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From Dr. Mark Goulston

Why do so many high achievers feel unfulfilled?

Terminally ill patient: I don’t think I’ve ever done anything important.

Me: What? You have a hospital named after you. You’ve created an industry and thousands of jobs.

Patient: I have all the admiration, love and respect that money can buy and that’s all it’s worth. I’m not really close to anyone… not my wife, not my ex’s, not my children from three marriages and not my friends. I always played it close to the chest and never let anyone in and now I’m paying the price. Maybe, just maybe, I out-smarted myself.

Getting to know people like the patient above can teach you a lot about life and what a good life means. Granted there are many people unlike my patient above who are able to be fulfilled by great accomplishments that benefited others even if it was at the cost of feeling close to anyone. However there are many like my patient who feel a sense of emptiness even after a life of great accomplishment.

Something that I have noticed in a number of those in the second category suffer from what I call the “Syndrome of Disavowed Yearning.”

They often come from families where dad was too busy with his job or career and mother lacked warmth. Often these were not bad parents. The dad was worried about earning a living and so was focused more on his boss or his customers and clients than his family. The mom often came from a mother who also lacked warmth (it was often a condition passed on for generations).

In the ideal situation, a child feels most solid from the inside out when there is warmth (usually from a mom) to comfort them when they are hurt or afraid or just plain lonely and “you can do it” guidance and support and coaching (usually from a dad) that can lead to confidence and courage.

If these are missing a child discovers that instead of feeling the pain from the lack of warmth and enthusiastic support, it hurts less if you disavow needing either.

People who become high achievers sublimate what would have been an aching yearning into accomplishing things. If you’re like them, even if that doesn’t fill you up from the inside out, the conditional grin of approval for what you do instead of the love and celebration for who you are can certainly distract you from the yearning.

But after many years of accomplishments, those grins of conditional love and approval wear thin and they can feel empty.

In contrast to the patient and condition above, I remember an entirely different man who I will call Mr. Cohen.

It was 4:30 in the afternoon and I had just finished doing an EKG on Mr. Cohen. Unlike everyone else living at the Jewish Home for the Aged in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, Mr. Cohen was spry and totally alert for his 87 years. As a third- year medical student with much living (and learning) ahead of me, I couldn’t understand why he was staying in this place which, well appointed as it was, still remained a last holding unit for people who were waiting to die.

I asked Mr. Cohen why he lived in this morgue when he was clearly doing so well. He gave me a patient, knowing look and explained: “Two floors below is my wife, Emma. Three years ago, she developed Alzheimer’s disease and then had a stroke on top of that. On the very best of days, which don’t occur that often, I think she might recognize me. At all other times, she’s lost.”

He went on to tell me that Emma and he had fled the Russian revolution together, and that on more than a few occasions she had saved his life. The couple made their way to America, started a tailoring business and raised a wonderful family. “I tell my family not to visit as much as they’d like,” he said, “because I want them to make sure they enjoy their families now and because their mom and I are doing fine.”

Each day, he would wake up, go downstairs to his wife’s room, bathe her, replace the diaper she now needed, put her into a sun dress, braid her hair, have breakfast with her and then read his newspapers and books as he sat beside her.

I didn’t get it. Why was he doing this for a woman who couldn’t even recognize him? “This poor man must be eaten up with guilt,” I thought.

I suggested, presumptuously, that Mr. Cohen’s guilt would not help his wife. The old man looked at me with an amused sparkle in his eyes and shook his head at my stupidity.

“You really don’t understand, do you? This is where I want to be. Maybe someday you will understand.”

It’s been thirty five years since my visit with Mr. Cohen and I think I do finally understand. Instead of guilt, he felt joy in the presence of someone he had loved and been loved by for sixty years.

It is difficult to change from a human doing to a human being, but as I observed first hand from people who died having it all, but felt as if they had nothing, and others who had very little, but felt they had it all, it’s probably something worth the effort.

One of the best ways to bring out the human being in you is to “Just Listen.” For more of Dr. Goulston’s Usable Insight, click here.

When a spouse cheats

Tiger and Elin are getting a divorce, Sandra Bullock’s filing for a divorce, and Larry King is thinking about divorce.  Each of these celebrities has something in common that led to their divorces – infidelity.  But do we have to suffer through a divorce if a spouse has been unfaithful?

Dr. Mark Goulston says that when you betray someone’s trust at such a deep level, you trigger four intense reactions in them: Hurt, Hate, Hesitation To Trust and Holding Onto A Grudge (the 4 H’s).

