of others?  Do you make a lot of assumptions?  Both of these tendencies can cause you major disappointment.  At the other end of the spectrum, maybe you are the one that is self-sabatoging?  Do you have some self-destructive tendencies or bad habits that you need to break?  Work on yourself-- only once you do that will you attract the right kind of people into your world.

3. Physically- when is the last time you felt sore after a good workout?  If you are tired of your routine, maybe splurge on a few sessions with a personal trainer.  If you think your diet needs some tweaking, go meet with a nutritionist.  Our bodies change over time, and we need to pay attention to their different needs.

The last 20 years as a retired athlete, I definitely continued to push myself professionally and personally, but I honestly failed to really test myself physically.  Don't get me wrong, I have maintained a healthy diet and exercised regularly, but for the last few years I have been craving some a change, and finally this month I took the plunge and did 2 things: (1) returned to yoga to gain back more flexibility and (2) got a personal trainer that is kicking my butt.  I will admit that I've been waking up sore just about every day, but you know what? It feels good.

They say "no pain, no gain."  It is indeed true-- so if you are tired of the status quo and want to implement some changes, I'm not going to lie, it is going to hurt a little-- or maybe a lot-- but work through the pain.  You will be so proud of yourself in the end, and who knows how many others you will inspire at the same time? But don't focus on the others-- just focus on challenging yourself to be the best you professionally, personally and physically!

Friday, July 10, 2015

Are You Making Some Bad Decisions?

Realizing something is wrong is half the battle, so cut yourself some slack.  If you don't feel like you are at your best, work through those feelings and identify the source of your stress so you can address it, otherwise things most likely are just going to get worse, and the more irritated you are the more likely you are to make some really bad decisions. Why?  Well think of it this way- if a car's alignment is off, the more you keep driving it the worse it will handle.  The same is true with humans.

When you run a diagnostic on yourself (something that usually works better when you talk it through with another individual) there are 8 areas of life that you want to take into account:

1. Finances- is your budget balanced? Cash flow issues are a huge source of stress, and to resolve them you either need to (1) tap into savings; (2) increase your income or (3) decrease your spending. Easier said than done, I know, but this is where consulting an expert might be incredibly beneficial.

2. Work- are you satisfied with what you are doing? Given that most of us spend 40 hours a week or more at work, it is important that we feel valued, and I do not just mean well compensated.  Are your efforts properly recognized?  Is your work environment friendly and comfortable?  If not, you have to speak up and advocate for some changes.

3. Partner- are you in sync with your life partner?  If not, what can you do to improve this key relationship?  If you don't have a life partner- are you okay with that or does it bother you?  Finding and keeping a healthy partnership is a huge commitment-- of both your time and effort.

4. Family-  are those in your family that you love doing okay?  Those of us that are part of the sandwich generation are going to have a particularly hard time balancing different needs between our aging parents and our young children.  Just remember, you cannot please everyone, so just do the best you can.

5. Health- are you taking good care of yourself?  For those of us conditioned as athletes to eat right, exercise and rest to keep the machine functioning properly, this comes as second nature, but the majority of you need to work at this-- seriously, you will be of no use to anyone, including yourself if you are ill.

6.  Appearance- are you satisfied with the way you and/or or your house look?  It is important to feel good about yourself and your home.  If you are not happy with yourself or your sanctuary, it will affect your overall outlook, and let's face being embarrassed or feeling insecure are not sexy qualities.

7. Spirituality- do you make time to connect with a higher power?  You don't necessarily have to go to church to connect with God.  Maybe you your thing is connecting with nature, or volunteering and connecting with those less fortunate.  The point is to have a healthy perspective, it is important to remember on a regular basis that the world does not revolve around us, and rather we are here as its humble servants during the limited time we have here on Earth.

8. Friends- have you built a good core network of people that share your values and interests?  Sadly, I see many that just focus on work and their nuclear family, and they have neglected to develop lasting friendships.  We are not meant to live in isolation, and connecting with others is an important part of the human experience.

If you find yourself making bad decisions, run through this list above and try to figure out what is bothering you the most.  You may need to rank these items in order of priority, and then set realistic goals by coming up with an action plan to address one issue at a time. And I mean it- one issue at a time-- you cannot tackle it all at once.

