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Ask Dr. Gayle Lotus Guide column

LG column due Dec. 2012

Q: I was deeply in love with a woman of another religion. Her family and community would never have accepted me, so we broke off our relationship. I married on the rebound because my wife wanted to and I went along with it. How can I make my marriage more loving?

A: Keep your love for your ex in your heart and pray for her well-being, so you don’t deny the reality of your caring or expend energy in repression. With your wife, tell her something you sincerely appreciate about her every day and decide to explore her psyche as if you were writing a book about her. What makes her tick? Think of ways to add to her happiness with thoughtful little gifts, volunteering to do work around your home, giving her hugs, and spending time checking in with each other. See The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman to see what is most important to each of you. If you believe in karma or destiny, ask yourself what do you two need to work out together?

Q: I have a hard time finding good gifts for people. Suggestions?

A: Create a gift box or file drawer. Keep your eyes open for gifts throughout the year when you’re shopping anyway. Thrift stores like the Shalom Free Clinic’s store in Chico recycle materials, give to a good cause, and have some unexpected gems. Consider gift certificates for services like my coaching sessions or DVDs or those provided by Lotus Guide advertisers. The best gifts are made in your kitchen or otherwise handmade. Here are some suggestions to get you started: http://www.bhg.com/crafts/easy/30-minute-projects/super-quick-gifts-to-make/#page=4

Q: Sometimes I get so frustrated I want to yell at my kids or smack them. What are more effective discipline techniques?

A: The most important principles that work for me are to let consequences teach kids rather than relying on lecturing, which they tune out. Give them lots of healthy choices so they feel they have some power and don’t have to rebel. Non-Violent Communication emphasizes understanding the need that underlies the behavior, maybe just the child’s need to relax and have down time or get undivided attention. Take regular time to listen to each other and have fun together. Colleges are talking about fragile “teacup” students who fall apart under pressure because they were overprotected and their time overstuctured by their helicopter parents, so let your kids make some decisions. Useful books are Parenting with Love and Logic; Children: The Challenge; and How to Talk so Kids Will Listen And Listen So Kids Will Talk. (Readers, other favorites?)

Q: I agonize over making decisions, and agonize over agonizing. How can I simplify making decisions? It takes too much time and energy to proceed like this.

A: Write out the pros and cons of each option using logic. You might attach more points for factors that mean a lot to you. Sleep on the list and then feel which choice feels best to you. It may be useful to think out loud by asking a neutral friend to pretend to be a judge. You act as attorney for each option, changing chairs or hats as you defend each option. Also be aware of subconscious personalities that make it difficult to make decisions, such as a critical inner judge who makes you afraid that any choice you make will be wrong. Listen to that subpersonality and bring its concerns up to the light of consciousness, and then call on a more rational part. It may be best not to discuss the process with many others unless they are experts, as their opinions can muddy the waters. After you decide, stick to an agreement with yourself to wait a month before evaluating the choice. If you start to second-guess your plan, remind yourself “What is, is” and wait until the evaluation date.

Q: I’ve lived with the same partner for around 30 years. He’s very critical and controlling, but I care about him and am comfortable with our familiar pattern. Is it too late to start over without him?

A: Life is short, so much to learn, experience, give, and enjoy. You will want to face the end of your life looking back with contentment. Confront your partner using effective communication (“I feel __ when __ and I suggest ___ as a solution we can negotiate”). Don’t blame as in “You always ….”) Do this each time he offends you in order to give him the opportunity to change, although it won’t be pleasant. It’s important that you learn your lesson of being assertive and taking good care of yourself so you don’t have to repeat it in another context.            It’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks, so start quietly looking for new home and saving money for moving if he isn’t kinder. Change can be scary, so acknowledge your fears of going out on your own and address them. Hopefully you have a trustworthy friend who can listen to you and provide encouragement. I do energy balancing and mini-readings every Wednesday at the First Congregational Church, available to encourage you to take good care of yourself.

Q: My boyfriend ended our relationship, but I still have loving feelings for him that keep me from opening my heart to a new guy. How can I move on?

A: Parents love more than one child, so you can keep your deep caring for your ex and also open your heart to getting to know a new man. It’s not either/or. We learn from each relationship, so I’d explore. We can learn and grow from each partner.

Q: I retired and am spending a lot of time in my pajamas without establishing a new routine. How can I get going in a positive direction?

A: Go to a gym every morning, or go for a walk or bike ride, to provide a new healthy structure to get going in the morning. It helps to have an exercise buddy to get started on your new routine. Explore volunteer opportunities that put your skills to use and help you feel you’re doing service for others on a regular basis. My global youth manuscript needs critiquing! Take a class at a college or recreation center to learn something new, a good strategy for keeping your brain young. Where would you like to travel? Make a list of activities you wished you’d been able to fit in while working fulltime, and start investigating the top interests on your list. Do something constructive every day.

Q: I just got engaged. I’m still in shock, particularly when I start to think about the planning of a wedding! Can you help me get started?

