Family Relationships

Join other women in the sandwich generation - share ideas and solutions as you learn to nourish family relationships without starving yourself.

Friday, February 29, 2008

If you have male Sandwiched Boomers in your life who are caring for aging parents, there's a lot you can do to raise awareness:

Advocate for more appropriate and useful accommodations in the workplace: the availability of geriatric care managers, resources for work/home balance and extended paid leave.

Work on expanding the Lifespan Respite Care Act, passed by Congress in 2006. Although $300 million in grants was earmarked to help provide relief to those giving long-term care to family members, the cost of these needs is closer to $300 billion.

Through networking, introduce the caregiver to options like community resources and local services. This can reduce stress while enhancing their ability to maintain control over the care-giving role.

For those who want loved ones to remain at home longer, provide detailed information about homemaker services or meal delivery. And for assistance to the caregiver himself, help with respite care so he can take care of his own needs.

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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Due to a lovely Sandwich Generation conflict - her mother's birthday celebration - we have rescheduled our Virtual Book Tour with Carolyn Howard-Johnson for another day. Check back with us next week to meet and greet her.

Getting back to the new trend in male caregiving, Metlife has recently completed a study called "Sons at Work." It found that, while 62% of women spoke with their co-workers about their care-giving responsibilities, only 48% of men did.

Despite core values of filial devotion, sons often don't know how to go about finding help nor do they feel comfortable asking for it. Recognizing this resistance, over the next few days we want to offer some suggestions. Talking about these ideas with the men in your life can affect a shift in attitude toward seeking assistance and support.

Men have special needs in this arena, often feeling embarrassed or guilty. Greater awareness and education can break down attitudinal restraints and emotional barriers – practical seminars, newsletters and health fairs are excellent venues by which to accomplish this.

Besides seeing groups as only for women, men don't think these provide enough structure and focus on problem solving. It is important to reduce their perception that support is only for women. Reframe the concept by redefining the actual group process or by using an alternative definition such as a workshop.

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

In an effort to keep her campaign alive, during the Cleveland democratic debate last night Hillary Clinton referred to herself as a fighter - saying that's the kind of president the country needs in these difficult and complicated times. The debate was contentious and she was feisty, both with Obama and the moderator, Tim Russet. But was that only because she's struggling to stay in the race or was it also because women, by nature, tend to be more emotional and expressive?

Clinton and Obama went back and forth about foreign policy, health care plans and their positions on NAFTA. Neither made any major mistakes nor said much we haven't already heard.

As Sandwiched Boomers, which one do you think is addressing the issues most important to you? Or are you supporting McCain who, according to the latest polls, poses a challenge to either of his potential Democratic opponents?

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Today we digress from the subject of male caregiving in order for you to weigh in on new developments in the democratic race.

Do you think the controversial photo of Barack Obama that appeared on the Drudge Report was released by Hillary Clinton's staffers? And what are your thoughts about the shift in her attitude, from gracious to angry to sarcastic? Is the media giving Clinton a harder time because she's a woman? Is there truth to the notion that Obama's oratorial style covers up a lack of substance?

With the Ohio and Texas primaries around the corner, both Obama and Clinton need to further define themselves and their positions without turning off the voters.

Plan to watch the debate tonight and keep these questions in mind - get back to us with your observations.

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Monday, February 25, 2008

With 2008 in full swing, perhaps you've already had your fill of economic and political predictions by experts and clairvoyants. However, as a Sandwiched Boomer, the following quietly growing trend may surprise you. The results of recent studies indicate that nearly 40% of close to 44 million unpaid caregivers for the elderly are male. The call to honor loved ones is becoming an emerging pattern of male behavior.

As you well know, in the past, the bulk of these caretaking responsibilities have been carried out by daughters. Women have left jobs or subjugated their work life in order to fulfill the duties associated with the 'daughter track.' But male caregivers are different than their sisters - they don't cut back on work as often and they have a louder voice in the workplace. Some experts think that men are powerful enough to catapult this beyond what is perceived as a woman's issue to a societal need, similar to Social Security and Medicare.