Just remember Rome was not built in one day, but you do need to hold yourself accountable. Reassess your progress on a regular basis, and if you need help (and I am sure that you will) that is what friends are for, and that is why I saved the best for last on my list, when really friends should be on top, for if there is one thing I have found to be true it is this: good friends are the key to avoiding those bad decisions-- and when that fails, well, they will at least rally to your rescue and later help you laugh about those momentary lapses of reason.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

What's The Hardest Thing You Have Ever Done?

What is the hardest thing you have ever done?  If you can't narrow it down, think of your top 5.  Now, up to this point, here is what my list would look like:

1. Left home at age 14 for boarding school;
2. Gave up my beloved sport to focus on academics in college;
3. Married someone at 25 that my mom did not approve of;
4. Divorced that someone knowing I would have to hear "I told you so";
5. Left my firm job to create my own flexible schedule;
6. Raised a son for 10 years as a single parent;
7. Canceled a wedding;
8. Had to do a short-sale on my condo during the Great Recession; and
9. Searched for and connected with my dad after 38 years.

How do our lists compare?  You know what- it actually doesn't matter because this is not a contest.  The point I really want to emphasize is this-- there is not a single thing on that list that I regret doing. All were worthwhile learning experiences that made me who I am today, and if you look at your list ask yourself, isn't that true for you too?

Just as they say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I firmly believe that we alone get to frame our reality.  You can see something as nerve-racking or exciting.  You can see it as difficult, or simply challenging.  Do you see the glass as half full or half empty?  It is your attitude that makes all the difference in the world.  You alone can choose to rise to the occasion or sit back wallowing in self pity.  Thankfully, very few of the people I work with opt for the latter approach, and as a result I am inspired on a daily basis by my divorce clients as they face some of the most trying times they have ever encountered.

So now the time has come for me to face my next biggest challenge in life: blending families.  From what many wise people have told me it is the hardest thing they ever had to tackle, and I can see why.  There are so many different moving pieces and different personalities with different perspectives.  We all have a distinct history, our own set of norms and deeply held core beliefs.  It is far from easy to have all these lives intertwine under one roof, and it is particularly tough when not everyone is sharing in the bride and groom's joy as the big changes continue to unfold.  But I think the key is to keep the lines of communication open and ensure that the two driving forces remain on the same page.

In the end, just know that challenges will continue to come up in life, and the one key thing that got me through all of mine is that I did not have to face any of them alone.  The other saving grace for me is faith.  If you don't have faith in a higher power, then at least have faith in the overall goodness of humanity.  You cannot lose hope when faced with a major obstacle-- instead you need to find an ally, preferably one with some dynamite (not literally, but rather figuratively) to help you blast through what may seem, but probably really isn't, a brick wall.  Later, you will save some of those remnants as a badge on honor, of that I have no doubt.      

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

What Is Your Achilles Heel?

We all have a weak spot, that is what makes us human.  Sometimes we see them clearly, but other times we may be blinded by our emotions, which is when we must accept help from others to face those fears we cannot face alone.  Here are the 4 most common ones I see while helping people through a divorce:

1. Money- A lot of people worry about money, either they are not good money managers or maybe they are and yet they live in fear of not having enough.  No matter what your issue is with money, the point is you have to face it head on, and if you need help balancing a budget or finding the right number that will help you feel safe, then get the advice of a financial planner.  Don't just ignore the issue and hope it goes away, that simply doesn't work.

2. Time- Many people complain about not having enough time to do everything they need to do, but perhaps this is really an issue about not making the right choices.  We each have to learn to balance various interests and not over-commit ourselves.  It is all about identifying priorities and sticking to them.  Talk to a life coach if time management is truly overwhelming for you, and try to embrace the word "no" a little more into your vocabulary.

3. Relationships- Establishing new ties and re-negotiating old ones is a work in progress for everyone.  We all have to re-assess our commitments to family and friends whenever there is a change to the status quo.  Births, marriages, deaths and divorce all disrupt our family structures, and navigating through the sea of emotions alone is simply not humanly possible-- this is when you need the support of a neutral friend or expert to let you vent, problem-solve and help you mourn the losses and appreciate the gains that always accompany a major change to the family unit.

4. Kids- This is definitely a tough one for any parent-- we all love our kids and want to keep them safe and happy, but at the same time we cannot allow ourselves to go into financial ruin to provide them with everything their hearts desire.  If we are going raise responsible citizens, then we have to model for them the behaviors that will be expected of them as adults and encourage those traits in them at an early age--  especially gratitude, humility and respect for others because without these qualities, there is no doubt they will struggle in all future relationships outside the home.

