6 Ways To Strengthen Your Relationships In 2023

Hyosun Hwang

Relationships are an essential component of a healthy, fulfilling life, but they can take a heck of a lot of work. As 2022 winds down, Well is looking back at some of the relationship-building strategies we covered over the past year to help you deepen your friendships or romantic partnerships going forward.

Making friends in adulthood takes initiative, and it can be daunting to put yourself out there. Remind yourself that the people you meet are more apt to like you than you presume, said Marisa Franco, a psychologist who studies friendship and who wrote the 2022 book “Platonic: How the Science of Attachment Can Help You Make — and Keep — Friends.”

“That is based on research into the ‘liking gap,’” Dr. Franco explained, or the idea that we tend to underestimate how well-liked we are. There is also a separate but related theory known as the “acceptance prophecy,” which says that when people assume others like them, they tend to be friendlier and more open. If you’re looking to make friends, your mind-set really matters, Dr. Franco said.

A study that tasked participants with doing kind things for others found that the participants underestimated how appreciated those gestures were. That held true whether they did something for someone they knew (like baking cookies for a friend or giving a classmate a ride home) or for a stranger (like giving someone a free cup of hot chocolate on a frigid day).

“People tend to think that what they are giving is kind of little, maybe it’s relatively inconsequential,” said Amit Kumar, an assistant professor of marketing and psychology at the University of Texas, Austin, and an author of the study, published in August. “But recipients are less likely to think along those lines. They consider the gesture to be significantly more meaningful because they are also thinking about the fact that someone did something nice for them.”

If you’re not one for baking, or you just cannot see yourself buying hot drinks for strangers, don’t force it. Instead, consider your skills and talents, and ask yourself: How can I turn those into offerings for others?

Calling, texting or emailing a friend just to say “hello” tends to mean more than we realize, according to a 2022 study that included 13 small experiments. In some, participants contacted someone they considered a friend; in others, they got in touch with someone they were friendly with but considered a weak tie. Across the board, those reaching out underestimated how much doing so meant to the person on the receiving end.

To demonstrate how little it takes to lift someone’s spirits, the researchers intentionally kept the bar low for what constituted “getting in touch.” “Even sending a brief message reaching out to check in on someone — just to say ‘Hi,’ that you are thinking of them, and to ask how they’re doing — can be appreciated more than people think,” said Peggy Liu, Ben L. Fryrear Chair in Marketing, an associate professor of business administration at the University of Pittsburgh’s Katz Graduate School of Business and an author of that study.

John and Julie Gottman, who are married psychologists, have spent decades studying what makes marriage tick, and in their 2022 book, “The Love Prescription: 7 Days to More Intimacy, Connection and Joy,” they argue that much of it boils down to “turning toward” your spouse.

As the Gottmans, who co-founded the Gottman Institute, point out, partners make repeated bids for each others’ attention throughout the day. In response, the other partner can react in several different ways: ignore the outreach (turning away); respond negatively (turning against); or acknowledge the bid positively with something as simple as a nod or touch (turning toward).

“Let’s say I say to John, ‘Wow, look at that beautiful bird out the window!’” Julie explained. “John can totally ignore me. He can say, ‘Would you stop trying to interrupt me? I’m reading.’ Or he can say, ‘Wow, yeah!’” In one of the Gottmans’ best-known experiments, they watched couples over the course of a day and found that those who stayed married for years “turned toward” each other more than 80 percent of the time. Those who went on to divorce did so only about 30 percent of the time.

Terrence Real, a family therapist and author of the 2022 book “Us: Getting Past You and Me to Build a More Loving Relationship,” believes that in most partnerships, there are three phases of love: harmony, disharmony and repair. Yet our culture does not equip people to talk about — or deal with — that expected second stage of disharmony or disillusionment. Simply acknowledging it to yourself and your partner can help.

“I’ve run around the country for 20 years, talking about what I call ‘normal marital hatred,’ and not one person has ever come backstage to ask what I meant by that,” Mr. Real said.

Unlike schadenfreude, when we take pleasure in others’ misfortunes, “freudenfreude” describes the bliss we feel when someone else succeeds — even if it doesn’t involve us. There are benefits to sharing in someone else’s joy. It can foster resilience and improve life satisfaction.

One easy way to experience more freudenfreude is to check in with your friends and loved ones about their small victories or the bright spots in their day. Doing so turns you into a “joy spectator” — and gives you an opportunity to see the people around you at their best.

Catherine Pearson

Source: 6 Ways to Strengthen Your Relationships in 2023 – The New York Times

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Family Estrangement: Why Adults are Cutting Off Their Parents

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Polarized politics and a growing awareness of how difficult relationships can impact our mental health are fueling family estrangement, say psychologists. It was a heated Skype conversation about race relations that led Scott to cut off all contact with his parents in 2019. His mother was angry he’d supported a civil rights activist on social media, he says; she said “a lot of really awful racist things”, while his seven-year-old son was in earshot.

“There was very much a parental feeling like ‘you can’t say that in front of my child, that’s not the way we’re going to raise our kids’,” explains the father-of-two, who lives in Northern Europe. Scott says the final straw came when his father tried to defend his mother’s viewpoint in an email, which included a link to a white supremacist video. He was baffled his parents could not comprehend the reality of people being victimized because of their background, especially given his own family history. “‘This is insane – you’re Jewish’, I said. ‘Many people in our family were killed in Auschwitz’.”

It wasn’t the first time Scott had experienced a clash in values with his parents. But it was the last time he chose to see or speak to them. Despite a lack of hard data, there is a growing perception among therapists, psychologists and sociologists that this kind of intentional parent-child ‘break-up’ is on the rise in western countries.