Who are the men in your life taking care of their parents and how are they managing these responsibilities? This week we will be focusing on this new trend and we welcome your input.

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Friday, February 22, 2008

We had an interesting interview with Carol Tavris, Ph.D. yesterday as she talked about how her book, "Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me: Why we justify foolish beliefs, bad decisions, and hurtful acts)" relates to Sandwiched Boomers. She has given each of us a lot to think about as we deal with our own family-in-flux.

Carol's take on how to move past the "I'm right and you're wrong" scenario resonated with several of our readers. Their comments about how to turn an argument into a real discussion are worth highlighting here. One recognized that "letting go of 'right vs. wrong' seems to give rise to the real issues, and leads to resolving them without all of the blame." Another acknowledged that she was "particularly struck by the concept that in an argument both sides must be willing to stop justifying their way of doing things as the only possible way. I often find when disagreeing with my spouse that only until we each seek to understand where the other person is coming from can we truly find common ground we both can feel good about." When we are able to let go of the need to be right all the time, we can instead focus on actually listening to our children, parents and spouse to hear and understand their positions.

Another Sandwich Generation reader was reflecting upon her method of coping with the simultaneous time demands of her parents and children. She wrote, "I am the only child of elderly parents who are very needy of my time and attention. I often exaggerate or lie about being busy with my teenagers so that I don't have to spend time with them. Then I feel guilty. Is that cognitive dissonance and what can I do about it?" Addressing her feelings, Carol responded,"the guilt that you feel about lying to your parents is indeed a part of cognitive dissonance: it stems from the internal conflict you are feeling between "I am a good and loving person" and "I am lying to people who need me and avoiding them."

Addressing our reader's question about what she could do differently, Carol suggested, "think of ways to change the way you usually interact with your parents so that your visits are more pleasurable for you. For example, why not interview them formally about their history--singly and then together? That is, turn their focus from you to them. You might all enjoy the results."

What additional ways have you developed to deal with your own conflicts about how you allot your time and energy between all of those making demands on you? Share them with other Sandwiched Boomers so that we can all learn from your experience.

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Today on our blog we are pleased to welcome Carol Tavris, best-selling author (with Elliot Aronson) of “Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why we justify foolish beliefs, bad decisions, and hurtful acts.”

Q: Carol, why do so many of us prefer to justify mistakes rather than admit we were wrong about something?

A: First of all, it's no surprise that people lie to others to cover up misdeeds, crimes, blunders and bad behavior - children do it as soon as they can talk, and we adults do it to protect our jobs, relationships, and reputations! But the kind of "self-justification" we talk about in our book is not the same as lying to other people. It's an unconscious mechanism that allows us to lie to ourselves, and it comes into play following just about every decision we make or important action we take.

The mechanism is "cognitive dissonance": the uncomfortable sensation we feel when an important belief or memory or decision clashes with evidence that it might be wrong. If you smoke, and you know smoking is dangerous, you're in dissonance, and you have to resolve it - either by quitting or by justifying your smoking ("it keeps me thin"). But the most difficult dissonance occurs when we - smart, ethical, kind people that we are! - learn we have done something dumb, unethical, or hurtful. The easiest way to reduce that dissonance is to simply blind ourselves to the evidence and justify what we did. "Sure I took my sister’s bracelet from mom’s estate, but I deserved that bracelet after everything mom gave her all those years." We usually do not feel consciously that we are "justifying"; we feel merely that we are right - because of the brain's need to preserve a coherent belief system and protect our view of ourselves.

Q: Are there any particular aspects of this process that affect "sandwiched boomers?"

A: You bet. One way is that in midlife, we become aware that we have lived long enough to write our life story: how we got to be where we are, who we are, what our parents did to us, and so on. As we write that "life narrative," we literally shape our memories to fit it. Elliot and I think of memory as a "live-in, self-justifying historian": as research shows, we tend to forget information that conflicts with our version of events, and remember information that confirms it. If your "story" is that you suffered your whole life because of your mother's selfishness or neuroticism, for example, you may overlook or forget the many good things she did for you - that information is dissonant with how you see her.