Before it is too late and you get hit with a fatal blow from life, ask yourself what is your weak spot? Whatever it is, don't run from it, but instead look at this challenge as an opportunity to improve and become stronger.  And remember, no one expects you to do this alone.

Friday, June 26, 2015

See How Far We Have Come?

Twenty years ago, while I was in law school and no states in the country recognized gay marriages, we barely debated the issue of gay marriages, in fact it seemed the enactment of DOMA (The Defense Against Marriage Act) which defined a marriage for purposes of federal law as only the bond between a man and a woman, was a clear indication that unfortunately our nation was not at all ready to entertain the idea of gay unions.

Somehow in the 21st century, in large part I think we must credit social media, the gay-rights movement gained national attention, and by 2013 over a dozen states recognized gay marriages, which then created some uncertainty as to what would happen with unequal treatment of these individuals for purposes of federal rights or the application of matrimonial laws in the event of death or divorce in different states.  Lawyers cannot live with ambiguity, so it was not a surprise to hear that the Supreme Court finally struck down DOMA as unconstitutional on June 26, 2013, a day I will vividly remember because I learned of the decision just as I was exiting DC Superior Court, and therefore I was able to easily walk to the Supreme Court to see the rainbow flags and people celebrating the news.

Two years ago, after DOMA was declared unconstitutional, President Obama stated, "the laws of our land are catching up to the fundamental truth that millions of Americans hold in our hearts: when all Americans are treated as equal, no matter who they are or whom they love, we are all more free."  Fast forward just two years later (with only about 12 states not on board with recognizing gay marriages), and finally today, once and for all, the Supreme Court has stated that bans on gay marriages are unconstitutional. As Justice Kennedy so eloquently stated: No union is more profound than marriage for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family... [the petitioners] respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves.. they ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.

Today is a momentous day demonstrating just how far we have come in the evolution of family law over the last 40 years, and it has been an honor over the past 17 years to be part of many of the sweeping changes that promote a broader view of how we define a family and what we need to consider in the best interest of our children.  

Supremes- you earned your name today-- well, at least 5 of you.

Friday, June 5, 2015

What Are You Worried About?

Unless you are a child, whose every possible needs and wants are taken care of, everyone worries about something.  As young adults, most of us worry about our grades, whether we are choosing the right career, or if we will find a good partner to create a stable family with us.  Then, starting in your mid-30's just when you think the big worries should be over after hitting all the right benchmarks, the really difficult questions start popping up:

(1) Finances- Are you making enough money to live comfortably?  Have you saved enough?  Are you satisfied with your career, or is it not all you thought it would be?  These are all good questions, and you need to find the answers to them now, not later.  It is normal to worry about money if you are GenX or a Millennial because unlike our parents, we haven't grown up in an era that believes in guaranteed pensions, Medicare or Social Security, and we actually aren't even sure if our kids will have a better life than us.

(2) Aging- Are you coming to terms with your fading youth?  Let's face it, by mid-30's we all start to see our metabolisms slow down, as our hair starts to gray, and little lines slowly start to appear on our faces.  Some of our peers and our elders for sure are developing health issues; meanwhile, for women, our child-bearing years are coming to an end, and for those who have not found the right person to have a child with, now is the time to look into other options including fertility treatments and adoption, if you can see yourself as a single parent.

(3) Relationships- Are you satisfied with your personal relationships?  If not, now is the time to implement some changes.  Start by working on yourself-- what are your real needs and wants?  Do you make those known clearly?  Do you compromise too much, or not enough?  Where is it that you can improve?  As you start to change, just keep in mind that many will resist any alterations to the status quo.  Don't run from the friction, face it-- and teach your kids to do the same.  Lasting relationships are meant to evolve, those that do not become extinct. 

When tackling these difficult issues, it helps to know that you are not alone.  Whether rich or poor, famous or not, all of us will grapple with these challenging subjects.  Just don't ignore the problems or try to slug through any of them on your own because a small worry can easily grow into something bigger than it needs to be, and if you let yourself become filled with dread you will soon find yourself totally paralyzed with fear, and that is exactly how someone can become stuck in a hopeless situation, unable to see anyway out.

It is normal to worry, and unless you are from Mars, I'm betting that if you take a good look around, you will find plenty others that share your pain.  You just cannot let fear set in and lose hope in finding a solution.  Talking with others, and working collaboratively with experts, I am confident you can find ways to ease your worries.

