Doing Life Together

ID-10091506Last week, I was going out of town for the weekend. I spent hours going over my wardrobe choices. What if it rains, gets cold, I want something more formal, etc.?

My husband opened his suitcase, threw in a few outfits and was done with it. No looking back, waffling or hanging in the air with possible scenarios. He made a quick and decisive decision.

And there I was, still agonizing over what to bring!

This decision over wardrobe represents two different decision-making styles. I am the maximizer. I like to have time to think about the decision and weigh my various options.  I try to look at all the possibilities and anticipate what those possibilities will be.

My husband represented the sacrificer. His clothing choice was quick and decisive. He just needed to have the basics and he was happy. No agonizing.

Actually, most of us fall somewhere in the middle of maximizer and sacrificer. And we can mix styles. For example, my husband goes with the “good enough” style to pack for a trip, but when it comes to his job, he is a maximizer.

When it comes to jobs, maximizers land better ones. However, maximizers can make good decisions and still feel bad about them. There is always more information to consider. This tendency to maximize decision making leaves a person less happy.

The good news is that we become less maximizing with age! The older we are, the more we realize that not every decision can be weighed perfectly. We learn to roll with the punches and stress less.

In terms of relationships, maximizers and sacrificers do well together. They tend to balance each other out. But when a mismatch occurs, you have to work it out. Someone should consider the options and someone needs to make a decision!

I love my motherMandy was at the end of her rope with her mom when she called me for coaching. Every conversation ended with frustration. Why couldn’t the two of them get along better? Why did her mom constantly criticize her and tell her what to do? But Mandy’s biggest concern was how could she handle her mom in a way that preserved the relationship without always giving in and getting mad?

Coaching focuses on helping the adult daughter develop a better sense of herself, become more empathetic, listen better, consider her mother’s worth as a person, and be concrete in communicating rather than talking about feelings or vague issues. Coaching helps to widen the lens of who your mother is or was. Coaching can also help adult daughters develop realistic expectations for their mothers.

These tips will help improve communication and healthy interaction. Once you have a good grasp regarding changes that need to be made, try a nonthreatening issue first. If you can stand your ground without getting angry or defensive, you are ready to try a higher conflict issue.

1) When you have a  disagreement, don’t try to get others on your team. Resolving issues has nothing to do with who agrees with you. You decide how you feel without outside validation. Find your voice and use it.
2) Make a change.  If you need to make changes in your relationship, do it, not because your mom tells you (she could be right!) or because someone else thinks you should or is pressuring you to change, but because your change will change the relationship in a positive way. Sometimes we create problems and need to examine our own behavior. It’s easier to blame mom.
3) Don’t underestimate your mother’s reaction when you try to make a change. She may object to changes in the relationship. That doesn’t mean you’re wrong to pursue them. It just means that change may create temporary tension with a pull to go back to the old ways. Stay firm in your decision to react differently and the patterns between the two of you will change. We sometimes stay stuck in old unhealthy patterns because they are familiar. Breaking out of our old ways often creates tension.
4) Keep your visits with mom limited and focused if you feel the relationship is problematic. This helps you hold onto your sense of self. If you struggle with falling back into old unhealthy patterns, prepare ahead of time ways you can stay on message. For example, if your mom is alcoholic and begins to drink when you visit, tell her you will leave if she drinks. You prefer to have a sober visit. Then have a plan to leave and a place to go. Anticipate the usual problems and determine ahead of time how you will respond differently.
5) Write out your thoughts in a letter or rehearse a conversation using an empty chair so that you can put your thoughts together. Practice new ways to respond. Role-playing helps. It will help you anticipate how to respond to difficult topics and issues.

And remember, the mother-daughter bond is a powerful one worth putting effort in to making it the best you can. Don’t give up just because there is tension and problems. Keep working through the issues until you feel you can be with mom and not feel a need to constantly get her approval or validation.


For more specific and practical help, order my book, I LOVE MY MOTHER BUT…


ID-100111043When our first dog died, we thought we wanted another. We did, but when we got the dog and our schedules all demanded more time, the dog became more of an imposition. Don’t get me wrong, we love her to pieces, but sometimes our happiness goes out the window when we are all trying to figure out how to get someone to care for her when we go out of town or have a long day. At those moments, we aren’t exactly happy with our decision to have a dog.

Or think about this. You see that incredible fudge-topped donut and you crave it. You keep thinking about it and finally get it. But when you eat it, you start thinking about the calories and the pleasure goes out the window. You like the donut but wonder, “Was it worth it? I was trying to lose weight after all.”

This fluctuation between happy and not happy has to do with something called wanting/liking bias. We want something (the dog, the donut), but when we get it, we aren’t so happy with our decision. The reason is that wanting is an appetite that is associated with one region of the brain. Liking is associated with another part-that part that considers the long-term consequences and implications of our decisions.

So like the impulse buyer, we want something badly, but then may not be so happy with it later. Add to this the fact that when we buy or want something, we aren’t always in the same state as when we experience the results of our choices. For example, you order in a restaurant. You haven’t eaten all day and are famished. You order the appetizer and the entrée. But when you push away the tower of onion rings, you are not as hungry and don’t enjoy the entrée like you thought you would. This inability to predict your future well lends to something called projection bias. It too, influences our happiness.

Thus, what you want and like can be two different things. Predicting that something will make you happy may not work out either. That is why we are sometimes disappointed with our decisions –we think we want something and then find out it isn’t all it was cracked up to be.

But hey, we give it our best shot and realize that not everything we think may make us happy, actually does! So watch those impulsive decisions. Think through the long-term consequences!


happy-face-istockHappiness is a good thing, right?

Yes and no. There is actually a down side to too much happiness.

1)   Happy people tend to be less persuasive. When happy, you can overlook details. Unhappy people can focus more on the details, create stronger arguments and thus do better with persuasion.

2)   Happy people can be too trusting. When happy, you tend to overlook deceit and have more difficulty detecting lies. This means you may not evaluate someone accurately and that can have major implications for hiring, dating and making decisions about people. You can make more errors in judgment.

3)   Happy people are more likely to slack off in their thinking. They don’t remember as many details as unhappy people and often rely on stereotypes rather than searching out the details. A little negativity brings more attention to detail and discernment in crises. A little unhappiness keeps you more alert and focused on problem-solving.

So while happiness feels good, it doesn’t always put us at our best for thinking, trusting and persuading others. I’m not saying you should live an unhappy life. Simply put, a little unhappiness at times may be good for us!