Ari Sytner

When Nagging Ruins a Relationship

Posted by in Relationships & Marriage, therapy

In my work with couples, it is fairly common to observe many marital stereotypes. This includes the witch of a wife being an overbearing figure who can never be pleased. The imagery evokes sympathy for the poor guy who just can’t win. No matter how hard he tries – working long hours, helping with the children and household, this guy is just in a bear-trap of a marriage which will never loosen its grip. Yet, there is much more to this picture that requires analysis.

The husband can barely recall the early days of his relationship when things were enjoyable, calm and far more mutual. Now, after years of taking his beatings, he is left with two obvious choices.

Option A: Continue to be beaten into submission and keep his mouth shut. Through embracing his daily routine and hobbies for comfort, he will ultimately sail through the years, while his lonely and burdensome marriage continues to wear him down or eventually push him over the edge.

Option B: He can fight back and stand up for himself. After all, why shouldn’t he defend himself? Who says that his wife always has to be right? Is there anything wrong with wanting to relax after a long day of work? I mean, come on – he is killing himself from morning till night to earn the income needed to support his family and just at that moment when he crashes on the couch, his wife asks him to switch the clothing from the washer into the dryer! He wonders to himself, “why doesn’t she get me? Can’t she tell I’m exhausted? Would it kill her to do it herself?”

The problem with choosing either of these options – is that no good will ultimately come from them. To stick with Option A is to die a slow and painful death. To choose Option B is to run the risk of fueling confrontation and accelerating the decline of the relationship and the disillusion of the marriage. (Of course, with a competent therapist, this option can be more safely navigated).

Yet, let’s not forget secret Option C.

In this scenario, the husband can take a moment to fondly recall the good ol’ days when life was pleasurable and the relationship was fun and exciting. He remembers the dating, romance, flirtatious looks and intimacy that they once shared.

Where has it since gone and how can they get it back?

I don’t believe that relationships grow stale. We just stop working on them. Like any fire, it will die out if not constantly fueled. 

At the beginning of most relationships, of course, there are crazy fireworks. However, the trap that many couples fall into is that their relationship turns from loving to transactional. And why shouldn’t it? There are bills to be paid, carpools to arrange, and shopping to be done. Through a responsible division of labor, couples can reach a smooth level of functioning, wherein the home is a well-oiled machine and something to be proud of. However, as a result, the relationship itself becomes stale and the friendship, romance, and intimacy that once fueled their magnetic bond tends to dissolve in the wake of this robotic partnership.

Their challenge and primary goal for this couples, is to learn how to bring the love back to the forefront – as it truly is the foundation to everything else in their world. In their hectic lives, when a couple slows down enough to take the time and give that sideways glance or smile, a touch on the hand, or thoughtful text during the day, it reminds them of their love, and helps refocus them on who they are as a unit – a loving couple.

So, at the end of a long day, when a husband hears his true best friend asking for the laundry to be put into the dryer, and it is accompanied by a smile and a wink, it is no longer viewed as an attack or judgment against him, rather, it is an expression of intimacy. 

Whereas it may be natural for a guy to take affront to such a request – as if she did not care about how hard he has been working, the relationship grows stronger when he hears his wife’s pain, stress and frustration, and responds, not out of obligation, but out of love, caring and support.

With the many couples I have counseled, I have found that a spouse who sounds like a nag, might in fact, be a best friend who is in need.

By learning to communicate effectively; and really listening to understand what your spouse is feeling; and through investing in the friendship itself; the necessary daily transactions no longer become a chore. Instead, they are elevated to meaningful gestures of love which strengthens the bonds of friendship and marriage, and adds fuel to what should be a fiery and exciting relationship.

 

To work with Ari, click here to schedule a free initial call.

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Discovering the Secret to Happiness: Just Look Inside

Posted by in Kidney Donation, Relationships & Marriage, Stress & Adversity

When it comes to thrill rides or risk taking – I’m the guy that is always off to the side. I am the most risk-averse person you’ll meet. Ironically, however, I voluntarily donated my kidney to a total stranger.

How do I reconcile this enigmatic reality? On the one hand, I’m terrified of needles, but on the other hand, I willingly gave away a vital organ! It makes no logical sense whatsoever!

The answer is simple. It really comes down to gratitude.

When a person looks at what he or she has been blessed with in life, their blessings can either be seen as entitlements or as gifts.

For me, the eternal optimist, I have looked at all that I have been fortunately blessed with in life and realized I did nothing special to warrant so much, including having two healthy kidneys. I was simply born that way. Yet, when I learned that others were dying, fighting for a chance to live, I looked at my second kidney and knew that it was a gift. No longer could I take it granted, rather, I would lovingly share with someone else.

The more I focused on how grateful I was for the many blessings in my life which were given to me for no apparent reason, the more I  was overcome with gratitude, joy, and love. Eventually, I felt compelled to express that gratitude by paying it forward. Thus, giving a kidney became a way in which I could continue to celebrate my own life, by sharing life with others. Today, an amazing single mother of three children enjoys an incredible new life, because of that gift.

As you can read in my book, The Kidney Donor’s Journey, I am not on a crusade to convince people to donate their organs. However, I am a big believer in people living the most enriched and fulfilled lives possible. Gratitude can be the powerful engine to change our own lives if we simply allow it to.

All we have to do is look to our right and left and notice people around us on a daily basis that are suffering. Whether it is a lack of money, friends, or if one is struggling with physical illness, there are countless ways in which we can use the lives and gifts we were blessed with to enrich others.

Believe it or not, prior to donating my kidney, I had never before even donated blood. The thought was just too overwhelming. However, today, my entire perspective has changed. I now walk through life, aware that the answer to another person’s pain and suffering is literally coursing through my veins. What would my life be like if my body could not produce the healthy blood I needed to survive?

Yet, for some reason, I was one of the lucky ones and I can enjoy a virtually unlimited supply of healthy blood. This allows people to donate every 56 days and give life to those undergoing surgery, cancer treatments or battling hereditary blood disorders.

Therefore, the way in which I express my gratitude for my own health is to literally roll up my sleeves and offer a small token of what I have been blessed with. The notion of donating blood, plasma or platelets has now become an important value to me and an expression of my own love for life.

While I still avoid roller coasters, I no longer fear needles. Each and every human being has the capacity to enrich their own lives by helping others. See for yourself how giving is the best way to improve humanity.

How can YOU get involved? Find out at BeImpulsiveRSVP.com. #BeImpulsive.

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There’s no Such Thing as a Phone Addiction. Is There?

Posted by in Addiction, Relationships & Marriage

The traffic light turns red and the row of cars slowly crawl to a stop. It turns green and then red once again, but strangely, not a single car moves. As each driver is looking down at his or her phone, squeezing in just a few extra seconds of email or social media time, the world around them remains paused. Nobody has noticed the passing clouds, the ticking clock, the children’s laughter, or the changing traffic light.

This unfortunate reality has become the new normal. 

Yet, many ask, “so what?” If a person is sitting in their car, waiting in an airport, or standing in line at the store while looking at their phone – why does it matter? If anything, they are increasing their productivity by multitasking in real time! The truth is that in most cases being drawn into one’s phone does not directly hurt anyone. However, it causes us to miss out on life, people, and opportunities which continue to unfold whether one notices it or not.

John Bowlby is the father of psychology’s well-known Attachment Theory. The underlying idea behind this approach is that people form primary attachments in their lives, and the paradigm for that one relationship will be applied to all future relationships. When a person forms unhealthy attachments, the rest of their relationships will have the same flaws and will remain troubled or compromised.

This model need not only apply to our relationships with people, but even with objects! For those people who suffer with the painful disease we know as addiction, they live with a constant inner turmoil, which is most easily settled by giving into the addiction. That one drink for the alcoholic becomes the primary relationship in life, and breaking free from it seems insurmountable, despite repeated attempts to quit. Why would an intelligent and accomplished individual take another drink if the last one led to a fight, divorce, or D.U.I.? The answer is because the object of the addiction has become the primary relationship in the life of the addict – and that is not something one can easily walk away from.

One might say, “I can quit anytime,” but their track record may say otherwise. Being unable to put down the drink (or the phone) demonstrates the extent of one’s reliance upon it – and magnifies the unhealthy relationship one has with the object.  

Today’s cell phone usage has introduced a new relationship paradigm. No longer do people put their health, safety, or loved ones first – instead, the phone has become our first and primary attachment. While we have more connections than ever before, the quality of our relationships are being reduced dramatically, as the phone has become our go-to relationship for comfort and self-soothing.

While many are apt to quote the addicts mantra of, “I can stop at any time,” it is something easier said than done. I am fascinated when in the middle of a counseling session a client looks down to respond to text message. As they continue talking about important issues in their lives, their voice slowly trails off and stops in mid-sentence. A moment later, once the text is sent, their voice bounces back and continues talking as if nothing strange just happened. They are unaware of how their relationship with the phone is impacting what is happening in physical space they occupy.

Undoubtedly, this same scene repeats itself on dates, at business meetings and during precious family time. Yet, ironically, they sit in my office with tears flowing, trying to understand why they struggle to maintain happy and healthy relationships.

Utilizing Gestalt Therapy, I can often help clients to develop a self-awareness that enables them to identify that was is happening during our sessions is likely happening outside as well and negatively impacting their relationships. Many people will initially deny that one has anything to do with the other, much like the line of cars that are oblivious to the green light before them. But only when putting the phone down, or even better, shutting it off, can one regain their full mental and psychic energy to be fully present and aware of the world and the people around them.

Not only is the relationship with our phones robbing us of enjoying the connections with the people in our lives, but it in many cases, it prevents us from maximizing our mental abilities. Recently, I was out running errands when I noticed that I had forgotten my phone at home. It was a moment of pure panic. Shortly after, I felt a sense of calm as I realized that I was actually OK and not missing out on life. I was enjoying the scenery, the quiet, and my thoughts when I soon noticed new ideas that popped into my mind. Ordinarily, I would have immediately taken out my phone and made a note or sent an email, text or Tweet. I don’t like sitting on ideas when I can run with them. But then something happened.

The longer I sat with my ideas, unable to do anything about them but think, the more the ideas started to grow. Before long, I noticed that my previously half-baked idea was developing into something far greater.

It was that moment that I realized the importance of embracing a primary relationship, first with myself above all others. If I could only spend more time building a better relationship with me – my thoughts, ideas and dreams, only then could I work to enhance the relationships with the people in my life.

While I absolutely love my phone, there are other priorities which are truly far more important.

Thus, rather than live a beholden existence, where we are primarily attached to our phones, we should not be afraid to set ourselves free from time to time. By disconnecting from this virtual relationship, we will be able to better focus and fully embrace the truly meaningful relationships in our lives.

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What Were We Fighting About in the First Place?

Posted by in Relationships & Marriage

For many couples, what starts off as a simple miscommunication often evolves into a disagreement. Before long, it turns into a dispute, followed by a full-blown fight. By the time it is all over, there is yelling, crying, anger and resentment – and sadly, many hurtful comments which can never be unsaid.

While this may be a normal part of any relationship, what blows my mind is that in most cases, the conversation ends with, “I don’t even know what we were fighting about in the first place.”

