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My take on life's challenges and gifts with a twist of humor.

Please….Go to Bed Angry

I don’t know if it was Carol and Mike on the Brady Bunch who gave us the “don’t go to bed angry” mantra in their ideal (aka impossible) blended family TV show, or the infamous Dr. Sears in the 70s, but I certainly prided myself on this behavior for years.  In fact, I would be relentless about not letting a fight go unresolved, believing I was an amazing communicator. Unfortunately, more times than not, it failed. Why? Because I would force a conversation well past its prime, pushing my partner who was flooded with emotion into a state of withdrawal or anger, just making everything worse. I wish I had known differently and saved a few hours of wreckage. So, let me tell you what I learned: It’s okay to go to bed angry.

As a Marriage and Family Therapist, I have gained insight into how couples engage and moderate their own internal emotions – and if you are in any kind of relationship, you have probably noticed that not everyone reacts just like you. You may even believe your partner is crazy in the moment, (and I’m sure the feeling is mutual} which is why I need to give you both a break:

It can be a good idea sometimes to go to bed angry. 

Why?  Because most couples don’t know how to engage in a way that is productive. The source of most fighting is typically both feeling blamed, criticized, not heard or validated.  And when this happens, our brain interprets these feelings in the most primal way – in terms of survival. You’ve heard of fight or flight mode? When we feel attacked, whether by a real bear in the woods or just your boyfriend, similar bells ring in your brain to signify the need to protect yourself. The result is defensiveness in the form of blaming, bringing up past resentments, shouting, mean comments, crying and sometimes the silent treatment.

“Sleeping on it” can shift our brain out of that primal fight or flight mode so we can hear the other person’s point of view, and listen to their needs.  Tired and stressed after a long day makes it our bandwidth to regulate our emotions much smaller.

If you find the conversation is escalating take a pause, a break, a “time-out” as you would give to a 4-year-old in a tantrum.  Regrouping can do a world of good to reset the conversation and approach it from a less charged standpoint.

Take note: To do this successfully -- and this is key -- there must be an agreement that you will set aside a time at a later point to continue the discussion so that no one feels dismissed or overwhelmed.  You must commit to this agreement.

Do you find your relationship repeats the same negative cycle in arguments? Same thing, different day? Why? Because what triggers us in conflict is rather universal -- A feeling of being misunderstood, not heard, not validated, or perhaps dismissed, rejected and flat out left – like as in your partner just walked out of the room. These are common feelings that show up in the dance of a partnership. Tell me if you can relate to this.

Now, I am going to go one step further and recommend that you try and not leave the house angry in the mornings also. Sound too ambitious, especially if you aren’t the lucky kind that forgets what you were fighting about in the first place?  I’m not expecting this miracle, but I am reminding you that the morning is an important time to set the tone so that the rest of your day isn’t overshadowed with resentment or anger.  No one feels good knowing there is an unresolved conversation looming while trying to focus on work or family.

Emotional connection is what we really crave in relationships.  And this ‘connection’ is what helps to regulate our bodies…keeping us calm, feeling safe and contained. When couples leave the house ‘disconnected,’ they find themselves anxious, irritable and unhappy most of the day.  If rehashing the difficult conversation is not timely or possible, then after agreeing on your time to talk again, say or do something that shows your continued commitment to the relationship.  “I love you,” (even if you don’t feel loving in the moment) goes a long way. A kiss goodbye and a verbal acknowledgement that “we will work this out together,” goes a long way to provide some comfort during the waiting period.  Sometimes it is difficult to contain the fact that both can exist – Love and commitment can still exist in times of disappointment or anger with a loved one.

If you are someone that likes to avoid conflict or shut down during an argument, you will love me for this post and forward it to your mate quicker than a tweet on election day. But, remember your commitment is to reconnect in the very near future. If you have a hard time going to bed and shutting off your thoughts, bring out those relaxation techniques, quiet your mind and remember you will be heard. For both of you, take this time to tune into what you are really needing from your partner.

Tip: It really isn’t about the socks on the floor.

 

What to Tell Your Kids When there is a Snow Day – I mean Bomb Day

Where I grew up on the East Coast, we would sit by the radio and listen to the latest weather forecast to find out what our chances were for that anticipated day off from school called the “Snow Day.” If school was cancelled, we would start planning out which sledding run to hit. Those were the good ole days.

