February 2012

The words “career change” can be simultaneously exhilarating and frightening.

Recently, I’ve had an influx of clients in mid-life seeking career counseling. Many realize that they made career choices when they were young and lacked the self-awareness and confidence to choose a career that authentically reflected who they were.

Other clients were laid off from jobs and are now coping with a new reality in the economy and employment market.  Skills that in the past had guaranteed them ample income and prestige no longer ensure a steady climb in a lucrative vocation such as finance or corporate law.

Some clients have found a new passion and realized that they can pursue it now or never. Years of career counseling have shown me that talented and competent people embody the skills and experience they need to set a new course in their lives.  I’ve counseled clients who have successfully moved into new careers in which they feel more productive, energetic and motivated than they did in old jobs.

The wisdom they accumulated after years of working in high-demand professions has helped them transition into new enterprises:  a trained lawyer is now involved in health care public policy; an executive enrolled in medical school and recently opened a private practice—bringing his business skills to the creation of a new model of patient care.

I, myself, transitioned from a career in corporate law to one as a psychotherapist by applying years of expertise in legal negotiation and conflict-resolution to the realm of psychoanalysis.  I now guide individuals through personal and interpersonal conflict and help them find results-based solutions to problems in their marriage, with family and within themselves.

Career change has become a new norm, in the current economy especially.  Today, the New York metro area is overflowing with mid-life career changers.  I’ve counseled a former Wall Street broker now working as independent financial advisor and a former foundation executive who consults with nonprofits to help them raise funds.

Whatever the reason for a career change, fear and excitement play almost equal parts in the process of transitioning into a new vocation.

The key is focusing on the excitement, the released creativity and the empowerment that come with shedding an old profession and launching a new venture.  Exploring an unknown path requires emotional and physical stamina.  To harness the energy needed to move ahead, it’s counterproductive to obsess about the possibility of failure, or dwell on disappointment over a lost job.

I advise career changers to:

  • Create structure in your life.  Follow a routine and schedule each day as fully as you can.
  • Network with people who have successfully made a career transition.  You’re never too old to have a mentor.
  • Be patient.  It can take a year or more for a new career to fully gel.
  • Be grateful for the opportunity to effect positive change in your life.
  • Redefine the meaning of the word “capital” for yourself.  Value your intellectual, emotional and cultural capital as much as you do financial capital.
  • Praise yourself, believe in yourself, and speak to yourself kindly.
  • Look ahead and not backward.

The reality is that career change brings “agony and ecstasy.”  My advice to clients is to feel the excitement of the process as much as they can.  Focusing on the positive—the “ecstasy”—helps them achieve their stated goals—and ones about which they’d only dreamed.

Marital Pre Nup

Prenuptial agreements are commonplace now.  Many engaged couples hash out the details of how they’ll divide current and future assets—the  Facebook stock or the house in Amagansett—in the event of divorce.  They focus on protecting their property and other financial assets in the face of potential marital disaster—and that’s a prudent thing to do.

I advise couples who see me for premarital counseling to contemplate a second prenuptial agreement, this one focused on emotions and communication rather than possessions.

This agreement—an emotional prenup—is neither legal nor binding.  But the couples who create it—either on paper or verbally—become closer and more trusting of each other as they set down guidelines for how they will communicate and resolve conflict in their marriage—and not repeat the mistakes that sabotaged previous relationships. The “prenup” goes something like this:

We contemplate marriage in the near future and wish to establish our respective rights and responsibilities regarding each other’s need to be treated with dignity and respect, to be addressed without contempt, sarcasm and superiority, and to value  the emotional and spiritual bond we are  now acquiring together as much as we do our individual and mutual wealth.

We have disclosed to each other all of our fears about intimacy, and of the history of our past relationships and the liabilities that have in the past affected our ability to be loving and supportive partners in a committed relationship. We will try our best to communicate honestly and openly with each other and will not have secrets or hidden agendas that sabotage our relationship.

To create a successful emotional prenup, each member of a couple must be willing to say:

  • I’m entering into a committed relationship mindfully.
  • I want to avoid repeating past mistakes I’ve made in relationships or that I’ve seen my parents make.
  • I know conflict is a part of marriage, but I want to resolve ours with trust, respect, dignity and honesty.
  • I want my partner to know that his/her happiness is as important to me as my own.

As with any agreement in life, the devil is in the details.  It’s important for couples to not just establish ground rules about boundaries, communication and conflict resolution, but to be very specific—and honest—about small things they need to be happy in a relationship.  Here are some very specific and personal requests my clients have put into their emotional prenups:

  • “I need to relax and play golf at least twice a month.”
  • “I need to be equal partners in parenting and other household responsibilities.”
  • “I need you to be spontaneous in your gestures of love—take a moment to show you appreciate me, and not only on Valentine’s Day or my birthday.
  • I want to spend holidays with our extended families, but not long vacations.
  • I get jealous very easily: no flirting with anyone else!

Would marriages be ending at a rate of 50 percent, if couples valued their emotional capital as they do their financial capital?  I don’t think so.  An emotional prenup is a great exercise for any engaged couple who wants to ensure that their legal prenup never needs to be actuated.

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What makes a marriage viable—or not? In a word: trust.

The issue of trust between spouses, has come to the fore during the Republic primaries. Most of the candidates are men with decades-long marriages, which they hold up as a reflection of a trustworthy character.  The outlier is Newt Gingrich, married three times, and accused by his second wife of wanting an open marriage.

In my experience, open marriage is a hazardous undertaking.  However, it’s important to note that healthy marriages come in all shapes and sizes.  No two couples are exactly alike, and spouses need the freedom to define a relationship in which each can grow and thrive.

Some couples like to check in with each other several times a day; others are happy to wait until the evening to make contact.

Most couples socialize primarily with mutual friends—often other couples—and family.  However, in certain marriages there is an understanding that each spouse is free to independently pursue friendships, including those with members of the opposite sex.

No matter the couple, though, the basis of any marriage must be emotional security.  However it is expressed, the core message needs to be: “I’ve got your back.”

Trust must underlie the key areas that impact a marriage, and each partner should be able to say to the other:
“I trust you to be transparent, prudent and fair about our finances.”
“I trust you to share parenting responsibilities with me and to love and care for our child(ren).
“I trust you to treat me respectfully and value me, even when we disagree.”
“I trust you to support me in times of illness or stress.”

Another critical aspect of marriage is sexuality, an area in which each person’s needs must be balanced.  For some couples, any expression of sexuality must stay within the confines of a marriage, from flirting to having sex with another person.  But marriages can thrive without being strictly monogamous.

In an “open marriage,” where each spouse has the freedom to engage in sexual relationships with others, both partners can find satisfaction, but they walk a fine line between being honest and being hurtful.

In a successful open marriage—and I’ve seen just a few of them—the husband and wife need plenty or rope, but not enough to hang each other.

The question, “How was your weekend away?” need not be answered, “Thanks for asking.  I had the best sex of my life.”

An open marriage can inflict an open wound, as it did with (the second) Mrs. Gingrich, unless tact and trust prevail—and the same is true of every long term and committed relationship, monogamous or not.

More posts about relationships:
Learning from Anthony Weiner and Huma Abedin: The Post-Scandal Playbook (April 24, 2013)
Working Families (March 5, 2013)
New Year, New Sex (January 10, 2013)
Till Tweet Do Us Part (December 10, 2013)
Me and My Smartphone–A Love Affair (August 7, 2012)
Does Couples Therapy Work? (March 21, 2012)
Marital Pre Nup (February 8, 2012)