By Regina A. DeMeo, Esq.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

5 Tips for Those About To Tie The Knot

During the height of wedding season, I spend a lot of time each week talking to couples not just about matrimonial law and the benefits of having a prenuptial agreement, but also about more practical issues, like the need to set a realistic household budget together and to be open to working with experts going forward to help with either financial questions or communication issues that are likely to arise throughout the course of any long-term relationship.  For those that want to make it last, here are 5 key tips:

1. Talk about finances- Planning for a wedding and honeymoon is the first big test dealing with money talks for a couple, but certainly not the last.  Even if the couple opts against a prenup, they should at least have the discussion about (a) what should be kept separate, (b) what will be joint, and (c) how will they handle the household budget?  If you are willing to memorialize this in a prenuptial agreement, even better-- especially if you want to protect yourself against an alimony claim in the future.  Prenuptial agreements do not cost a lot of money and buy you (and your family) a tremendous peace of mind.  In the meantime, if you feel overwhelmed by money talks or find that the two parties have vastly different views on spending vs. saving, go meet with a financial planner.  .

2. Premarital counseling- This is totally different from couples counseling that you seek when things are already breaking down-- if you are there, that is NOT a good sign.  What I am talking about is a pro-active effort to get some professional advice on strategies that will enhance your relationship.  Many religious institutions offer courses, and there are some great on-line resources or workshops for couples, just one weekend if you like, where you can have a facilitated dialogue about how you envision your partnership working.  What is important to you in a spouse?  What are that person's needs and desires?  Do you share the same core values and vision for the future?  How can you ensure that you continue to communicate well?  Can you establish some rules for resolving conflict? I highly recommend Dr. Gottman's Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.

3. Learn Your Love Languages- Dr. Chapman wrote an entire book about this, but you also go to his website and take a 4 minute quiz to determine your love languages.  Rarely do we pick a partner with the same love language as ours, so you need to learn to use theirs and appreciate when they are expressing love in their own language.  For example, mine is Quality Time- you will know that I love you if I make time for you, and I need you to make time for me in order to feel loved. Meanwhile, my son's love language is gifts-- he loves when I get him his favorite treat from the grocery store, and I know he's happy when he makes something special for me.  Some need touch, words of affirmation, or little acts of kindness to feel loved, and the point is we need to make a serious effort to speak our partner's love language, and help him/her understand ours.

4. Build Your House- I am not suggesting you literally go buy a bunch of bricks, but you need to work on your emotional foundation every day.  Don't take each other for granted-- just because you put a ring on someone's finger, does not mean you have purchased them.  Dr. Gottman talks about building on your friendship, which is your foundation, and working through your conflict resolution skills by learning to argue respectfully.  With trust and respect as your two pillars, you can slap that roof on top and work on nurturing your dreams and aspirations together.  If you need a little more direction on this, check out Stephen Covey's Family Mission Statement.

5. Set Boundaries- We all need to remain true to ourselves while forming a partnership.  We don't actually become one when we marry, but rather we are two separate individuals that have agreed to allow a large part of our lives to overlap.  Dr. Cloud wrote a great book, "Boundaries in Marriage," which explains that to make a marriage work, you have to know and respect each other's boundaries.  For example, my work and my son are top priorities in my life, and these are fully my own domain.  If anyone ever tried to undermine either of these two aspects of my life, they would at the speed of light see me bail.  It is okay to have a zero tolerance policy on certain things like drugs, adultery, smoking, anger management issues... the point is that Mr. or Mrs. Right will know how to walk that line.

Not everyone will be able to successfully negotiate all the details of merging two households, and that is okay-- better to find out sooner rather than later. In all my years, I have never met someone that regretted the decision to call off a wedding.  They all recall the feeling of absolute dread as the big day approached, and the great relief that washed over them once they stopped pretending that everything was okay when deep down inside they knew something was terribly wrong.  And even if there are those who may not understand at the time, all I can say is follow your gut.

The fact is growing old together (as opposed to separately) takes a lot of work.  It takes a great deal of commitment to work through challenges and never take each other for granted.  Remaining loyal to your partnership's mission and vision is key, otherwise trust and respect can easily be lost.  When something is wrong, don't expect the other person to read your mind or sit and suffer in silence. Communication is critical in order to address problems as they arise, and together you can find the right solutions while further deepening your love and admiration, knowing you have found someone that will stick with you during both the good and the bad times.

By Regina A. DeMeo, Esq.