With many people posting about #NationalBestFriendDay, I started reflecting on what makes for a lasting friendship and I keep coming back to EFFORT. Relationships take work. They do not nurture themselves. Just as a plant will blossom if you tend to it, so will a relationship. And if you neglect it, it will die.
Reach out to those you care about. Call each other, text a cute emoji for no reason. If they pop into your mind, tell them so.
Make time to be together. Don’t wait until you have time because you know that’ll never happen. You have to make time.
Make your people a priority. Remember that old saying that no one puts on their tombstone “I wish I would have worked more.” Don’t put something you dislike ahead of something you love. That produces regret.
No one puts on their tombstone “I wish I would have worked more.”
Go the extra mile. Don’t hesitate to inconvenience yourself occasionally to help someone. It’s difficult for them to ask you for help and it means so much to know someone cares. And you’ll benefit from knowing you helped.
Don’t isolate. Don’t pout. And don’t stand around waiting for an invitation. If you want to hang out or talk, just ask. Reciprocate. Don’t wait for them to do the work. You can plan and invite too. I promise, they too are lonely sometimes and will be glad you called.
If you each decide you want the relationship to last, it can. But you have to tend to it. It’s totally worth it.
Dedicated to my people. 😜 You know who you are.
What do you do if your older parent chooses different medical treatment than you want for them? If they want to stop taking their medicine or if the refuse treatment? If they are tired of living and just don’t want to try anymore. This is a dilemma I have seen time and again in families. Adult children have their own ideas about how their parent should treat an illness and this can result in an argument.
If an adult is in their “right mind,” meaning they have not been assessed and determined to be incapable of making rational decisions, then they get to choose. And this can be very difficult for their families. I have seen adults stop taking medicine because they didn’t believe in medicine or they didn’t like how it made them feel. Or because they couldn’t afford it. Their children say, but you need it to live! The adult knows this, but is making a choice. I have seen adults have very harrowing experiences in the hospital, painful surgeries or debilitating side effects, long term recovery. They know they never want to experience that again, so they might refuse to see the doctor if they know something is wrong or if they fear they might need surgery again. If someone hasn’t been through this, they may not realize how traumatic it is and how fear can stop someone from acting. It is similar to having a car accident and being afraid to drive again. I have even seen people decide they want to stop living. They are tired; tired of hurting or tired of being alone or tired of being a burden. They aren’t suicidal, they are just passive about working to live and if death comes they are willing to embrace it. This scares their children because they don’t want to lose the parent. But whose best interest are the children acting in?
I’m not suggesting stand back and let the parent die. I’m suggesting try to understand why the parent is feeling how they feel and be respectful. It may be difficult, but try to imagine how you will feel at that age. Try to assist that adult in maintaining their choices and their dignity, but it is also ok to have a conversation about how you feel. Enlist the help of a social worker, a pastor or a therapist to mediate the conversation and help each person see the other’s perspective. Ultimately, however, you as the adult child might have to get help for yourself in dealing with not liking your parent’s choices. This is not an easy scenario, when you and your parent disagree on how the parent should treat an illness or choose to live, but if you try to force the parent to comply it will often result in anger and resentment, loss of dignity and depression for the older parent. Not necessarily a better solution.
What will you miss when you are older?
What are the inefficient frivolous things you do as an adult that probably waste time or money but you don’t care? Do you go out of your way to a store you like even though it’s an extra five minutes, or splurge on yummy ice cream you don’t need? Do you drive up to the convenience store at 10:00 at night to pick something up? Do you hold onto bad habits that you know you shouldn’t? Do you sometimes stay up late watching TV? These are things we take for granted as mobile independent adults. We do what we want, when we want, because we can. But what if you couldn’t drive and you were dependent on others for rides for everything? Or what if you were on a limited income and there was no room left for frivolous? Or if you lived in someone else’s home and they bought the groceries or controlled the TV? These are the losses that older adults face every day and their children don’t realize.
