John Wiley & Sons Hardcover 272 pages
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In Good Times & In Bad
Table of Contents & Excerpt
PART ONE: Discover a New Perspective.
1. Our Personal Story.
2. The Decision to Fight for Your Relationship.
3. The Moment to Save (or Lose) Your Relationship.
PART TWO: Transform Your Relationship.
4. What Money Really Means to You and Your Partner.
5. What You Learned about Money.
6. Attack the Problem, Not Each Other.
7. How to Discuss Money in Relationships.
8. The One-Week Relationship Program That Will Change Your Life.
PART THREE: Bring It Home.
9. What You Can Do for Your Children.
10. Family Fun That Won’t Bust the Bank.
11. Making Holidays Better in Good Times and Bad.
12. Advice for the Worst of Times.
Gary: Recently I traveled to Minnesota on behalf of The Oprah Winfrey Show to help counsel Amy and Timothy, a thirtysomething couple with a fifteen-month-old child. Timothy had been making a six-figure salary in the mortgage industry until he was laid off. He hadn’t been able to find another job, so Amy and Timothy were losing their house. Timothy had suffered a yearlong depression, and as much as she had tried, Amy was unable to get him out of the basement and away from his Xbox games. Most of the time he wouldn’t even get out of bed. He refused help. Understandably, Amy left him. She took the baby and went to live with her mother, who could help her with the baby while Amy was working.
The Decision to Fight for Your Relationship
Amy had suffered from melanoma a few years before. Her father had fought melanoma at the same time, but he had passed away. When Amy told me that she didn’t have the strength to get through this economic crisis, I brought up her fight with cancer. Clearly, I was looking into the eyes of a courageous, strong woman, and I wanted to help her to see that she could draw on that strength. I asked her how she had the strength to get through cancer, and she responded, “Cancer was easy, compared to this.” For me, as a therapist, this was obviously something to explore.
The moment Amy learned that she had cancer, something remarkable happened: she made an immediate decision to live. She was determined to live through it. This belief caused her to do some interesting things. She focused on healing and on bringing into her life anything that would promote her health. Equally important, she refused to listen to anyone who would sap her energy or bombard her with negative statistics.
Amy and I discussed at length that the terms easy and cancer are not usually spoken together in the same sentence. Surely someone who had stared death in the face and won would find an economic crisis relatively easy, not the opposite. Was it possible that the reason she found beating cancer easier had nothing to do with how much energy she needed for each struggle? That is, it had nothing to do with the reality of either situation.
Let’s recognize the practical implications of Amy’s decision to live. She avoided considerable stress the moment she made the decision. For example, instead of hearing or reading a negative statistic about a woman in her position that would cause her severe distress and require tremendous energy to combat, she skipped right over that process by not listening to or seeing the message in the first place.
Instead of spending hours in turmoil, worrying about her condition, she chose to pretend that the decree for life had been signed, sealed, and delivered. This cut out levels of fear that would have required overwhelming energy to manage.
In bad times, much of our energy is used for combating the inevitable stressful moments, but we lessen the power of those moments every time we decide to fight for our relationship and our family. When you stop entertaining the idea of family disruption, separation, or splitting up, it causes a reduction in worry and stress. It stops conversations about it with others and gives you permission in your own mind to just move forward and focus on the external stressful situation at hand.
When I discussed Amy’s marriage with her, her tone was completely different from the way she had talked about her cancer. She admitted that she had never made a decision to fight for her marriage. She had mixed feelings about relationships and trust. Some of her ambivalence was due to her parents’ divorce when she was fifteen and the fact that almost everyone in her family was divorced. She almost believed that if she were to divorce, she’d fit in well in her family culture. She told me that even before this economic crisis, she had never fought for her marriage. It simply was not her attitude. Marriage worked as long as Timothy made money and kept that part of the deal.
But when Timothy lost his job and became stuck in his depression, Amy’s marriage became very, very hard. Her mother seriously disliked Timothy because he was unemployed. She even convinced Amy that if Timothy didn’t make enough money, he should not be allowed to see his child. Amy’s mother invited Amy to live with her, and she watched the baby while Amy worked, so Amy’s mother was doing a lot to help the situation. But at the same time, her message in support of divorce was so clear that Amy found herself thinking that if she returned to Timothy, she’d be letting her mother and the rest of her family down. Most of Amy’s energy was being drained with endless conversations about Timothy and how horrible he was.
