Monthly Archives: November 2011

Missing Someone at Your Thanksgiving Dinner

Thanksgiving holds memories of previous holiday traditions, elaborate meals, and being with people for whom we care deeply. This year will be different for many, because a loved one will not be sitting at the table. It could be that our loved one is serving in the military, a student attending college across the country, or a family member who recently died.

Rather than dreading the upcoming holiday, it is important to realize there are six things you can do to make this Thanksgiving easier, even pleasurable.

1. Write a letter. Find some time for yourself, the day prior to Thanksgiving, and write a never-to-be-mailed letter to the missing person. Putting your feelings and thoughts on paper releases the pent up emotions. You may find yourself sad and even tearful during the writing process, but having that private time to connect with your feelings will be cathartic, and in turn bring some comfort the following day.

2. New traditions. If the person’s absence leaves a hole so gaping it would be impossible to salvage a traditional holiday dinner, initiate new traditions. You need not feel obligated to repeat everything from previous years. Maybe this year you want to cook a ham instead of turkey. Or have a Thanksgiving bonfire dinner at the beach. The options are endless. The goal is the same: to come together with people you care about, and who care about you.

3. Expand the guest list. Recognize that you are not alone in feeling incomplete this year. Look around to determine if there are others you care about who have nowhere to go on Thanksgiving. It could be colleagues from work who have no local family, or military personnel who are temporarily stationed near your home. Not only is sharing with others a kind thing to do, but altruism helps lessen our sadness.

4. Acknowledge the absent person. Have one ‘go round’ at the dinner table, whereby each person shares a special memory or experience they are thankful they had with the absent person.

5. Incorporate the absent person into your festivities. Actively doing something is helpful. If you have lost your mother, use one of her recipes. If the absent person is geographically apart, schedule a time to Skype him, so everyone can chat. If your loved one is serving overseas, consider taking a holiday photo (silly or serious) and emailing it.

6. Don’t worry about being perfect – You may find yourself distracted, sad, or even withdrawn at times during your dinner. Give yourself permission to experience these feelings but guard yourself against entering a downward spiral of sadness. Focusing on the other guests, and talking about their interests and activities will protect you from becoming too isolated.

Eileen Lenson

When Our Parents Die

“I feel like an orphan.” “I feel alone.”

These comments are not from children. Rather, these are statements I often hear from adult clients who have had both parents die. Losing one parent is very hard. But the loss of the second parent can be profound. For when you lose the second parent, it symbolizes never being able to go back home again.

So why is it that mature, emotionally balanced, successful adults – many with their own spouses and children – feel this deep void?

The parent-child relationship is unique in that it is the only place where a child can receive unconditional positive regard. This acceptance, love, approval and support we receive from our parents are largely responsible for developing the foundation of self-liking we carry into adulthood.

Children outliving their parents is the natural order of life. Yet losing both parents signifies a not so natural turning point in the lives of adult children. Their view of themselves and their role in the extended family changes radically. The matriarch or patriarch roll is now passed on, resulting in a shift in the family structure, and traditions, such as family gatherings at the parents’ home, are gone.

Despite the seriousness of these losses, support from colleagues, community and friends can be limited. This is in part due to the fact that parental deaths are anticipated. If parents have been experiencing medical problems, or are very old, their deaths may even be predicted. Parents are living longer; well into their 80’s and 90’s, which means that their adult children are in late middle age by the time the second parent has died. Late middle age is a time during which the adult children become more conscious of their own mortality. Because of these issues, it is not uncommon for grieving adult children to exhibit difficulties with cognition, sleep, increased irritability, or develop somatic complaints following their parent’s deaths. Yet, if they mourn beyond the comfort period allotted by their religious and support groups, they may be viewed as emotionally weak or seeking secondary gains, and further emotional support is withheld.

Gender differences exist in incorporating parental loss. Women are comfortable getting together to obtain support during a period of loss; they reach out to others to sit and talk about their feelings, receiving much needed emotional support. Men, on the other hand, culturally do not share their feelings with others. As such, they tend to be at greater risk for being more emotionally isolated during grieving periods.

Grieving for our parents is necessary; not something we should fear. It gives us time to accept our losses, be able to think of them without overwhelming pain, and to reassess our own personal goals. Anticipatory grieving, the process of grieving a loved one such as an ailing parent while still alive, does not reduce the intensity of emotions felt when the parent finally dies. Instead, adult children must work through the permanent loss of their parents and move forward at a pace that is unique to their own needs.