How is it possible that two intelligent people, who love and respect one another, can head down a rabbit hole of bitter misery – and not even know how or why they got there?

In my own life (both personally and professionally), I have experienced this numerous times. I recently wondered, what would happen if the entire fight were recorded and then played back frame by frame. What would this reveal about the dynamics of the argument, and how it could have been avoided in the first place?

By looking at the instant replay, you will immediately notice that emotions start to flare up and the conversation quickly shifts, taking many unexpected and unnecessary turns. As this happens, fuel is thrown onto the fire by introducing old points of conflict, and soon the initial topic is forgotten altogether.

One thing to note about the human psyche is that new pain brings up old pain. If I were once stung by a bee, then I might anxiously jump when a ladybug lands on my arm. In order to protect itself, the mind learns to be afraid of anything which resembles a previously stressful situation.

Thus, when a couple begins to disagree over something trivial – such as where to go out for dinner, the subconscious mind begins to search for other stressful situations which might include similar feelings of friction. Therefore, instead of looking for solutions, the mind is racing to identify related problems, so that it can be prepared to protect itself from past traumas.

Suddenly, out of the blue, a couple might enter a devolving game of ping-pong, throwing out many unrelated statements:

“and you never pick up your socks”
“well, you’re always on your phone”
“you don’t appreciate anything I do”
“I’m the one doing everything”

Very quickly, the conversation goes from bad to worse. Yet, these statements are not intended to be hurtful, they are actually defense-mechanisms, where the mind is saying, “hey, I’ve been burned before and I’m carrying around other painful feelings that have never been resolved.” These statements are indeed important for exploration in therapy, or during a calm conversation. But during a fight, they should neither be said nor entertained.

What is the solution?

Here is my four-step approach:

1. Listen.
Instead of reacting and escalating the fight, try to just listen. Start by recognizing that these comments emanate from a place of prior pain and trauma, and thus, arguing the points will be futile. It does not matter whether the comments are, in fact, truthful. If my partner feels this way, to him or her the pain is real – and that is something I should honor and respect.

2. Remember the goal.
The purpose of a fight is not to win, but to strengthen the relationship, enhance the communication and reinforce the love and respect. If your goal is to win the fight, the relationship will lose. Too often, like a dagger, one person feels the need to insert the last word, and instead of calmly ending the fight, will reignite it. That is the most important time to swallow one’s pride and look forward to the impending calm, joy and peace that is about to follow.

3. Stay on point.
Don’t change the topic or argue about additional things. By staying calm and focusing on resolving this, and only this dispute, a couple can prevent themselves from creating a spiraling mess. I know how difficult it can be to stay focused in today’s world-o-distractions, but it is critical to resolving fights peacefully.

4. Beware of the dangerous buzz words.
When you hear the words, “always, never, anything and everything” they are telltale signs that the conversation is getting out of control and entering the world of extreme exaggeration. Statements involving these words are usually inaccurate. After all, does a person NEVER pick up their socks? Are they ALWAYS on their phone? Of course not. Therefore, making those statements only magnify the fight and polarize the couple.

Disagreements are a healthy and natural part of every relationship. However, arguing with respect and maturity can be the difference between a relationship simply being good and making it truly amazing. Next time you feel a fight coming on, take a deep breath and strive for a picture perfect, frame by frame peaceful resolution. 

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Breaking My Silence: A Kidney Donor Speaks Up

Posted by in Blog, Kidney Donation

You’re at Starbucks during your lunch break when you realize you’ve forgotten your wallet at your desk. Feeling embarrassed, you turn to the coworker standing behind you on line and reluctantly ask, “do you mind paying for my coffee today?”

If asking a friend to buy you a coffee can feel utterly embarrassing and uncomfortable, imagine the discomfort for a renal patient who must turn to a friend or neighbor and ask them for a kidney. While the guilt associated with such a request can often be crippling, what choice do they have? For over 100,000 Americans and 4 million people worldwide, this is their reality. The one thing that stands between life and death is putting forth that awkward request in the hopes that a kind stranger will willingly give them a piece of their body.

Yet, kidney patients are not the only ones who struggle to speak up. Five years ago, with no personal connection to kidney donation, I went on a personal journey to explore what was involved. I spent a year learning, contemplating and weighing the risks of kidney donation. The process itself was transformative and I am grateful that at the end of it, I was given the opportunity to share a piece of myself with another person and give her the gift of life.

Ari & Ronit - Kidney Donor & Recipient

Ari and Ronit – Kidney Donor and Recipient

Aside from my immeasurable gratitude for being given the opportunity to save Ronit, a single mother of three children, I still live with my own feelings of shame and guilt when it comes to talking about my kidney donation. I recently conducted an unofficial online poll, asking whether kidney donors should remain humble about their deed, or talk openly about it with others. I was surprised to find that more than 60% of respondents said that kidney donors should remain quiet, as if the act of donation may be a noble one, but it is a private matter and not something to brag about.

However, as a donor, I have already given. I’ve done what I can. Yet, sadly, in the United States alone, on average 12 people day die each while waiting for a kidney. Thus, if my commitment to save one life could be extended to saving many, I feel the need to break my silence and speak up, no matter how uncomfortable or unpopular it may be.

It is for that reason, that I have written The Kidney Donor’s Journey: 100 Questions I Asked Before Donating My Kidney. It is a moving and informative book, aimed at educating and inspiring others to explore the journey of kidney donation. When I first began the process, it was confusing and unclear, and I was completely skeptical. Although, as the year-long journey unfolded, I went through a personal transformation, one that gave me a new perspective on the value of life.

Since kidney patients find it remarkably painful to speak up and ask others for a donation, the goal of breaking my silence is to give them a voice and empower them with a different question – an easier one to ask. Instead, they will now be able to turn to a friend, neighbor or stranger and simply ask, “would you be willing to read a book?”

Currently, no book like it exists, aimed at walking people through the struggles, questions, and answers of the entire process, all through the lens of a skeptical donor. Therefore, by crafting this book as a moving and inspiring roadmap, it has the potential to save countless lives. However, my goal is not to convince people to donate. Instead, I aim to inform and inspire, so that with heightened awareness, more can be done on a global level to help those who are waiting, praying and hoping for the generous gift of life.

Please join me in breaking the silence by ordering your copy and helping spread awareness about this life-saving topic.

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Like 2 Phones Passing in the Night: How to Fire Up Any Relationship

Posted by in Organizations & Leadership, Relationships & Marriage

Do you prefer to text, rather than call? It seems that most of our daily communication today comes in written form. Why do we prefer to text and email people, instead of calling them? 

Well, does it really matter in the end? After all, if the dry cleaning, groceries or children need to be picked up, does it really warrant a phone call if I can more efficiently just send a text message?  Why waste the extra time listening to the ringing of the phone as you wait for the other person to pick up? Why take the risk of getting stuck in a long and drawn out unrelated conversation?

The answers to these questions start by recognizing that the dawn of a new relationship paradigm is upon us.  

Certainly text-based communication can seem more efficient! However, the benefit of this convenience is often outweighed by the cost.

There is a priceless entity known as human, emotional and social capital. It is what makes relationships – relational.  Without it, everything we do simply becomes transactional. In other words, it is not about simply getting the job done, but the partnerships we build with the people in our lives.

Consider the number of innovative business deals which are born on the golf course, through friendly handshakes, or over drinks.  They blossom out of the relationships, trust and common ground that is shared by like-minded people.  If those same deals were being negotiated on paper by a group of lawyers, they would seldom get off the ground, weighted by transactions, rather than propelled by people.

There is no doubt that texting is far quicker and more convenient, but it is a transactional form of communication. Texting may suffice to convey ideas, reminders, needs and thoughts, but may simultaneously bypass and even erode the very foundation of the relationship itself.

What if mundane tasks (like picking up the dry cleaning) were embraced as a part of a healthy, meaningful, and supportive give-and-take relationship? Instead of it being a chore, it becomes part of an intimate dance between two people.  This is where daily living can become relational, and actually uplift and strengthen the bonds that people share.

Scientific research has recently observed that when a parent conveys a message to their child over the phone, the brain detects a soothing and almost therapeutic-like quality, which is absent when the exact message is sent to the child via text. That is the power and intimacy of the voice and relational-based communication.

You may have noticed lately that many people have begun using emoticons and Bitmojis (illustrated caricatures of themselves) to add some life and dimension to their text-based messages. Perhaps there is something wonderfully artistic about this, as it gives an opportunity to color a message with a sense of emotion or flavor. 

Yet, deep down it stems from a desire to feel a deeper connection with other people, one which goes far beyond the words themselves. It comes from a yearning to feel more emotion in our interactions.  Perhaps we are striving to ignite a deeper sense of intimacy within the dull and static text-based communications which fill our days. 

Remember, intimacy is the secret glue that binds two people in a relationship. What is found within intimacy is a secret nonverbal lexicon. It is a dance of communication without words. It is built upon body language, eye contact, inflection and tone, where two people who know and understand each other can enjoy the depth of a secret connection. Unfortunately, this language becomes extinguished in the face of text messages and email, leaving only the hollow words themselves.

What is the answer?  Text less, talk more.

Yet, in today’s high-tech, fast-paced world, we are led to believe that we are too busy to pick up the phone, as if we cannot afford the extra time it will take to speak to someone. 

However, if we are completely honest with ourselves, we will realize that by not constantly strengthening our relationships and investing in our social capital, the cost in the long-run will be far greater to ourselves, our families and society.

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How Apple’s New iPhone Can Help You Find Love and Prevent a Midlife Crisis

Posted by in Relationships & Marriage

Oh, the outrage against Apple! With the long-awaited debut of the newest and best iPhone, Apple apparently disappointed millions of people with the release of the iPhone SE. To summarize, they have taken the previous iPhone 6 and put it into the even older casing of the smaller iPhone 5. Critics who were long awaiting the next big reveal were terribly disappointed by the very company who defined innovation.

Yet, perhaps the problem is not with Apple, but with ourselves and consumer expectations.

In 2007, we were transformed from a world with no iPhones to a world in which every person was carrying this brilliant little device. While it was not perfect, it was like going from zero to seventy. With each new update and release, we were led to salivate over what was yet to come. As newer models felt exponentially better than the previous, we assumed that each new release would carry that same initial thrill of going from zero to seventy, despite the fact that the updates are now only incremental improvements on this genius piece of technology.

In my work with relationships, I often find that people fall into the same trap. Singles that are looking for the perfect mate often decline dates in the hopes that a better version will soon come along. Those who are already in committed relationships often fail to appreciate who they have, as they wonder if someone better might exist.

It is this same hyped iPhone expectation which leads to the demise of countless relationships. It is what I call the “midlife crisis mentality”. It is an immature bug of unrealistic expectations, which, when planted in our minds, demands that we wonder about other possibilities, rather than savor what we have. It is what leads a person to impulsively quit their job, buy a new car, search for a new spouse, or undergo radical cosmetic surgery. On a societal and individual level, we must be cautious of this trap, lest we find disappointment in all that we cherish.

So what is the solution to the “midlife crisis mentality”? It is simple – appreciation!