Getting older often means things our bodies once did easily like walking two steps up the porch can no longer be taken for granted. Balance is off, immune system is down, eyesight goes, response time is slower. Things like this that allow us to remain independent, to come and go as we please, to run into the kitchen during a commercial, become difficult. And that sucks. Losing these seemingly small things can add up to a great sense of loss. Driving less or not at all, no longer being able to live on their own, becoming confused with all of life’s changes can make older adults feel very dependent on their children and a burden. They need so much to meet their daily needs that they stop asking for the frivolous stuff that we all enjoy as adults. What can we do to help?
The longer someone can maintain their independence the better. Even in the little things. Even if they live with you, they may still be able to contribute as productive members of the family. Here are some suggestions:
- Don’t patronize them. Ask them to help in ways that they can sincerely productively help with. They aren’t stupid and if you are condescending they will know it.
- Don’t nitpick or micromanage. Let them do silly frivolous things if they want to. It’s the benefit of being a grown-up. None of us like our every behavior to be analyzed.
- Let them have bad habits. They have given up so much already. They are adults, they have choices, they know the risks. So do you on your bad habits.
- Include them in the decisions about their own lives. If you help in making their appointments, include them in the decision of where to go and when to go and whether to keep going.
- Talk to them, not about them. They’re right here. Don’t talk around them to your siblings or the doctor.
- Don’t tiptoe around the truth. They know they are old. They know things have changed. Be honest. Choices at the end of their lives are just as important as every other time in life.
- Don’t yell at them or treat them like children. It may sometimes feel like they have digressed and act child-like. Often this is because they are confused or scared. Be kind and respectful.
Grown daughter talking to parents at home
My grandmother ate half a banana and drank a glass of prune juice every day for 80 years. When she went into a nursing home that daily habit stopped abruptly because it wasn’t part of the dietary plan. What daily habits do you have that you would miss if someone else was in charge of your life? Consider these things in caring for the older adults in your life and their dignity and independence will last longer, I promise.
“everything can change.” So sang Don Henley in 1989. Little did we know then how everything could change on one day in September, 2001. And I bet all of us know someone whose life changed in the blink of an eye. One minute you are cruising along, taking the little things for granted, and then out of nowhere, a car accident, or a terminal diagnosis, or the death of a loved one. We all know this can happen; people say “I could get hit by a bus tomorrow” as a reminder to not sweat the small stuff. But how many of us have our ducks in a row?
By no means am I suggesting a fatalistic attitude. Like it could all end tomorrow, so let’s throw caution to the wind and walk on the wild side! But I AM asking, what if it did? Would you be ready? What would be your regrets? The sad part of my job is hearing stories of families struck by tragedy. The lists of coulda, woulda, shouldas. If only I hadn’t yelled. If only we had bought life insurance. If only I had spent more time with my family instead of working so much. (Isn’t there an old country song that says no one has a tombstone that says ‘I wish I would have worked more’?) But from these stories I have learned an important lesson. Don’t think it can’t happen to you. Get your paperwork in order, tell people what your wishes are, and live each day to the fullest.
Talking about what should happen if you are gone suddenly is not morbid, it is responsible. When people are grieving the last thing they need is to be stressed by the details of financial burden. And death can certainly be expensive. But also, does someone know your online billing passwords? Can someone find your loved ones through your cell phone if you are unconscious? Do your children know your greatest wishes for them? Do you have unresolved business, grudges that someone assumes you still hold but really you don’t, you’re just too stubborn to approach them?
Tim McGraw sang Live Like You Are Dying. Why DON’T we? Why don’t we eat dessert first? Why do we save up six weeks of vacation and never take off work? Why do we wait until we are retired to travel and then feel too tired to do it? Who in your daily life do you take for granted, or have something unsaid that you would regret if you never got the chance to say it? Why don’t we sit with the people we love and eat chocolate chip pancakes for dinner and reminisce about the good ole days? Give me one good reason! Because you won’t be able to later, when the opportunity is gone.