When your spouse finds out you’ve had an affair, feelings of intense and devastating pain are triggered.  Many people feel as if they’ve been made a fool of, they feel ashamed, embarrassed, they feel anger at themselves for failing to see.  They feel as if they’ve been living in a lie, as if they are not respected or loved by their spouse.  They may become physically ill, depressed, angry or volatile.  All of these reactions are reactions to hurt.

Realizing that you’ve been lied to by your spouse, that the very person who promised to love, honor and respect you has gone behind your back and broken the vows of your marriage and then lied about it, may trigger anger so strong it can only be called hate.

The spouse who ignores their gut feelings and convinces themselves they’re being crazy, or who confronts you and believes you when you swear there’s no one else, is going to experience an enormous Hesitation to Trust.  How can they possibly lower their guard and trust again, when surely they will only be re-traumatized?

A spouse who has been cheated on will want to protect themselves against future pain.  Even if your spouse wants to get back together, it is frightening and painful to learn to trust after such a huge betrayal.  It’s much easier to Hold Onto A Grudge.  Holding Onto A Grudge allows a spouse who’s been cheated on to keep their guard up and hold it up with fortified bursts of anger.

What can you do if you or your spouse has cheated?  How can you get past the 4 H’s and heal your marriage?   Check back tomorrow to find out.

How To Recognize A Jerk

HuffingtonPost.com just published a great article by Mark Goulston, PhD. about how to recognize a jerk.

All too often we find ourselves in situations where we’ve been trampled on, taken advantage of, or pushed into doing something we don’t want to do.  It’s easy to let the blame fall on ourselves, and while it is important to recognize the role we play in our own lives and the consequences of our actions, sometimes other people are just jerks.  Dr. Goulston’s article is short, to the point, and too, too true.

Click here to check it out.

February Newsletter

Dear Friends of the Law Collaborative,

We wish you the best in all of your relationships. In order to facilitate our wish for you, this month we have included a “tool” to help with communication in your relationships, professional and personal.

As February is often referred to as the month of love, we would like to share an article written by Dr. Mark S. Goulston, Author of “Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone.”

The single best predictor of how children do post-divorce is the amount of conflict between the parents. This is true whether you’re in an intact (living together) family, a separated family, or a divorced family.

You have a unique opportunity to influence the outcome, because it takes two people to fight. You can’t fight alone. And while choosing not to engage in an argument or bad behavior is difficult, it is possible. It may take both practice and commitment on your part to make it happen.

Parents in frequent contact who are supportive of each other have well adjusted children. That’s pretty compelling, isn’t it?

10 Strategies for Preventing and Dealing With Conflict:

1. It takes two to argue. Simply refuse to participate.

2. A certain amount of tension is to be expected when you’re getting divorced. Expect difficult discussions. They don’t have to result in a fight.

3. Try to understand your spouse’s viewpoint. Once you understand what he or she wants, you can begin to see how you might be able to help resolve the situation.

4. Evaluate your own goals. Are you entrenched in a position that may have another solution? If you want your children on Wednesday night for dinner, will Thursday do? If your goal is financial security, is one particular asset the key, or could another be substituted?

5. Use “I” statements. Begin every sentence with “I”, rather than “you”. Example: “I feel upset when I hear you say that I’m a bad father because I have to work so many hours,” instead of “You are always accusing me of being a bad father.”

6. After you explain how you feel, listen to your spouse’s side of the story. Repeat what you heard, to make sure for yourself (and to convey to your spouse) that you understand how he or she views the situation.

7. Plan a time to have a discussion with your spouse about a specific issue that bothers you. Limit the discussion.

8. Choose your timing. The same comment may evoke a different response if, 1) neither of you is tired, 2) neither of you is already angry, and, 3) the children or others are not in earshot.

9. Be prepared to say “I’m sorry” sometimes. “I was wrong” can go a long way.

10. Above all, let annoyances go and choose your battles wisely. They are too important to squander. Research points to the benefits of shared parenting, defined as shared decision making, as well as shared time between two homes. Children need emotional sustenance and comfort from both parents to get their needs met. Your co-parenting responsibilities get easier over time as your children grow and their day-to-day caretaking needs lessen. One way to ensure your adult children have a good relationship with you and your former spouse is to set you own needs aside from time to time and take the high road whenever possible. Remember forgiveness is the permission you give yourself to get over an offense & move into health, healing & a happy life. It is not approval. It is not acceptance. It is a gift to you from you. Forgive.

Visit Ron and Robert on Divorce on iTunes for additional information. Please call us if you have any questions. We are here to serve you.