Through our counseling, Amy remembered how devastating it was for her to experience her parents’ divorce as a teenager. I asked her if she could face her daughter in twenty years and tell her that the reason she had gotten a divorce was that she and Dad had fallen on rough economic times.
At the same time, Timothy was making his own dramatic changes. He got out of his depression, lost forty pounds, spent time visiting with their daughter, and found a place for the family to live (rent-free in exchange for his fixing the place up). He felt horrible for his behavior and apologized profusely for his disconnection from Amy. He’d do anything to save their marriage, but Amy couldn’t bring herself to return to it. She didn’t know what would happen once she decided to fight for her marriage. How would that change things? How could she renew her marriage just by making the decision to do so?
Sometimes we have to take the plunge, especially when we know it to be a good direction for ourselves and our children. We have to believe that things will work out; then, as a practical matter, our energy can instantly be more efficiently focused on the real problems at hand.
. . .
Amy decided to make her marriage work and to deflect her mother’s negative influence. She would be strong and explain to her mother that they would no longer criticize Timothy and that he had equal rights to their daughter in every way. Then an amazing thing happened. Within two weeks, she and Timothy were living together again.
My father-in-law, a circuit court judge for more than thirty years, once told me that the key to relationships is to fight the problems, not each other. Amy began discussing solutions instead of worrying about the problems. It was crucial to her that she never again find herself in the same desperate situation. Timothy agreed that if she ever thought he was depressed, he would seek medical help even if he didn’t think he needed it. He put this in writing so that there would be no confusion in the future.
Amy and Timothy began working together as a team, discussing what they could do to resolve their economic issues. I asked them to go on a date, a rather inexpensive one, to allow themselves permission to reconnect and have fun together. They found renewed energy to tackle their issues together. It would not be an easy task, but when they had each other’s help, it instantly became a lot easier. Their economic crisis was still a reality, but the threat of divorce and the ensuing stress were effectively over. Just removing that threat alone freed up major energy for them to deal with the real issue at hand.
Attack the Problem, Not Each Other
Your relationship deserves a fighting spirit. The first and most important step in managing life’s struggles as a couple is to decide that you will focus on the struggle as a team, not as two individuals ready to blame each other. Make the decision that your relationship will be strong through these challenges, then listen to nothing else.
What the Fighting Spirit Can Do for You
“While the fighting spirit may not influence your quantity or length of life,” says Dr. Steven Greer in an interview for Ben Sherwood’s The Survivors Club: The Secrets and Science That
Could Save Your Life, “it will certainly improve the quality of your remaining time. People with the fighting spirit show far, far less depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems.”
If you haven’t already done so, make the decision to fight for your marriage, your relationship, and/or your family. Sit with your partner and decide to work together to solve your problems. Write down your commitment on paper. The window of divorce never closes; you can choose that option at any time, but the window for a relationship sometimes stays open for only a limited time. Grab the option while the window is still open and be on your way. Later, we’ll outline clearer methods for how to have the conversation with your loved ones, but for now, just recognize the need for the decision. It’s the first important answer to getting through and growing through rough times.
Jocelyn’s Story: Why I Decided to Stay with My Husband
I became a full-time teacher when my youngest child turned ten. My husband, Andre, made a decent living as a hotel manager, and with my income, things were great. We even purchased an apartment near our home that we rented out for extra income. With the recession, however, the hotel business suffered, and the hotel my husband managed suddenly closed. The chain had nowhere else for him to go. I was now the breadwinner, so I had to sign up for summer school teaching. I never wanted to do that. One of the reasons that teaching worked so well for me was that I was always home when my kids were home, so I could be a good mom.
I was angry at Andre for everything. We’d constantly scream at each other. I was mad that he didn’t have a better degree, although now I realize that even that would be no guarantee of a better job in this day and age. He tried everything, but the field was cutting back and there was nothing for him. It had been months since we had had sex; usually he’d fall asleep on the couch watching television late at night and just stay there.
