July 21, 2014

Privacy and Secrecy

Privacy and Secrecy
Our local newspaper publishes a low-quality advice column. Recently, a woman wrote to the columnist about an incident in which she had picked up her husband's phone and attempted to enter the password. (The wife admitted that her husband hadn't given her the password; she had figured it out by watching him.) Her husband jumped up and knocked the phone out of her hand. The wife believed that her husband had overreacted and that his behavior was suspicious. In response, the columnist berated the woman for snooping and violating her husband's privacy. Yikes!

Let's be clear. It is sad that the wife couldn't (or thought she couldn't) just ask her husband for his password. However, the husband was completely out of line. Striking his wife's hand to keep her from using his phone borders on violence. It's an act that indicates either tremendous guilt or tremendous paranoia. None of us should have anything on our phones (or in our wallets, or on our computers, or shoved into the back of the closet) that must be kept secret from our spouses.

Of course, people -- even married people -- are entitled to privacy. Unfortunately, too many people blur the line between privacy and secrecy, using the first as an excuse for the second.

Privacy includes the right to spend time alone, to pursue your own hobbies and interests, to have some time to relax or work by yourself. You are entitled to have your own thoughts, feelings and opinions. You don't have to tell anyone who you voted for, how much you weigh, or what you dreamed about last night. It is reasonable to expect some quiet time while you work a crossword puzzle or trim your toenails. It is normal to need a little solitude, to be yourself by yourself.

No matter how intimate and safe we feel with a partner, we need some boundaries that help define who we are as individuals. We need physical and psychological space to refresh ourselves after dealing with the demands of the world. Private time, personal interests, freedom to think and to express our individuality -- these are needed to build and maintain a healthy sense of self.

At the same time, we are social beings who need connections with others. Close relationships provide the emotional and social support we need to have a high quality of life. Friendship and love bring us great joy and encourage us to fulfill our human potential.

In close relationships, the boundaries of privacy are different than they are with strangers or casual acquaintances. Typically, we disclose more personal information to people we trust and feel close to. The more we share, the closer we feel and the stronger our bond becomes.

Secrecy means hiding something. It often includes misdirection and lying. Within any kind of relationship, secrecy means withholding or misrepresenting information that is relevant to the relationship, or information that the other person has a legitimate interest in knowing.

The reason for secrecy is usually simple. People don't want to face the consequences of their actions. They don't want to deal with the other person's response, the likelihood that the nature of the relationship will be changed, or the possibility that it will be terminated altogether. They don't want their behavior to be exposed, and they don't want to face their own shame.

While a healthy degree of privacy is part of a balanced social life, secrecy distorts relationships. The secret-keeper has changed the terms of the relationship without the knowledge or consent of the partner. The partner is deprived of the right to make informed decisions about matters that may profoundly affect his or her life. Depending on the nature of the secret, the partner's finances, health, reputation, or emotional well-being may be at risk.

Concealing the truth creates problems for the concealer as well. A lie often requires more lies to maintain the cover-up, and each lie increases the chances of discovery. The liar has to remember the story, and often finds that it is no longer possible to speak freely about certain subjects for fear of letting something slip. The relationship suffers from a loss of openness that is usually noticeable and frustrating to the other person, who may gradually begin to feel that something is seriously wrong.

When the truth comes out, as it usually does, things get much worse. Often it is the lie, not the original deed, that causes the partner to end the relationship. Once someone has deceived us, we may find it impossible to trust them again.

So why did the husband in the story want to keep his phone away from his wife? Maybe he didn't want her to find out how much time he spent playing Angry Birds. Maybe he had lost the rent money to online gambling. Maybe he was sexting with an old girlfriend. Maybe he was childishly possessive of his electronic toys. Maybe he didn't want her to see the receipt for the birthday gift he had just bought her. And why couldn't the wife just ask him for his password or ask him to let her use the phone? Had he refused in the past? Was she suspicious of his behavior? Was she deliberately being provocative?

No matter what the explanation, this is a couple that needs to have some serious conversations about honesty, trust, and respect. Let us all have those discussions sooner rather than later, and come to an understanding before we find ourselves coming to blows over a phone.

