Friday, February 26, 2010

The Elderly are 7 Times More Important than the Young

When it comes to government spending that is.

I like David Brooks' recent NYTimes column, "The Geezer's Crusade". It's an insightful look into what Grandparents can do for future generations. Grandparents you ask?

Brooks writes:

"A series of longitudinal studies, begun decades ago, are producing a rosier portrait of life after retirement. These studies don’t portray old age as surrender or even serenity. People are most unhappy in middle age and report being happier as they get older.

One of the keys to healthy aging is what George Vaillant of Harvard calls “generativity” — providing for future generations. Seniors who perform service for the young have more positive lives and better marriages than those who don’t. As Vaillant writes in his book “Aging Well,” “Biology flows downhill.” We are naturally inclined to serve those who come after and thrive when performing that role.

The odd thing is that when you turn to political life, we are living in an age of reverse-generativity. Far from serving the young, the old are now taking from them. First, they are taking money. According to Julia Isaacs of the Brookings Institution, the federal government now spends $7 on the elderly for each $1 it spends on children.

In the private sphere, in other words, seniors provide wonderful gifts to their grandchildren, loving attention that will linger in young minds, providing support for decades to come. In the public sphere, they take it away.

It may seem unrealistic — to expect a generation to organize around the cause of nonselfishness. But in the private sphere, you see it every day. Old people now have the time, the energy and, with the Internet, the tools to organize."

The last line is pure Brooks: "The elderly. They are our future."

Friday, February 19, 2010

Fight More, Bore Less

Linda Carroll wrote a nice piece for MSNBC that belongs in the category of counter intuitive research.

Is boredom really worse than fighting in a marriage?

According to Carroll, experts say that shared challenges and exciting diversions are what make relationships interesting long after the wedding gown has been packed up and stored away. And the opposite, boredom and a dull, daily routine, can kill a marriage, squashing intimacy and romance.

Most research on long-term relationships has focused on eliminating problems such as conflict and tension, explains the new study’s lead author, Irene Tsapelas, a researcher in the psychology department at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. But surveys have suggested that boredom may be even more corrosive to a relationship, she adds.

123 Michigan couples (the first marriage for all of them)were interviewed for the study at year zero, year seven, and year 16 of the marriage (not a big sample, but I like the time intervals - author).

Carroll quotes Helen Fisher (research professor of anthropology at Rutgers University) which is always a good idea. And quoting Fisher usually means mentioning the neurotransmitter called dopamine.

People often show up in Dr. Barbara Bartlik’s office ready to bolt from a marriage because they’re bored. “I tell them that changing partners isn’t going to fix the boredom,” says Bartlik, assistant professor of psychiatry at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center. “By sharing novel or exciting experiences with your partner, you’re duplicating some of the brain chemistry that fires up at the beginning of a relationship.”

(It goes without saying, which means that I am about to say it anyway.....that I don't advise couples to fight as a way of building a healthy marriage. Click here to see an earlier post describing the research of Dr. John Gottman. He indicates that each normal healthy marriage comes along with a package of irresolvable issues, such as division of household tasks and differences in approaches to child rearing. The key to a good marriage is not the resolution of conflict but rather the regulation of conflict, according to Gottman.)

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

'It's Complicated,' But Surprisingly Accurate

Movie reviews are not my forte, so I'd like to limit my comments to several important aspects of a thoroughly enjoyable comedy.

This Home News Tribune column was published on February 3, 2010. Written and directed by Nancy Meyers, "It's Complicated" focuses on the seemingly rekindled romance of Jane Adler (Meryl Streep) and Jake Adler (Alec Baldwin), who are the parents of three terrific children and have been divorced for 10 years. According to New York Times reviewer Manohla Dargis, "Ms. Meyers transforms a divorced couple into a romantic couple, which suggests a belief in love enduring, even after a marriage dies. That sounds wonderfully romantic, or a prescription for pathology — maybe both."

Dargis describes Meyers' movies, which usually focus on independent women, using acting veterans like Streep, who "takes this character and makes you love her, just as Mr. Baldwin does with Jake, who, with his shark smiles and thrusting gut, beautifully conveys male vanity in its twilight."

But my realism detector was registering low numbers while my comedy meter was registering high ones. Connie Ogle (Miami Herald) hit the nail on the head, explaining, "A quick and completely unscientific poll of divorced women in the immediate vicinity indicates that the premise of Nancy Meyer's latest film — that women can't resist romance with their ex-husbands — is more of a fantasy than the flying lizards in "Avatar.' "

Aside from the unrealistic romance-after-divorce main theme of the movie, I found several subplots to be accurate, even praiseworthy. First and most important are the children. How cruel (of parents) to tamper with the unattainable fantasy of the children of divorce, that Mom and Dad might someday get back together. Hats off to Hollywood for not scripting another "they all lived happily ever after" ending.

The Adler children, who are appropriately still devastated from their parents' divorce, observe Mom and Dad sneaking around from one secret rendezvous to the next. The children react with shock and confusion. This is beautifully portrayed by the three twenty something children coddled up together in one bed, waiting for Mom to enter and explain what the heck is going on.

The Adlers appear to be having a pretty good divorce. Worth sharing are Elizabeth Marquardt's poignant words from her book "Between Two Worlds" — "I want to shake loose those glaringly wrong assumptions: that divorce doesn't matter if parents get along. That divorce doesn't matter if the kids don't look like damaged goods. That divorce doesn't matter as long as parents keep loving their children. We also know instinctively that divorce should be a last resort, that even a good divorce is far worse than what some call a good enough marriage."

Last is Baldwin's plea to Streep to reunite as he warmly reminisces about family dinners, aging gracefully together, and how hectic those early years of marriage were when they were raising three young children. (My problem is that I can't enjoy a Saturday night comedy without the research part of my brain kicking in, similar to what my wife mocks as my quirky habit of curling up with a good book — and a yellow highlighter in hand.)

This is another accurate portrayal by Meyers. Plentiful research has shown that marital satisfaction decreases with the arrival of each child. Additional research indicates that marital satisfaction significantly improves when the children grow up and leave the nest.

Unfortunately, Baldwin's character, Jake, left the nest for greener pastures way before his children did. Had he only stuck it out through the challenging times when there were young children at home, he wouldn't be in this complicated mess. Be Counted columnist Dr. Alan Singer is a marriage therapist in Highland Park. Respond to this column via his Web site —