The holiday season steriotypically has always been portrayed as a time of fun, joy and warmth with family, friends and colleagues. But it can also be a time of pain and high expectations. And the inevitable disappointments that follow those expectations are often to blame for holiday stress, which has gradually, but now permanantly become part of our lexicon.
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Most couples can name several ways in which they’re opposites: neatness versus sloppiness; extroversion versus introversion; being high-strung versus laid-back preferring city versus country living, etc. And I’m sure you have something in mind that’s specific to you. It’s true that quite often and in many respects, opposites attract. But those areas can either help you thrive as a couple or destroy you!
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If your relationship were afire, is it still burning strongly? Flickering? Smoldering? Does it need kindling? A log? Or has the last spark of it burned out to the point where it’s even too late for more oxygen? After all, your relationship at one time had to be on fire in order for it to burn out. Relationships that are characterized mainly or solely by passion are often, as songwriter Cole Porter put it, “too hot, not to cool down.”
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One of the best ways to think of a relationship on the rocks is to reflect on your expectations for your relationship. What are they? What is it that you really want from your partner? What could your partner do now that would — from your point of view — make the relationship work again? Make a comprehensive list, and pay special attention to what you now recognize your unique issues to be.
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The title of a great and popular old Off-Broadway play captures one of the most common sentiments I’ve seen when working with distressed couples: I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change.
If you have discovered that for some reason you and your partner are no longer growing together as a couple, it might be useful to look at why you actually got together in the first place, and how the things that originally attracted you to each other may look different once that initial attraction is gone. For example, if initially you loved that your partner had a great sense of humor, after some time you may see this same trait as obnoxious. If you were once attracted by the fact that your partner was “a lot of fun”, you may now believe that he or she cannot be serious. Take a look at this chart to see what may have changed in how you perceive your partner:
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Julia Sweeney’s excellent TED conversation “It’s Time For The Talk” is a very humorous account of a situation that practically all parents find themselves in at one time or another. And I’ve got to say that for the most part, she did pretty well with it!
She certainly seems to know the principles of having those conversations that can be much more awkward for the parent than it is for the child. And she understood that rule that applies to children asking about sex, which is very similar to the instructions most lawyers give to witnesses who were about to testify in court: just answer the question that was asked. For example, most have heard some variation of the story about a first grader who comes home from school and asks’ his parents, “what is sex?” Of course, they reply with a professorial diatribe about the “birds and the bees”, when all the child needed to know was that the word, “sex” meant male/female or boy/girl. Julia certainly got this part right.
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I am a psychologist who works with adults, who are often very high achievers. So when I am asked if I see children in my practice, my routine tongue-in-cheek quip is, “only those in adult bodies.” More seriously, I’ve seen an extremely wide range of parenting results over my 38 years of clinical practice, ranging from outstanding to criminally horrific. Perhaps this is stating the obvious, but many parents either don’t realize or forget that the quality of the parenting we give our children is one of the crucial factors for determining how they will function throughout their entire lives.
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