Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Surviving Holiday Season 2016

The prevailing mood going into the Holiday Season 2016 is, perhaps, best summed up by a current ad for Stove Top stuffing that warns: "If you run out of stuffing, they'll start talking politics..."

Never has this warning carried more weight than in the wake of a long, bitter presidential race that divided many families in the process of polarizing the nation.

I see it all around me.

A brother and sister are so at odds over the campaigns and the election -- he was for Hillary, she for Trump -- that, as much as they love each other otherwise, they can't imagine getting together over the Thanksgiving feast.

Another friend, horrified that her elderly parents voted for Trump, is torn over holiday plans. "Every holiday, I'm afraid it will be their last. Even though I'm really mad at them, I want to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas with them. I'm just trying to figure out how to make it a nice day for everyone when there is still so much anger between us."

A close friend of mine has been angry with his three siblings, all Trump supporters, and is estranged from one brother who is still not speaking to him even after the election. Is an extended family holiday celebration on his calendar? Not likely.

Other families are planning for Thanksgiving dinner with all the kin -- and, while hoping for the best, are bracing themselves for more than the usual family fireworks.

If you're part of a family divided by the contentious election of 2016, how can you deal with the quickly upcoming holidays in a way that doesn't create more anger and resentment?

First you need to make a decision. Do you want to celebrate the holidays together, despite your differences and fears of a politically-inspired family donnybrook? Do you want to have a calm, quiet
Thanksgiving while leaving Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanza and/or New Year's open? Do you want to spend the whole Holiday Season 2016 with quiet, scaled down celebrations?

If you're planning to host or attend a traditional, all-family-inclusive Thanksgiving celebration:

  • Consider requesting a moratorium on political discussion. In extending or accepting invitations, request that conversation steer clear of political grumbling or gloating, concentrating on fun family memories, feelings of gratitude and acts of kindness. Or, as a diversionary tactic, bring back games. Haul Trivial Pursuits out of storage. Play cards or charades. Try a family songfest. Head to the back yard for some touch football or catch. Watch football or parades on television together. Do anything but continue to argue about Trump vs. Clinton.
  • Think about taking your family celebration to a restaurant this year. This may lead to more polite, civilized behavior among family members. In suggesting this alternative, you might say that this has been a hard year for everyone and that giving all a break from cooking and cleanup might be just the thing for a more harmonious holiday. 
  • Be kind. Being kind may mean listening without arguing or putting differences aside by expressing love and pleasure in being together. If your candidate won, save your exaltation for like-minded friends. If your candidate lost, save your horror and fears of impending disaster for a more receptive audience of friends. Tread gently with family. 
  • Put love first. As much as you may disagree with certain family members, give them a break. In so many ways in the past, we've made allowances for family members for differences, for  eccentricities or  signs of sheer madness, for quirks that may or may not be endearing. So why not now? Let your love for each other prompt all of your words and actions this holiday.

If you're planning to postpone family get-togethers until later in the holiday season:

  • Be specific about future plans.  If you can't bear the idea of Thanksgiving, but think you might be up for a Christmas Eve or earlier tree-trimming family party, share your plans so that family members will know that you're not removing yourself from family celebrations long-term.
  • If you're having a Thanksgiving dinner, plan carefully.  It isn't in the interests of family harmony to invite only people with whom you agree politically. Either announce and follow through with plans for a simple immediate, nuclear family celebration or with a dinner with or even a holiday getaway with friends. Don't set the tone for further family polarization by inviting some extended family but not others. 
  • Let extended family know you're thinking of them. A card or note wishing them a happy Thanksgiving and talking of your desire to see them at a specific later date can help to smooth ruffled feelings and keep you in touch with each other.
  • Put love first. Though you may be opting out of a full-family Thanksgiving, choosing to stay away for the time being, express your love for family members --those who agree with you and those who disagree -- with a note, a phone call or text, letting each person know that you love and value them.