Today, here in sunny Los Angeles, We don’t get snow days; We get “Bomb Days.” And without forewarning, we typically find out right after we’ve dropped our precious ones at school, or better, when we are in a business meeting far away from home.

Fortunately, this time for me, I had recently left my 9-5’er to start my private practice and was home sleeping. I was jarred awake by the clanging of my doorbell, coupled with loud banging on the front door at 7:50 am. The only one that could be so annoying was my cute 10 year old. I expected he forgot something on his way to school, but instead I opened the door and he yelled, “No school! Another bomb threat!”

Eh? Seriously? Whah? My brain as haywire as my hair. We just had one 2 days ago. I turned and looked behind me at the high school football field and suddenly wondered if my house was safe.

I closed the door behind my boy and worried if we should be saying words like “bomb” and “threat.” I want to shield my son from scary thoughts and situations. I don’t want him to be afraid… But, is that realistic? I had to ask myself this question… And while I worried, he walked in, pushed me aside, and threw his backpack on the ground, running for the Xbox. He was stoked.

At least with Snow Days, parents tell their kids to put on their hats and coats and be home by dark. Now, what do we tell them? Don’t forget your bullet proof vest? I asked my son if he was scared? He said “No.” Yet, shortly after, he asked if my BF could come over and “guard all the doors.” This request said a lot more than he was willing to.

A couple days later, when we assumed the hubbub was over, we learned LAUSD closed all of its billion schools today. LA has the second largest school district in the nation. Not a small feat. Then, my sister in law called me as I was figuring all this out in my head.

“What’s going on over there?” She asks, as if I have a private line to Homeland Security.
“I don’t know.”
“I saw on the news…it’s some overseas threat!?” She added.
“It is? You know more than me.” I noticed my voice was flat and I didn’t really want to talk about it. I realized I really had nothing to say. I felt a pit in my stomach. I got off the phone quickly, explaining I’m in the middle of dusting.

So, what do you say? Promise everything will be fine? That doesn’t feel right or sound fair. I should know this answer. I am a psychotherapist, trained to help people with their anxiety and managing difficult situations. But in my Mom Moment, I had no idea. I was, after all, scared too.
So, I tried to figure it out…and here is what I know.

  • First of all, Be PRESENT. Turn off your phone, your computer, and the TV. Be close to your children; get on the floor with them. Give plenty of hugs and kisses. Your flight instinct is going to want to takeover and forget all about discipline and routines – This helps us if we are being chased by a tiger. However, it does not help us when we need to pick up our kids from school unexpectedly. So, Parents: Breathe. Breathe and ground yourself before the kiddos get in the car. If you can’t relax, they can’t either.
  • Be Open to your children’s needs --- Ask your child, “What do you need?” While trying to maintain a sense of normalcy in the home, Routines and discipline should be followed but be flexible enough to listen and respect each child’s needs.
  • Talk. Consider developmental ages when you do this. Children are going to see and hear more than we may like. Wouldn’t you rather be the one to first discuss these issues instead of your child’s seat partner? This is another good opportunity to teach children ways to express feelings.
  • Get creative: Draw. Create, write, Act. There is scientific evidence to support that doing something creative is an excellent way to express difficult stuff and quite healing at the same time. Bring out those puppets for the little ones and have them narrate a story.
  • Build Character and Model Resiliency: Talk about values and intentions. How do you want to live your life and what kind of person do you want to be? Our children can be strong in the face of adversity. We aren’t the first to deal with bomb threats. Resilience is being able to adapt, be flexible and stable. Let’s show our kids we can lean into this uncertainty and trust that life will go on.
  • Love yourself. This may sound unrelated to a bomb threat, but this is akin to “give yourself oxygen first, then your child.” If you have a pure heart, your children will too.
  • TRUST. Trust that you have done your best, you have loved your best and there is only so much you can do. Give your child the benefit of accepting that we do not have control over everything and that doesn’t mean life won’t be grand while we manage unsettling situations. Life continues. We are okay.

