Tag Archives: Ph.D.

Avoiding Narcissists: Top NV Post

I launched Navigating Vita a little more than a year ago and, like with any anniversary, I’ve been looking back on this time in my life. In my effort to learn what resonates with my readers, I’ve also taken note of which posts are read more than others. If the most popular blog posts are any indicator—finding love and having a good laugh top your list. (And they top mine, too!) So it is with little surprise that one of my first written posts: How NOT to Date a Narcissist remains the all-time favorite: the most searched, read and commented on NV blog post.

Bloggers, by nature, delve into the world of self reflection. And we all can be a bit self absorbed at times, right? But someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)  has a condition that Webster defines as “having an inability to show empathy.” The Mayo Clinic site defines those with NPD as believing “that they’re superior to others and have little regard for other people’s feelings.” Their sense of entitlement can manifest into a myriad of behaviors that can be abusive both emotionally and/or physically.

If you’ve ever been in a relationship with a destructive narcissist and are back out in the dating world—than I don’t need to tell you that your *top* priority is to avoid falling for another one at all costs. The charming and chameleon qualities of narcissists easily fool people for months—sometimes longer. Wouldn’t it be easier to to end the relationship before you get sucked in and spit out? With that in mind, I sought help from an expert who could point out telltale signs many narcissists exhibit, even in the beginning phase of dating. Debra Cucci, MFT has become somewhat of an expert on this topic as she consults families and runs a workshop in Los Angeles to help women make better choices when dating. Her advice is eye-opening! Finally, there is a concrete list of characteristics that many charming narcissists share—warning signs to take note of during the first few dates. As we all know, Narcissists aren’t gender specific! This article will help anyone avoid falling for this destructive personality who could likely wreck havoc in your life and those of your children.

And after that heavy subject, I’m happy to report that my 2nd most popular post is light as air: 25 Reasons to LOVE Being a Single Mom. I LOVE this silly tongue-in-cheek article that is a compilation of input from *many* single moms out there. Sometimes life is just too hard. The weight of all that is dragging you down can just be exhausting and talking about it doesn’t always make things feel better, does it? In my effort to find how to fill my glass half-full, I started this list and reached out to more than 25 other single moms to see what they’re thankful for. Making this list not only filled my glass half-way—it over-flowed! Laughter truly is the best medicine. Here’s a post guaranteed to cheer you up, put a new spin on your situation—or at least give you a much-needed laugh!

Chiming in at # 3: is Relationship Guru Dr. Pat Allen Sets Me Straight! Also another early blog post. I reached out to Pat Allen, Ph.D., world-renown relationship therapist; best selling author (Getting to I Do) and the resident sex expert on TV’s  Millionaire Matchmaker. Since I was gingerly venturing out into the dating world, after a heartbreak, I thought, who better to help me (and other separated and divorced women) but the top expert herself! She provides simple advice to find Mister Right—and if you’re anything like me, you may just be surprised by how many wrong steps were taken in your search!

For those interested in NV’s top 10 stories, I’ve enclosed a quick run down below. What surprised me the most, when looking at this list, is that the majority of top posts include interviews with experts. I’m gratified that my network as a journalist has helped me reach out and garner interviews with those amazingly talented experts who can really help us in our efforts to find Mr. Right; show our kids love and compassion;  become better parents; examine infidelity; breathe through our anger; show compassion to others who are struggling; and find laughter in the every day. Thanks for reading and being on this journey with me.

Navigating Vita’s Top Ten Posts of All Time:

1. How NOT To Date a Narcissist

2. 25 Reasons to LOVE Being a Single Mom

3. Relationship Guru Dr. Pat Allen Sets Me Straight!

4. Connect With Your Children While They Sleep

5. Top 5 Mistakes Divorcing Parents Make

6. Is Cheating The Only “Rational Choice” for Married Men?

7.Newt Gingrich in Tuscany!