Instead of looking at what features are still missing, stop and consider how many wonderful ones we already have. When we can turn to an imperfect spouse, child, parent or friend and love them unconditionally, that is when the relationship becomes rock solid.

relationshipsIn 20 years from now, when the iPhone 29 is out, what will it look like and what will it do? Chances are that 90% of it will resemble what we currently have! Will it get thinner, faster and have a longer battery life? Sure it will. But even with a few new bells and whistles, the fundamental pieces are already in place today. It is that core recipe which must be fully appreciated.

The same is true in every relationship. I believe that just about any two people could make their relationship work – if they want to!  While there are periods of euphoric highs, with romance and butterflies, the day-to-day ingredients for every happy relationship are already there. Wondering if you’ve made a mistake, or asking if the grass is greener on the other side can be a waste of good energy that could otherwise be put back into appreciating what you already have and making the relationship even better. 

It all starts with appreciation, realistic expectations, and not living for the next fantasy.

The choice is ours. This will either become the generation which fantasizes about future technology to define our greatness, or better yet, we can turn inward and discover the incredible gifts that we already have.

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Head-On Collision: How to Actually Win a Good Fight

Posted by in Relationships & Marriage

Newton famously said that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Yes, this applies to relationships, and the way people’s words and hostilities collide when fighting.

When a couple fights, think of it as two freight trains racing toward one another. The stronger and faster they go, the more disastrous the impact will be. Plus, in all likelihood, at least one, if not both trains, will be severely damaged and even totally destroyed.

Therefore, in order to win a fight, the goal is to avoid a collision altogether by reducing the speed, intensity, and even changing the complete direction of the conversation.

Wait a second! What if you feel that you are absolutely right and you deserve to win the fight? Why should you not hold your ground and stick to your principles?

I want you to always remember this point: if someone wins, that means that the other person loses. If they lose, two things will happen.

  1. The relationships as a whole will suffer because your partner is defeated
  2. You are now stuck with a loser (and nobody wants to be in a relationship with a loser!)

Therefore, we must keep in mind that the goal of an argument is not to win the fight! Rather, it is simply to avoid a collision by changing tracks and resuming the journey, while heading blissfully together in the same direction.

So, how does this work? How does one simply change tracks?

Please indulge me further in my train analogy: For those who have ridden the subway, you know the feeling of watching a train fly by you in the opposite direction. As you look out the window, all you see is a blur of faces and streaks of colors. There is absolutely no connection to the people in the next train.

However, from time to time, a train pulls up alongside yours, heading in the same direction and at the same speed. It is during those moments when you look outside and instead of feeling the rush of motion, it is as if everything stands still and you can clearly see all the faces of the strangers in the next train. You can smile, wave and feel a real connection, almost as if they are in the same train with you.

This paradigm is exactly how we fight.

Take a husband and wife for example - angry, frustrated and armed with a laundry list of reasons why they each think they are right. Ultimately, like two trains, they will either violently collide, or just fly past the other in a blur and squander the opportunity to truly connect.

What if there was a way for the two trains to pull up alongside each other and move in the same direction so that they can once again connect and see one another, rather than only see a blur?

This is a common exercise that I do with my clients. I invite them to look at the other person’s point of view, digest it, and really try to see it through their own eyes. This is not only an intellectual exercise but an emotional one as well.

Instead of asking, “why is my wife so stubborn?”, try this: “I wonder why this issue is so important to her?”

Instead of asking, “why does my husband always think he is right?”, try this: “I wonder what I could be doing better to show him that I value his opinion and feelings”.

Thus, even if you don’t agree, perhaps you can stop and appreciate who they are and why they feel the way they do. Slowing down to appreciate the person more than the agenda, is what we talk about when we say that relationships take hard work and compromise.

Whenever we stick to our guns and hold our ground, nobody wins.

What we ultimately want to do is each abandon our own rigid views, in place of a suitable compromise that shows we care more about the person than our perspective. After all, you must ask yourself, do you want to be right, or do you want to be happy?

To contact Ari for relationship support, coaching or intervention - click here

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It’s the Most Dysfunctional Time of the Year: Dealing with Family on the Holidays

Posted by in Parenting, Relationships & Marriage, Stress & Adversity

The holiday season evokes many joyous emotions and memories. Yet, research repeatedly demonstrates the increased levels of stress, anxiety and depression.

At the end of the day, when we gather among family, the experience for many is not one of joy, but dread. Sitting across the table from Grandma or Dad, and hearing a barrage of passive-aggressive questions just hurts.  

  • What ever happened to that last boyfriend, I liked him?
  • Are you still in that same job, I thought you have more potential than that?
  • Any plans for a New Year’s resolution to lose weight?
  • When are you going to give me some grandchildren?
  • Do you always let your kids speak to you that way?

The painful list goes on and on. How could it be that the very people who supposedly love us above all, are most critical? It always amazes me how well-adjusted, socially aware adults can be so clueless about the hurtful things they say to family around the holidays (or yearround in some cases).

If you are reading this and nodding your head, the good news is that you are not alone. This is a universal problem and you are in very good company. Unfortunately, however, we are not easily going to change how our families interact.

So what can we do to best handle these uncomfortable questions?

The first thing to keep in mind is boundaries. Some topics are either too personal or raw that they are just off limits, and its ok to clarify that to family right off the bat. 

But if we are to respond, there are essentially 4 choices.

  1. Avoidance
  2. Sit there and take it
  3. Engage in battle
  4. Disarm and connect

Avoidance is a miserable and lonely answer. If your family is truly toxic to you, where they are emotionally and verbally abusive, then avoid them. However, there is a difference between them being hurtful and being toxic. Most families are hurtful and dysfunctional, but not truly toxic, so give some thought as to how deeply they may affect you.

Option 2 is to sit there and take it, leaving you feeling pretty miserable about how your family treats you. That too, will just send you towards a bottomless pit of pain, and you don’t deserve to be mistreated like that.

The third option is to fight back. For some, this works well, as it creates conversations that are long overdue. However, it is often not without tears, yelling, screaming and using dangerously charged words like “you always” and “you never”. Furthermore, it comes with the risks of escalating a dysfunctional relationship to a non-functional one, where doors can be slammed permanently. That is something we always wish to avoid.

This is why I prefer the fourth option – disarm and connect.

Let’s look into the hearts and minds of our hurtful relatives. In most cases, they don’t ask these questions to be rude. Quite the opposite, in fact; they ask because they care about you. It stems from a place of them spending years nurturing your development and having lofty dreams and expectations of what your future would hold. Your very existence represents decades of investments that they have made in you. What they may fail to appreciate, is that you are now an adult, and their job is to be unconditionally supportive of wherever your life has taken you.

Knowing that their comments are coming from a good place of caring, concern and love, how can you translate them into a meaningful interaction?

Try using a simple question.

Instead of answering their query or getting into a debate, try holding up a mirror to them by asking if they could take you back and describe what it was like for them during that stage of life. This should not a cynical or snarky response, but a humble and genuine one.

Try empowering them to offer their buried wisdom and guidance from their own life-experiences. In other words, we want them to recall what it was like being in your stage of life. Perhaps by recalling their own challenges, instead of delivering barbs, they can give you the much-deserved support and unconditional love.

For example, suppose your mother says something like, “any plans to settle down and get married soon?” Your simple response can be, “it’s a tough world out there, but can you tell me some of the details about how you and dad met – maybe I can learn something”.

With a little extra humility, we can take the high road and be reminded that our seemingly obnoxious relatives are not actually trying to be hurtful, they just really care. Therefore, by redirecting the conversation, we can point them in the right direction of what family is supposed to offer – true caring and support.

So if dad asks how your startup business is going, but he uses air-quotes when saying the word startup – you can either get really annoyed, or just smile and ask for any tips from his own business experiences. You have nothing to lose by this approach and everything to gain. In the best case scenario, you will help take the relationship to a more mature and substantive level, increase the bonding, and who knows, maybe even learn something.

Family is forever. Enjoy and happy holidays!

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What is the One Word Needed for Happy Relationships?

Posted by in Organizations & Leadership, Parenting, Relationships & Marriage

Countless iconic leaders have boasted to the world how they've clawed their way to the top by setting goals, writing them down and tackling them one by one.

Come on, let’s be realistic! Nobody, no matter how talented, can just predict and script their future. Failure is a crucial ingredient in the recipe for success! Disappointment is actually one of the greatest tools for learning how to grow stronger. Without a healthy amount of frustration, we cannot develop the resilience we really need to be successful. It is only through a hearty serving of disappointment that we learn to become great!

This rule is true for school and business, and perhaps most importantly, adaptability is one word needed for all successful relationships! 

Every relationship starts with shared foundations. However, they are meant to adapt over time as we hit unexpected bumps along the way. Yet, when one spouse is too rigid to flex, the relationship eventually starts to break under the pressure.

I recall counseling one of my clients, a wonderful middle-aged couple, who reached an impasse. The husband argued that when they agreed to get married, she was dead set on staying home to raise the children. However, 15 years later, she found herself bored and unfulfilled at home and wanted to return to school to pursue her career. He felt that she was abandoning her word, and even worse, their children. She felt that her husband no longer respected her happiness.

What were they to do? The answer is simple. Adapt!

Just because something worked in the past, does not mean you should not revisit it as time goes on and people change. Adaptability is a necessary skill that everyone is familiar with.

detourWe’ve all had the experience of being in the car and getting lost. What do you do - pull over and end the drive? No, you simply reroute, even if it means taking a different road altogether.

The same is true in relationships. When a couple has their first big fight and realizes that the honeymoon is over, it does not mean that they pull off to the side of the road and end the relationship. It simply means that you are dealing with a temporary bump in the road. Whenever you have two different people with different opinions and perspectives, they each need to learn how to adapt. This starts by being humble, actively listing, and lovingly supporting one another.

Only with the maturity to understand that a relationship requires constant work to maintain the love and respect, will they find lasting happiness together.

Think of it this way: We can flex now, or break later. Why not give that gift to the one you love and make the relationship long-lasting and full of happiness? 

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Is Religion Something to be Ashamed Of?

Posted by in Parenting, Relationships & Marriage, Stress & Adversity

Religion often gets a bad rap. We live in a world where moderate religious folks rarely make the headlines. It is the radical extremists that always seem to get the bulk of the attention, making the rest of us look bad.

With such a negative light cast on religion, why would anyone wish to be involved with faith or a religious community?

Even in the mental health arena, religious people have historically been viewed as “unwell”. Sigmund Freud himself established this fundamental belief in the field of psychology. After all, if a person truly was normal, healthy and well, why would they turn to some invisible, magical higher power to run their lives? This ultimately suggested that people of faith are somewhat crazy!

Yet, I recently surveyed a number of research articles that tackled this very notion as to what a life of religion means for one's wellbeing. Not surprisingly, the research shows that people of faith are actually far better off than Freud suspected.

When it comes to dealing with stressful and painful life-crises, people of faith are found to have a higher level of “stress-buffering”. This basically means they have a higher threshold for dealing with life’s challenges, particularly, those of high-intensity pain and trauma.

For example, when comparing the coping mechanisms of couples that have tragically lost a child, those who have strong religious beliefs have reported far better outcomes for coping and healing than those who do not.

Why might that be?

