Learned About Living From Someone Dying

I don’t want to die.

As far as I know, thankfully, I’m not dying.

But if we are being honest with one another, I am not all that comfortable thinking about my death. Imminent or otherwise.

But the fact of the matter is whether sudden or prolonged, we are all dancing our own path to the waterfall. We all eventually die.

I love my life. I love what it was. I love what it has become. I love what it is.

I also love thinking about what is to come.

What’s the next ocean to cross? What’s the next prose to read? What’s the next nuance to discover? What’s the next shadow to outwit? What’s the next concept to learn?

There are many questions I like to ask, like these.

Disentangling tomorrow is what I do.

It’s what I have always done.

I love today. I love each day.

But I am also hardwired to think about the day after today. Tomorrow is not just another day. It is the day of infinite possibility. Of perpetual positivism. What’s wrong can be righted. What’s problematic can be solved. What’s missing can be found. What’s learned can be unlearned.

Ultimately, today is thinking fodder for tomorrow. And I love tomorrow.

But if I know that my tomorrows are time limited, how should I act? Interact? React? If I know that my death is imminent due to a health-related diagnosis, how should I be?

What’s the plan, man?

Him? Here? Now?


This is what you have taught me Gord Downie, poet and lead singer of the Tragically Hip, a Canadian rock band.

It’s the lesson of the grand bounce.

When Downie announced on May 24 he had been diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), a type of terminal brain cancer, the entire country of Canada collectively gasped.

“Gord Downie? How could that be?”

But through his perseverance, Downie taught me (and thousands of others) an important lesson.

Whilst our tomorrows may physically cease one day due to a pending health-related death, it will continue for others. I have three children. Better half. Family. Friends. Loyal readers. Maybe there are more.

How I hold my head today—despite the inevitability of tomorrow ending—will be how I am remembered. To act in any less a manner would be selfish. Frankly it might even be wrong.

I have watched, listened and embraced Downie and the Tragically Hip from afar for a quarter of a century. How’d it get this late so early? But the way in which he has handled a recently completed 30-day tour across Canada has nothing on that period. Seven months ago Downie was told he had terminal cancer. Four months ago he had a craniotomy. One month ago he went on tour, performing a two-and-a-half hour concert every other night, fifteen different times.

Some say it’s courage. Of course it’s courageous.

But it’s more than courage.

During those concerts (where I attended several, including the last one in Kingston, Ontario) I came to realize Downie was defining his tomorrow, today.

This is what I learned.

Whether for his family, band mates, friends or fans, Downie has indeed become “involved in a life that passes understanding,” imploring each of us to remember that “our highest business is our daily life.” Thank you John Cage for such inspiring words.

Dating a Man Who Is Separated Tips

This is one of the most common dilemmas my patients have brought to me over the past four decades. Though there are multiple variations on the theme, there is one way in which they all are similar: two women are in a competitive triangle with the same man.

Triangles are stable when all three legs are connected. What that means in a three-way relationship is that each day is securely connected. A floppy relationship triangle exists when the man in question is at the apex of that triangle and the two women are represented by the other two points. Each woman is connected to the man but they are not usually connected to each other.

There are many ways that can happen. The gamut can run from two women who have known one another in the past, even possibly friends, to total strangers who are now connected to each other only by being attached in some way to the same man. Floppy relationship triangles are essentially unstable and the outcomes are not only unpredictable, but often dire.

There are many factors that can affect these triangulated relationships, and how they are combined can affect the outcome in different ways.

Time Elapsed

A new separation is clearly more undefined. Committed couples often hit major snags in a relationship and lose each other for a period of time. A man in grief, angry, unhinged, or feeling newly free of cumulative stress can be a vulnerable target for an outside person, or even an unthinking seeker of temporary escape. People in unstable situations often make in-the-moment decisions that have nothing to do with what they may need or want as time elapses. A newly separated partner is often searching for validation and support and cannot see beyond those needs.

If, on the other hand, a couple has been separated for quite a while, have made multiple attempts to reconnect and failed, the partners may have come to the conclusion thatdivorce is inevitable. When that happens, they may not be as susceptible to any new relationship.

