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The Estrangement of the American Couple


American couples are increasingly growing distant in a society driven by image, fears of ageing and the uncertainties of a rapidly changing world.  According to the World Health Organization we have one of the highest rates of depression, stress, anxiety, addictions, diabetes and obesity in the civilized world. Our children reportedly have the highest rates of childhood diabetes and obesity, and the depression rates for children are two and a half times what they were a few years ago. Eating disorders and substance abuse are common not atypical in today’s schools. Each week we spend 22 hours less with our children than parents 20 years ago; we are essentially becoming ESTRANGED from our children.                                             

                              Money Can’t Buy Love

We are spending more than ever before, with the national savings rate at the lowest point since the Great Depression. Studies have proven that compulsive spending and financial insecurity causes estrangement in our marriages. Our competitive nature drives us to spend what we don’t have in order to be on par with our neighbors and associates. We are in a contest we don’t enjoy, can’t win and can’t seem to stop.

                           Stop Aging to Secure Love                                                   

We lead the world in money spent on cosmetic procedures; we spent $14 billion on these procedures in 2006 with one billion being financed. One third of the people having these procedures had a household income of less than $30,000. The obsessive pursuit of beauty causes additive behavior which has also been proven to cause estrangement from those closest to us. Our society is increasingly fostering unhealthy relationships that are based on appearance rather than encouraging the process of learning how to establish and maintain genuine love.

                                Loving a Fantasy

             The pornographic industry has grown exponentially as it offers, along with sex chat rooms, a quick fix to the chronic problem of emotional distance in long term relationships. Americans spent $13 billion on pornography in 2006, every second we spend $3,075 on pornographic sites .Spouses who pursue porn on a regular basis ultimately feel estranged from their partners as no one can compete with the idealization of porn figures. These idealized images foster perfectionism and a false sense of what love and intimate sexuality really mean.

                         We’ve lost that Loving Feeling

          Couples from all walks of life tell me on a daily basis how they long for the “in love” feeling they had in the early years of their courtships. Estrangement has been defined as a state of indifference where there had formerly been love, affection and friendliness. Many couples have come to believe that sexual relations dwindle simply because of years spent together. The facts point more in the direction of couples losing intimacy by buying into a fast paced culture, a culture of estrangement that stresses beauty, money and an anti-ageing formula of success. We are becoming a society that lacks relational integrity- the capacity to place relationships with family, friends and community above the need for image and status.

                             Performance Addiction

          ESTRANGMENT is, in part, the result of the cultural forces outlined above that have been absorbed into the psyches of many individuals. These forces have been identified by other theorists but not in terms of how they deteriorate levels of intimacy in our long term relationships. They leave many with a feeling of indifference to those they once “fell in love with“. Americans long for closeness they lost long ago. Unfortunately we are looking in all the wrong places. Many have fallen prey to what I call Performance Addiction-the belief that perfecting appearance and achieving status will secure love and respect. This irrational belief system is hardwired early in life and reinforced by cultural expectations. Performance addicts tend to value achievement over character and status over relationships.   

                        The Path to True, Lasting Love 

     Performance addicts believe they can perfect their way to happiness. They must return to the “scene of the crime” when they first started believing that performance would be the answer to their longings for love. Awareness of this original story is necessary so that old dysfunctional beliefs can be replaced by learning new behaviors that  foster authentic intimacy. This transformation takes time, patience and dedication.

        True happiness, love and respect come when people have developed high relationship skills, especially the capacity for empathy. Recovery from the estranged state only comes when we learn in our hearts and in our heads that relationships are in fact the key to gaining what has been missing all along.  True love and sexual intimacy is based on uncritical affection, not on the constant comparing and contrasting yourself and your spouse to others, the hallmark of a performance addict.                                                                      

Once we identify the means to regain lost love we can restore a feeling of hope in our ongoing relationship.  I have witnessed many poignant stories unfold as couples re-gain intimacy and restore balance to their lives and families. These individuals have learned how to know and love a real person rather than chasing misguided cultural myths. Rather than remaining estranged, they have learned how to maintain relationship integrity in the most complicated time in our history. Our current climate is emotionally disturbing; the methods we have adopted for salvation have increased alienation. Interpersonal closeness is the only reliable tool to establish a resilient personality in the face of difficulty. Rather than being driven by the cultural forces and early conditioning that have driven us apart we need to establish the relational path to regaining love and a sense of optimism going forward.

                       Arthur P. Ciaramicoli, Ed.d., Ph.D

                     Author of The Curse of the Capable: The Hidden Challenge to a Balanced, Healthy, High-Achieving Life.