There are a number of explanations for this phenomenon. Some suggest that when a person has faith,faith community it gives them hope and optimism. Rather than falling into the grips of despair and depression, the person who has faith, can be carried through hardships, simply by holding on to the knowledge that they are not alone. They live with the comfort that they can be rescued by God from their darkness.  Furthermore, they find comfort knowing that everything in life happens for a purpose – even hardships which cannot always be understood. Their relationship to a higher being, also allows them to channel their feelings through prayer, which can be a meditative, cathartic and healing process.

Additionally, the research suggests that a person of faith is often connected to a religious community of like-minded people. Therefore, when a hardship may strike, they are supported by a church, synagogue, temple or mosque – filled with friends, family, and a community of people to help get them through difficult times.

On a family level, religious families report having higher rates of satisfaction in marriage, improved physical and sexual health, lower rates of divorce, domestic violence, suicide and substance abuse.

On a societal level, it is often through religious Soup-Kitchen-1communities that charity, philanthropy and social capital emerge. In other words, so many of the soup kitchens, homeless shelters, and educational initiatives are born in religious institutions, aimed at improving the world around us.

When I was a child, I recall that religion was something to almost feel embarrassed about. If I proudly wore a head-covering in my personal life, I might hesitate before wearing it at school or in the workplace for fear of being judged or discriminated against. Yet today, we have moved beyond those feelings. We have evolved to a greater level of tolerance and acceptance, where we can better support and respect the diverse religious needs of those around us.

Unfortunately, extremists of many varieties have hijacked the good name of religion. Too often, there is a stigma of irrationality, anger and fanaticism associated with religion, which may prompt many ordinary religious people to feel the need to conceal or subdue their religious lives. When those among us who are more "enlightened and progressive" look down upon the religious community as being antiquated and outdated, or as something we are just stuck with and must tolerate, it stands to push the many benfits of religion away. Yet, as a truly progressive society, it behooves us to turn to the successful models found within all faiths and religious communities and explore ways to learn from them and collectively support society around us.

There will always be extremists and religious fanatics who hog all the attention. Society, however, must rise above that, and keep in mind that those are the exceptions, and perhaps the ones that Freud was most concerned about for being emotionally or psychologically unsound.

While each religious community must maintain their distinct viewpoints and values, the common strengths and benefits that we share should be recognized and celebrated by all people.

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Here’s a Quick Way to Stop Those Embarrassing Texts

Posted by in Organizations & Leadership, Parenting, Relationships & Marriage

The pen was once mightier than the sword. Today, there is something even more dangerous – the send button.

I am not afraid of the words I write, for they are easy to edit, undo and delete. The part that scares me is that little send button. It represents a tiny, but dangerous window between myself and the rest of the universe.

Who hasn’t experienced the embarrassment of watching a text message being sent, just as your brain registers the autocorrected version of your text? Instead of telling someone, “ I love you”, you might have just accidentally said, “I loathe you”. Slight difference, right?

What about those times where you sent the right text, but to the wrong person? As one of my clients explained, “My neighbor Jody was really annoying me, texting me day and night. I was so frustrated that I texted my sister to tell her how much I can’t stand Jody. The only problem was that instead of texting my sister, I accidentally sent it to Jody”.

Who hasn’t been copied on a group email from their manager, but inadvertently “replied-all” when responding to their colleagues regarding their ongoing frustrations about the boss?

I shudder to think about how many relationships have been derailed, how many jobs have been lost and how many people have been devastated by such impulsive and silly mistakes. All of these could have been prevented if only a little more restraint was exercised before pressing send.

Abraham Lincoln was famous for composing scathing letters to his critics, where he would unleash his wrath against them. The only caveat was that he would seal the envelopes and place the letters in his desk, never to actually be delivered. He found this exercise to be cathartic, allowing him to say what he felt, but to take great care to not hurt the feelings of others. This form of restraint is a perfect example of how one should pause before pressing the send button.

I have implemented a practice of my own, which I call, “The Slow Send”.

Whenever I am sending a text, Tweet or email, I press my finger on the send button, but I do not let it go for a few seconds. Often enough, during that brief moment of reviewing my message, I will notice an error in what I have said, or to whom I am saying it. Without lifting my finger, I can then slide it over to the side, which resets the send button and prevents the message from being sent, allowing me to correct it before it gets away from me.

While we are so blessed to have so many forms of awesome communication, we must be careful in how we use them. The fast pace and impulsive nature of life around us is aimed at tripping us up and, therefore, requires extra pause. I am glad to hear a lot of awareness regarding the dangers of texting and driving. Perhaps the conversation should start by realizing how dangerous texting could be just while standing still.

Consider using a “Slow Send” and please share below to comment and let me know if it works for you! 

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How to Have a Business You Can be Proud of: Why Venture-Philanthropy is a Game-Changer

Posted by in Organizations & Leadership, Parenting, Relationships & Marriage

Years ago, an older man visited our synagogue once each month to make a modest donation. Although I thanked him each time, he always gave the same reply, “rabbi, please don’t thank me, I do it because I am selfish. I just enjoy the way I feel when I give charity”.

Whether helping individuals or organizations, everyone has different motivations for why they donate, volunteer or help out. In the corporate world, there are new massive trends which encourage charity and volunteerism.

Why would a company care whether their employees donate to charity? Why would corporations like Apple and Google offer programs, where they match the charitable contributions of their employees?

It could simply be because they want to be a part of the culture of “do-gooders”. It might be because industrial psychologists have suggested that employees are more productive when they feel that they are helping the world (not just selling technology). Or, perhaps they give so generously to avoid the extra tax burdens, which will inevitably hit their multi-billion dollar bottom lines.

Regardless of their ulterior motives, you have to admit that great things are happening as a result of these corporate trends which encourage kindness and philanthropy. But, let’s be clear, most companies do not exist, nor were they created just to bring social welfare reform to the world. Only as a result of their incredible success, are they able to give back to the community and help the world.

Imagine, however, if we flipped the model. What might it look like if a company were formed exclusively to help the world, while also yielding a profit?

I recall once partnering with a very generous oral surgeon, who invested in an ice-cream franchise. I curiously asked him why he was expanding into this market, if he was already maintaining a highly successful and lucrative medical practice. He responded, that he works as hard as he does just to be able to give more charity. However, he was frustrated by his own financial limitations.

Therefore, instead of donating $200,000 to charity, he invested it in a business, which was going to yield more than double his initial investment.  Then he would donate every penny of the annual profit to charity. Additionally, his kindness was bringing a family-friendly business to the community, as well as offering employment to a number of people. Many other small businesses will equally allocate a tithe of at least 10% of their profit to go directly to charitable causes. Thus, the more successful they are, the more they can give back to their community.

It is this win-win-win model of Venture-Philanthropy, which puts the desire to help others as the foundation and motivation to running a successful company.

I was recently introduced to another such inspiring company called Book Bugs (www.bookbugs.net). Their motto is, “where reading meets giving”.

They are basically a monthly book club for kids, where children can receive a brand new book each month to help inspire them to read. Here’s the best part - for every three books that your child receives, a brand new book is donated to an underprivileged child.will

When I heard their mission, I simply could not resist and immediately signed up. While three of my kids love reading, I have not been able to motivate my youngest 3rd-grade daughter to read. I’ve tried getting her all the “usual” books (Harry Potter, Babysitters Club, Junie B. Jones, Magic Treehouse, Judy Blume), none of which kept her interest for more than 10 minutes.

When I joined Book Bugs, they had me fill out a form telling about my child’s interests and hobbies. I was shocked when a few days later a book that I had never before heard of arrived in the mail. It was absolutely perfect and she could not put it down! Clearly they know more about what 8-year-old girls like to read than I do!

Now, my daughter looks forward to a new book every month. But more importantly, I love that I am also helping the world, by supporting a company that is giving the same gift of reading to a less fortunate child. (Its good to note that the company is running a promotion now, where you can get your first month for free with the promo code: GIVEBOOKS2015).

I hope that more companies will embrace this model of Venture-Philanthropy, where their business model will foremost aim to do great things in the world, beyond the wonderful products or services they offer.

While it feels great to donate and help other people, I would hardly call any act of charity selfish! Anyone who helps others is doing a good deed. But if we could direct our entrepreneurial motivations to be built upon compassion and altruism, perhaps we could inspire and help more people in the process. I am not suggesting that a company earn less and report smaller profits to their shareholders. Rather, to change their definition of success altogether.

Perhaps the very success of a company should be measured, not my how much they bring in, but my how much they can give back.

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The Secret to Finding Meaning in Life

Posted by in Organizations & Leadership, Parenting, Relationships & Marriage

Treadmill + Shower + Coffee + Newspaper = Happiness?

Who doesn’t love their morning routine? We all love habits, as they make life comfortable and cozy. Instead of having to confront the dreadful anxiety induced by facing the unknown, we can simply find a soothing rhythm and live within the confines of that comfort zone.

Yet, there is a downside to living a robotic existence. When we settle into a life of complacency, it can quickly become stale, and at best, we will strive for mediocrity. How do we overcome that inclination and utilize our time on earth to truly live an awesome life?

The answer is to remember the power of 1.

Many people assume that the power of 1 refers to what the individual, or perhaps God, can accomplish. However, for me, the 1 represents journeying from zero to something which has a value.

If you had string of 6 consecutive zeros, the number would still be worthless. However, if you simply added a 1 before them, you would suddenly have a million! If we could add a 1 before every action in life, it would be tantamount to infusing purpose and meaning into everything we do.

Suppose your existence were reduced to spending each day turning a wheel. Yomoneyu would probably find it to be a painfully torturous chore. However, what if you knew that the wheel was powering a generator that sustained a person on life support? Sure, the task would still be painful and boring, but having that knowledge ignites a new perspective which adds purpose and transforms empty zeros into millions.

It is specifically through a purpose-filled perspective that we unlock strength, joy and untapped potential that lies within each of us.

When we know what we are living for, it motivates us to do more with our time and to live a greater and more meaningful life. The greatest way to fuel our daily existence is to think about others. By looking for ways to uplift our spouse, children, neighbors, friends and coworkers, we are placing 1’s everywhere we go.

When we can find opportunities to uplift the lives of others, it shifts the focus from our many zeros and adds value to everything we do. Even when we do something as mundane as going to work, the gym or watching TV, having a reason and a purpose (such as for family, or to be more productive) makes those tasks purposeful.

Life has many forms of currency that people value, such as money, clothing, cars, food, movies, trinkets or video games. All of these “things” are placeholders. They are mere zeroes that occupy time and space and will ultimately craft the epitaph that is our legacy.

Thus, even if we were to amass an abundance of all these “things”, at the end of life, of what value are they really?

Therefore, instead of only amassing zeros, and filling our lives with routines that are cozy, let's think bigger.  Imagine what life could be like if we were to pause each day to think about the needs of others and work to break free from our own little comfort zones and routines. By searching for the 1’s, we can learn to put the needs of the world ahead of ours, and add purpose, meaning, joy and goals to everything we do. 

So, what's your "1"?  Please inspire others below by sharing yours in the comment section.

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When the Romance Dies Down: Is it a Sign of Trouble?