How to Reconciling as Parents

unduhan-23People sometimes look at me like I have two heads when I suggest that divorcing partners need to find a way to work together as parents. Their eyes, and often their mouths, say, “We’re getting divorced. Duh!”

I understand that reaction. As I have written in this blog and elsewhere, when we are hurt – and divorce is incredibly painful – our natural impulse is to hurt back.

You stub your toe on a chair. Yeoh! And what do you do? You kick the chair again, this time on purpose!

That’s really dumb if you think about it. Twice the pain for you; none for the chair.

But you don’t think. You react.

In my books for parents, I offer all kinds of advice about what you can do to counter your understandable emotional reactions in divorce, not for your ex, but for your kids (and ultimately, for yourself too).

Can you really do this? Yes, I think you can.

Recently, I have come across three moving personal accounts, all written by women, about their journey from pain and anger to finding a way to work with their ex again. Each woman somehow found her way past her powerful, sometimes overwhelming emotions. They all had problems with their ex as a husband, but they still found a way to reconcile with him as the father of their children.

The first is a column that appeared recently in the Washington Post. Jaimie Seaton tells an emotional story of how she got from the devastation of learning that her husband left her for his pregnant girlfriend to the maternal joy she rediscovered as she gradually decided to welcome him back into her life, eventually allowing him to camp in her backyard with their children.

The second is a “Modern Love” column from the New York Times in 2015. A trial lawyer who admits to being consumed by anger after her divorce, Lara Bazelon writes about how she dreamed of getting her ex on the stand, vindicating herself with a brutal cross-examination. And yet, they had children. And they once loved each other. She goes on to tell a beautiful tale about how their love was transformed.

The third story is by Brandie Weikle, a writer, blogger, and radio host who I met recently when she interviewed me about my new book. Brandie talks about her personal story – how she came to live next door to her ex. She also offers much more information and insights on her extensive website. Her materials include an interview with Jaimie Seaton, who authored the Washington Post column mentioned above.

Avoidance and Negativity of Destroy Love

In my relationship book, Why Can’t You Read My Mind?, I discuss the real source of where most relationships become toxic—your own thoughts! The reader response from my recent post, entitled “9 Toxic Thoughts That Can Destroy Your Relationship,” suggests that masses of couples are in big time emotional pain!

For sure, sadly, there are a lot of walking wounded out there! By “walking wounded,” I mean the tons of people who feel unfulfilled, or worse, emotionally neglected or abused, in their intimate relationships. It seems that everywhere we turn, we unfortunately see and hear about people who are unhappy and emotionally hurting, often severely, in their quest to feel loved. Most of these unfortunate couples fall prey to relationship toxicity overload.

Here are what I consider the top three signs of toxic relationships:

1. Criticism and contempt. According to Dr. John Gottman, criticism and contempt are highly destructive in loving relationships. Signs of criticism and contempt may appear as your partner distastefully making fun of you. One female client of mine would tell her husband he was sexually inadequate in response to him criticizing her excessive spending habits. Quite a toxic mess, for sure! Contempt can also appear as one partner criticizing another in public. Acting superior also conveys a contemptuously, toxic message. To experience the one you love, or once loved, ripping you with incessant fault-finding barrages is highly demoralizing and emotionally unhealthy.

2. Avoidance. Do silent treatment fueled arctic winds whip off her shoulder and knock you over, leaving you breathless and hopeless? Does he deprive you of physical affection but then complain that you are too needy?  Do you feel that every time you try to clear the air, he disappears into it? Does he refuse to go to counseling? Avoidance is a very passive-aggressive form of relationship toxicity and it often gets progressively worse over time.

3. You feel hopelessly lost in negative energy. At the end of the day, and most of the time during it, do you feel increasingly beaten down, emotionally bankrupt and numb? Do you feel that the times you do positively connect with your intimate partner are all in vain, only to just get sucked up by overwhelming negative energy?  Does it unfortunately seem that any initially promising positive changes are unsustainable?