If you're planning to have a quiet Holiday Season 2016 either alone or with only immediate family:

  • Let extended family know that this isn't forever.  It may be that you will choose to skip the more rambunctious family gatherings well into the future. But it's hard to know. This year has been such a contentious, divisive one. Feelings are still raw. What you know for sure is that you need a rest from the usual this year. Next year may be different. Or not. But focus on more immediate intentions: to get a rest from what has been an unusually difficult year for everyone.
  • Make the holiday special for yourself (and immediate family if applicable). Do something you've always wanted to do but never could when hosting or attending large family holidays. Spend the day at the movies or indulge in old or new favorites via Netflix. Volunteer to serve meals to the needy through your church or a local charity. Take a last minute trip. Visit and celebrate with friends who are at a distance from their families -- either geographically or emotionally. Spend a day of total indulgence: sleep in, then spend the day reading or watching the Macy's parade followed by football. Eat out or get take-out. Call a friend you haven't seen for awhile -- someone who is likely to be alone on the holiday as well. Go for a nice long walk. Cuddle a beloved pet. 
  • Keep in touch with family. Thanksgiving and Christmas cards are easy, fairly neutral, ways to stay in touch. Add a personal note expressing only love. Or send a brief text, sharing your love and best wishes for the holiday.
  • Use time alone to make peace with what is. Chances are, you will always disagree on politics and many other topics with certain family members. Putting aside your differences for a moment, think about what you value about the other person and how you can better keep him or her in your life without making yourself crazy. If you can't think of any reason this person isn't totally crazy-making, give it a rest for a time and come back to this question. If you repeatedly come up blank on redeeming features and reasons to get together, you may well need to maintain a healthy, manageable distance from the other --at least for a time. 
  • Put love first. Whenever possible, let love guide you in your words and actions. This may mean swallowing hard and saying "I'm sorry." It may mean enduring some tedious family gatherings in the future -- one hopes when everyone has calmed down a bit -- in the interest of being part of a diverse, unpredictable, sometimes messy and rambunctious extended family with a long history of love.

Whether you spend this Thanksgiving with the whole family or postpone festivities until later in the season or opt to spend this particular holiday season away from large family gatherings, keep in mind that the people you love -- even if you're at odds with them at the moment -- are much more important than who won -- or didn't win -- this election. Presidential terms end and fade into history. But family and love are forever. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Amazon Glitch

In the past few weeks, I've received a number of emails from readers who have been trying to buy a copy of The Teenage Body Book (2016 edition) and are having trouble finding it on Amazon.


I'm so sorry for the difficulty!

For reasons neither I nor the publisher can understand, an Amazon search for "The Teenage Body Book" brings up only the old 2008 edition. In an effort to solve the problem, the publisher is planning to take the old edition out of print, but in the meantime, you can find the 2016 edition either by typing my name -- Kathy McCoy, Ph.D. -- into the Amazon search. The book will come up third on the list.

Even better, you can click on the following link to access the Amazon page for the new Teenage Body Book:

If you missed my previous blog post introducing this new edition, here's the link to that:
Dr. Kathy McCoy: Living Fully in Midlife and Beyond: The Project of a Lifetime

And here is a new short trailer for the book:

Again, my apologies for the ordering difficulty. The publisher is working very hard with Amazon to correct this as soon as possible.

In the meantime, I really appreciate those of you who have not only wanted to buy a copy of The Teenage Body Book but who also have made me and my publisher aware of the Amazon glitch!
Thank you so much!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Small, Special Moments

It was wizened with age, scarred from historic battles and lying by the doorway of a popular take-out rib joint. The big orange cat barely glanced at us as we approached. But when Bob reached down to let it sniff his hand, the cat responded warmly, rubbing and purring.

Then it walked over to me, collapsing on my right foot and embracing my ankles with both soft paws. It looked up at me and purred as I reached down to pet it. And it made my day.

Just as when...

An old and very dear friend writes a email filled with warm encouragement...

A stranger reaches out a hand to help one climb a high curb...

A child on the beach looks up from digging in the sand with the gift of a radiant smile...

A friend's dog wants to cuddle...

A snail mail letter arrives from a someone special, standing out amid all the junk mail and bills....

A faint wisp of a memory makes one smile...

A lovely moment of connection happens with an acquaintance on the way to becoming a friend...

A spontaneous hug -- just when you need it the most...

Someone treasured and dear says "I love you!"

There are so many moments that bring such blessings to our lives.

And today my blessing was a sweet orange cat lounging on the stoop of the rib joint. Its sweetness and affection was such a joy.

It may have simply been hoping for a share of our upcoming take-out order.

But I prefer to think that this elderly orange cat was an angel of sorts,  blessing us with a moment of pure happiness and reminding us that love and beauty are abundant in so many small moments of our lives.

Monday, August 8, 2016

The Project of a Lifetime

My project of a lifetime really began when I was nine years old and in the throes of confusion and embarrassment as I hit full puberty years before my classmates. I swiped one of my mother's nursing manuals -- which dealt with pediatrics and puberty in very technical terms -- to try to figure out what in the world was happening to my body.