Also, notice that when many people tell their life story, they often start writing themselves out of their part in it - the part about their responsibility. "You mean I had something to do with starting that family rift? Don't be silly - it was entirely her fault." We say, "My dad treated me that way because of how he was"; we don't say, "Maybe he treated me that way because of the kind of kid I was."

Amazingly, our memories are a better sign of how we feel now about our parents or grown children than about what actually happened. This is why generations often get into fights about "what really happened." So "sandwiched boomers" are in a pivotal time: they are listening to their elderly parents' accounts of events, their children's, and figuring out their own. And wondering why there is so little overlap! The fascinating opportunity, of course, is that if we can put aside our own self-justifications and certainty that our story is the only right one, and ask our parents and children for their stories, we might actually learn something.

Q: What are the benefits and dangers of self-justification?

A: Self-justification is hard wired for good reason: it lets us sleep at night without tormenting ourselves about bad decisions, or roads not taken, or embarrassing mistakes. In fact, the people who can't reduce dissonance often suffer precisely because they keep beating themselves up over things that can't be undone. But the downside is this: If we blind ourselves to the possibility that the decision wasn't the best, that we did make a bad mistake, or that the road we didn't take might have been better, we can't change direction when we need to. We can't learn from the mistake or that impulsive decision. We can't stop traveling down the wrong road if we keep justifying it as the best and only road in the world.

Q: How can this refusal to admit we are wrong affect the relationships with our family-in-flux?

A: Most quarrels between couples, within families, and across generations boil down to "I'm right and you're wrong." But if both sides are willing to stop justifying their way of doing things as the only possible way, they can become less self-defensive, more ready to hear the other side's views, and, who knows, more able to correct some of their own failings. If people can let go of the need to be right, and focus instead on how to solve the problem that they keep quarreling about, they are going to be a lot better off.

Q: So how can we learn to admit our mistakes?

A: First, we have to take the sting of dissonance out of it. We can understand that mistakes, bad decisions, or lapses of judgment do not mean we are stupid or evil; they just mean we are human. So the task is to find the path between: (a) justifying the mistake and pretending it was the best thing in the world to have done and (b) punishing ourselves with constant remorse and embarrassment. The middle way is not to minimize or ignore the mistake, but rather to face it and try to figure out how and why it happened, so we won't make it again. Almost anyone can learn to do this. It is not a deep-seated personality trait but a malleable attitude about the self.

Q: What good comes from acknowledging when we are wrong?

A: We become more human, more sympathetic, when we come down off the pedestal of self-righteousness. In our professional lives also, progress depends on our having the ability to say, "this theory doesn't have the data to back it up" or "this procedure isn't working," instead of clinging to it out of professional pride.

Scientists are trained to look not only for evidence that supports what they already believe, but also for evidence that disconfirms it. If more of us pushed ourselves to do this, think of how much more effective we could be. We'd be able to see the world more clearly, more truthfully, rather than through the distorted dark glass of self-justification.

Q: What do you think is the best way to admit mistakes?

A: A simple "I made a mistake; I'm sorry" goes a long way toward defusing anger and setting the stage for reconciliation and problem solving. This is especially important across generations, because our culture encourages so much parent-blame and buck-passing. Setting down the burden of blaming others, and letting go of the need to deny our own part in our own life story, can be liberating and exhilarating. It allows us to come to terms, make amends, build bridges - and move forward.

Carol, thank you for joining us today. We have enjoyed reading your stimulating book and hope that our readers will find it fascinating as well. We look forward to talking with you again.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

As a Sandwiched Boomer, when you are counting on the support of your partner to cope with a serious illness, the barriers to straight talk that emerge may surprise you. Understanding what motivates your husband may make it easier for you to initiate more frankness into your conversations. Yesterday we outlined several possible grounds for difficulty; today we discuss two more.

Not surprisingly, your spouse is unable to fully comprehend what your illness is causing you to give up - feelings of control and invulnerability, your self-identity as a well person or expectations of a disease-free future. Consequently he may expect that you will be over your upsetting emotions sooner than you are. It's up to you to explain to him the depth of your losses, both present and future.