Coping With the Micro-Manager

If you are in the unfortunate position of being managed by a micro-manager you are likely dealing with a very insecure person plagued by perfectionism and narcissism. People who have difficulty delegating and trusting those who work for them are like an anxious mother who watches over her children so much she creates tense, unhappy children.

                  How to do you avoid daily anxiety with Mr. Micro?

In order to work for a perfectionist it is important to understand his attitude stems from a fear of not measuring up to others. It is not personal to you that your manager focuses on every minor mistake you make. He or she can’t tolerate themselves when they make a mistake. Perfectionists fear that if they make a mistake they are a mistake. Your goal is to try your hardest to not internalize this standard as it will cause you undue stress for sure. Perform to your best ability, but always remind yourself that if you do not please your micro-manager it is more likely because he or she is not pleased with themselves, it’s not really about you. So step one is understanding the root of perfectionism. Remember if you take the bait it means you have the same problem. One perfectionist working with another creates unrealistic expectations that lead to chronic disappointment.

                               What role does Narcissism play?

    Narcissists have a fragile sense of self and they have great difficulty being in reciprocal relationships. Their relationships are based on function, not mutual caring and respect.  They look to you to behave in ways that will shore up their sense of self. It is very important to understand that despite the compliments you may receive one day their self serving attitude will very likely return the next day.

   It is very difficult to be in this position but if you are to survive with success you can’t internalize the lack of genuine appreciation you receive. You have a job to do, this is not family and it will never be so with this type of individual. When you clearly know what to expect you will be less surprised, less emotional and therefore less effected by Mr. Micro.

                                   What is a Silent Victory?

I often counsel my corporate clients who are in this unfortunate situation to rely on silent victories. A silent victory is when you know how to manage a situation successfully for your purposes while the irrational individual you report to has no idea of what you’re really thinking and feeling. For instance, one of my clients was reporting to such an individual and he became so distressed that he had written a letter of resignation. Even though this is a company he had loved working for and has been with for over 5 years. He received a promotion and the VP he began reporting to made his life a complete nightmare. I convinced him to hold the letter until we could discuss what his job really meant to him. He had great respect for his direct reports and the sales team he had assembled, he loved the products they were selling and truly believed they were cutting edge in the marketplace. He loved his family dearly and the income he earned allowed them to live a very comfortable life. Ultimately this meant it was worth weathering the storm, always reminding himself of the variables we just outlined and most importantly realizing that the man he reported to was suffering himself even though his irrationality caused much distress. He began to react to his boss with less emotion, always using the tools he had acquired to remind himself, in the heat of the moment, of the silent victory he was attaining. Ultimately he was able to move to a different division and life is again good at work, he is thankful he didn’t make an impulsive mistake.

                           Empathy, the key to Business Success!

    We have essentially been talking about developing the capacity for empathy to guide you in your professional and for that matter in your personal life. Empathy is the capacity to understand and respond to the unique experiences of another. Without empathy we tend to personalize our responses when we are treated poorly, we start to doubt ourselves and life becomes miserable at work very quickly. Empathy allows us to know who we are dealing with and how to approach that individual so that we can maintain success in the midst of conflict.

    Once we can read the other person accurately we can develop strategies to cope more effectively. We see beyond the surface and begin to develop a map for survival.  When we recognize the dynamics involved in the micro-manager personality, likely perfectionism and narcissism, we can better understand what approach in any given conversation will lead to a positive outcome.

                          Arthur P. Ciaramicoli, Ed.D.,Ph.D.

                      Author of The Curse of the Capable: The Hidden Challenge to a Balanced, Healthy, High Achieving Life.



Change Your Story and Balance Your Success in 2010

10 Ways You Can Change Your Story and Balance Your Success in 2010.

  1. We all write a story about ourselves early in life, realize it is always part fiction.
  2. If the mirrors you look into early in life are distorted, so is your view of yourself. Commit to seeing yourself accurately today.
  3. You cannot re-write your story alone; we are all too subjective to obtain a rational view of ourselves.
  4. Choose rational people to help you re-write your story, to find out the truth of who you are today.
  5. Expand your empathic range so that your choice of intimate friends is growth promoting.
  6. Realize that the path to true self knowledge and balance comes from sustained intimate relationships.
  7. We learn the most when we commit our hearts to those around us, playing it safe keeps you static.
  8. Your romantic relationships reveal more about your true story than any other human contact. Love brings our stories front and center.
  9. In order to live a balanced life self care has to be a priority, taking care of oneself is never separate from the care of others. Abuse yourself and you indirectly abuse others.
  10. Intimacy is the greatest predictor of a balanced life; if you don’t how to maintain love you will never overcome the negative story of the past.

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