I wrote down the highlights -- misinterpreted from the highly technical medical language -- and fashioned my version of the facts of life and puberty in a handwritten book I made for my younger brother Mike so he would never suffer through such confusion.

Mike, who grew up to become an M.D., was wide-eyed and bewildered as he read the book, memorizing parts of it, the better to torture me later on. "And you wonder why I've never married!" he would joke in years to come before finally marrying happily in midlife.

Some years later, after earning undergraduate and graduate degrees in journalism at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism, I moved sullenly back to L.A. instead of following my heart to New York. Living was cheaper in L.A. and I had student loans to pay off. I was mortified as I watched my Medill friends get jobs at The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, McCall's and The Wall Street Journal while my best prospect in L.A. for working in national media was 'TEEN Magazine.

And then something wonderful happened: I realized how fortunate I was. It wasn't just that working at 'TEEN for nine years allowed me to develop a writing specialty in health and psychology, or that my fellow 'TEEN staffers would be the best co-workers I would ever have, some becoming cherished, lifelong friends. The most wonderful thing was coming to realize that at 'TEEN I could truly be of help to young girls who were wondering, as I had once wondered, what was happening with their bodies and how to make healthy choices and if anyone would ever really love them.

                                  At 24, as Feature Editor of 'TEEN Magazine

I wrote several self-help articles a month in 'TEEN from the late sixties and through most of the seventies as well as doing 'TEEN's "Dear Jill" advice column and editing the "Dear Doctor" column with Dr. Charles Wibbelsman, a young adolescent medicine specialist. Chuck and I used to dream about how great it would be to answer urgent questions from teens without space limitations or having to worry about advertisers objecting to our information or opinions.

That dream came finally came true, with the help of a wonderful literary agent named Susan Ann Protter, when Chuck and I wrote a book together, combining questions from 'TEEN readers as well as his patients with frank, down-to-earth, warmly reassuring answers about so many areas of teen concerns.

THE TEENAGE BODY BOOK was first published in 1979 by Pocket Books/Simon&Schuster. It sold hundreds of thousands of copies, won the "Best Book for Young Adults" award from the American Library Association and morphed into a number of editions over the years with updates published in 1984, 1987, 1992, 1999 and 2008.

                                 Top left to lower right: 1979,1984,1987,1992,
                                 1999, 2008

Foreign Editions, l to r: German, British, Chinese

Over the years, this book has led to a variety of adventures. The 1987 edition landed us spots on Oprah and The Today Show. And that edition also sparked protests from religious groups and a brief media storm in Boston in 1990 because of its frank discussion of sexuality.  I was tapped to fly to Boston to defend our book on television and in a contentious town hall meeting. It was a great experience in giving and receiving empathy (as we all realized that we were united in wanting teens to be healthy and safe, only disagreeing on how to do this) and it influenced editions to come. Over the years, the book has changed, giving more attention to the full range of choices and beliefs that teens and their parents have in these increasingly diverse times.

Now we're happily awaiting the publication of the 7th edition of THE TEENAGE BODY BOOK on August 28 by HatherleighPress/Penguin Random House. This one will be for the first generation of teenagers born in the 21st century. It will also be the first edition to be available as both a print book and an e-book.

                                       The Teenage Body Book 2016





                                      A trailer for Teenage Body Book 2016

I can't help smiling as I look forward -- and back.

Who knew that the error-filled homemade guidebook to puberty that traumatized my wide-eyed little brother so many years ago was a sign of a career to come?

Who knew that the job that seemed so unpromising at the beginning was the best possible start in a professional direction that was simply meant to be?

Who knew that shared discontent over the limitations of a magazine column would lead to a 40 year partnership of three: between Chuck and me and Bob Stover, who did the illustrations for THE TEENAGE BODY BOOK, and whom I married in 1977 as we were working on that first edition?

Who knew that my experience of an awkward and alarming passage through early puberty would spark a lifelong mission to help and inform and reassure so many other young people?

What a delightful surprise and wonderful journey it has been.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Dancing in the Rain

I saw it in a posting on Pinterest. I had read it elsewhere before, but today it resonated:

"Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass. It's about learning to dance in the rain."

Why did it resonate today? It wasn't just about the gathering monsoon storm that is darkening the skies, making the air thick and the desert fragrant with the lingering scent of creosote. It's what I see and hear and feel around me: complicated lives with a mix of love and pain and tears and laughter.