8. The Power of NOT Holding It All (together)

9. An Italian Mom’s Fight To Save Her Daughter

10. Domestic Violence During Divorce: Not a Rarity

Advertisements

Loving Counts

My prophetic little four-year-old said to me tonight: “Loving counts mommy.”

We had been hanging pictures up. I turned and looked at him. I actually blinked as I took in the simple notion, then replied: “Yes, it certainly does.”

What an incredible little man.

Sometimes it’s as simple as that. What counts in your life? Think about it.

What do you love most?

Your family? Your God? Your Work?

Does it show?

For me, love is essential. It is essential in every aspect of my life. My boys are everything to me. But I wonder if they always feel that from me. Saying that I love them is one thing. Showing them is quite another.

For a child, I wonder what defines love? It certainly has to be about more than saying ‘I Love You’ or buying cool toys. Kids always seem to cut right to the chase. They know who they can depend upon. They know who is kind. They respond to those who play with them, acknowledge them, listen to them, encourage them, take care of them, accept them.

I know that my two boys are the most appreciative when I’m present with them. They know when it’s time to turn off the computer or cell phone and just be with them.

Being present, however, is much harder than it sounds. The other day I had an insane tax deadline. I was up until 2 a.m. working, slept for three hours, and was back at it. At 7 a.m., as I was finishing my expense spreadsheet, my little guy comes into my room and starts to climb into bed. He ruffles my sheets and starts to crumple some papers and receipts. I yelled upstairs to my older son to take him up and put on Sesame Street. As he padded out of my room, I instantly felt remorse. If I had finished this project earlier, I wouldn’t have sent him away and just enjoyed some cuddle time.

Clearly, ‘loving’ requires a bit of organization and balance so that work doesn’t intrude on important quality time at home.

‘Being present’, according to mindfulness experts, also requires that you let go of anxieties and fears that distract you and pull you out of the moment. If you have deadlines looming, projects that need to be carried out, are going through a divorce or are facing health or personal challenges—it’s incredibly hard to clear worries from your mind and just listen to or play with your children, isn’t it? (For a great article about mindfulness, check out What Really Helps Make Mindfulness Work by Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.)

I’m still finding my way and started meditating on a regular basis just this past year. I’ve done yoga for years and find that it helps me clear my mind. The physical exertion and mental focus on intentions and goals allows me to let go of issues and anxieties that may whirl in my mind. I find that afterwards my mental slate is clear and I’m much more focused and calm that evening with the boys. I’m still a work in progress, clearly.

While I’m still honing mindfulness techniques, I have learned that it’s incredibly hard NOT to live in the moment when spending time with a loved one with Alzheimer’s Disease. I flew to North Carolina last week to visit my mother who is struggling in what seems to be the final phase of the disease. She didn’t know who I was. She can barely talk or walk. I think she just thought of me as a friendly face. I had to force myself to always smile, relax, and think about what she needed or what would reassure her when visiting. I knew after each visit that she wouldn’t remember I had been there the next day. But I reminded myself that in the moments that I held her hand, or showed her pictures, or just talked with her about various things, that it mattered. It counted. Those moments were hard for me, but they brought her a bit of happiness—even if fleeting. And she deserves that.

On the last day I spent with her—on the day that I likely said my goodbye—my mom was ‘playing’ bingo with other residents. The woman who ran the game would call out the letter and number combinations. My mother, who doesn’t recognize her numbers or letters anymore, would put a marker on any letter/number combination. She apparently still recognized that four in a row allowed her to win—so she just kept putting four in a row. B-6 might be called, but she’d put her acorn on C-12, right beside another marker. I knew not to correct her.

“Wow, mom, you won again!” I’d say with a laugh.

She’d just smile. One time she looked at me inquisitively and said slowly, “I. Like. You.”

That was a big accomplishment as she typically speaks with just one word.

I replied “Well, I Love you.”

She looked at me like I was a bit crazy, giving me a one-over glance.