It got so bad that our kids begged us during one fight to stop. That’s when I realized I’d had enough. I went to my parents and told them I had to separate from Andre. My parents were shocked, because they hadn’t known how bad it really was. My father asked me to reconsider and told me to imagine what it must be like for my husband. He explained to me that the stress I was feeling from being the breadwinner was the stress that Andre had felt for eighteen years of the marriage, and suddenly I understood what he was feeling.
I know it must sound crazy, but I was just too consumed with what I was going through to consider how deeply lost my husband was feeling. I’m really not a selfish person; I was simply overwhelmed, and I was used to him taking care of everything. Andre was the fixer. I would always joke with him that he was perfect for the hotel business because he could manage any crisis and make people feel better again. He lost that ability when he lost his job and any hope of getting a new one, and that really rocked me to my core. Following my father’s suggestion, I temporarily turned my thinking around and told Andre how much I was beginning to understand how difficult this was for him. I had never seen my husband tear up before then. He started talking, and for the first time, he let me see the real him. I don’t know why, but seeing Andre that way made him so much more real to me. We needed each other in a way that we hadn’t before. I told him that it was so hard for me because he was the “fix-it” man, and now I had to be that person. We decided to move back in together and start being a couple again.
The next morning I read in the paper that people were not buying new appliances during the recession; they were getting their old ones fixed instead. Andre had always been very handy, so I showed him the article and we conceived the idea for him to start fixing things. His grandfather was a plumber, so Andre had grown up understanding how things work.
Within a few months, my husband was making about half the amount of money he had been making at his hotel job. It was helpful that some of the appliances he fixed were brought to us, and we set up the garage as a workplace. My kids have gotten really good at helping their dad, and my fourteen-year-old can now even do some repairs on his own from start to finish.
The kids spend part of their weekends with their dad, helping him with his growing business. I had had one foot out the door, and now we’re doing better than we were before all of this mess began. My father is a wise man; he taught me how far a little understanding can go. I’m still teaching summer school, but I believe that spending this time away from my children is still better than divorcing their father would have been. Even if I had gone through with a divorce, I’d still be working in the summer. Now, at least, the kids are home with their dad doing something constructive.
Jocelyn’s decision to stay and her husband’s positive reaction set the stage for moving out of despair. Once they had decided to work together, she was tuned in to the article in the newspaper, and together they applied it to their lives. If she hadn’t been in that frame of mind, it’s doubtful that the information in the article would have been applied that way. Her energy would have continued to be too consumed by the negativity and the pain of her situation to allow her to be creative and hopeful. Creativity requires energy, and we have only so much mental and emotional energy to spare. When that energy is exhausted by what’s going wrong, we don’t have the stamina to figure out how to get things right.
Anthony’s Story: It’s Not Right to Have Fun at This Time
I was really blessed. I came from a lower-middle-class family and was the first to go to college. My first real estate deal made me more money than my father had made in five years of work as a bricklayer. In the last fifteen years I’ve done well, and my family has been proud of me. I not only sold many buildings and homes, I purchased other properties and felt secure. Then the real estate office I worked in closed, and some of my properties were put in foreclosure. My father, who was employed part-time, lost his job because construction came to a halt. I never thought so much damage could happen so quickly.
A year ago, when things were still okay, I had gone to a charity auction and bid on a five-day, all-expenses-paid vacation for me and my girlfriend. I had completely forgotten about it and was recently reminded that I had won it and had to use it by a certain date. My girlfriend really wanted to go, but how could we? For one thing, my ex-wife would then think I was lying when I told her I was suffering financially. Besides, how could I have fun when things were so awful? I was out of work, my father was out of work, the world (it seemed) was out of work, and I was going to go on a tropical island vacation and drink margaritas with my girlfriend?
It was an easy decision. I didn’t even want to give the vacation to anyone else. I just let it lapse, and my girlfriend couldn’t believe it. She doesn’t understand that just because it was paid for doesn’t mean that it would have been right to go.
Anthony’s thinking is common. Basically, when things are tough, we’re supposed to be sad and forlorn. We’re supposed to be fighting our way through, just barely staying above depression, and we’re certainly not supposed to be laughing and having fun.
Anthony is wrong, however.