Perhaps the only thing we do know to be certain is our love for our children. When my two kids come home today, I’m going to hug them tightly and let them ask questions. If I don’t know the answers, that’s okay. The best thing we can do is provide a safe place for them to be curious and find their own answers to whom they want to be and how they want to make their way in the world. We can’t force this, but we can provide the space for their own self discovery.

And even though we don’t have snow here, we do have the ocean nearby. So maybe today, I’ll take them to go build a sand castle instead of an igloo and make snow angels on the beach. I’ll turn this “bomb day” into a “Beach day,” after all.

A version of this was printed online at The Beach Reporter, December 2015

Divorce: The 10 Tips You Need to Know (Only Your Friend Will Tell You These)

  1. Divorce SUCKS. At first. You got married with every intention of it working out. And you might have children with this person and I’ll say it first with no sugar coating. Telling them SUCKS even more. But, see #2 before you start filling up the Los Angeles River.
  2. There is a SILVER LINING. You get to have “relations” with someone new, after all! Just kidding (well not really, see #4). The silver lining is this: you will now have time to yourself and you can create the life you always wanted.  Freedom is a gift from the Gods, and letting go of a destructive relationship will feel divine.  And you’ll notice that your friends with children will jealous of the times when you get to go to a movie alone.
  3. You get a SECOND CHANCE at finding a new relationship and one that works better. Don’t get me wrong, I love marriage – the institution, what it means, true love forever, etc. Go ahead and do the work, however, to understand why this relationship didn’t work out and how you may have contributed (it takes two) — There are no mistakes, only learning opportunities.
  4. You will go through “DIVORCE PUBERTY,” as I call it. Right after splitting up, you will feel a little crazy, a lot unsettled, and maybe make some ridiculous choices before getting your feet under you. Just make sure you have one or two friends around who understand what you are going through and can listen without judgment…especially at times like when you divulge you found your old boss online and met him at the Ramada last week. These are the same friends who will tell you when you need to reel it in and who will also pick your face out of the pizza box.
  5. CUT TIES quickly. Get your court stuff and legal proceedings done as soon as possible.  There is nothing worse or more energy sucking than dragging out the fighting. Make sure you consider how much mental stress and energy you are putting towards going to court. Mediation is a great choice, but don’t think you will get everything you want.  If you both walk away feeling like you lost something, it was probably a good agreement. Psychologically, it really makes a difference in starting a new if you have a clean cut.
  6. Make sure your judgment/court filings (documents that bind you all the decisions like custody arrangements, child support, spousal support, who gets the dogs, etc.) are TIGHT and SPECIFIC. You might think you don’t need to choose what time Christmas Eve starts, but trust me you will.  Better to be as specific as possible now. If you find out you can be besties, then by all means, flex it up down the road and never look at that court doc again.
  7. Don’t get into email wars or texting wars. DISENGAGE. Telling someone how crazy they are or stupid or irresponsible will never work. Keep correspondence short, simple and business like.
  8. Keep kids out of the arguments and NEVER ever put the other parent down. That behavior is the equivalent of cutting off a body part to your child. No matter how much your ex is a creep, your child wants and NEEDS to LOVE that parent, for their own development.
  9. It does get BETTER. When the dust settles and the arrangements have been made, life becomes manageable again, and frankly, better than before. This whole experience will make your stronger and give you a new outlook on life. Chances are you have been unhappy for some time. A clean slate will invigorate you.
  10. Lastly, ride the wave. BREATHE. You are not ALONE and don’t go through it alone. Find someone to talk to — a friend, a therapist, (not your boyfriend), a sibling… Join a support group or find others that have been through the process that can understand the crazy. If 51% of us are divorced, you don’t have to look far. There is a little underground club of us that know what it’s like. Sometimes we even use a special handshake that says, “We’ve got this.”

Please….Go to Bed Angry

I don’t know if it was Carol and Mike on the Brady Bunch who gave us the “don’t go to bed angry” mantra in their …

What to Tell Your Kids When there is a Snow Day – I mean Bomb Day

Where I grew up on the East Coast, we would sit by the radio and listen to the latest weather forecast to find out what our …

Divorce: The 10 Tips You Need to Know (Only Your Friend Will Tell You These)

Divorce SUCKS. At first. You got married with every intention of it working out. And you might have children with this person …