Later in the day, I went through her sweaters and found one that still fit. As I was putting it on her, she quickly smiled. It was as if she had been shaken and her eyes got wide with acknowledgment. She leaned into me and said, “Love.” I put my forehead to hers and a moment later she said “You.”

As I settled into my seat on my first plane during my trek back to California, I thought that it may be a long time before I got the chance to see mom again. It’s hard to fly back with the two boys due to expense. I know if I was closer I could do more, visit more. It was such a gift to hear her say those words. And in that moment, I know she meant it. In that flash of recognition, she knew who I was. It might have only lasted a second for her—but for me, it counted.

Even when brief and fleeting, loving counts most of all.

Men ARE Rats: There’s Scientific Proof!

Scientists who examine rodent sexual behavior have found that male rats and human men have similar behavioral characteristics when it comes to sex and the need for variety. But to be completely fair, at least one study implies that some women have much in common with their female rodent counterparts as well—and that’s a good thing.

I’ll explain. Eight months ago I read the Scientific American article “A Tale of Two Rodents”. Interestingly, over the past eight months, the studies reported in this article keep popping into my mind when interviewing experts on human sexual behavior. This was especially true during my recent interview with Eric Anderson, Ph.D.—whose research and book, The Monogamy Gap: Men, Love and the Reality of Cheating, shows that men crave variety in the bedroom to the point of having extreme difficulty with monogamy. During my interviews with Pat Allen, Ph.D., I thought of the rodent article yet again when the leading relationships expert and best selling author pointed out, that while men aren’t built for monogamy, women repeatedly fall for dishonest and selfish guys after they have sex prematurely, and are blindly bonded due to a rush of oxytocin. (See an interview with her here.)

Here’s why the Scientific American article keeps percolating in my mind. One study in the article revealed that when a male rat and his mate were put into a cell together, the male rat was extremely amorous in the beginning and initiated sex multiple times a day. In fact, the male rat often sang during sex and seemed to keep going for a long time. (The results of this study were shown to college students that apparently became very interested during this period!) After a while with the same female rat, the love making  sessions became shorter and less frequent. After one particularly short love making session, with the male rat becoming listless afterwards, the researchers put a new female rat in the room. Suddenly, as one might imagine, the dynamic shifted and the once tired rat transformed into a sexual dynamo—but with his new love interest.

Another provocative study reported in the article was of female rats (presumably with gps locators on them) who would walk many city blocks thwarting the advances of male rats. In fact, Kelly Lambert, Ph.D., concluded: “Rodent females are choosy, traveling up to seven city blocks—a long way for a rat—to find a male who meets her standards. She sniffs out his biological germ-fighting arsenal.” Basically, she’s looking for a male with the “right” smell. (Old Darwin obviously knew a thing or two about this type of selection.) Females in this study waited to mate until they found a male that smelled healthy enough to give her healthy children.

I remember reading this article in the waiting room of my son’s therapist’s office and just busting out laughing. Basically, it proves what a lot of cynical people already espouse: men, at their most base (rodent) level, will take sex any way they can get it and variety is the spice of life. Women, however, know they can get pregnant and need to be sure their man is healthy and kind. He has to have the attributes she’s looking for to give her healthy children if she gets pregnant, and be kind enough not run away and help take care of the children when they arrive.

Why, then, aren’t all of us females as strong-willed and as savvy as that female rat who hiked seven city blocks? Why can’t we all thwart the advances of those smelly bad boys?

Of course, we humans have complicated the issue a bit, haven’t we? We’re all looking for our soul mates—well, some of us anyway—and think we’ll find them on the internet or at bars. And we just might. But the key for women to be successful with our rat-sniffing abilities, according to some experts, is to keep alcohol and drugs out of the picture and NOT to have sex too soon. Dr. Allen explained to me during private sessions, when I was grappling with my ex’s infidelity, that men and women are just built differently. Not all men will cheat—but they want to. Finding the men who actually won’t disrespect their wives, takes a bit of effort. Women, however, have built-in radar called intuition that lets us know when a man is kind at his core. We also know instinctively when they aren’t. We lose this radar, however, when we drink or have sex too soon in a relationship—blinding us from acknowledging blatant red flags and putting us in line for future heartache.