Be honest with yourself

I certainly have seen far too many couples throw in the relationship towel way too early. At the same time, if your relationship is truly toxic, and your partner will not work with you to make changes, than it may be time to leave. Recognizing, and continuing to acknowledge, the persistent signs of a toxic relationship can empower you to get out of it. Above all, know your value! Prolonging the agony of a truly toxic situation will have deleterious effects on both you and your partner. When possible, see a qualified relationship counselor before making significant relationship decisions. Even if you decide to leave, it is important to learn your role in the toxic relationship dance so you don’t do a repeat performance!

How to Improve your Physical Attractiveness

Advice abounds for how to make yourself appear more attractive; you can ensure that you are well-groomed, smile at others, display a good sense of humor, apply makeup, or drive an expensive car (Buss,1998). But have you considered some more unusual ways to make yourself look or feel more attractive? Before using these techniques you should be aware that what makes you feel more attractive may actually make others see you as less appealing.

Take a Selfie, But Don’t Post It

Do you take a lot of selfies? How do you like the way you look in selfies versus photos that another person has taken of you? Interestingly, people tend to rate their selfies as more attractive than similar photographs taken by another individual, especially if they take selfies regularly (Re et al., 2016). However, this same research also reveals that selfies only make you more attractive to yourself. Other individuals consistently rate photographs taken by someone else as more attractive than selfies.  So take a selfie if it makes you feel good about yourself, but consider sharing photographs taken by someone else if you want to appear more attractive to others.

Have a Drink, But Only One

Do you feel more attractive when consuming alcohol?  Bar patrons rate themselves as increasingly attractive as they consume more drinks (Bégue et al., 2013). Furthermore, a test in the laboratory showed that people did not actually have to consume alcohol to consider themselves more attractive, they just had to believe they had consumed alcohol in order to perceive themselves more positively (Bégue et al.).  Becoming tipsy may make us appear more attractive to others as well (Van Den Abbeele et al., 2015). However, although we become more attractive to ourselves as we consume more alcohol, we become less attractive to others if we consume too much.  Researchers observed a curvilinear relationship between alcohol consumption and perceived attractiveness, such that those who had consumed a moderate amount of alcohol (.4g/kg) were perceived as more attractive than sober individuals and those who had consumed a higher dose of alcohol (Van Den Abbeele et al.). The authors speculate that individuals may be perceived as more attractive because of the facial blush associated with moderate alcohol consumption. A slight red color to the cheeks is associated with increased health and attractiveness (see Van Den Abbeele et al.)  So have a drink, it will make you feel more attractive and make you appear more attractive to others. But don’t overdo it! Excessive alcohol consumption will make you less attractive to others.

Find a Less Attractive Acquaintance but More Attractive Friends

If you were going to a party and you wanted to appear most attractive, should you bring your more attractive or less attractive friend with you?  Intuitively, we might think that we should bring a less attractive friend so that we would appear more attractive by comparison, a phenomenon referred to as the contrast effect (Kenrick and Gutierres, 1980). This contrast might make us feel more attractive than our less fortunate friend due to downward social comparison. However, if we want to appear more attractive to others over the long term, the better strategy is to find some more attractive friends. Over time we will experience the “assimilation effect” (Geiselman et al., 1984), becoming associated with a more attractive group over time makes us appear more attractive over time as well. I typically advise my students to take advantage of both the contrast effect and the assimilation effect. At the party, follow a less attractive individual to the entrance, this will make you appear more attractive at the moment of your arrival. Subsequently, you should hang out with your gorgeous friends all night, making you a part of the gorgeous group.

How to Stay Cool Face on Sarcasm

Sarcasm and jazz have something surprising in common: You know them when you hear them. Sarcasm is mostly understood through tone of voice, which is used to portray the opposite of the literal words. For example, when someone says, “Well, that’s exactly what I need right now,” their tone can tell you it’s not what they need at all.

On the flip side, sarcasm can also be complimentary: “You majored in applied math? Slacker.” Or it can be self-deprecating: “What are you talking about? My ‘99 Geo Prizm gets all the ladies.” Sarcasm can even be used to channel Beyonce: “I woke up like this.”

But most frequently, sarcasm highlights an irritation or is, quite simply, mean.