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July 15, 2014

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July 9, 2014

A Frank Talk About Sexual Rejection

There are thousands of articles on the web about the problem of couples who are in conflict because one wants sex and the other doesn't. The writers offer many possible explanations and propose plenty of solutions. Maybe they have naturally mismatched sex drives, maybe there is conflict in other areas of the relationship, maybe someone is being too sensitive or too demanding, or maybe someone is a prude or a brute. There could be a hormone problem or some other medical issue, or one spouse could simply be overworked and exhausted. Experts suggest helping with the chores, improving communication, having regular date nights, getting more sleep, getting a medical checkup, agreeing to a schedule, sending the kids to Grandma's, turning off the TV and the cell phone, and getting marriage counseling.

Comments from both the deprived and the decliners indicate that all these problems -- and more -- play a role in sexual avoidance. But there is one issue that is mentioned regularly -- if not quite as often as some others -- and yet is usually ignored by the advice-givers. A lack of basic hygiene on the part of one's mate is a surprisingly common theme among sexual refusers. Face it -- if you look dirty and smell bad, your partner's first instinct will be to turn away. And yet it seems that many folks simply aren't aware that they have a problem.

We see this issue in the workplace, too! And, while co-workers will complain to the person who takes the last cup of coffee without starting a new pot, the one who is always late, or someone who fails to pick up a ringing phone, it seems that nobody wants to tell the unwashed that they are, well, unwashed.

So, for anyone who has been frustrated by the huge amount of personal space everyone around them seems to need, it's time to consider this embarrassing and oft-neglected (yet easily solved) possibliity.

Potential clues:
  • Your partner has complained about your body odor or your bad breath.
  • Your partner makes a wrinkled-nose face and cringes when you get close.
  • You can see dirt or grease in the creases of your skin or under your nails.
  • Your underwear is discolored. Your shirts have armpit stains.
  • The sheet on your side of the bed is gray or brown where your body touches it.
  • People frequently urge you to have a mint.
  • Nobody wants to hug you, sit near you or stand next to you.
  • Everyone seems to be holding their breath.
  • You can smell yourself.
What to do:
  • Take a shower every day. If you shower in the morning and work hard all day, you may need another shower when you get home.
  • Even if you aren't visibly dirty, stale perspiration or odors acquired from the environment (like smoke, cooking odors, and chemicals) can cause an unpleasant odor. Use a deodorant, and wear fresh clothing daily.
  • Brush your teeth. This is important for your health, your appearance, and your kissability. If brushing isn't doing enough, add mouthwash to your routine.
  • Practice good bathroom habits. If your underwear is always stained and streaky, try using more toilet paper or moist wipes.
  • If removing your shoes makes people gag, consider shoe treatments (such as sprays and powders) that will kill the germs and prevent odor. Own two pairs of shoes and alternate them.
  • Remember the details. Are your nails clean and trimmed? Have you washed and combed your hair? Are there nose hairs that need attention? Do you need a shave?
  • Think about your diet. Certain foods, especially large quantities of garlic, can cause even a clean person to have a strong odor.
  • If you believe you really are clean, and yet you still have a bad odor, get a medical checkup. Some health conditions can affect your breath or the way your body smells.

"Beauty commonly produces love, but cleanliness preserves it." -Joseph Addison

"If you go long enough without a bath, even the fleas will leave you alone." - Ernie Pyle

"People often say that motivation doesn't last. Well, neither does bathing - that's why we recommend it daily." - Zig Ziglar

"The gentlemen like it when a lady smells sweet." ― Bertrice Small


June 18, 2014

Your Chances of Getting Divorced

  Half of all marriages end in divorce!

We hear this all the time. It may or may not be quite true, but let's say it is.

Given this state of affairs, people assume that every happy couple walking down the aisle faces a fifty percent chance of ending up divorced.

And that isn't true at all.

Wait a minute. I can do the math. Fifty percent of couples tying the knot today will eventually divorce. So if I get married, I have only a fifty percent chance of making it "till death do us part." Right?


Think about it. Suppose that basketball statistics show that fifty percent of all free throws are missed. Does that mean that when Kobe Bryant steps up to the line, he has only a fifty percent chance of making the point? Of course not. We know that Kobe's chance of success is better than eighty percent. Mine, on the other hand, is near zero. This is because basketball is a game of skill, not a game of chance. Statistics for the entire population of basketball players may be interesting, but only an individual player's performance can tell us how well that player is likely to do.