I imagine that Dr. Anderson might look at these rodent studies as further proof that human beings need to re-evaluate how we perceive relationships and our expectations for monogamy. What do you think? Are we really just rats at the core? At the end of the day, will you, as a single mom, walk the metaphoric seven city blocks until you find a man that sniffs of kindness who will love you AND your children? I’m sure many of you are nodding saying, you bet. But years down the line, once you have the right man, will you be willing to let another female into the room to give your kind, nice-smelling man a bit of the variety that he craves? That’s a hard one to even consider isn’t it? I think I’ll leave that scenario to the rats for now.

EndNote:
“despite all my rage, I am still just a rat in a cage
tell me I’m the only one
tell me there’s no other one
despite all my rage, I am still just a rat in a cage”
~ Smashing Pumpkins

Is Cheating The “Only Rational Choice” for Married Men?

Photo by Christian Montone

I was intrigued, more than dismissive, when reading the recent Huff Post column “Is Cheating a Rational Choice?” by Eric Anderson, Ph.D. The sociologist, professor and author of The Monogamy Gap: Men, Love and The Reality of Cheating reported his conclusion (based on his research of men only) that cheating in marriage is the “only rational choice” for men to obtain their two basic goals:
1. to keep their emotional relationship with their wives and family intact and
2. to fulfill their strong sexual desire to have more sex with a variety of partners.

Anderson’s idea that cheating allows men to have a bit of fun without their wives knowing, doesn’t seem grounded in reality. Before I launch into why, let me first say that I waited to post a reply to this hotly contested column because I really wanted to chat with Anderson first, whom I interviewed via email this week. Before launching into any response, I need to remind my readers that Anderson is a sociologist and anthropologist who conducts research studies and reports his findings. He reiterated that he is not a psychologist or marriage and family therapist and that he does not, in any way, “give advice” to married couples. He responded this way to me when I asked him for advice regarding how women and men can come to terms with the problems that arise once affairs are discovered. I explained that the lies and cheating erode the trust and friendship that is critical for women to let go and explore in the bedroom. Most women (of course, this is not based on formal research, but just on my own experience and what girlfriends and therapists have told me) become more adventurous in the bedroom when they feel loved and trust their man. When the trust is gone, they often have a hard time turning on that switch that lets them light a fire in bed. So, my premise is that men risk great sex at home—and their marriage and kid’s welfare—when they explore outside and lie about it.

Anderson declined to comment other than to say that he will be conducting research about why women cheat later this summer—and I’m very glad to hear it. For many reasons. First, I wonder how many wives of the married men in Anderson’s studies were also bored with their sex lives? Sure, perhaps men, in general, do have stronger libidos than women, as Anderson explained. But many women are bored at home as well. If a man isn’t helping out with the kids or isn’t offering any nights out that stimulate a woman like foreplay with an infusion of romance, it’s easy to shut down. Perhaps the husband isn’t making much of an effort? Perhaps he’s drinking too much (inhibiting his sexual performance), working too much, and isn’t adventuresome with his wife. If that man then rushes out to have sex with another woman—doesn’t this mean that he feels his needs are more important than his wife’s and his actions are justified? WHAT about his wife’s needs?

And the idea that the other woman won’t become attached and will allow the married man to have noncommittal sex that doesn’t endanger his marriage and children is a bit naive. Women fall prey to oxytocin bonding with men during sex, experts say. That’s why it’s so hard for women to just pull away emotionally or have anonymous sex unless they are sex addicts. This was explained to me in previous interviews and sessions with Pat Allen, Ph.D., of Millionaire Matchmaker fame and author of several best-selling booksThe Trust About Men Will Set You Free (but First It Will Piss You Off!) She warns women of sleeping with men too quickly as they will become bonded and ignore any red flags and their own intuition about whether the guy is right for them. (See more of my interview in my article “Relationship Guru Dr. Pat Allen Sets Me Straight!”.)