Posted by in Relationships & Marriage

Many people believe that marriage is the best way to take a glittering romantic relationship and send it down the road to a slow and painful death. That’s right, say goodbye to the heels, hair and makeup and hello to flip-flops, sweatpants and scrunchies. But here is a little secret, romance does not die as a relationship develops.

With the right perspective, romance can grow, and more specifically, it can grow up.

Every couple enjoys the early phases of their courtship, which are filled with flirtatious ways to spice things up. There are so many powerful tools and resources that can be used to add heat, passion and romance into the equation.

Why then doesn’t it last? Why don’t couples continue to bring that same magic into their relationship as the years go on?

The answer is simple – because it’s just not realistic. Whether we like it or not, bedhead and morning breath are parts of real life. When a relationship is underdeveloped, those small things really impact us, which is why we take extra measures to put our best foot forward (even if it means keeping a hair brush and pack of minty breath strips under the pillow).

However, the first lesson is to set realistic expectations and realize that those initial efforts are only designed to buy us enough time to truly fall in love with one another and be attracted to what’s beneath the surface. Remember, the goal of the relationship is not to become infatuated with the external allure, but to fall head over heels for the person on the inside. When a relationship matures to the point where a couple learns to admire, love, respect and appreciate their partner in spite of their human flaws, that is when things are taken to a new level.

Too often, couples look back in time and long for their early days. They miss the simple life, where work, kids, mortgage, bills and demands were not a constant burden, and “love” was always in the air. I would suggest to such a couple that perhaps its time to mature and own the new, grown-up version of your relationship.

Since a couple cannot live in the past, how about trying to evolve and adapt to the new realities?

Don’t get me wrong, every couple should have fun, and enjoy romance, gifts roseand treats. However, it should reflect the maturity of a relationship that has developed over time, not the cutesy distractions once used to bolster the fledgling couple amid the courtship process.

So often, after years of being together, a couple may try to capture the sparks of their early days with a magical date night. The wisdom of marriage professionals suggests that a couple indulge in champagne, chocolates and flowers in order to bring back the romance. To their dismay, however, a couple may try it, but find that it just doesn’t do for them what it once had done.

Is that a sign of their demise? Does it mean that their relationship is doomed and will never be romantic again?

Of course not! While those treats can be sensual, fun and enjoyable, they don’t necessarily work for many couples that have since outgrown them. After years of being together, the depth of the relationship truly runs so much deeper than the superficiality of chocolate and roses.

When a couple has built an intimate friendship, where they have seen and supported one another through their highs and lows, through Loveperiods of joy and grief, and success and failure, the foundation of their bond is usually far stronger than they realize!

At this stage, the name of the game is true intimacy. While physical intimacy and flirtatiousness can play a large role, and should definitely not be ignored, the emotional intercourse which takes place
is equally, if not more, critically important. There’s a reason that the Bible’s euphemism for sex is “knowing” your partner (such as “and Adam knew Eve).

Don’t feel down when the relationship seems to plateau. The underlying message, is, “Congratulations! You’ve graduated past the basics”. It is at this point that you are ready to know and understand one another with almost a prophetic predictability.

When a couple can read each other’s thoughts and feelings, and even finish each other’s sentences, it is a sign that you have achieved true intimacy. It is only with that knowledge and predictability that you can be sensitive to the stresses that push your partner over the edge, or conversely, know the intimate secrets that make your partner’s heart flutter.

With that knowledge and power, create a fun date that shows that you uniquely have grown to know who your partner is and what really makes them tick. Being armed with that knowledge is enough to light a fire in any relationship!

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Are there too Many Choices for Communication?

Posted by in Parenting, Relationships & Marriage

It seems today we are bombarded with more options than ever before, and the truth is, we crave them. When I buy a car, I want to make sure I can get the most number of options available, so that I have the choice to not use any of them!

When it comes to dating, there are so many avenues that one can take, that it only adds to the confusion. In some cases, it even prevents people from taking that important step forward, as they are more obsessed with considering alternatives, than committing to the one person they love.

When I was a child, I recall a sign hanging in many kitchens which read:

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Having many choices feels great, but it often gets in our way. I have found the same phenomenon when it comes to digital communication. Whenever I schedule a meeting online with someone, we find ourselves in this awkward dance. Should we call, Skype, FaceTime, Blab, email, Periscope, Google Hangout Webex, Viber, G-Chat or Facebook?! It can be so overwhelming, especially in light of so many new options being added each week. In the end, while we like having choices, too many does not really help anyone.

I have found that most people are just technologically not on the same page. If you’re like me, you prefer to keep your Skype and FaceTime address books for only friends and relatives. Some people don’t mind giving out their cell numbers, and others prefer to only speak from their office phone. As some of us only use Mac and others Windows, some on iPhone and others on Android - this chaotic world of communication options only discourages direct and meaningful contact. As I conduct a great deal of online trainings and communications, I have been searching to find a way to go back to basics and communicate without going through that awkward dance of asking people what platforms they are on, or suggesting that they first download software, apps, plugins and updates.

Thankfully, I am back to basics! While I always prefer face-to-face communication, I have been pleasantly surprised by how simple it is to just use a free web-based service like www.freeconference.com. For starters, what I like is that nobody has to download software! You can just have a regular call or conference call, or even a video chat with multiple participants that can see each other. (Personally, I use lots of slides and demonstrations, so I enjoy the screen-sharing and recording).

My biggest pet peeve, however, on conference calls, is when multiple people speak at the same time, then apologize for interrupting and awkwardly remain quiet. Inevitably, after that uncomfortable silence, they all chime in again at the exact same time (and you know exactly who you are, because we’ve all done it)!

This type of simple platform gives me the ability to visually see who is on a call, allow for a real-time chat box, and even allow participants to “raise their hand” in order to speak.  Plus, I can mute that one person who has screaming kids, or the TV playing in the background.

The bottom line is that communication is easier today than during any prior generation in history, and it really should be more convenient for people to just connect. However, while we have more options than ever (and the technology is quite awesome) we should not take it for granted, nor let it inhibit our connections. The best solution is to choose a universal platform and stick with it.

Remember, communicating effectively is about connecting with other people. We should, therefore, try to take whatever steps possible to remove any barriers that slow us down, and instead, jump at the opportunity to enjoy a fluid and meaningful exchange of ideas.

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When a Leader is So Funny, it Hurts

Posted by in Organizations & Leadership, Parenting, Relationships & Marriage

How Humor Can Help or Hurt Relationships

Although every leader has their own style, some are genuine and others are manufactured. Steve Jobs was terrific at inspiring his employees with the innovative vision that Apple so desperately needed. Yet, he also managed to instill terror in the hearts and minds of his employees. Regardless of whether this approach is a replicable model to be taught in business schools, it was genuine. Like it or not, this is just who Steve was. He was not out to make friends, rather, he was committed to his vision and mandate.

Then, there are the leaders take a folksy, humorous approach, where self-deprecation paves the way to creating an environment of humility and friendliness. Employees seem to enjoy coming to a work environment where the boss has reduced the culture of stress and fear and create one of camaraderie. But does this approach really work for maximizing productivity?

It all depends on whether this person is genuine or fake.

Humor is a powerful tool to help put people at ease and build bridges. However, many people use humor as a defense mechanism aimed at protecting themselves when feeling vulnerable. When the CEO is insecure and hides behind humor, it will only last so long before he or she is exposed.

For instance, if unable to remember the names of his or her employees, the CEO dodges uncomfortable encounters by injecting humor, quips and creating witty nicknames, it might seem funny (at least for the first or second time around). However, when this pattern is compounded, people recognize it as being disingenuous. Ultimately, the leader is seen as a fake and may quickly lose the confidence of his team.

There is little shame in being genuine and showing that you care enough to ask an employee to remind you of their name. When employees only see a façade and cannot quite put their finger on who their boss really is, it creates a heightened discomfort, fear, and inability to trust.

Steve-Jobs-470x350

While Steve Jobs may have scared his employees half to death, they knew full well who they were dealing with. However, when a leader is disingenuous and hides behind quick one-liners, he or she may feel safe and protected, but the organization as a whole will remain vulnerable.

Employees thrive when they feel that they are part of an organization which engenders trust and honesty.

A strong leader will constantly strive to be self-aware, know their talents and humbly own their weaknesses. It is through genuine honesty and even being fallible from time to time, that leaders can instill trust, faith and loyalty in the hearts of their employees. 


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Self-Improvement 101: How to Fill the Negative Spaces

Posted by in Addiction, Relationships & Marriage

Change is hard. Who doesn’t enjoy settling into a comfortable routine? However, when a person is finally motivated to break their mold and strive for self-improvement, the shackles of our habits can be debilitating.

It is for that reason that I look forward to the Jewish High Holidays, which give me an opportunity to look at my habits – both good and bad take a personal inventory of how I can improve.

However, beware the trap of the negative space!

When a person digs deeper and deeper, chiseling away at the parts of themselves they wish to change, they will eventually be left with a gaping hole. For example, if a person decides to reduce their laziness and increase productivity, they may find themselves successfully cutting out TV, movies, Facebook and other distractions. However, if they are not filling that extra time by focusing on meaningful tasks and goals, they will likely fail altogether when the boredom takes hold and catapults them back to their previous ways.

To illustrate this phenomenon, imagine your dentist discovers a pretty nasty cavity in your molar. After drilling, scraping and hollowing out the tooth, the dentist proudly reports that the cavity is gone. However, let’s be honest, until the hole in your tooth is properly filled, you’re just not out of the woods.

The same idea applies to self-improvement. It is insufficient to simply cut out the negative behaviors if we do not replace them with positive ones.

Consider how many intelligent and determined people have failed at diets for this reason. They decided it was time to get healthy, banished all fried foods, butter, trans fats, red meat, eggs, salt, sugar, mayo and of course, ice cream. Yes, they had the right idea, “cut out all of the bad stuff”. However, if there is no an alternate plan to substitute healthy menus for every meal, they will likely crash and burn when hunger gets the best of them.

Research on addiction has pointed to the same conclusion. People who wish to quit smoking, drinking, gambling, gaming, shopping, pornography, overeating – all have the same challenge. They will put 90% of their self-control and energies towards NOT engaging in a particular behavior. However, instead of only focusing on the negative, if they were to also expend a great deal of energy pursuing positive behaviors, they would more likely succeed simply because they are busy chasing their dreams and ambitions.

It is for this reason that Alcoholics Anonymous or other 12-Step programs, put such an emphasis on the many levels of personal growth beyond just the value of “quitting”. By discovering and pursuing one’s spiritual self, a person is more likely to engage in meaningful relationships and seek life-goals that are inherently motivating, fulfilling and rewarding.

Sure, becoming a better person can be a huge undertaking! However, if overcoming my challenges compel me to focus positively on my dreams, then my weaknesses actually become the greatest of life's gifts! (Think about it).

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Technology Overload: What is Real Anymore?

Posted by in Addiction, Parenting, Relationships & Marriage

twitter reality

It was a beautiful Labor Day weekend and I decided to take my children fishing. As I stood with them at the water’s edge, I tried to let go of all of my responsibilities, work and social media connections. I proudly watched my children as they were trolling for sunfish and feeding the geese. It was truly a beautiful moment in time.

Then it happened!!