Carpe Diem. Seize The Day.
As stated in part 1, money sex and kids are the three topics I see couples argue about the most in counseling. I addressed Money in Part 1, and will now discuss the sex details many couples disagree on.
The most common misnomer is how often couples are having sex, especially compared to how often they assume everyone else is having sex. There is no average, no number that is healthy or not. Every couple has to set their own preferences that accomodate their schedules, their libidos and their lifestyle. Some factors that can hinder a couple from agreeing on the frequency of their sexual activities can include past trauma affecting trust, safety or enjoyment of sex; biological factors that decrease libido like hormones, medication, or mood disorder; low self esteem; sexual addiction; poor communication; difference in values.
Communication is a challenge for many couples in general but especially regarding sex. But if you can’t communicate regarding what you like and don’t, what you need, what you wish, what works and what doesn’t, sex might not be successful. If you expect your partner to read your mind you will likely be disappointed. It just doesn’t happen.
People grow up with varying opinions on sexual topics. Masturbation, pornography, oral sex, open relationships: all have a wide range of acceptance from no-way to bring-it-on. If you and your partner aren’t on the same page these could be topics for hurt feelings and big arguments. Again the need for good communication.
Also beneficial is an understanding of the biological differences between men and women regarding sex. Men are often physically aroused, turned on by what they see. This is a primal reaction they have no control over (how they choose to act on that arousal IS in their power). Understanding this will help women not be so jealous if a man turns his head as a scantily clad woman walks by. Women on the other hand tend to need to be emotionally connected to be aroused. If they aren’t relaxed or they don’t trust or they are distracted or they aren’t feeling emotionally close to their partner, this could hinder their arousal. So after an argument a guy might still say “wanna do it?” and she might say “no I’m mad at you!”.
Sex is a very common topic in couples counseling. There are therapists and doctors and clinics who specialize in sex therapy. But most counselors have addressed this with couples in therapy and could help. Don’t be embarrassed to bring it up. It is more common than you think and having a healthier happier sex life could help both you and your partner in the relationship.
The three most common topics couples argue about.
Money…Turns out to be a very personal and territorial subject. People have very different philosophies on handling money. Some are savers, some are spenders. Some are checkbook balancers, some are float-a-check and count on overdraft protection. Handling money is a learned behavior and parents have great influence over what their kids learn about money. Talking to your kids about money, setting chores for money and creating a mini budget can help them learn on a small scale, and make
mistakes in a small scale (before a mortgage is involved!) Having them earn money and set priorities will help them understand the value of their savings. Your local bank may even have a fun banking system for kids.
Other things that can influence spending behavior include comorbid diagnoses. People with ADHD tend to be impulsive with money, people with Bipolar tend to be compulsive with money, people with a history of addiction may find an emotional release in spending money or gambling. Knowing these things about yourself and your partner can help you decide what help you may need to be more fiscally responsible. Understanding it instead of blaming can help create a productive plan and decrease arguing.
A spouse’s money choices can affect the other’s credit score, assets, future; hence the reason for the sensitivity and defensiveness. They are at times afraid the other person’s poor choices will cause them harm. Again, being honest about your own habits can help a couple create a plan for finances that works you both. There is no one right way. Some couples share everything, from the checkbook to the ATM card with one joint account. Some have two separate accounts and split family bills between them. Some have three accounts, his hers and ours with the joint account being used for household shared bills and each having their own spending accounts. Whatever system works best for your family to cause the least amount of conflict is the one you should choose.
There is help available for this topic. Nonprofit agencies that help teach budgeting, counselors who can help with communication, money managers who are experts in making successful money decisions. Don’t wait until its too late. Don’t let money ruin your marriage. And teach your kids well, for they’ll be taking care of you someday. 😉