Eileen Lenson

Listening: The #1 Quality in Bosses

You’ve got to love them, for without, you would fail. I’m talking about employees. Without the chef, the restaurant’s customers would go hungry. Without teachers, the students wouldn’t learn. Without the office secretary, calls would go unanswered and appointments unmade. Realizing this, we must ask ourselves if we are relating to our employees as being a vital component to our company’s success, or as public enemy number one.

Business owners and managers spend a considerable amount of effort attempting to motivate staff so as to increase their level of production, commitment and cooperation. Time and money is spent on in-services, training programs, expensive reward programs, and day long workshops; all in the hope that employees will receive the instruction that will successfully motivate them. Yet the goals set by these programs often fall short. When that happens, accusations and disciplinary actions may follow. This typically doesn’t help motivate the employees, either. Why? Training or rewards were externally imposed upon the workers. True success comes when the employee is invested in the program being offered.

Employee enrichment programs typically emphasize worker growth. Yet employees naturally possess the ability to be creative and passionate towards their work. What is required for these natural traits to be developed is for employers to become better listeners.

Listening is an underappreciated skill in communicating the company values with staff. Listening communicates respect, trust, and how we expect others to be treated. The manner in which we treat our employees is how they in turn treat their work, each other, and your customers.

Employees need to believe that an employer values them as individuals, and are committed to making their needs and interests a priority in the company. Listening affirms this, by conveying empathy and awareness of their issues. The employees in turn will learn to respect, trust and respond to the value system of the employer. Think of it like a tennis match. You serve ‘empathy’ to your opponent, and she hits ‘trust’ back to you. You return the volley with ‘concern’, and she serves back ‘commitment to your company values’. To remain credible with your staff, you must continue the ongoing process of listening. Failure to listen, or in this metaphor, failure to return the volley, will result in the breakdown of trust and respect.

Doubters should reflect back on their childhood. Do you remember a parent instructing you to follow his or her instructions, “Because I said so”? This closed, rather than open, form of communication did little to add to your respect and appreciation of this parent’s agenda. This is because your parent was trying to gain your cooperation by controlling you. It may have been successful for the short run, but you were not invested in the plan, and probably complied with less than spectacular effort and plenty of resentment. If that style of leadership didn’t work back then, you can be sure it won’t work now.

So go back to your employees and be a great employer by listening. Truly listen to them. Such commitment to your staff will be a key to their growth and the success of your business.

Eileen Lenson

OMG – I’m Marrying the Wrong Person!

It starts off as a nagging feeling in your gut. Over time, it grows into pervasive worry, poor sleep, and moodiness. Finally, it escalates and your emotions morph out of control into a full-fledged panic. All because you realize you are about to marry the wrong person!

Before you start packing and heading for the hills, spend a few minutes looking at what exactly is going on. Marriage is so much more than just setting up house with someone with whom you love being intimate. Going from single to married signifies an important identify shift. It means saying good-by to singlehood and all the flirtatious or impulsive adventures. This can bring feelings of sadness and loss into your anticipated transition into marriage.

Overcoming this hurdle and successfully resolving your fears of marriage can go one of two ways. It may be a growth experience, bringing you to a deeper level of intimacy and emotional fulfillment with your future spouse. Or, it could save you from making a terrible mistake. Either way, you owe it to yourself – and your future spouse – to be truthful about your feelings. Using denial to get through the short run of “I-dos” will not get you through the long run of life. Denial simply isn’t an ingredient for a winning marriage. Being authentic – truthful to yourself and others, regardless of what the truth is – will bring the happiness you seek and deserve.

7 Ways to Deal with Your Pre-Marital Cold Feet

1. Share your feelings with your partner. Your having second thoughts about getting married will be upsetting to your partner. But marriage is where trust should exist for intimate and even unacceptable feelings to be shared. Your partner may be experiencing some of the same feelings. By talking about the issues, the two of you may develop tools to work together as a team and resolve your uncertain feelings.

2. Share your feelings with your support system. Talk to happily married friends and family members, and find out how they dealt with pre-marital jitters. Ask if they have observed issues in your relationship that cause them to share your concerns.

3. Don’t physically isolate yourself. Isolation is a dark place that can result in a downward spiral. It is helpful to have some time apart from the three billion people who are talking nonstop wedding-wedding-wedding. Time to reflect on your feelings, and even journal your thoughts, is useful. However, the danger of pulling away from everyone is that you end up missing the opportunity to mix the knowledge and input from others. Feedback from others helps us make reality based decisions.