It may help to think about how you would react to a decline in your partner's well being, were the tables turned. It could easily threaten your sense of stability and change the role you play in your marriage. Blaire found herself pulling away from her husband in fear and anger. "Since my husband’s heart attack I hold back on love. It’s self-protective. He’s not taking care of himself - he won’t lose weight or stop smoking. I’m afraid I’ll lose him to an early death."

Facing a serious illness together leads to a complex set of reactions by both. This makes it even more important for you to reveal your feelings to each other, openly and honestly. As you begin to accept the difficulties in your conversations, you will also become aware of the positives that accompany the health challenges you have met together. Coping with a major disease often leads to a new perspective - with a greater appreciation of the preciousness of life - and a sense of increased intimacy with your partner. As you continue to move forward, your emotional closeness will be reflected in the deeper conversations that you share.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

As a Sandwiched Boomer, you may find that when you have faced a serious illness, your recovery can be easier when you have the support of family and friends. If you find that they have trouble talking with you about concerns and feelings, think about some of the reasons that these conversations are difficult. When you can identify and understand the bases of the problem, you can work to get past them. Here are some common causes of communication that is not open and honest:

Your spouse may be in denial about the seriousness of your condition because he himself needs to believe that everything will be ok. He is motivated to use this kind of coping strategy in an attempt to minimize his own sadness and fears, as well as yours. If he fails to admit the complexities to himself, he cannot discuss them frankly with you.

Naturally, it is painful for your partner to see you vulnerable and distressed. His reaction to this is generally to try to talk you out of your negative feelings in a misguided belief that, by being overly protective, he can take away your suffering. When he does not allow you to express your candid feelings, you may feel frustrated and misunderstood.

As in other circumstances, your husband wants to fix everything when you instead need him to listen and provide support as you unburden yourself. You can gently remind him that what you want is for him to be quiet and focus on really hearing what you have to say. Let him know that since you have professional caregivers who are working with you to solve particular problems and issues, you are not counting on him to do this.

Your partner feels threatened, fearing that he could lose you. When he sees how difficult the process is for you, he pulls back emotionally to protect himself and cover up his anxiety. Unfortunately this feels like rejection to you, further complicating your own emotional reaction.

The added responsibilities of taking care of you and the house in the midst of his worries about your health may be taking a toll. Feeling exhausted often overcomes caregivers and resentment builds. The challenges both of you are facing may lead to negative feelings, including anger and guilt.

Do any of these scenarios resonate for you? Tomorrow we will consider some more possible impediments to sincere and straightforward communication with your significant other.

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Monday, February 18, 2008

As Baby Boomers continue to age, the rise in incidence of serious illness affects nearly every family - especially if you're a member of the Sandwich Generation. When you or your spouse develops cancer, heart disease, stroke or another chronic illness, it can change every aspect of your lives together. How to talk meaningfully with each other about the situation is a common concern. Do you wonder how to have deeper and more meaningful conversations with your spouse after such a serious illness?

Dialoging with your partner in the midst of a health crisis often reflects rather typical differences between men and women - particularly in what they want from each other. Whereas a woman may need to be heard and understood, a man may be intent on finding a solution to the problem. The result is that, even though your partner wants to be supportive when you are sick, you may be surprised to find that it is difficult for him to talk with you about your deepest thoughts and worries. This can lead to conversations that are not authentic and that make you feel your emotions are being discounted.

After her surgery for ovarian cancer, Ella thought that her partner acted in ways that downplayed her anxiety and angst. Intellectually she knew that the operation had gone well and her prognosis was good. But she was depressed and needed to express her negative feelings. If she was going to feel better, she knew that she had to begin dealing with them. "He didn’t want to talk about my fears and even withdrew from his own emotions. It upset him when I felt scared or cried. All he could focus on was my being fine and us getting on with our lives."

Serious illness can lead to unique struggles in your communications. In the next few days, we will consider possible reasons why you may be having trouble talking openly and honestly with your partner. You can then put these issues on the table so that you both can see what is going on.