As mentioned, Anderson’s idea that cheating allows men to have a bit of fun without their wives knowing, isn’t realistic. In fact, oftentimes, the “other woman” will pick up the phone or send an email anonymously to their paramour’s wife—even if she said in the beginning that she understood the situation. (I’ve heard about incidents such as this from several readers.) Does a man who loves his wife and kids really want to risk that?

I do, however, agree with Dr. Anderson on quite a few points that he made. The first being that society refuses to look at the problems with monogamy when only pointing a judgmental finger at those who cheat. He also said that cheating makes more sense because society also doesn’t accept open marriages and most wives would balk at the idea if their husbands broached the subject.

Sure, he has a point. Open marriages are frowned upon. And if Dr. Anderson is correct that most men, when first married, are so in love that they assure their wives they can be faithful and that sex with just her, is all that he’ll ever want. Once a man says that, it’s very hard to take it back with a line such as: “Honey, I know I said I only needed you for the rest of my life, but, (cough) I kind of crave being with more women than you. Do you mind?”

Dr. Anderson justifies cheating (or the men in his study do) because of this. They are terrified that if they are completely honest about their needs, they’ll lose their wives. But isn’t there something implicitly wrong with then leaving your beloved wife at home with the kiddos while you then romance, spend joint money on, and have wild sex with random women? Isn’t this just called having your cake and eating it too?

When I asked Professor Anderson to respond to how women could then navigate open marriages or open arrangements, such as discussing rules that might be involved, he responded:
“You ask me a few times about my advice, and I’m really just a sociologist whose more interested in finding out ‘what is’ rather than saying what individuals should do. I’m not big on advice giving. I do say in the book, however, that monogamism will not decrease until open sexual relationships are held in social parity with monogamous relationships. Only then will couples (or triads) be able to make decisions. I suggest in the conclusion that we need a variety of sexual relationship types (celibacy, polyamory, swingers, open sexual, and others perhaps not yet invented) without heirachy or hegemony.”

Okay, Dr. Anderson. I understand that people may have needs that society doesn’t approve of. But wow, doesn’t a man marry his best friend? And as a best friend, can’t these men take a risk and open up to them about their desires? And this is the problem. It takes courage to be honest, doesn’t it? In fact, it takes guts. And while most men reading this might not believe me, I don’t think I’m in the minority of women who would rather have a private conversation with her husband about his desires and his growing need to be with another person sexually. That’s a whole lot better than learning two years later that he was out having sex every Wednesday “poker night” while you’re at home taking care of the kiddos solo. Or that his business trips to exotic locales had additional days tacked on so he could lie on the beach with a mistress while you were up to your ears in diapers. Seriously, the behavior is just selfish and takes advantage of the wife.

I wonder how many women might even become a bit turned on by their hubby’s confession? (It’s a whole lot better than being treated like crap, right?) Can you imagine what type of conversations could spurn from that initial confession? Maybe the two would become more honest about their fantasies? Dr. Allen suggests in couple therapy, especially to couples recovering from infidelity, to start fantasy journals. She says it’s a way for even the shiest couples to take turns writing down their fantasies in the journal and then leaving it in a drawer by the bed. When the other isn’t there, the husband or wife can then take turns reading what the other wrote down. She claims it’s an eyeopener for most couples and sparks flames in the bedroom. In the book The Kosher Sutra by Shmuley Boteach, Rabbi Boteach encourages couples to be open about their desires and warns the men reading the book how women “are like onions” with layers and layers of depth. This depth gives them much more vivid and erotic fantasies that most husbands rarely know anything about—something that will reignite a couple’s sex life. A husband misses out on this opportunity if he slinks out the door and into bed with multiple other women behind his wife’s back.