I heard the chirp. That high pitched tweeting sound that pulled me right back into the world of social media. For a moment, I felt angry. It was that stupid app, which was now robbing me of the opportunity to enjoy life, family and nature. No longer could I appreciate the sites of the children, birds and the water. I suddenly found myself traveling down a technology black hole, as I was eager to check my phone. I tried to resist the urge to take out my phone and look to see who tweeting. However, before I knew it I heard the tweeting sound again and could not resist.

As feelings of guilt took hold of me, I reached into my pocket and looked at my phone. Surprisingly, the screen was blank. I checked again, only to realize that there were no tweets, messages or alerts. I was baffled.

We’ve all experienced phantom vibrations from our phones, where we can practically feel the phone vibrating and we often jump up to answer it, only to realize that it's actually plugged in to the wall in a different room!

But who has ever heard of phantom tweet sounds?

Was I losing my mind!? Was I so addicted to technology that my brain was imagining it? Then I heard it again and I looked up.

I saw a magnificent nest in a tree just a few feet away from me. It was filled with the most beautiful family of birds, all chirping and whistling away. It was at that moment, that I realized how terribly skewed my reality had become. Instead of hearing a chirp and thinking of the obvious, my mind was in a far-off place. I had become disconnected from the present moment and part of my mind was living in an alter digital reality.

In the medical profession, there is a diagnostic concept, framed by Dr. Theodore Woodward, known as “The Zebra”. In other words, if you hear hoof-beats, think horse, not zebra. Thus, when a patient presents with obvious symptoms, consider the obvious diagnosis, rather than the exotic. Yet, in today’s world of technology-overload, the distracting zebra has now replaced the ordinary horse. It is both funny and quite sad that, when I hear chirping today, I think Twitter and not birds.

Don’t get me wrong, I am all for technology! I even yearn to one day call myself by the esteemed title of Geek. However, this particular incident was a wake up call. It reminded me of just how aware I must be to separate between my digital world and my actual reality which is filled with countless amazing moments with my wife and children.

How often are couples, coworkers or parents guilty of being drawn into their devices at the expense of enjoying and interacting with one another? Psychological research has demonstrated that even when a phone is nearby, a portion of our minds are distracted by their presence. Consequently, our cognitive abilities become compromised. The research shows that the closer the phone is to us, the greater the cognitive impairment. The only solution is to give oneself the gift of powering down from time to time and recalibrating.

By disconnecting our devices, even just for dinnertime, or while on a date, it frees up more cognitive ability to allow us to enjoy each moment and really make our life experiences into more meaningful ones.

Hopefully, the next time you hear the sound of a birds chirping, think life, nature and real birds – not @Twitter.

For a Free Guide on how to Overcome Digital Distraction Click here4 tips

 

To Contact Ari for Therapy, Interventions, Public Speaking, or just to say hi - please click here!

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Confessions of a Mom/Teacher: How Do I Help My Child Succeed in School?

Posted by in Parenting, Relationships & Marriage

Guest Post by Author & Parenting & Educational Specialist, Dawn Casey-Rowe

DawnWhether you’re putting a kindergartener on the bus for the first time or sending off a senior in high school, you’re probably wondering if you’re doing all you can to help your student succeed.

“Does anyone have the school supply list?”

“I lost the summer reading--can someone post?”

“We haven’t touched the summer computer math.”

Those are the types of things I hear from most every parent I meet.  Even though I’m a teacher as well as a mom, I often feel completely unprepared.  This year, I was a bit ahead of the game.  I didn’t lose the supply list.  I bought the required number of folders, pencils, and crayons, plus a few extra to share.  I felt proud.

Still, I’m not perfect.  I didn’t log my son’s summer reading even though we read books for fun.  I also lost the login for the computer math program he hates so we did our own fun math and science this summer instead of fighting about requirements.  I hope it counts.

“Mom, if I cut the head off a hydra five times,” Declan asked after watching Percy Jackson, “How many heads will I get?”  That’s a great question.  I take every opportunity I can to sneak in learning--they get wise to this quick as they get older.

“If it grows back two heads every time, and we cut them off five times…” We start figuring out the solution. That’s an exponential equation--not bad for an eight year old.  Even little kids can understand advanced math if it’s explained in terms that interest them.  “You know that applies to germs and fruit flies, too?”  He’s familiar with fruit flies.  We have a lot of them.  He helped me research and make traps for them.  That’s applied science.

Those are the types of things I did this summer--no lists, packets or assignments, but lots of learning and fun.

I feel like a terrible mom for not doing things exactly the way they’re supposed to be done.  I hope I haven’t started my son off on the path to failure by not doing the computer math or logging the reading.  When he becomes an unemployed liberal arts major with $300K in student loan debt, it’ll be all my fault.

I was at a soccer practice with parents wondering about whether they’re doing all they can to help their children succeed.  “I can’t do the ‘new math.’ I’m old school,” one said.  

“My boy picks the easiest book off the shelf to do his reading homework, and what’s the point of that?” said another dad.  I commented how I’m exhausted by the hours of crying over a math paper, so we didn’t finish the homework.

We all wonder if we could do more.  Most of us second guess our efforts.  The truth is we want to know the best way to support our kids in school. Even seasoned parents struggle with this sometimes.  How can we best help?

Here are five simple tips to help your child from a mom who is a teacher.

1. Encourage your student.  Bring learning into family activities.  It’s tough to find out what kids do in school.  My son always says ”nothing.”  When I sneak the information out of his backpack, I try to reinforce the lessons at home in fun ways. Last year was all about bugs, so we collected bugs, talked about bugs, drew bug pictures, bought bug larva, wrote bug books, and made a bug poster.  It didn’t seem like learning at all, which is the way we learn best.  We all had fun with bugs.  I learned a lot, too.

Be involved.  Many parents have jobs.  It’s tough to be involved in school activities. You may not have time to join the PTO or go to school functions held during the day, but there are still opportunities for you.  I missed Declan’s first grade play--he was a duck.  I felt like the worst mom alive. His principal let me do other things.  I helped with the lemonade truck they brought at the end of the school year.  I stayed for recess and read a story.  I did what I could during the times I could take off from work.  It was a big deal for Declan, too.

Schools want parents to be involved.  If nothing looks doable, don’t hesitate to call in and ask.

Build a relationship with the school.  It takes a village to raise a child.  I connect with Declan’s teachers as soon as possible so they know I’m supportive in their efforts.  My son’s not the easiest student, and I want his teachers to know I appreciate them.  Good family-school relationships are critical in both good times and bad.  Building a good relationship goes a long way and can be done with notes, emails, phone calls or quick hellos during drop off and pick up times.

Ask questions. Many parents assume the teacher knows best.  Communication is a two-way street.  If something is or isn’t working for a student, have that discussion.

I encourage my students to advocate for themselves--I can be flexible, adapt things, change a deadline or incorporate their interests. I want them to ask questions. Asking questions helps improve things for everyone.  Don’t blindly accept things that don’t serve you. Ask. There may be a reason, but there may be some way to improve the situation as well.

Hands off when necessary.  Homework time is not fun in my house.  It’s torture and crying.  When I come home from school, I can predict the quality of my afternoon by the amount of homework in Declan’s folder.  Incidentally, this totally changed my view of homework as a teacher.  Last year, homework time became so unbearable I met with the teacher, who said, “Don’t worry, just send it back.” I felt like a bad parent and educator.  Declan’s teacher told me she wanted him to become more independent, and she reinforced that at school.  She was magic.

The message: sometimes hands off is the best approach as a parent.  We have to guide our kids not hover over them.  Before long, Declan was doing the homework on his own--his teacher helped me establish a routine that worked for him.

Show a great example.  I’m always learning.  My son sees this.  He sees me reading, doing projects, researching new things, and writing.  I talk about it with him.  He knows learning is important--not only learning in school, but learning in life. Over time, he’ll understand that learning is a core value in our family and I hope he will bring that with him through life.

The moral of the story is that there is never a right answer about how best to be supportive and get students to succeed, but by making home and school a team, we have more people involved looking for the best ways to motivate our children.  This works for homeschooling parents as well--if you’re working with cohorts, other homeschooling parents, or outside extracurricular activities, all those people are partners in educating your child.

Ultimately, our children have to find their inner light and move forward.  Our job is to support and encourage passion for learning.  Some students seem to have that fire right away, and others take a little longer. The good news is learning is 24/7, everywhere around us--they will always have the resources to learn.

Dawn Casey-Rowe is the author of Don't Sniff the Glue: A Teacher's Misadventures in Education Reform

cafecasey.com @runningdmc

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Technology, Sex and Dating: Navigating a Crazy New World

Posted by in Relationships & Marriage

I recently asked my readers to share what their biggest frustrations and problems are. I was absolutely overwhelmed by the incredible number of responses from loyal followers and readers and I took great time and energy to read and respond to each one. While there were many topics that dealt with addiction, marriage, parenting, stress and work (all to be addressed in later articles), there was one topic, by far, which stood out above all others. Like a perfectly woven thread, this topic unknowingly bound together dozens of perfect strangers, all of whom were plagued by the same demons – dating, technology and sex.

It seems that no matter how hard they try, there are countless people trying to date for marriage, but finding no success. They begin to question whether they are being naïve and fairytale-esque simply by wanting to find their soul mate and start a life and family together.

How tragic is it, that the core, fundamental goal of building a home together with a beloved spouse is now looked at by so many as a pipe dream! Why is that so many women are reporting that the men they meet and have high hopes for, are typically looking for a one night stand, or worse, they are already married?! (Also to be addressed in a later article).

Technology has added an incredible boost in our ability to meet more people than ever before. However, with increased technology the quantity of prospects has increased and the quality has decreased. I am a big believer in mature people using online dating in a responsible way and enjoying results. However, the abundance of apps currently on the market, all have one thing in common. It is not that they are encouraging meaningless sexual encounters. Rather, it’s what is beneath the surface of that problem, and that is, that the apps are playing directly into a person’s impulsivity.

It is that impulsive nature, which, in an already over-distracted ADHD world, only further disintegrates the courtship process. Thus, instead of heading down the long road of searching for meaningful and fulfilling relationships, the quick, easy and impulsive thing to do is find a one-night stand. After all, think about the fact that the apps are based on GPS location. In other words, “just show me person who is close by to me at this very moment". Ultimately, by giving into the impulsive behaviors, one forms an unhealthy reinforced pattern. This can lead to compulsive or even addictive sexual activity and keeps a person on that same lonely path. As time goes on, one will likely face a web of lies, shame, loneliness and depression and runs the risk of physically or emotionally hurting themselves or those they meet.

The task of creating a home and building a future, is far from an impulsive undertaking. It is not something that is done with a single swipe, after only .02 seconds of viewing a single photo of a person. It takes work, hard work! It takes knowing yourself more than anything, and then learning to know the essence of another person. Love develops over time when you learn to appreciate and admire the incredible qualities of that other person. The more you can know someone, the stronger the foundation and the better off the relationship. Though it takes time - it is well worth the investment!