His point is understandable, but he is simply building misery for himself. All of us need, at some point, to regain our composure, reclaim life, and move on. This may be after a day, a month, or a year or more of sadness and pain. The human mind has to allow itself not to sink so low that it can no longer function properly. If a person loses balance and the ability to properly function, then medication or other external help may be indicated. In most situations, however, the mind and the body themselves will dig themselves out of the slump they are in, and get back to living in the way you once knew. Letting go of anger or moving through a bad time is something that people do on their own schedules.
Let’s give ourselves permission to live again. How we do this will be different for every person, but when it happens it is unmistakable. We grant ourselves the right to stop suffering the way we have been suffering. We simply get tired of being angry or unhappy. Feelings are feelings; one passes, then another one comes along. Who’s to say how long you “have to be” angry or unhappy? Who’s to say how anyone “should” feel in a given situation?
Change Your Place for a Fresh Viewpoint
You might find a different perspective or a new side of yourself if you get away from your normal surroundings. This is especially true of people who vacation in places that are sentimental to them, like childhood vacation spots. We have been to some of the most expensive hotels in the world, yet the small inexpensive beach motel where our family has gathered for forty years remains the place we love to visit when we’re down or when we want to celebrate something.
Some people don’t realize how helpful it can be to take the time to go away together. One couple found a cruise package that cost them thirty-five dollars a day per person, including all food and entertainment. Other people swap houses through a Web site; they find that a change of pace helps them to reevaluate things in many ways.
The more negativity we focus on, the more stuck and hopeless we become. The more we encourage hopefulness and are positive that we’ll get through this financial crunch, the more likely it will be to happen. Some would say it’s because of the universe’s propensity to match your energy. Maybe that’s true. But it’s your determination that helps you find creative energy and a renewed sense of hopefulness.
Make the Choice to Be Lucky
In The Luck Factor: The Four Essential Principles, Dr. Richard Wiseman writes that lucky people maximize chance opportunities. To conduct an experiment, he had different people, those who considered themselves lucky and those who viewed themselves as unlucky, meet him in a coffee shop for an interview. Wiseman placed a five-dollar bill on the step leading up to the coffee shop. The “lucky” people saw the bill, picked it up, and told others what a great and lucky day it was. The self-described “unlucky” people didn’t even notice the five-dollar bill.
There have been many studies on the remarkable effects of optimism on our lives. One study followed thousands of Minnesotans who took a personality test in the 1960s.Those who scored highest on pessimism were about 30 percent more likely to exhibit signs of dementia up to four decades later. Another study found that pessimistic college students experienced more psychological and physical problems than optimistic college students did. The optimistic students experienced less stress and depression and were more likely to seek social support.
Studies repeatedly show that a positive attitude has very practical implications. Imagine that you will heal better physically with a positive attitude and a loving spouse next to your hospital bed. It’s not magic. Your attitude will cause different thoughts, stresses, and concerns. What your mind and your body will have to deal with will change, causing you to have a different vision. Add your spirit and the metaphysical considerations to the mix, and there’s no end to what your attitude and your mood can do to help you through life’s struggles.
You have a choice. You can wait indefinitely for your mind, your body, and your soul to allow yourself to exercise a positive attitude and enjoy life, or you can decide to consciously do it right now. Why wait? Whom are you pleasing? Whose rules are you following? Who has the right to say how long you “should” be unhappy or not enjoy life to its fullest? Do you have to wait for financial good times to return in order to have good times, or can you find some good in life just because you’ve decided to make it so? Give yourself permission to feel the positive or good feelings that come your way even when times are tough.
Give to Others
One good way to feel positive in trying times is to give to others. Practicing acts of kindness in your family and in the world lifts your mood and benefits others. Give in all ways, large and small, and focus on the positive feelings you create in others.
When we were in the hospital with our newborn son, Pacey, we never left him alone. Since we had an identical newborn twin at home as well, this meant that one of us had to sleep in the hospital room while one of us stayed home. We switched off and made it work to the best of our ability. In the third week, Gary’s mom came to town, and being the wonderful mother that she was, she stayed with us for a few nights and helped with the kids.
At this point Pacey was safe, and we simply had to give him antibiotics long enough to feel secure that the infection wouldn’t return. One night we decided to go out and try to enjoy ourselves. It had been too long since we had been together in this way. We could’ve found many reasons not to do it. Both of our mothers were helping out, one in the hospital and one with our other children, but was it appropriate for us to go out and have fun? What might people from town think, knowing that we had a sick child and seeing us out laughing and having fun?
