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.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Do All Your Disagreements Turn Into Arguments?

It's normal to disagree--we simply don't all see things the same way, both figuratively and literally.  A great recent example is the whole debate on Youtube about whether a dress is white and gold, or blue and black.  Not everyone in my household saw the same colors, and in the end we all just agreed to disagree.  Same thing happened again this week with a vase that I think is yellow but others see as lime.  Maybe it depends on the lighting?  Who knows, but more importantly, who cares?

After 20 years in the legal industry if there is one great take-away I can impart on all others it would be this: pick your battles.  Not all disputes are worth a fight, which always have a cost.  In fact, if you find that all or the majority of your disagreements with others turn into arguments, then you really need to stop and consider this: how you are going to address this very serious problem?  The regrettable reality is that this issue is an internal one, and not external.

The truth is that until you are at peace with yourself, you will not be at peace with others.  If you feel the need to win every debate, honestly ask yourself why is that?  It is a need to feel superior or dominate?  Does this stem from feelings of insecurity?  Whatever it is that is driving you to always want to crush the opposition, find a way to rein it in because first of all not everyone is an opponent, and secondly no one wins all the time.

If you find that your work or home environment is what is upsetting you, then you need to find a way to change that environment-- either try to change the dynamics within or literally extricate yourself from the situation and find a more suitable atmosphere that pleases you.

Realize that not every person or environment that you encounter is going to be open to change.  In these cases you have to accept that it's not that they are wrong, it's that you are wrong for that particular relationship or setting.  If others won't change, you have to let them be and just focus on you.

They say understanding is the enemy of conflict, and I also believe acceptance is the key towards living in harmony with others.  Is it easy? Of course not, especially for those of us that are Type A with perfectionist tendencies.  But do you want to live a life full of conflict?  That really isn't fun for anyone, unless you are like me getting paid to fight other people's legal battles and even that grows old.

Learning to live in an imperfect world that is out of your control is a work in progress for all of us, but hopefully with time you will learn to appreciate the beauty in all our differences and imperfections that make humans such an interesting species.  Along the way, just try to remember EAR-- and lend those you love your empathy, attention and respect-- three essential things that Bill Eddy's research suggest we all need from those we love.

Hopefully, you too will soon find that not every truth or objection needs to be vocalized.  Sometimes, it is best to just let things play out--but just for the record, in my heart I will always know that the vase in my house is yellow, not green.

By Regina A. DeMeo, Esq.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

How Needy Are You?

Forget material needs for a just second, and let's talk about emotional needs. We all have vastly different emotional needs, and part is based on how we were nurtured, the other part is nature.  Another factor that plays a part is a person's situation at a particular time-- so for example, when someone is outside his/her comfort zone (such as in the beginning stages of dating) or when s/he is trying to recover from a traumatic event (such as a divorce), that person may be more needy at that particular time than s/he normally would be in life.  So, what's my point?  Let's cut others some slack, and instead of making assumptions and/or passing judgment on others, just focus on yourself.

So, how emotionally needy are you? There is no denying the fact that gender plays a part in this, and generally speaking, women are more emotional than men (which is why more divorces are initiated by women instead of men.)  Keeping this in mind, then think back to your childhood.  What were your role models like?  How were you raised?  Were you an only child who got lots of attention or the middle child that was neither the first born nor the baby of the family?  Believe it or not, these things continue to matter long after we enter adulthood.

Now as an adult, be honest with yourself about the kind of personality you have developed.  Are you a true extrovert, or a closet introvert?  Do you like a lot of time alone, or do you need to be surrounded constantly by others-- and why is that? Are you secure in your attachments or do you tend to have an anxious or detached attachment style?  How important is it to you to connect on a regular basis with those you love?

After my divorce, I had ten years to work through all of these questions-- unfortunately, in retrospect I should have worked through all of them before I got married.  While I definitely knew who and what I wanted to be when I grew up even as a teenager, and there was no doubt that I was book smart, there was a lot I had not figured out emotionally, particularly about myself.  Rather than deal with my past, I tried to bury it.  That pretty much blew up in my face, forcing me to confront my demons after my marriage fell apart.

Over the past decade, I have encountered a lot of different personalities throughout my own journey to self-awareness.  These experiences helped me understand that not all 16 personality types are able to co-exist, in fact many of them will drive you nuts.  No one personality is better than another, it's just that we need to learn to sometimes just agree to disagree, and just live and let live.

I accept now that I was blessed to be raised as an only child, showered with attention, who had a loving grandmother that ate dinner with me every night, hugged and kissed me good night, and never passed judgment on me for the first fourteen years of my life, until I went off to boarding school.  Away from home, I always found people to eat and talk with me, and I was fortunate to develop many close and loving friendships. Everyone in my life supported my academic pursuits and career choices, and without all these wonderful people I would not be where I am today.  But not everyone has that kind of upbringing, and some have to learn very early on to not count on others.  Some have to learn to build up walls.  Many have to learn not to show vulnerability.  The irony is however, you cannot let love into your world until you do count on others, let down your guard and show your most vulnerable side.

