Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Do you measure up to love?

Want a little reality check on how you perform your relationship? Try this humbling little exercise.

Take this wedding-ceremony passage and replace the word "Love" with your name. (It's 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.) And though the words often are spoken during wedding ceremonies, the exercise can shed light on any relationship.

Let me show you:

[Alicia] is patient. [Alicia] is kind. [Alicia] does not envy, [Alicia] does not boast, [Alicia] is not proud. [Alicia] is not rude, [Alicia] is not self-seeking, [Alicia] is not easily angered, [Alicia] keeps no record of wrongs. [Alicia] does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. [Alicia] always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

When I first did this exercise (thanks to writer Jill Rigby for suggesting it), I became more and more disheartened every time I inserted my name for "Love."

Patient? Sometimes. Ditto for kind. Easily angered? Far more often than I'd like to admit, and the same goes for "shows no record of wrongs." But I sure try hard on protecting, trusting, hoping and persevering -- to the point of annoyance to some of my friends and family.

After doing the exercise, do I feel like an adequate partner in any relationship? Not so much.

But I do have a good starting place for improvement.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Sick, tired and struggling

With flu season winding down, and seasonal allergies just starting to muck things up, I have begun to contemplate the implications of "in sickness and in health."

And, with a husband knocked down by flu and/or food poisoning, a daughter wrestling with a head cold that defines "snot-nosed kid," and a son whose allergy-related coughs lead to gagging that results in heaves, I'm not sure I'm cut out for the "in sickness" part of marriage and family at the moment.

It could be because I'm a leave-me-alone-until-I'm-better kind of sick person, and no one else in my family is. Maybe it's that I still haven't caught up on my sleep after spending spring break week wedged in a double bed between two bunkmates younger than 5. (Heel to the neck at midnight, anyone?) Whatever the reason, I've found myself breathing deeply and counting to 10 quite a bit before responding to my sick family's requests (whines) and needs (demands).

The pitiful countdown:

10. Please, please, please don't say "Mommy" again for 15 minutes.

9. That goes for "Mama" and the two-syllable "Mom," too.

8. Oh, that my husband would miraculously rise from his sick bed well -- and ready to engage in tag-team parenting again.

7. Please.

6. Who needs a stair-stepper? I have a two-story house and three reasons to trudge up and down all day long.

5. Only eight (Or 10. Or 12.) hours till bedtime.

4. This, too, shall pass.

3. This, too, shall pass.

2. This, too, shall pass.

1. Eyes closed. Deep breath in. Eyes open. Deep breath out.

I vow to get through spring sickness. If only I could guarantee no one in my family will get a summer cold.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

This dilemma is a sign of the times

Double wallop: The boyfriend of a good friend of mine lost his job, then she lost hers. Both are now searching near and far for work.

He's got a strong lead in another state, but it's a government gig, so the process is moving slow. She's looking for jobs in that same city, but elsewhere as well.

Here's the rub: My friend and her man have only known each other for nine months. They agree that they want to make a go of the relationship, but the job thing could hamper their efforts.

I recently had dinner with her and another friend, and we discussed the situation. My other girlfriend was all about her hitching her wagon to the boyfriend. Where he goes, she should go too, whether she has a job or not, because they're really digging each other. I was in the camp of driving her wagon next to his, but not hitching hers to his. Maybe it's because I've been independent for so long, but I think she should be putting herself first right now. The best outcome would be if they found jobs in the same area. But if right gig for her came along someplace else and he was unwilling to move to be with her, so be it. Long-distance romance until the economy improves.

I used to believe in love at first sight, and "when you meet The One, you'll know right away" and all that, but time has made me feel differently. I'm still a romantic, but I also think that people -- subconsciously or not -- are on their best behavior the first 18 months or so of a relationship. They're still trying to impress each other and may be more willing to make compromises and sacrifices. But with time, some couples wind up wondering what they saw in each other in the first place.

I've seen too many women wind up in bad situations because they tied their entire lives to their man. I've seen too many men in unhappy relationships because they feel a sense of obligation and believe they "have" to stay. Give your heart to someone ... but don't forget to take care of yourself.