There is the close and dear friend whose husband is about to go into hospice. Another beloved friend, having survived the pain of uncoupling after many years of marriage, is re-awakening to the joy he had nearly forgotten. There are friends experiencing serious health concerns and new physical limitations. Lives are forever changed by the storms we encounter as we age.

Even in the absence of major losses and challenges, many of us experience some life turbulence: office politics, misunderstandings with friends or family, struggles with troublesome personal traits and flaws. I'm still engaged in my lifelong struggle to find a healthy balance between the work I love, self-care and being present and supportive of loved ones.

While the challenges of my work-life balance issues pale next to some of the life storms my friends are experiencing, I'm increasingly aware of my longtime tendency to defer fun or leisure or time with beloved others until the work is done, the project finished. What is that? I'm in my seventies, for heaven's sake. If I can't embrace all the pleasure and love and moments of happiness now, when will I?

While not everyone has my scrambled life-work priority problem, many of us have a tendency to say "I'll be happy when...." and then name some distant event or goal. It may be that you imagine happiness when you lose that stubborn 30 pounds or when your daughter finally gets married or when, at long last, you take that exotic vacation or when you're able to retire.

But we can be happy now if we see happiness not as the ultimate goal but as something that happens as our lives happen -- in warm memories during times of grief, in joking with co-workers to ease the tension of a difficult team project, in pausing on a busy day to cuddle a sleeping baby or a delighted pet. Happiness happens in a glance, a touch, a moment of quiet intimacy on a perfectly ordinary day.

Especially when one is experiencing a major life crisis or transition, it's understandable when the shock or grief or fear overwhelms everything else in our lives at least for a time. But whether one is caught up in life-changing crises or simply trying to get through an ordinary day that is definitely a mixed bag of emotions, it's possible to know happiness if you can dance in the rain.

This may mean laughing between the waves of pain in the present. The ability to laugh between the pain, to dance in the rain, can make us stronger for the next wave of pain, the next storm, to come.

This may mean treasuring good times, shared love and warm memories even more, newly aware of how finite life can be.

This may mean finding ways to be happy or simply content in between the moments of grieving or of fear and frustration when facing a life-changing health problem. Or between times of setting and reaching a goal: there is joy in the journey as well as as well as the destination. For example, I've learned to celebrate all the numbers on the scale as I continue with my very long weight loss effort. It makes me smile when I think how slender and energetic I feel as the numbers go down -- and remember how fat and terrible I felt at the same weight when I was in the process of gaining those pounds.

This also may mean taming the habit of perpetual busyness -- re-ordering priorities to make room in our lives for fun and love and the beauty around us.

It can mean smelling the roses, cheering another person on, listening instead of planning a response, paying attention to what matters most to those we love.

My friend with the ailing husband cuddles beside him, reading him the mysteries and thrillers he has always loved. From time to time, there is a moment when they pause, smile at each other, and whisper "Love you" and "Love you more." And in their eyes is a heartfelt celebration of all they have shared over the years.

My friend beginning a new life alone after many years of marriage has been through so much pain-- but, as his new life evolves, there is so much to celebrate as well: a stomach no longer tied in knots, a place entirely his own for the first time in his life, a loving family supportive both of him and of his former wife, dramatically improved health, a sense of freedom and quiet contentment.

There are so many ways and so many reasons to dance in the rain.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Adult Children and Emotional Blackmail

"If you don't give me the money I want, you'll never see your grandchildren again..."

"If you don't pay for me to have my own apartment and car, I'll kill myself..."

"If you don't do this for me, I'll never speak to you again..."

These are just three threats -- sent to me recently via email from distraught parents of adult children. There are many variations. But the message in each is that if you don't give an adult child what he or she wants, the consequences will be dire.

It's easy to say "Don't let yourself be manipulated into giving money you can't afford!" or "Don't enable your adult child in his or her dependence on you well into adulthood."

But saying "No" when the threat is suicide, estrangement or never seeing your grandkids again makes it even more difficult.

So what can you do when you're faced with emotional blackmail?

Don't do anything right away. Avoid knee jerk compliance and proffering cash as the panacea for all that is ailing your adult child or your relationship with your adult child. Suggest that you talk about this further when both of you have had time to cool down, think about options and consequences. It's important to let your adult child know that you've heard his or her demand. Ignoring it can only serve to escalate the threats.

Try to understand what feelings are behind the threats. An adult child who is making unreasonable demands and threatening painful consequences if these demands aren't met may be in deep pain and desperate for help and support. You can offer emotional support, love and understanding without bankrupting yourself to meet what may be an unrealistic, impossible demand.