But for all the social mayhem they cause, sarcastic people actually employ some pretty advanced social cognition. Now, this does not mean sarcastic people are more intelligent, despite what some interweb articles might want you to believe. It simply means that the ability to use and comprehend sarcasm requires a skill called Theory of Mind, which helps you detect the mental states of others, including true feelings, thoughts, and intentions.

So even though a sarcastic individual says the opposite of what is meant, he or she intends that the listener will detect the true meaning. If you don’t catch the meaning, you can’t respond appropriately. As a result, those with deficits in Theory of Mind, like individuals with schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s, or autism, have a hard time understanding or using sarcasm.

Why does sarcasm require higher order social cognition? Simply put, it’s because the tone and content oppose each other. A sincere comment in a positive tone—“That is so awesome!”—or a critical comment in a negative tone—“That is so cliche”—are congruent. A sarcastic comment, however, is often a positive message with a negative tone, which is more complicated for the brain to process.

What’s the Purpose of Sarcasm?

Fundamentally, sarcasm is a cover. It’s used to cover anger, envy, or inadequacy that, without the anti-sugarcoating of sarcasm, feels too forthright.

The truth is that hiding strong emotions with sarcasm can be useful.  A 2011 study in theJournal of Applied Psychology asked participants to listen to one of three versions of a customer complaining to his cell phone company about problems with reception and customer service. The three messages were equal in subject matter and length, but the presentation was either angry (“You make deliveries only between 9 am and 12 pm! This is an outrage!”), sarcastic (You make deliveries only between 9 am and 12 pm! Well, that’s just perfect for working people”), or neutral (“You make deliveries only between 9 am and 12 pm. I am at work during those hours.”).

Know for stay or go on your relationship

For many people, the point of dating is to “try on” different relationships and decide which one is the best fit for them. Inevitably, people often conclude that their current relationship may not the best fit, leaving them with a difficult choice: stay in the relationship in the hopes that it will improve, or endure the pain of a breakup in the hopes of achieving something more fulfilling down the road.

How do people make this crucial choice? What can research currently tell us about when people choose to stay and when people choose to leave? And, can research offer any insight about when people ought to stay versus leave?

Most scientific knowledge on this topic comes from longitudinal studies. By recruiting people in relationships and tracking them over time, we can see which couples stay together and which couples break up. A recent review of such research revealed the five top predictors of whether a relationship ends or survives:1

1. Positive illusions. Couples are more likely to stay together when they see each other in a positive light (“rose colored glasses”).
2. Commitment. Not surprisingly, couples who say that they are committed to staying together through thick and thin are more likely to actually stay together over time.
3. Love. Again, not surprisingly, partners who report strong feelings of love for one another are less likely to break up.
4. Closeness. Partners who see their lives as highly overlapping—where each person sees the other as being part of themselves—are more likely to stay together over time.
5. Dependence. People are more likely to stay in relationships when they feel more reliant on their partners for support.

These predictors are intuitive and sensible: People in more committed and satisfying relationships are more likely to stay together over time. But do these findings really capture all the richness and turmoil of stay/leave decisions? What about people who are not in love but still depend on their partners? What about people who don’t feel close, but still feel committed? What about people who believe that their partner has many wonderful qualities, but also some highly problematic flaws?

The fact is, although we know a fair bit about what predicts stay/leave decisions, research has barely begun to explore the process of stay/leave decisions. Researchers can predict breakups in the same way that we can predict something like heart disease, with protective factors and risk factors – signs of relationship health and signs of relationship trouble. But we know much less about stay/leave decisions as an experience: how people wrestle with the choice, how people weigh out various pros and cons of staying or leaving, and how people handle the feelings of ambivalence that inevitably arise. Similarly, we know little about the outcomes of these decisions. When do people ultimately feel relieved that they ended their relationships, and when do people wind up regretting their choice?

The good news is that new methodological tools are being developed that will help us delve deeper into these pressing questions. Online recruitment is helping us find people who are currently in the midst of making these difficult decisions, so that we can ask them about their experiences head on. And, language processing software and new statistical methods are helping us to draw stronger conclusions from the data we collect. Hopefully, in the years to come, relationship research will have more to say not just about whatpredicts when people stay or leave, but also about how people arrive at those decisions.