What say you, readers? Do you think my friend should go with her boyfriend even if she doesn't have a job? Or should she be all about finding the best job and situation for herself, even if it means they might not be together?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Men, would you rather play games or have sex?

If you've ever felt you had to compete with your man's Wii for attention, take this as ammunition: A recent study shows that one in three men would rather play video games than have sex with their partner. The study, reported in the U.K. newspaper The Sun, was conducted by the site and surveyed 1,130 British men. (How surprising: A study sponsored by a video game site says men prefer video games.)

According to Genie James, executive director of the Natural Hormone Institute, hormonal imbalance and stress may be to blame. "It is very likely that these men are suffering from a hormone imbalance at a cellular level that causes them to lose interest in sex," says James.

For example, when testosterone levels begin to decline in a man's 30s and 40s, libido -- or sex drive -- is compromised. Symptoms include fatigue, lethargy and weight gain. "That is why many men come home, plop down on the sofa and pick up the remote or engage in video games. They just don’t feel up to doing much else," James says.

Don't think you're safe, twentysomethings. "Typically, young men in their teens and 20s are sexually rambunctious but -- in the last several decades -- young men living in industrialized nations like America have shown reduced sperm count and quantity of ejaculate. Both of these evidence an early decline in testosterone levels," she says. Scientists attribute this trend to the high levels of foreign hormones, called xenohormones, that are found in many foods, including meat and milk, as well as in common inhalants such as fumicides and pesticides.

So, what's a guy to do? You may not want to hear this, but the most important thing is to exercise. "Exercise naturally boosts lagging testosterone levels," says James. "Also, clean up your diet. Go organic when possible to decrease exposure to xenohormones. Give up the nachos and beer while sitting on the sofa. Remember that all those pounds packed around your middle are literally decreasing your 'manliness.' "

Monday, April 06, 2009

5 ways to help recession-proof your relationship

I get stuff sent to me all the time, but with the recession taking an emotional toll on marriages and relationships, I thought I'd pass on this advice from Noelle Nelson, author of "Your Man is Wonderful."

"We've seen the result in violent family tragedies across the country," says Nelson, "but that's just the tip of the iceberg. The heartbreak comes in many forms. One spouse blames the other spouse for their financial predicament. It's a constant blame game. ... People lose hope and leave the marriage either emotionally or physically."

Nelson's five rules to recession-proof your relationship:

1. See yourself as a team. The power of “together” is tremendous. A couple who sees themselves as a team will pool their talents and resources to mutual advantage, give strength to one another, and sustain hope.

2. Focus on each other's strengths and qualities. This is not the time to dwell on your own or your partner’s weaknesses. On the contrary, this is the time to empower each other by taking inventory of your strengths and qualities.

3. Express appreciation to one another -- resist the temptation to put down or criticize. Insecurity is rampant, not just in our external lives, but also internally. In times of crisis, we doubt our abilities, we question whether we have what it takes to pull through, we worry about how much worse things can get. Criticizing or putting down your partner just intensifies those fears, not only in them, but in yourself. Instead, let your partner know how much you appreciate them just as they are, and reassure them of your love. Express your gratitude often -- for however they contribute to the betterment of your lives -- whether it is helping out with the kids, putting in overtime, or sending out yet another resume.

4. Set goals you can work on together -- focus on problem-solving, not blaming. The only way there is light at the end of the tunnel is if you see it there. Brainstorm together to figure out what goals you seek, break those down into smaller goals and rough out a plan for getting there. Keep your sights constantly on “How do we resolve this?” not “You’ll never be able to do that.” Keep that precious “we” front and center, respect your partner's ideas and input as much as you do your own.

5. Acknowledge and celebrate small victories along the way. The more crisis enters your life, the more difficult it is to sustain positivity and pro-activity. That’s why it’s so important to acknowledge and celebrate every small gain you achieve. Whether it’s figuring out a swap with the neighbor -- after school child care in return for computer lessons -- or making it through the next round of layoffs without losing your job, enthusiastically cheer every bit of progress.

"The economic crisis is not going to change overnight," says Nelson. "In an age of instant gratification, it's sometimes hard to be patient and remain strong and committed within a marriage during trying times. In the end, however, these ordeals can make a marriage stronger as partners truly commit to each other."