With Love and Gratitude

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Change Your Perception, Not Your Man

Save yourself from stress, rethink trying to change your man

"If you can train a seal"
We live in a world of perceptions. New survey research tells us that while stress is still high, people are reporting less stress. Why? They are learning to accept stress and adapt. So why not adopt this attitude with men?  We keep reading about ways women would like to change their man. If stress attitudes can change, perhaps perceiving one's husband or love differenly might be beneficial.

Have a look at stress rates and then ask yourself, "Is the world of positive reinforcement rather than nagging and eventually seeing my own own stress level rise—a better option?"

The American Psychological Association announced in January that reported stress has declined. But in fact, it is perception that has changed.

In a survey of 1,226 adults ages 18 and over, on a 10 point scale where 1 is low stress and 10 is high stress, the APA Stress in American Survey reported that over the past five years stress levels went from 6.2 in 2007 to 5.2 in 2011. The biggest drop was noted among Baby Boomers who stated that healthy stress levels went from 4.5 in 2007 to 3.4 in 2011. The manageable stress movement is taking root. Americans are stressed, but we're getting used to it - USATODAY.com

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But keep in mind that the same stressors are still there: economic and job uncertainty, marriage breakdown, and relationship angst.

Listening, compromise, and change

How can the "accepting stress" attitude be parlayed into relationship perception?  Listening and compromise make for fewer anxiety-ridden moments. The often heard desire to change a man—which seems to come second nature—is basically counterproductive and stressful.

Patrick Tracey, author of Stalking Irish Madness ; Tracing the Roots of My Family's Schizophrenia tells me, “While men can and do change, we tend not to do it with a gun to our heads. The best a woman can do is to give up on us and go find a guy who’s already made his changes.”

Tracey, a contributor to Salon.com, is working on a sequel. Family mental history shadows future children. He has been a frequent guest at hospital Grand Rounds, conferences, and medical school classes talking about Schizophrenia.  A chronic and severe brain disorder, Schizophrenia is characterized by hallucinations and delusions that can trigger fears, immobilization or agitation.  

No marriage, no children despite women's wishes

Because of his concern about the family schizophrenia, Tracey decided against having children. “Yet for a while there, all I was meeting were women in their late 30s or early 40s who were running out of eggs any day now,” he said. “I tried to tell women that I was not daddy material given my questionable gene bank, and drinking problem, but for the most part they did not want to hear it.”

With his drinking, he said, “Every girlfriend nagged me silly and invariably I’d move on—not from the drink, but from them. I became something of a serial monogamist. It wasn’t until I was all alone that I decided to make the change myself.

“I quit drinking seven years ago and know in my core that it never would have happened with someone bugging me about it or waiting around for me to do it for them. It doesn’t work that way. As selfish as it may sound to some, we have to make the change for ourselves," added Tracey.

Learning to adapt

Author Christina Gombar (www.christinagombar.com) worked on Wall Street and still shudders thinking of the market crashes. She says, “Take the money issues so many people are facing today. As I get older, I realize to what extent I absorbed my mother’s Depression-era sense of deprivation.

She says “People with opposite money styles, who are willing to accept each other, can wind up learning from each other, adjust their extremes, and eventually work out their differences in a complementary way.”  But she acknowledges that marital compromise is difficult.

Yale psychiatrist talks attitude change

The economy continues to be the biggest stressor, nonetheless, William Hurt Sledge, M.D., George and Esther Gross Professor of Psychiatry, Yale School of Medicine, talks of attitude change: “Some people reach out to each other and actually become more generative and generous, bringing a sense that whatever awful things happen, they will endure with the good that they have.”

If you can train a seal

What is the lesson of reporting low stress during a high stress time?  Acceptance and positive healthy steps.  It was often believed that managing stress meant either changing the situation or changing one’s response to it. At a time when changing the situation is difficult to impossible, accepting the reality of stress appears to less stressful.

If you still want to change your man—try rewarding positive behavior (it works for seals), seeing him in a more positive light, and speaking kindly.  And most especially, try listening to his point of view. You will both feel less stressed, more respectful, and if you can each acknowledge your frustration with the other—may even be able to share a good laugh.

Copyright 2012 Rita Watson/ All Rights Reserved 

Follow Rita Watson at www.ritawatson.com for book news and on Twitter @ LoveColumnist

Our new eBook is ready for prime time. Infidelity and Marriage: Deal-breaker or Wake-up Call? by Rita Watson and Bill Mitchell

Rita Watson, MPH, is an Associate Fellow at Yale's Ezra Stiles College and a columnist for The Providence Journal.

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