A: I’d delegate tasks like food preparation to family members and friends, using guides for reducing wedding expenses that can be found on sites like frugaldad.com and forbes.com. I’d save money for a great honeymoon trip or house down payment rather than have a lavish wedding. The beauty will be in the depth of feeling, the ceremony, friends and family (you might want to invite them to share their blessings as part of the ceremony), and the dancing afterwards, rather than expensive catered dinner and alcohol. I’ve performed weddings on a ski slope, on Mt. Lassen, in backyards, and in the park that were very meaningful and inexpensive.

Q: I have panic attacks, am anxious, and have trouble sleeping. How can I get on with my life and feel better?

A: When you feel a panic attack coming on, instead of resisting and fearing it, acknowledge it. Walk it out, swim it out, do something physical as you would deal with a muscle cramp. Exercising every day can help relieve some anxiety and also makes it easier to sleep. Natural remedies are suggested by Kathi Kemper, MD, in Mental Health, Naturally: Eat breakfast and whole foods, avoid caffeine, take vitamins B, C, D3, and minerals including calcium (not citrate) and magnesium, fish oils for omega-3 fatty acids, GABA, and Theanine found in green tea. Dr. Kemper also recommends Tryptophan and 5-http, and calming herbs like chamomile and valerian. Julia Ross provides more natural remedies in The Mood Cure.

Q: I’ve gone off anti-depression meds after 15 years and am getting overwhelmed by feelings. How can I cope?

A: Your emotions have been suppressed and need to be acknowledged and released. Be aware of your grief or anger and breathe into where you feel the most intense emotions. It helps to physically release in a safe place, as by kicking cardboard boxes or pounding pillows or watching a touching movie and crying. It helps to have a caring neutral listener, a good friend or therapist so you feel safe. I always recommend EFT (http://www.garythink.com/eft/) and Re-evaluation Counseling also provides simple ways to discharge our fears and anxieties. Accept the release of sadness, anger, guilt rather than being afraid of them, just as you accept vomiting if you eat toxic food. Find a therapist who is comfortable with you releasing old negativity rather than numbing or ignoring it. Repression takes too much energy and eventually projects itself into consciousness in ways that may not be pleasant, like an illness.
Q: I have trouble saying no to any request from others, so I’m feeling depleted. Also, I have trouble getting organized. Suggestions?

A: Think of the highest good of others; if you rob them of the opportunity to learn how to do a task, you deprive them of a needed lesson. Think of yourself as a deserving part of the creation who deserves good care. Read about codependency to be more conscious of the compulsive feelings behind taking responsibility for others and neglecting yourself.

Buy a bunch of folders, sort your papers in them in a box or filing cabinet, and keep them in alphabetical order. Any new paperwork that arrives is immediately acted upon and then filed. Do not let piles accumulate. If it’s a bill you can’t pay, put it in a folder for pending accounts.

Q: I’m a middle-school student. I can’t get myself to turn in assignments or to care about doing well in school. Any hope for me?

A: You may be making an unspoken statement to your parents about something you’re unhappy about in your family. Is there something that bothers you that you can explain to your parents? Do you have test anxiety? I put together a guide to test success that I’d be glad to share with you and readers–just email me. Think about future careers that appeal to you rather than just what your parents want in the grades department. You will need a good job to help support your future family. Does your desired field require a college education? Most high-paying jobs do. Although it seems far away, you’ll soon find yourself applying for college and will want the options that school success provides you.

Q: I’m in a custody battle with my son’s mother. She does everything she can to make things difficult for me and speaks badly about me to my son. How can I win this fight?

A: She probably won’t change, so you need to change your reactions. As long as you expect fair and rational behavior from your ex, you will be disappointed and upset. Expect her to obstruct in any way she can and be amused at how creative she can be in being oppositional. Separate yourself emotionally by viewing the conflict like a chess game, anticipating moves your opponent might make and how to counter them. Try to have some humor about how she and her attorney operate. Also, remember that our difficulties are small compared to people living in Afghanistan, South Sudan, urban slums anywhere or under the bridges in our town. It’s not good for your health to be chronically upset and angry. Also, talk to your attorney about the illegality of alienation of parental affection. See http://www.cadivorce.com/california-divorce-guide/parenting-through-divorce/parental-alienation-syndrome.

Q: My husband did the classic mid-life crisis event of leaving me for a younger woman. I am devastated. Will I recover?

A: In the long run, you’ll think good riddance. In the meantime, allow yourself to grieve but also kick up your heels and do what you’ve wanted to do and couldn’t. Eat lemon meringue pie for breakfast and enjoy your freedom. Plan a trip to someplace you’ve always wanted to go with an interesting group. Get support from friends, a therapist, a grief group, and a massage therapist. It’s always harder for the spouse who feels rejected because it brings up our unresolved feelings back to middle school dances when we didn’t get asked to dance by the cool guys. Use your current pain to clean up your old emotional baggage with a therapist. Finally, make sure you have a good lawyer and stay on top of the legal dissolution, as lawyers need encouragement.

Q: I beat myself when I make a mistake. How can I give myself a break?

A: We’re on the planet to make mistakes because that’s how we learn. Since no one is perfect, it’s part of the human condition. The point is to not repeat mistakes, and to think before we act, although core issues usually need to be repeated until we work through them.

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