Discuss the situation and alternatives. One daughter of a reader who is 25 years old, still living at home, never employed and attending community college only sporadically, decided that she could get a job if she had a permanent address. So she demanded that her widowed mother pay for an apartment and a car for her so that she could job hunt.

The mother, who was just getting by on her secretarial salary, pointed out that this wasn't financially feasible, that the daughter presently had a permanent address at home, and that true independence had to wait until the daughter was employed and had an income. The daughter threatened to kill herself if her demands weren't met. Her mother made an appointment with a therapist for both of them initially, then insisted that her daughter keep going to therapy, telling her that she was taking the suicidal threat seriously and wanted to help her feel able to get on with her life -- even if her living conditions at the moment weren't her first choice.

Not all unreasonable demands are financial. One reader recently wrote to me to ask how to handle a situation with her daughter -- with whom she has a difficult relationship. She has jumped to her daughter's aid at the first sign of distress for years now, being a full-time baby-sitter for the grandchildren while also working full-time and relocating when her daughter and son-in-law decided to move out of state -- a move that resulted in her being away from her loving husband most of the time for more than three years. After she returned home, her daughter needed her again and she rushed to help. Through it all, her daughter has been surly, ungrateful and critical.

The mother is now wondering how to set boundaries, live her own life and yet be there for her beloved grandchildren. She is mulling the option of occasional visits to her daughter's home, keeping up the the grandkids via Skype, and resuming her life with her husband and her career.

Enlist the aid of a third party to keep your discussion productive. This might be a therapist. Or it might be another family member who has a good relationship with both of you and who can offer support and insight as you review what might be possible. Explore the undesirable consequences of the threat: that grandchildren suffer, too, when separated from grandparents, that by cutting you off for lack of financial support, the adult child is cutting himself or herself off from your emotional support, which may help him get his life together. Your adult child may be more willing to hear such observations from someone who isn't his parent.

Understand that the issues behind the threat will not be solved by throwing money your adult child's way or otherwise caving in to his or her demands. Sometimes the need is a bottomless pit -- like being bailed out of credit card debt yet again, only to have the balances creep up and the crisis repeat itself or paying apartment rent for an adult child who still doesn't actively look for work or return to school and expects that you will continue to bankroll his or her pseudo-independence indefinitely. It may be more helpful ultimately for your adult child if he or she seeks help from a credit counseling organization to set up a reasonable payment plan or for him or her to continue to live at home for a limited time -- utilizing his or her desire for independence as motivation to finish school and get a job to make that goal possible.

Consider the possibility that someone else may be behind your adult child's threats. If your son or daughter has a significant other who is fanning the fires and deciding the threat level, this can be an additional challenge.

Your adult child may feel caught between a partner and you and may be making demands that really come from the partner.

 If this appears to be the case, avoid criticizing the partner. You might observe that "I can understand how she feels that the solution is that we give you the family business right now. However,  from our point of view, that isn't realistic. We're ten years away from being able to retire. And that's time that you have to thoroughly learn the business."

Make your own well-being a priority.  Mothers, in particular, often put others first for a lifetime. But sometimes others ask too much.

Consider that you deserve to have your own time, reasonable financial security and the space to nurture yourself, your marriage and your own dreams. Taking care of yourself may even help you to better help your adult child.

Safeguarding your own financial security and your own health and well-being may spare him or her the burden, down the road, of taking full-time care of you in your later years.

Having the time to spend with your spouse and with your other children as well as with treasured friends can add immeasurable joy to your life. Think for a minute about the uncertainties of life as we age: who knows how long you and your husband may have to enjoy your life together? How long you have to savor a long-time friendships? Do you really want to relinquish these times to repeatedly come to the rescue of an adult child who doesn't value your help or the sacrifices you are making?

Be prepared to live with an imperfect outcome.  Obviously, if your adult child is threatening to commit suicide, this is best dealt with by seeking professional help rather than giving him or her money you can't afford to give in the desperate hope that it will strengthen his or her will to live. If someone is suicidal, it's a sign of much deeper problems requiring professional help.

In instances where your adult child threatens estrangement from himself and/or your grandchildren, you can express your hope that this will not happen -- considering the pain it would bring all concerned -- but keep firm in your statement of what you're willing and able to give -- or not.

This may mean some discomfort, even some estrangement for a time.