When we hear a statistical generalization, our usual reaction is to view it as something that applies equally to everyone. But that is true only in cases of pure chance.

If I'm in Las Vegas, betting my favorite number at the roulette wheel, I have only a one in 38 chance of winning. The gal next to me, betting her favorite number, has the same chance. Everyone at the table who bets on a number has the same chance as everyone else, and nothing any of us does can change that. The outcome is determined by forces beyond our control.

Basketball isn't like that, and neither is marriage.

The progress of a relationship, like the progress of a basketball game, depends on the actions of the participants and the quality of their teamwork. A top player can't guarantee that every shot he makes will score. But his skill, determination, and effort mean that his chances are far better than average. Approaching marriage with high levels of awareness and commitment means that we do not have to fall victim to statistics or depend on luck to get us through.

Because marriage isn't something that happens to us at random -- it's something we do ourselves.

Image courtesy of hin255, Freedigitalphotos.net

June 12, 2014

Instant Misunderstanding

During the last winter break, Hubby and I took a short vacation to the lovely island of Kauai. One evening, as we discussed where to go for dinner, Hubby was using his smartphone to locate nearby restaurants.

"What about Caffe Coco?" he asked.

I replied, "I've read good things about it."

He did some poking and scrolling on his phone and then showed me the menu. It looked quite interesting, so we agreed to go there for dinner.

The GPS app on the smartphone guided us to the restaurant. I had the odd feeling we were going in the wrong direction, but I wasn't really familiar with the area, so I didn't worry about it. When we arrived, the large, crowded parking lot indicated just how popular the place was. As we approached the building, I could see signs for a large resort hotel, but nothing for Caffe Coco.

"This isn't the restaurant," I said. A man passing by asked if we were looking for the restaurant, and showed us which way to go. I was beginning to feel more and more lost, because there were still no signs for Caffe Coco. Instead, we came upon a restaurant called Hukilau Lanai. Hubby spoke to the hostess, who told him it would be a 40-minute wait for a table. I was totally confused. Couldn't he see that we were in the wrong place?

"This isn't Caffe Coco," I said.

"Right," he said. "You didn't want to go there."

"I didn't?"

"You said you had heard bad things about it."

"No, I said I had heard good things about it."

Ah-ha! The communication breakdown had started at the very beginning of our conversation. Hubby misheard me, and thought I said bad instead of good. So he immediately selected a different restaurant and showed me the menu. I didn't notice the switch, so I thought we were still going to the first place. From that point on, we were completely out of synch.

Luckily, this wasn't a serious situation. Apart from a temporary feeling of total confusion, there were no negative consequences. We went elsewhere and had a good dinner.

People misunderstand each other all the time. The hamburger is served with mustard rather than without. "Inexpensive" is misheard as "expensive". Years ago, the news reported the case of a man who ended up in Auckland, New Zealand, when he intended to go to Oakland, California.

Misheard words are not the only source of confusion. Sometimes entire ideas are interpreted in completely different ways. To one person "a little sugar" is a rounded tablespoon, and to another it's half a teaspoon. A "short" visit from the in-laws might mean three days to one person and three weeks to another.

Many misunderstandings are soon discovered and straightened out. Others go on for days, weeks, even years. And sometimes the problem never gets fixed. Two people caught in a cycle of misunderstanding end up seeing each other as neglectful, intentionally obstructive, stubborn, and completely irrational. We are so convinced that our point of view represents reality that it simply doesn't occur to us that the other person started with a different set of premises and is actually being just as logical and sincere as we are.

Usually Hubby and I communicate pretty well. But sometimes, something goes awry. Sometimes, just at the moment where I am nearly convinced that my husband has gone insane (and he is probably thinking the same about me), I remember to stop and take a breath. I ask him, "Are we talking about the same thing?" Acknowledging the possibility that we have simply misunderstood each other has a calming effect. We can step back, start over, and get on the right track.

When a discussion that should have been straightforward turns into a crazy-making argument, stop. Breathe. Calmly, carefully, find out whether everyone really heard what was said, and whether what was said was really what was meant. Before you get on that plane to Auckland, take a moment to read the boarding pass.
Image courtesy of Ohmega1982 and FreeDigitalPhotos.net