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Ron Supancic and Robert Borsky

* A free phone consultation will provide you with general legal information. Legal information is not the same as legal advice – the application of law to an individual’s specific circumstances. Although we go to great lengths to make sure our information is accurate and useful, for specific advice on your situation, I will be pleased to provide legal advice after you accept and sign my retainer agreement.

For more information, please visit our website at: www.ronslaw.com or click here: www.divorcemagazine.com/CA/pro/supancic.shtml

Please forward a link for this newsletter to anyone you know who might benefit from this information.

Happy Valentines Day!

Mark Goulston, PhD says:

What does it take to be happy in a relationship? If you’re working to improve your marriage, here are the 10 habits of happy couples.

1. Go to bed at the same time Remember the beginning of your relationship, when you couldn’t wait to go to bed with each other to make love? Happy couples resist the temptation to go to bed at different times. They go to bed at the same time, even if one partner wakes up later to do things while their partner sleeps.

2. Cultivate common interests After the passion settles down, it’s common to realize that you have few interests in common. But don’t minimize the importance of activities you can do together that you both enjoy. If common interests are not present, happy couples develop them. At the same time, be sure to cultivate interests of your own; this will make you more interesting to your mate and prevent you from appearing too dependent.

3. Walk hand in hand or side by side Rather than one partner lagging or dragging behind the other, happy couples walk comfortably hand in hand or side by side. They know it’s more important to be with their partner than to see the sights along the way.

4. Make trust and forgiveness your default mode If and when they have a disagreement or argument, and if they can’t resolve it, happy couples default to trusting and forgiving rather than distrusting and begrudging.

5. Focus more on what your partner does right than what he or she does wrong If you look for things your partner does wrong, you can always find something. If you look for what he or she does right, you can always find something, too. It all depends on what you want to look for. Happy couples accentuate the positive.

6. Hug each other as soon as you see each other after work Our skin has a memory of “good touch” (loved), “bad touch” (abused) and “no touch” (neglected). Couples who say hello with a hug keep their skin bathed in the “good touch,” which can inoculate your spirit against anonymity in the world.

7. Say “I love you” and “Have a good day” every morning This is a great way to buy some patience and tolerance as each partner sets out each day to battle traffic jams, long lines and other annoyances.

8. Say “Good night” every night, regardless of how you feel This tells your partner that, regardless of how upset you are with him or her, you still want to be in the relationship. It says that what you and your partner have is bigger than any single upsetting incident.

9. Do a “weather” check during the day Call your partner at home or at work to see how his or her day is going. This is a great way to adjust expectations so that you’re more in sync when you connect after work. For instance, if your partner is having an awful day, it might be unreasonable to expect him or her to be enthusiastic about something good that happened to you.

10. Be proud to be seen with your partner Happy couples are pleased to be seen together and are often in some kind of affectionate contact — hand on hand or hand on shoulder or knee or back of neck. They are not showing off but rather just saying that they belong with each other.

Happy couples have different habits than unhappy couples. A habit is a discrete behavior that you do automatically and that takes little effort to maintain. It takes 21 days of daily repetition of a new a behavior to become a habit. So select one of the behaviors in the list above to do for 21 days and voila, it will become a habit…and make you happier as a couple. And if you fall off the wagon, don’t despair, just apologize to your partner, ask their forgiveness and recommit yourself to getting back in the habit.

From Mr. Goulston’s website, Usable Insight.

Rules to live by?

Ron found this on Mark Goulston‘s website, Usable Insight.   It’s interesting to think about what our lives would be like if we lived by these rules.

What would be the effect on relationships if the mutually agreed upon* ground rules were:

1. Before you say something negative or critical to a person, you must say something positive and praising.

2. And before you speak those negative or critical words to a person, you must ask the other person if it would be okay to do so.

I can understand why it would be natural to be more adamantly negative or critical than enthusiastically positive and praising towards another, because negativity comes from a sense of something missing or being wrong within you that compels you to do something about it. Alternatively positivity comes from a sense of fullness and completeness. And just like you’re not too motivated to do anything after a filling, satisfying meal you may not feel compelled to do anything positive towards people. That may explain it, but it doesn’t excuse it.

You might say to me, “That’s hopelessly naive and impossible.” Maybe so, but then what would make it possible?

What would happen if you proposed this to your partner and to your children and agreed to practice it one day at a time, before you slip into the “addiction” that most of us have of being much too quick to be negative than positive? And if they immediately responded, “No way” or “That’s just stupid” what would happen if you said that you were going to commit yourself to doing it anyway?

* BEWARE! If someone won’t agree with these ground rules, you may be dealing with a high-maintenance (easy to upset, difficult to please) person.

TLC, Bringing peace to the legal process