I have a great deal of compassion and respect for my clients who struggle with the challenges of dating. While being single today has many wonderful opportunities, it is not without hardships. For anyone that his looking for a meaningful relationship, I will share four key suggestions:

  • Try to stay away from the more impulsive apps and lean towards the more marriage-oriented dating sites.
  • Find a dating coach, mentor or therapist. This is not just a friend or roommate you can talk to, but a trained and objective person who can help you map our your goals and explore the ideal ways to achieve them, without enduring unnecessary emotional rollercoaster rides.
  • Of course, one of the best and proven methods to meet real people that have marriage potential, is to ask a friend to set you up with someone that is known to them and who shares your same goals.
  • Finally, Stay positive! Don’t stop living just because you haven’t found your soul mate. They will come along in due time! But in the interim, keep developing yourself into the most awesome version of you without compromise or succumbing to impulsivity. Ultimately, your spouse, children and household will one day be the primary beneficiaries of your continued strength, optimism and zest for life!

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To contact Ari Sytner for counseling, interventions or feedback, please click here.

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Indulgence or Addiction: Where is the Fine Line?

Posted by in Addiction, Relationships & Marriage, Stress & Adversity

Today’s world offers a smorgasbord of enticing gateway drugs that can appeal to virtually anyone. That’s right, no longer does a person have to be a full-blown heroin addict to struggle with substance abuse. Addictions and dependencies can be connected to virtually anything – not only addictive chemicals such as nicotine. Consider that things such as ice-cream, coffee, TV, internet, shopping, music, Netflix and exercise are generally not considered to be inherently harmful, yet, when they are used in a maladaptive or compulsive manner, they can develop into full-blown addictions.

The reason for this is because addictions are rooted deep within a void that exists in the mind of the addict. Often, it is a disturbing or traumatic early experience in childhood which created an insecurity. Maybe it was a bad experience with a parent, teacher or friend, but it left a void that never healed. Later on, as an adult, when a person hits a wall, he or she will subconsciously confront those same uncomfortable feelings. As a coping mechanism, the brain begins to crave something soothing, an escape of sorts, which allows the addict to fill the emptiness that lies deep with in them.

For some, the escape can be alcohol or drugs, for others it could be withdrawing to the couch to eat an entire pie of pizza. Interestingly, most people assume that the object of addiction – such as the cigarette or whiskey, is the primary attachment, as if to suggest that the alcoholic is drawn to alcohol. However, in most cases, the attachment is not to the object, but actually, to the act of self-soothing. For the alcoholic, they happen to have chosen whiskey; but it just as well could have been video games, sex, work or chewing tobacco. The common thread is that they are all being used as instruments of escape and ultimately, become the single most important relationship in the addict's life.

As the brain is the most complicated organ in the body, it can be difficult to understand addictions. However, keep in mind that the brain is perpetually producing and balancing chemicals that help maintain emotional equilibrium. However, when one finds an addictive substance or routine (such as binge eating or watching Netflix all day and night) to serve as their primary form of soothing and escape – it replaces the brains need to regulate itself chemically. Thus, whenever a person feels a “low”, instead of the brain producing the needed chemical regulations, the addict’s brain flags that feelings as a “craving”. It is at that point that the addict starts looking; searching for a fix to regulate their equilibrium and pick themselves up artificially.

While it provides a temporary relief, the problem with this solution, is that it is maladaptive. Ultimately, it will deteriorate a person’s health, wellbeing or relationships. Addictions are certainly enjoyable as they provide a temporary escape from reality, pain, loneliness or suffering. However, what happens afterwards?

Often, a person is left in a state of shame, depression, lack of funds, or perhaps, deeper emptiness – which for the addict only has one solution – further indulgence in their drug of choice. It is in this context, that a mere "innocent" indulgence, such an extra piece of desert (or two) can start to get out of control, and like the flip of a switch, turn into an addiction.

It is this uncontrollable spiraling, which requires intense support from friends and family and the help of a properly trained therapist to teach the addict new coping mechanisms which are healthy. On a positive note, over time and through recovery, the inner void can be filled with new and more productive habits. The brain itself can be slowly weaned from the addiction and can be “recalibrated” to once again regulate itself in a healthy manner, without the need to seek the soothing of an addiction in order to cope with the stress of everyday life. While anyone can be susceptible to developing an addiction, the good news is that they are also capable of recovery!

To contact Ari Sytner for counseling, interventions or feedback, please click here.

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D.I.Y. Relationships

Posted by in Relationships & Marriage

When it comes to power tools, l have just enough experience to be dangerous. Like many people today, I enjoy tackling a job myself, rather than hiring someone else to do it. I’ll admit that whenever I start a project, I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing. But with the help of Youtube, I have successfully managed to tackle a wide range of projects including painting rooms, hanging wallpaper, tiling floors, refinishing cabinets, countertops and even wiring electricity. Sure, I’ve gotten my share of cuts, scrapes and mind-numbing electrocutions. Was it worth it? Of course! Because it was never really about a home-repair, it was about venturing beyond my comfort zone, tackling a monumental challenge and conquering it.

The DIY (do it yourself) attitude is a new part of our culture, which is clearly thriving in every Lowes and Home Depot across the country. It is a culture, where ordinary people realize that they are completely ignorant about a subject, but once given the right tools and a few instructions, are willing to take some risks and give it a shot. 

When it comes to relationships, it is important to remember that they are no different; they require constant maintenance and repair. Just like any DIY project, you start with the proper tools and instructions necessary for success.

I have found that some couples that I counsel have a more natural ability to identify when there is a problem. They are adept at searching for and implementing solutions. They have mentors, therapists, spiritual advisors and books and podcasts to help them stay focused on constantly improving their marriage. Whenever a problem surfaces, out of deference for the thoughts, desires and feelings of their spouse, they can put their own agenda aside and listen, communicate and act in a way which reflects the depths of their friendship. It takes a tremendous amount of patience, self-control and hard work. It is this DIY attitude that couples can apply toward constantly patching their own relationship, which leads to long-term success. Of course, these couples also know when they are in over their heads. Like any DIY project gone awry, should a relationship problem get out of control, they know when to pick up the phone and engage a professional to get the help they need.

However, for the many couples which are ill-equipped with the tools or vocabulary to address small daily problems, not only will they grow apart, but over time, they are likely to slowly erode their relationship, causing small problems to turn into major ones. If a couple feels that their home is filled with more negativity and hostility than love and friendship – it is a sign that they may wish to take proactive steps to learn how to get their relationship on a better footing.

We all have a tool-belt filled with ‘power tools’ to help improve our relationships. But just because we are armed with tools such as communication, listening, caring, empathy and affection – does not mean we know how to properly use them. This is where it takes time and effort to research and learn how to use the tools, so that nobody gets hurt.

The key to good relationships is to, in fact, ‘do it yourself’. Through blood, sweat and tears, and making a fair share of mistakes along the way, a couple can learn to transform a relationship into a happy and fulfilling one. The one caveat, however, is that like any DIY project, you have to know your limitations and be willing to bring in a pro when needed.

To contact Ari Sytner for counseling, interventions or feedback, please click here.

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Facing the Fear of Falling: Overcoming Stress & Anxiety

Posted by in Stress & Adversity

It was time for the training-wheels to come off, literally. With his helmet fastened and standing next to his two-wheeler, my son had a mixture of pride and panic on his face. Like every parent that has done this before, I told my son, “just pedal, I’m holding on to the back of your seat so you won’t fall."

The logical part of his brain says, “you’ve got to be crazy to try this.” Yet, amazingly, the calming voice of a parent overpowers the grips of anxiety and stress. With just a little reminder of the parent’s hand holding the back of the bike, a child’s nerves will be soothed to the point where, even though they are afraid, they can trust that we will catch them if they fall.

As I have told many of my clients, “children are mirrors, which adults can look at to learn about themselves.” Whenever we face stress, anxiety or fear it is important to realize that is not just a silly feeling to ignore. Most often, the physiological responses (such as sweaty palms, shaky nerves and tightness in the chest) are rooted in something real – where the brain is telling us to be careful and avoid a situation, which is flagged for risk or danger.

Nevertheless, it is not realistic to stay in hiding and avoid uncomfortable circumstances. How then, can we move past those crippling feelings of angst?

For the child on the bike, their comfort comes from knowing that a parent’s hand is holding them upright. However, there is that singular moment when a child is pedaling furiously and turns around to see their parent in the distance, chasing behind with a big smile. That moment is filled with exhilaration and accomplishment. Yet, it is tinged with an element of intense fear. If the fear is given a voice – the child will panic and fall to the ground. However, if they just keep pedaling, the anxieties will quickly dissipate.

That moment represents a critical epiphany in the child’s development when he or she realizes abilities that were previously unknown. It is the moment when they understand that the parent’s support was only required to get them started. Now, however, they are free to shed the fear and enjoy life.

So too, with adults who are afraid to venture outside of their comfort zones and confront anxiety-inducing situations. A starting point, from which to embark is having faith. For some it will be faith in their own abilities, upbringing and education; while for others, it will be a rock solid faith in God.

If we could only see the hand that is holding firmly to the seat of our challenges, steadying and supporting us as we go – it reminds us to shed our fears and just go for it. Yet, it is important to be aware that once we step out of our comfort zone, a moment will arrive, and we look back to realize that we are going at it solo. That fearful moment presents two possible paths: It could be the child who, despite now being able to ride independently, just panics at the thought of being alone and consequently, falls of the bike. Or it could be one who stays focused and just keeps pedaling while enjoying the exhilaration they’ve earned through their accomplishments.

Whether that steadying hand belongs to a parent, friend or God, we should not be afraid to ever take a first step. For once we do so, even if we may fall at first, we can keep getting back up with their outstretched hand to aid us. Remember, the goal in achieving our own success, is not to take their hand with us everywhere we go. Rather, it is for the hand to set us free and proudly watch us sail through life, navigate the obstacles and utilize all the talents, skills and blessings that we have been given to fulfill our dreams.

To contact Ari Sytner for counseling, interventions or feedback, please click here.

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The Marriage Fumble, Timeout & Reset

Posted by in Relationships & Marriage

OK, so you’re marriage is great and things are going well. Until…

After a stressful day, with lots on your mind, you feel like crashing and unwinding. Incidentally, it is the same time that your spouse feels like having an engaging conversation with you. While you’re not trying to be hurtful, you’re frankly in no condition to have a deep conversation. All you’d like is to get out of it without being hurtful or rude. Nevertheless, your spouse senses your distance and feels rejected, even though it was never your intention.

But with matters of the heart, since when do intentions count?!

Now, instead of enjoying the rest of a quiet evening, you are left trying to apologize and make amends for having hurt your spouse’s feelings and been insensitive at a time when something weighty was on his or her mind. And to make matters worse, this important conversation is set aside in light of trying to fix the newly created tensions. This dynamic only further drives a wedge between a couple and a quick solution is needed – before things rapidly deteriorate!

Many of my clients report this type of scenario as a common occurrence. It is what I like to refer to ask the “marriage-fumble” (which can really happen in any relationship). It is tantamount to an incredible, action-packed football game, which had one bad play. Consequently, when the game ends, all the fans and sportscasters focus exclusively on that one fumble, ignoring how amazing the rest of the game was.

Yes, a marriage-fumble is a bad play. However, it should not define the entire game. A quick recovery and turnaround is necessary. It is under these circumstances, that a couple must summon all of their emotional intelligence and maturity to recognize that this was just an off day, and not a reflection on who they are as a couple, nor does not mean that one is married to a rude or insensitive person.