And as I mentioned, once the trust is gone, it’s very hard to stay together—let alone become a sexual diva in the bedroom. So, I challenge the married men who are craving sex with gals at the office or at the gym, to first talk with their wives about their fantasies. Go crazy and write them down if necessary. Maybe even sign up for a tantric retreat. Start exercising together if attraction is diminishing from weight gain. If you love your wife, treat her with respect and re-ignite what you have first. And who knows? Maybe your wife might even surprise you by entertaining the idea of private tryst? You’ll never know if you don’t try.

What do you think my readers? Would you balk if your husband came to you with a confession such as this? Please chime in!!

Domestic Violence During Divorce: Not a Rarity

I was saddened beyond words to read about the death of a neighbor. She was a single mom of two children—one a 10-year-old boy who attends a school just walking distance from my three-year-old’s preschool. According to reports, this woman and her ex-husband were in a heated custody battle that began years ago in a bitter, dragged-out divorce. The husband shot her in front of his son. He later shot himself. My heart aches for the little boy. My heart aches for the whole family. The entire story can be read here:

Sadly, domestic abuse/crimes of passion aren’t new. Divorce is bitter. It can turn even a somewhat passive person into a snarling animal if you let it. Why is it that men, especially, become violent? I wonder if it all boils down to money being spent for a woman no longer “owned”? What do you think? Do you think your ex, or soon-to-be ex, feels ownership rights over you? Is it because they have to provide child support and no longer get any “benefits”? Are we really chattel for our husbands? Even in 2012? One woman who is in the process of a divorce said her husband actually told her that she was his “property” and he was pissed to have to pay support to her when he couldn’t touch her. Ok, she’s raising their children.

Another woman in a support group said a husband pulled a gun on his wife who wanted to leave. I know all men are not like this. But when I volunteered at a domestic violence shelter in Los Angeles years ago I was surprised, time and time again, by situations where friends and family all reacted in horror to domestic abuse against their loved one saying: “we didn’t think he’d ever do something like this.”

Sadly, domestic violence and homicide is not rare. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one in every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime. And an estimated 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner each year.

There is no face or profile for someone who will snap. Divorce is scary—especially for women who have been controlled and who are now fighting to have the financial support necessary to be able to continue caring for their children. Why do so many men not understand that the money withheld from their ex-wives who are caring for children, is money withheld from their children? (The same should be said about those women who support men caring for children, but we all know that those situations are rare.)

I was chatting with Will Courtenay, Ph.D., author of Dying to be Men, about the high school shootings in Ohio. Sadly, I experienced a high school shooting that resulted in a dear friend being killed. (As the Parenting Editor for DivineCaroline.com I wrote “When Will the Senseless Shootings Stop?” about this experience.) Instead of gun control to stop these shootings, Courtenay said we needed “gender control,” as all high school shootings have been at the hands of boys. As a therapist who specializes in men’s health, Courtenay has often said that boys and men become conditioned towards violence in American society. Perhaps this topic deserves to be explored more in depth for another article?

Right now, I am thankful not to live in fear that I could be hurt while I navigate my divorce. I am so thankful my ex and I are moving forward in a positive way now. Even so, I recall violent boyfriends in the past and know how frightening it is when someone suddenly snaps and the intensity of the heated anger explodes. It’s hard to describe in words, but it’s like a flash storm and you can see it start by a look in their eyes. And trust me, those eyes look like anyone’s.

My heart aches for those of you who are living in fear as you navigate your divorce proceedings. If your ex is threatening you, please take it seriously. Check out the Domestic Violence Hotline for assistance. And just note that computer use can be monitored and is impossible to completely clear. If you are afraid your Internet and/or computer usage might be monitored, please use a safer computer, and/or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−SAFE(7233) orTTY 1−800−787−3224.

Godspeed.