4. Don’t feel guilty about disappointing others. Lost deposits, related expenses and other’s expectations will be resolved with time. You need to live your life for yourself, not others. Would you expect your best friend to get married just because family and friends expected him or her to follow through on the plans? If not, then why would you accept less for yourself?

5. Look at the meaning of commitment and intimacy for you. If you have experienced previous abandonments, then perhaps the unresolved feelings from those traumas are burdening you at this time. Fear of entering a commitment that could result in a future loss could be so traumatic that you may be protecting yourself by not risking marriage.

6. Examine your future spouses’ ‘deal-killer’ flaws. Are you reacting to some worrisome qualities your future spouse exhibits that you have ignored up to now? Everyone has personal flaws. But some behavioral or character flaws will affect the sustainability of the marriage and even the quality of your own life. Some people prefer to focus on the partner’s positive qualities, while simultaneously ignoring very serious negative qualities, like addictions, infidelity, and physical abuse. Love and marriage alone will not make this problem go away. There are married people whose partner’s addictions have wrecked their personal credit and finances. There are many victims of marital abuse who would be alive today if they had chosen to become runaway brides instead of marrying an abusive fiancé.

7. Examine your coping skills for stress. Getting married is stressful. Are you delegating some of the marriage preparations to others? Are you taking care of yourself during this time period? Exercise, even walking, can help. Make sure you are eating and sleeping properly. Finally, setting limits by saying ‘no’ can be a stress reducer. You need to take care of your own needs before you can be there for others.

I welcome any comments readers have on dealing with big decisions such as marriage. It could be selecting a college, making a geographical move, etc.

Eileen Lenson

8 Reasons Why Romantic Relationships Fail Over and Over and Over and …..

We are all familiar with the pattern. The relationship starts out amazingly great, but ends in pain and misery. When relationships fail time and again, it’s best to remember that despite our initial rationalization, the world is not full of losers. Rather, the serial failing relationships usually is indicative that we’re just rotten pickers.

I don’t say this for the purpose of trying to make people feel badly. Rather, people can feel empowered, knowing they have the ability to examine their selection process, and why they are chronically drawn to the wrong type of mate.

Eight top reasons for repeated relationship failures include:

1. Not looking at the person’s past behavior. Past behavior is typically the best indicator of future behavior. Pay attention as to how s/he left past relationships. Is s/he kind to others? What is his or her relationship with family members/colleagues/neighbors?

2. Failure to ask questions. Is s/he forthcoming about his past issues? If not, what is s/he hiding? Do you really want to marry someone without first knowing about their 4 ex’s, 2 bankruptcies and current parole violation?

3. Letting chemistry do the picking. Physical attraction starts in the brain. If your feelings for the person decline, so likely will the physical attraction. You are then left with nothing. S/he won’t look quite so hot when the relationship is ‘not’.

4. Expecting the person to change. If you marry a smoker, you must expect a lifetime of living with a smoker. If your potential spouse is too attached to his/her parent, and hasn’t matured beyond the parental-child dependencies, accept that relationship as is. It is unlikely to change after marriage. Lasting changes occur because they see the need to change for themselves, rather than because they are smitten with their loved one.

5. No shared values. You don’t need to be attached at the hip, sharing the same activities. Having the time to pursue your own interests can serve to prevent stagnation and boredom from setting in to your relationship. However, if you do not share a compatible value system, you are likely to encounter non-negotiable conflicts. This will be evidenced in spending and saving money, raising children and respect for one another.

6. Avoiding loneliness. The alarm on your biological clock is ringing, all your friends are paired up, and you are tired of the dating scene. Marrying the decent but not-for-you person will not be an antidote for loneliness. Worse yet, you will likely find yourself lonely within a committed relationship.

7. Falling in love with the idea of love. Building a life together means preventing fantasies from being confused with the relationship realities. No one can ever live up to the expectations and perfections of fantasies. Worse yet, fantasy love inhibits the openness that is required for two people to come together and see each other as wonderful, unique people.

8. Moving too fast. It is only natural that we have our ‘party manners’ on during the beginning of a relationship. We act our best, put out our finest appearance, and are generously tolerant of our partner’s peculiar behaviors. What we forget to recognize is that the same is occurring with the other person. Relationships have natural cycles, and it is imperative that the friendship and trust be allowed to grow over time. Ignoring the fact that the ‘honeymoon phase’ of perfection will come to an end can result in regrettable premature life changing decisions such as impulsive geographical moves, pregnancies, or rushed marriages being made.

I encourage readers to add your own personal experiences, and what you learned about improving your romantic selection skills.

Eileen Lenson