Therefore, the solution is to stop the play, blow the whistle and call a timeout. For in the alternative, a couple will angrily hash out and replay the fumble ad nauseam. The game of he-said/she-said will be both hurtful and unproductive. The first lesson in recovering from a marriage-fumble is to not make things worse by pointing fingers and fueling debate. Therefore, after a fumble the first things to do is stop and not make matters worse.

Ordinarily, I work with my clients to help them learn from their fights how to better understand one another and to develop improved communication skills. While there is room down the road to learn from these blunders, keep in mind that we all have off-days from time to time, and a fumble does not represent the typical argument. It need not be studied, explored and rehashed. Suffice it to simply call the play an error and humbly ask your spouse for a reset, where you can both erase the play and start over.

Usually, when a couple has a shared desire for a fresh start, the relationship can be refocused and elevated to an even higher level of intimacy than before the fumble – resulting in a win-win!

To contact Ari Sytner for counseling, interventions or feedback, please click here.

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7 Ways You Can Teach Your Kids Respect

Posted by in Parenting, Relationships & Marriage

"Honor your Father and Mother!! Respect your elders!!"

We’ve all grown up hearing these phrases. Yet, the challenge in using these directives on our kids, is that they tend not to work. What does respect really mean and how is it taught? For most of the parents that I work with, they describe how they strive to impart these values upon their children, yet, are met with frustration when the kids don't seem to get it. Most often, however, where the parents might be going wrong, is that they are simply demanding honor and insisting that their kids show respect. They will say things like,

“When I was a kid I would never dare speak to my father that way, you better watch your mouth and show some respect.”

With such comments, yes, parents acknowledge the notion of respect, however, they are not actually teaching it to their children. To be able to impart the values of respect, means that a child must have the opportunity to understand it by observing what it looks like.

Sadly, many parents fall into the trap of, “Do as I say not as I do.” Yet, educationally, it doesn’t work. Children learn from watching those precious teachable moments unfold before their eyes. It is how their reality is concretized and what they will strive to emulate as adults. Therefore, if we wish to raise a generation who understands and abides by the values of honor and respect, the only way to teach it effectively, is to model it for them.

To raise a young man who will grow up to honor, cherish and respect his wife, means that the boy’s father must go out of his way to constantly demonstrate it for his son. In other words, show him that a real man respects a woman. Just remember, the greatest gift you can ever give to your child, is to show them what a happy and respectful marriage looks like.

This does not mean that spouses should not fight or disagree. To the contrary, they should duke it out from time to time. However, the benefit to the children, is when they show what it looks like to fight with respect, to display deference, and to yield their own desire in light of bringing joy to their beloved spouse. Fighting with grace and respect is perhaps the most thoughtful gift you can ever give your kids (even if they can’t appreciate it for another thirty years).

While it may seem selfish, the full-circle nature of teaching honor to your kids is that you will ultimately become the primary beneficiary of it. Of course, that is not the reason we do it, however, it works. Imagine a child growing up in a home where his or her parents go to the ends of the earth to care for their own aging parents. When children witness with their very eyes, just how caring and loving an adult child is toward an aging parent, it solidifies for them a reality, wherein one day they will do the same for their parents.

So, here is a little formula I came up with to remember how to take advantage of those precious opportunities to impart the values of respect upon our kids. (With much appreciation to Aretha for inspiring the idea!)

R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

Respect is not taught when demanding it or yelling at people. Thus, the first thing to do is (R) relax. Then (E) engage with them and create a feeling of positive interaction. (S) stop the one sided self-righteous perspective that suggests you are right and that you know best. Just be (P) pleasant, poised and polite. With the calmer (E) environment that you have now successfully created, try to (C) capture the moment as being a valuable opportunity which will be recorded forever in time, and appreciate what a mark it will leave on your children when you (T) teach them through your actions how to act with RESPECT toward others around you.

R – Relax, E – Engage, S – Stop, P – Pleasant, E - Environment, C - Capture, T - Teach

To contact Ari Sytner for counseling, interventions or feedback, please click here.

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Wanting to Date a TEN: Looking Beyond Appearances

Posted by in Blog, Relationships & Marriage

There are many experiences in life which guide us and inform future decisions. The foods we eat as a child, the movies we watch, the social interactions that we have, will all impact where we land as adults and what we consider to be our comfort zone. According to Psychologist Jean Piaget, a child develops early life conceptions based on what they see around them and draws conclusions which are then applied to other scenarios. When a child first uses a crayon and learns to scribble with it, he or she can grasp the concept of a crayon. However, if you give the child a pencil, without any instruction he or she will instinctively start scribbling with it. How can their young, developing minds understand pencils, if all they have learned about are crayons? It is this ability, which Piaget explains, as being the foundation to many of our worldviews. We see one item and learn to apply it to others.

When I counsel young men who are struggling with relationships and dating, they often get stuck in the “pre-screening” stage. This is where they look at a woman from a distance, whether across the room or at a photo online, and instantly decide if she is the “right look” for him.

Of course, as the adage goes, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” and it is important in a marriage for spouses to find one another attractive. Why might a man say that he wants to marry a woman with a certain “look”? Perhaps as a child he once saw a woman on TV, a billboard or someone in his life, and his brain decided that she was the epitome of beauty, which his adult brain is now applying towards his search for a wife. Does that mean that every woman he meets that does not match his early conception of beauty should be automatically disqualified for marriage?

Since beauty is a subjective notion, developed based on our early influences, it is, therefore, possible to explore with clients, not only what they deem as being beautiful, but why they feel that way. Even more importantly, we can explore whether physical beauty is really something that belongs at the top of their list.

The following is a conversation I have had dozens of times with various clients of mine, mostly men in their twenties, but some of them female as well. Let’s call this client Joe.

Phase I:

“Joe, what are you looking for in a spouse?"

Nine out of ten times, I am prepared to hear the words - tall, thin, smart, kind, caring, funny; all of which are great generic adjectives to explain the perfect spouse. However, like all people, Joe has his own perception and definition of what each of these words mean to him. Therefore, I will lead Joe on an exploration of, not only defining the terms, but to try to understand their origins. The goal of my conversation is to help Joe shift his focus from prioritizing the physical appearances of a woman, and to look more deeply to appreciate who she is on the inside.

In our conversation, Joe explains his vision of what he thinks a beautiful woman looks like, and the type of woman he anticipates marrying. However, the conversation then turns to his frustrations of not being able to find the perfect woman. Joe is being genuine in expressing his true stress and anxiety over being trapped in this situation.

“I can’t help if this is what I’m attracted to. God made me this way. I wish I could be attracted to any woman and then I’d marry someone who is just beautiful on the inside – but I can’t.”

While I think Joe's plight has more to do with him than with God, I therapeutically approach the situation in a number of ways ways. Firstly, I ask Joe permission to engage in some honest banter. If he agrees, I take the conversation on a quantitative route and ask him to rate on a scale from 1-10 what he is looking for in a woman’s physical beauty. Inevitably, Joe hesitates and says something like, “oh, come on, I’m not shallow, I wouldn’t rate a woman”. Once he gets that little disclosure off his chest, we delve directly into discussing his physical prerequisites for marriage, and I ask him to try and answer the question.

Joe says, “I suppose I am looking for someone who is between an 8 and a 10, but I would also settle for a 7."

With that information, I thank him and proceed to ask whether he would date a 6? After a little squirming and hesitation, Joe says, “Yes, I would date a 6, provided that she has everything else I am looking for.” I then push further and ask, what about a 5? Joe reluctantly says, “Sorry, I generally would not. However, Its hard to say never, so, I suppose I can’t rule it out entirely.”

I then give Joe a little perspective and remind him that a 5 is not ugly, it is simply what we would call ordinary, normal or average – not a bad things at all! Furthermore, if they work on making their relationship magical, he will grow to see his wife as the single  most beautiful woman in the world!

I then step back and point out that at the end of this brief discussion, Joe has successfully opened his mind. Previously, he was set on an 8-10, but now after exploring it, might even consider dating someone between a 5 and a 10.

While this was progress, its just the beginning.

Phase II:

I then ask Joe how important her inner qualities are versus her external ones? Of course, Joe responds as any fine gentleman would, “her inner beauty is far more important and the connection and love that we share is really what matters most.”

I continue, “Joe, are you planning on having a family together”?

“Oh yes, I can’t wait for kids."

I then ask Joe if he understands that a woman’s body will change dramatically during and following pregnancy and will never return to being the same. While all my male clients answer yes, their eyes often have a “deer in the headlights” look.

I give Joe a moment and then I ask, “If in fifty years from now, your wife looks old, wrinkled and puts on weight, and dips below a 5, would you leave her?

“Certainly not”, he exclaims, “when I get married, I look forward to growing old together, because the love that we share is all that really matters."

“So, Joe, what you're saying is that once you and your wife get older, her appearance will not really be that important to you?"

“Yes, that is correct.”

At this point, I help lead the conversation toward the inevitable conclusion of this earth-shattering idea. I explain to Joe that while right now, he only wants to date women that are close to a 10:

  • He just admit that when they are older, the looks will not really matter as he will always love his wife (even is she were a 3).
  • He also said that as they start a family and his wife puts on weight with each pregnancy, he also will no longer be concerned with her being a 10.

Therefore, when looking at the big picture, this illusion of wanting to marry someone who is a 10 is only something which will last for the first year of two of marriage – after that it is gone, forever.

Joe then sits back in his chair, looks up at the ceiling and nods as he processes this new perspective as it sinks in.

Throughout this process, I am in no way am I trying to break Joe’s spirit or tell him what he should be looking for in a wife. However, I am helping him to overcome his anxieties and frustrations by seeing a bigger picture and helping him to appreciate his own values and desires, when seen through an alternate perspective.

While Joe and many other people who are searching for a spouse want someone who is beautiful, they also long for the internal qualities, love and deep friendship. They may just need some help balancing and prioritizing these yearnings. Ultimately, it is important for people to recognize the temporary nature of the illusion of beauty. When the youthfulness and beauty fade, all you are left with is the heart and soul of the person you married. It is the friendship that must stand the test of time.

Society at large often romanticizes the fantasies of beauty, as if you can see someone across the bar and know that he or she is your soul mate. These Hollywood stories sound wonderful; but there is really very little about a person’s true essence that you can learn by simply looking at their appearance.

This applies even more so, to the incredible people who carefully search for a spouse by engaging in online dating. Often someone will turn down a date because they don’t find the other person’s photos to be attractive. Let’s be honest, humans were never intended to be attracted to the digital pixels generated by a computer screen which comprise a photo of someone.

Although it may take some time and therapy to shift one's perspective to focus on seeing the internal beauties - it can be done. Only when you meet someone in person, look deeply into their eyes and engage in optimistic and hopeful conversations can you test and enjoy the connection and energy that you create together. It is with that energy, combined with the feelings which develop over time, through investment, patience, respect and thoughtfulness, which help a person identify the true and lasting beauty that fuels a happy, successful and loving relationship.

To contact Ari Sytner for counseling, interventions or feedback, please click here.

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