To survive, I definitely understand how it can be necessary to learn to not show your needy side to everyone, but be honest with yourself at least that we all have needs, and if you want real love  to come into your life, you are going to have to show that needy side.  Those that are compatible with you will love you that much more for showing that you are human too.

By Regina A. DeMeo, Esq.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Do You Feel Like The Sky Is Falling?

When you are free falling into an emotional abyss, it may very well feel like the sky is falling.  This is normal when you suffer a sudden trauma because everything feels so out of control-- and it is true, a lot may not be within your control, but there is always one key thing that is: your actions.  How you respond to external stimulants is totally within your own control.

Many of my clients, especially those that did not initiate a separation, may think at the beginning that everything is falling apart.  Indeed, life as they know it is coming to an end, but life itself is not over.  It is simply changing, and a new chapter is about to start.  Sometimes, people cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel, and then it is my job to basically say, "okay Chicken Little, get a grip."  I admit, my delivery is usually a lot more tactful, but the message is clear-- you need to calm down and work through this problem.  Eventually, you will get to a better place.

Whether you suffer the loss of a job, a sudden death in your family, a health crisis or an unexpected separation/divorce (maybe even all of the above), please remember this: there is no need to suffer in silence.  Others will help you, but you may need to swallow your pride and ask for help.  It's not that others don't care, but rather that many will assume you've got it covered-- unless you reach out and admit that you cannot face this challenge alone.  And I know this may be difficult for many, but I promise you that this humbling experience is good for you in the long run, for it will help you appreciate the grace that exists in each minor act of goodwill that others voluntarily extend in order to allow us to remain sane, and human.

As you cycle through the grief process you will experience moments of anger, followed by moments of sadness, and then you will find yourself remembering the love.  Of course those loving times will remind you of what you have lost, thus triggering feelings of anger again, followed by sadness as you realize that anger is just a more aggressive way to express disappointment.  Then once again those memories of the good times will seep in, until you get mad, then sad-- and now just hit repeat about a million times, and that is actually how you get through the grief cycle.

So, when do you know that you have heeled?  When you can hold all three feelings-- love, anger and sadness all at once.  This won't make any sense to you until you get there, but that's okay you just need to believe that you will.   Just remember the lesson from Alice In Wonderland: the only way out of the rabbit hole is through it.

It may feel like the sky is falling right now, but you are not Chicken Little.  You just need to get a grip, and this too shall pass.

By Regina A. DeMeo

Friday, May 1, 2015

Are You Stressed About Moving?

If you are in the process of moving, regardless of whether it is for a good reason or a rather sad one, try to cut yourself some slack because you are going to be stressed until it is done.  For almost two decades now, I have had to coach people through a move-- sometimes it is my prenup clients about to get married, sometimes it is my clients about to divorce.  Either way, here are things you need to consider carefully: 

(1) What is important to you? Make a list of what is important to you in terms of where you live, and write down why those things are important.  You may even rank each item from 1-10 in terms of how important it is-- for example, being near my son's school is #1 on my list and it was a 10.  In other words, this was a non-negotiable for me.  Some of the most common considerations include price and location, as well as amenities such as a gym, pool, or garage. Do you need to be close to a metro or near your work?  Do you like being near the city or  further out?    

(2) What's your budget? You have to create a realistic budget.  Before you start looking at places, you need to know what you can afford.  You need to list all your regular monthly expenses and calculate your net take-home pay to cover those expenses.  As part of this exercise, if you are merging with someone you have to talk about whether you will share expenses 50/50 or pro rata-- and are you going to keep separate accounts or create one joint account? Who will manage the accounts and bills?

Now if you are joining with someone, you need to keep the lines of communication open.  Moves and family transitions are very stressful, even under the best scenarios, so there may be some tense/upsetting moments. You have to be able to talk candidly about issues as they arise, and if you are having problems communicating, be open to getting help.  If the issues are financial, go get advice from a neutral financial adviser.  If the issues are more about how you address problems as a couple, sign up for a premarital couple's class or see a couple's counselor for a few sessions.

If you are divorcing, my experience is how you handle a move depends entirely on your situation-- is it amicable or is it hostile?  In an amicable split, most are able to tell the other person in advance that  are moving out, then they agree on a date and try to reach an agreement on what items will stay behind.   Items that are staying should be clearly marked for the movers, who should be warned in advance that not everything is going on the truck. 

Now, if someone is afraid of their safety, or feels the other person is going to cause a big scene during the move, then it is best to plan a move when that other person is at work or out of town. In these cases, you may want to recruit a friend or relative to be with you as a witness and/or to take pictures to confirm how you left the place, in case someone later tries to claim that you trashed or destroyed things that were not yours.

In the end, just keep in mind that this source of stress has a definite end date-- just focus on the light at the end of the tunnel, and be nice to those movers!  I recommend getting them snacks and soft drinks to make the whole process easier, and afterwards invite some friends to a house-warming.  It'll be a great incentive to unpack quickly, and you can all celebrate that you got through such a big task.  

Moving sucks, no matter what.  But don't stress out too much, it's the only way to get to a better place.