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Friday, February 15, 2008

On February 18 this year, Americans will celebrate President's Day - another watered-down Monday, long-weekend-holiday filled with retail sales and little mention of the meaning of the day. We Baby Boomers remember when, instead, we honored Abraham Lincoln's birthday on February 12 and George Washington's on February 22. It seemed easier then to teach children the values of the founding fathers and honorable Presidents. Who could forget the story of George Washington admitting that he chopped down the cherry tree, saying "I cannot tell a lie," or the myriad tales about "honest Abe." These were our role models then, not the squabbling candidates with sound bites and spin that dominate our airways now.

How do we find role models for our children and grandchildren today when they see sports heros taking steroids, award-winning rock stars zoned-out on drugs, glamorous starlets pictured in drunken stupor, religious leaders and teachers molesting children? Perhaps we need look no farther than to our own parents. Many of their generation, "the greatest," lived through the depression, the Second World War and the Cold War. They were tempered by the hard realities of life and their values were shaped by the need to retain their ideals nevertheless. Who better to pass on the importance of internal strength, decency, honesty, hard work, fair play to our children?

As a Sandwiched Boomer, often exhausted by the day-to-day needs of caring for your aging parents and growing children, you may not have thought about how your parents can help you form the values of your children. Encourage them to spend time with your family, telling stories about their lives and how they dealt with the ups and downs they faced. Let your children learn from them how to live a life worthy of their legacy. You will all gain from the experiences. Use this President's Day to inaugurate your own message for change!

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

With Valentine's Day just around the corner, we Sandwiched Boomers may be wondering why Cupid is always portrayed as a baby - we know that real love is quite grown up, thank you. Mature love has more to do with the enduring bond created by years of partnering than by the quick prick of an arrow. Building on shared experiences, mutual acceptance and a healthy interdependence, love among Sandwich Generation Boomers is dynamic and yet ultimately stable at the same time. Studies have shown that the longer a couple is married, the less likely they are to become divorced.

When couples have dealt with the myriad of life's challenges over the years, they come away with a deep understanding of what is important in the long run and what is just a minor issue. This knowledge gives them greater flexibility in resolving conflicts that may torpedo the relationships of younger couples. Rather than concentrating on how to get the most for oneself out of the relationship, the focus instead becomes "how can I increase my partner's joy and happiness."

As Sandwiched Boomers, we recognize the time limits of our changing relationships - with both our aging parents and our growing children. This realization allows us appreciate and savor the continuing long-term relationship we have with a life partner. So don't worry if your spouse doesn't gift you with flowers, candy or a teddy bear this Valentine's Day - you know in your heart that he is there every day with his love and appreciation.

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Saturday, February 09, 2008

We hope that your Valentines Day is love-filled as you create a balance between caring for your personal needs and nurturing the well being of your relationship. Reduce the stress in your lives in order to enjoy fuller and deeper conversations. A minor change in attitude can make you both more relaxed and responsive.

Couples who practice conversational etiquette become more skillful in active listening than in advice giving. Over time, many discover that a commitment to understanding each other’s position, especially in conflict, goes a long way. As Indira Gandhi, the former Prime Minister of India, so wisely stated, "You cannot shake hands with a clenched fist."

On February 14th, mark your calendar as the first day of the rest of your lives. Cast a love spell in celebration of your relationship. And commit to nourishing a heartfelt connection with your partner through the intimate gift of conversation.

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Friday, February 08, 2008

As you set the stage for Valentines Day, use some of the following tips and let your heart do the talking.

Pay attention to the positives in your relationship by noticing the qualities of your partner that bring you pleasure. Discuss these with him from time to time and review them often for yourself.

When talking quietly together, be willing to reveal your own personal needs and opinions so that he has some access to your subjective world. Encourage him to take a risk and do the same with you.

Opposites attract. Genuine mutuality thrives on recognizing the differences in how you communicate. When it's impossible to respect and honor what sets you apart, find the humor in the situation and fall back on laughter.

According to Donna, learning to recognize the differences in how she and her husband evaluated and worked through problems made their relationship much stronger. “We resolve conflict by trying to see what the other one needs. We’ll go around what we can’t agree on and make every effort to reach some compromise. It has taken years, but we’ve both grown to value our relationship more than being right.”