But what if you cave in to the request? Life could be worse. You could end up with estrangement anyway and a financial crisis of your own.

Jody emptied her retirement savings to bail her son and his wife out of credit card debt and make a down payment on a house for them because they threatened to keep her away from the grandchildren if she didn't. Now that they're in their house, they are effectively estranged -- never calling, never inviting her over, avoiding all contact as she follows their birthday and holiday celebrations on Facebook. "They don't want to know me until their next financial crisis," she says sadly. "And then I don't know what I'll do because I've given them all I have. I'll be working -- if I'm lucky and can keep my job and my health -- until I drop."

Dealing with emotional blackmail takes courage and insight. Some studies have shown that the more dependent adult children feel on you, the more conflicted and problematic your relationship may be with them.

Stepping back with a firm concept of what you're willing and able to do for your adult child and what you are not, expressing support and love without enabling his or her dependence, lack of motivation and initiative or simply bad behavior, is not always comfortable and easy. But it can be the best antidote there is for emotional blackmail -- and, possibly, the beginning of a new and better relationship with your adult child.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Meaningful Silences

Enjoying an early dinner at a seaside restaurant recently, I looked around and saw a full array of silences among the couples at tables surrounding mine.

The silences spoke of a myriad of life experiences and relationship dynamics. For a moment, I thought about the hours I had spent as a psychotherapist, trying to help couples re-discover the joy and hope that had brought them together and the love they once shared now overwhelmed by pain and challenging life events.

There are so many types of silences.

There are cold silences that signal loss of hope and buried anger. A couple at a table near mine spent their whole meal not speaking and not looking at each other, depression and sad resignation etched on their faces.

This would be the most difficult couple to reconnect in therapy since distance has become a habit and chronic bitterness and hopelessness part of their shared emotional routine. Maybe helping them to remember, encouraging them to find their way back to earlier, happier, more hopeful days and to rediscover what used to delight them about each other can help to dispel some of the bitterness -- if both are willing to try. It's also important to understand what's happening now. Perhaps a series of small hurts and betrayals are adding up to emotional estrangement. Or their current hopelessness may have come from a major event, still unresolved.

 If they have the courage and the strength to look back and examine what is pulling them apart and what originally brought them together, they may have a chance to resolve their pain and rediscover their love for each other. But for some couples, it's simply too late. Love and hope both vanished long ago.

There are angry silences signaling hurt and rage that is raw and oppressive. A hot silence may look worse than it is. While the tempestuous feelings underneath this silence should never be minimized, they speak of connection. By reassuring each other of a commitment to stay and get through the pain and anger, by soothing and compromising, by imagining a future together, by being the first to apologize and to seek peace, this silence often can be overcome.

There are uneasy silences with two people who have little to say to each other. Some have spun from  a loving twosome to separate roles -- perhaps she is pre-occupied with the demands of parenting young children (often combined with working and commuting),  perhaps he is feeling the stress of being the primary breadwinner and/or is feeling pushed aside. Some couples are just past the first excitement of love and now are realizing how little they may have in common or how little they really know each other.  And some couples are simply talked out: all the stories have been told, all the major experiences shared.

What couples in this situation often need is time alone together, time to simply be two again, time to nurture a love overwhelmed by the challenges of daily life. Maybe the first step to new intimacy is a regular date night out. Maybe it is a specific time for each other carved out of a busy day.

One couple I know, who were part of a blended family with six children between them, designated half an hour after dinner to sit on the patio alone together, sip coffee and talk, undisturbed by any other family member. The children quickly learned that this time was sacred for the parents and that, barring a life-threatening emergency, they needed to be left alone. The couple reported that this time together was essential in putting their marriage back on track and had led to them falling in love all over again.

And there's a lot to be said for listening to the same stories and opinions with patience and affection. These often-told tales can become like the special songs of your relationship: wonderfully familiar, intimate and the source of many couple in-jokes and fond memories.

There are distracted silences brought by electronic devices -- everywhere! Mobile phones and tablets and computers can all monopolize family members' attention. Some families have solved this by declaring certain times and/or settings electronics-free. Perhaps all cell phones need to be turned off at meal times. Perhaps an additional designated family time will be phone, computer and tablet-free. While our devices can connect us in ways we never imagined via texting, selfies and social media, we need to take care that they don't come between us when a conversation shared, eye contact and undivided attention can mean so much.

Then there are the comfortable silences. These silences stem from comfort and contentment, from the joy of knowing each other well. These silences mean love and connection. These are moments, quite simply, to be treasured.