When we were living in South Beach, taking jitneys to save a quarter a day, we still made the effort to have fun. We rented bikes with baby seats for three dollars an hour and enjoyed ourselves. We could have just lived in stress and been angry at each other because of the uncomfortable situation we were in. We could have decided to wait until we had more money, when we could afford nice restaurant dinners, and then have fun. But why wait? Why does having or not having a lot of money dictate whether we enjoy our lives? Obviously, there are things a family can and cannot do to have fun due to the cost, but being allowed to enjoy life is not based on money. It’s your personal choice.
Many couples stop having sex, stop going out on dates, and just stop laughing when a bad time strikes. What they forget is that living life to its fullest can’t wait for some time in the future. It may be diminished by present circumstances, but there aren’t different parts of life, the good and the bad. It’s all life, and it’s all what we choose to do with it.
When are we more likely to creatively address our issues: when we’re feeling obligated to be unhappy and overwhelmed, or when we’re allowing ourselves to be in love and trying our best to be hopeful? The experience of shutting out the good moments in life causes more sad moments and discourages the creative, hopeful energy that enables us to make better choices to change our circumstances.
Anthony was doing himself no favor wasting the trip for some idea of what he “should” be doing. If he truly didn’t want to go, he could have offered the trip to someone else or tried to sell it.
He could have gone on the trip, networked with people, used the time to get a little more sleep, and have had an idea or an experience that could help him move toward a stronger financial future. Most good ideas and connections in life don’t come from a specific plan. The more we allow ourselves to be open to different experiences, the more chances we have to find solutions.
Give Yourself Permission to Be Happy
Consider what could be holding you back from giving yourself permission to enjoy life. Do you believe that you’re not entitled to have positive feelings? Are there people who would be uncomfortable with your being happy now? Challenge yourself to make the decision that you are allowed to feel good, to engage in and create better times in your life right now.
If I were more hopeful and happy right now:
1. What would my parents think?
2. What would my spouse or partner think?
3. What would my friends think?
4. What would my children think?
Answer these questions so that you can be clear on any stumbling blocks that prevent you from allowing yourself to enjoy this moment. You will, we hope, see the importance of how your loved ones (especially your children, if you have them) would benefit from your positive attitude during this time and how you can determine to turn things around. Forget about what the world may think. You do not have to cooperate with social expectations to feel unhappy because of your present situation.
Alfred Nobel: Finding a Constructive Side in the Destructive
Alfred Nobel was an extraordinarily wealthy man. Few know that he acquired his fortune by developing dynamite. His intention might have been to use it as a tool for construction, but it was quickly used in wartime to destroy and kill.
Toward the end of his life, Nobel read something that shocked him. An erroneous publication in 1888 of a premature obituary of Nobel by a French newspaper condemned him for his invention of dynamite. The obituary stated, “The merchant of death is dead,” and went on to say, “Dr. Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday.”
At this point, Nobel could understandably have become quite upset. He might have spent months lamenting his life’s work, his legacy of death. Apparently, however, his spirit would have none of that. He decided to do something wonderful for the world and put money into a fund that would award prizes to those who promote peace in the world—the antidote to his dynamite killing force. On November 27, 1895, at the Swedish-Norwegian Club in Paris, Nobel signed his last will and testament and set aside the bulk of his estate to establish the Nobel prizes, to be awarded annually without distinction of nationality. He left an amount that today, allowing for inflation, would be hundreds of millions of dollars. When we think of this man, we have only one image of him: the founder of the Nobel prizes. At a moment of sadness and potential despair he was determined not to give up but instead to do something to change his legacy and give hope to the world. The Nobel Peace Prize in particular continues to focus us all on hope even today, more than a century after he started it.
Just as Nobel did in 1895, we can take action to make ourselves feel better about a given situation. There are indeed many difficult circumstances in which it’s almost impossible not to be disappointed, no matter how much positive thinking we do. Forcing “happiness” by denying reality isn’t healthy, either; sometimes we need to feel sad, or else we’d be denying genuine feelings. But we can still find moments of hope, calm, and love even during sadness. We can still work to be close to our loved ones in any period, in good times and bad.
Copyright © 2010 M. Gary Neuman and Melisa Neuman.