Do you have some tips of your own to share?

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Thursday, February 07, 2008

This Valentines Day, do you hope that your sweetheart will finally write the love song you've been waiting to hear? Or as Sandwiched Boomers with a lot of practical experience, are you more proactive - busy shopping for the language of love that is bound to communicate the depth of your true emotions?

How couples talk with each other is a concrete example of differences between the sexes – and the conversational styles of women and men are often polar opposites. Despite your partner's ongoing support, you may find it difficult to speak about your deepest thoughts. Sometimes, when you just want your husband to listen to how you feel about a situation, you find him intent on fixing what's wrong or finding a solution.

Statistics indicate that one out of two marriages in the United States ends in divorce. And as a safeguard to this institution, some couples sign a clearly delineated legal pre-nuptial contract. There are other non-verbalized agreements that impact marriages, but are not communicated as directly. For example, “I earn more than you and that gives me greater control over major decisions” is often understood but not considered a topic for conversation. An increase in either trust or tension in the relationship eventually leads to the expression and resolution of these kinds of concerns, one way or the other.

Still other decisions are unconscious, part of the psychological baggage that is carried forward from the family of origin or from previous relationships. For instance, “My father walked out on our family without much of an explanation so, when you’re quiet for too long, I get scared” can be an old, deeply embedded emotional script that is left over from childhood. Shaped by earlier experiences and well hidden by defense mechanisms, these entrenched beliefs often continue to drive individual attitudes and behaviors.

Think about which communication style best describes your situation and how that impacts your relationship. Tomorrow we'll address some tips that can be a gift to your partner on Valentines Day.

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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Despite the anticipation around Super Tuesday, the results are inconclusive - there is still no clear candidate from either party. Yet they all remain energized and committed to clarifying their positions.

As Sandwiched Boomers, let's continue to raise our voices in support of the issues that are important to us and our families. It wasn't so long ago that women didn't have the right to vote. Three cheers for all of you who took the time to get involved and plan to remain so.

A reminder to tune in tomorrow as we begin to set the stage for a memorable Valentines Day.

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Tuesday, February 05, 2008

The primaries were spread across nearly half the United States in the most wide-open presidential campaign in memory. As the results begin to roll in, the only guarantee is that it will be a long night. Anticipation, speculation and projections abound.

The candidates have all worked hard in the coast to coast struggle for delegates and the popular vote. The voting public has been engaged like never before. These are exciting times. Whatever the outcome, my hope is that the promises to bring the country together and focus on the big issues will ultimately be fulfilled.

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Monday, February 04, 2008

You never know who is going to win until the game is over. Just like yesterday when the New York Giants, the underdogs, won the Superbowl even though all along the New England Patriots had been favored.

Tomorrow is Super Tuesday and the stakes are high. Who can win the election in November has become a major issue.

Romney has made enough of a comeback to keep the race against McCain going, even with Huckabee still somewhat of a force in the South.

Although Obama is on the move, Clinton is holding her own. It's too close to call as the Democratic voters make their final decision about whether to choose change or experience.

As Sandwiched Boomers, where do you stand? Which of the candidates will best represent the concerns of you and your family? Talk about the issues, keep the buzz going and take the opportunity to make your voice heard.

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Friday, February 01, 2008

Last night, both Clinton and Obama came into the Democratic debate with a shift in posture. The Today Show called it a love fest, despite the focus on controversial issue. And the Los Angeles Times entertained the possiblilty of them being the dream ticket in the upcoming election. What can you, Sandwiched Boomers, learn from their change in attitude?

If you or your partner has made bad choices or decisions, the emotional damage can endanger your relationship. The buildup of frustration, anger, or disappointment needs to be faced as you make efforts to repair the situation and adapt to a new reality. As you become more at ease, you will go from being worried about your future to feeling excited about what’s ahead.

Finding perspective is a valuable strategy when you are facing transitions. It helps to take a step back and see the present situation from a different angle. As high expectations are always difficult to meet, try to be realistic - and know that you will both grow from the challenges you are facing.

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