Formally known as ‘estrangement’, experts’ definitions of the concept differ slightly, but the term is broadly used for situations in which someone cuts off all communication with one or more relatives, a situation that continues for the long-term, even if those they’ve sought to split from try to re-establish a connection.

“The declaration of ‘I am done’ with a family member is a powerful and distinct phenomenon,” explains Karl Andrew Pillemer, professor of human development at Cornell University, US. “It is different from family feuds, from high-conflict situations and from relationships that are emotionally distant but still include contact.”

The declaration of ‘I am done’ with a family member is a powerful and distinct phenomenon – Karl Andrew Pillemer

After realizing there were few major studies of family estrangement, he carried out a nationwide survey for his 2020 book Fault Lines: Fractured Families and How to Mend Them. The survey showed more than one in four Americans reported being estranged from another relative. Similar research for British estrangement charity Stand Alone suggests the phenomenon affects one in five families in the UK, while academic researchers and therapists in Australia and Canada also say they’re witnessing a “silent epidemic” of family break-ups.

On social media, there’s been a boom in online support groups for adult children who’ve chosen to be estranged, including one Scott is involved in, which has thousands of members. “Our numbers in the group have been rising steadily,” he says. “I think it’s becoming more and more common.”

The fact that estrangement between parents and their adult children seems to be on the rise – or at least is increasingly discussed – seems to be down to a complex web of cultural and psychological factors. And the trend raises plenty of questions about its impact on both individuals and society.

Past experiences and present values

Although research is limited, most break-ups between a parent and a grown-up child tend to be initiated by the child, says Joshua Coleman, psychologist and author of The Rules of Estrangement: Why Adult Children Cut Ties and How to Heal the Conflict.

One of the most common reasons for this is past or present abuse by the parent, whether emotional, verbal, physical or sexual. Divorce is another frequent influence, with consequences ranging from the adult child “taking sides”, to new people coming into the family such as step siblings or stepparents, which can fuel divisions over both “financial and emotional resources”.

Clashes in values – as experienced by Scott and his parents – are also increasingly thought to play a role. A study published in October by Coleman and the University of Wisconsin, US, showed value-based disagreements were mentioned by more than one in three mothers of estranged children. Pillemer’s recent research has also highlighted value differences as a “major factor” in estrangements, with conflicts resulting from “issues such as same sex-preference, religious differences or adopting alternative lifestyles”.

Both experts believe at least part of the context for this is increased political and cultural polarization in recent years. In the US, an Ipsos poll reported a rise in family rifts after the 2016 election, while research by academics at Stanford University in 2012 suggested a larger proportion of parents could be unhappy if their children married someone who supported a rival political party, which was far less true a decade earlier. A recent UK study found that one in 10 people had fallen out with a relative over Brexit. “These studies highlight the way that identity has become a far greater determinant of whom we choose to keep close or to let go,” says Coleman.

Family Tree

This story is part of BBC’s Family Tree series, which examines the issues and opportunities parents, children and families face today – and how they’ll shape the world tomorrow. Coverage continues on BBC Future.

Scott says he’s never discussed his voting preferences with his parents. But his decision to cut them off was partly influenced by his and his wife’s heightened awareness of social issues, including the Black Lives Matter movement and MeToo. He says other adult children in his online support group have fallen out due to value-based disagreements connected to the pandemic, from older parents refusing to get vaccinated to rows over conspiracy theories about the source of the virus.

The mental health factor

Experts believe our growing awareness of mental health, and how toxic or abusive family relationships can affect our wellbeing, is also impacting on estrangement.

“While there’s nothing especially modern about family conflict or a desire to feel insulated from it, conceptualizing the estrangement of a family member as an expression of personal growth, as it is commonly done today, is almost certainly new,” says Coleman. “Deciding which people to keep in or out of one’s life has become an important strategy.”

Sam, who’s in her twenties and lives in the UK, says she grew up in a volatile household where both parents were heavy drinkers. She largely stopped speaking to her parents straight after leaving home for university, and says she cut ties for good after witnessing her father verbally abusing her six-year-old cousin at a funeral.

Having therapy helped her recognize her own experiences as “more than just bad parenting” and process their psychological impact. “I came to understand that ‘abuse’ and ‘neglect’ were words that described my childhood. Just because I wasn’t hit didn’t mean I wasn’t harmed.”

She agrees with Coleman it’s “becoming more socially acceptable” to cut ties with family members. “Mental health is more talked about now so it’s easier to say, ‘These people are bad for my mental health’. I think, as well, people are getting more confident at drawing their own boundaries and saying ‘no’ to people.”

The rise of individualism

Coleman argues our increased focus on personal well being has happened in parallel with other wider trends, such as a shift towards a more “individualistic culture”. Many of us are much less reliant on relatives than previous generations.

“Not needing a family member for support or because you plan to inherit the family farm means that who we choose to spend time with is based more on our identities and aspirations for growth than survival or necessity,” he explains. “Today, nothing ties an adult child to a parent beyond that adult child’s desire to have that relationship.”

People are getting more confident at drawing their own boundaries and saying ‘no’ to people – Sam

Increased opportunities to live and work in different cities or even countries from our adult families can also help facilitate a parental break-up, simply by adding physical distance.

“It’s been much easier for me to move around than it would have been probably 20 years ago,” agrees Faizah, who is British with a South Asian background, and has avoided living in the same area as her family since 2014.

She says she cut ties with her parents because of “controlling” behaviours like preventing her from going to job interviews, wanting an influence on her friendships and putting pressure on her to get married straight after her studies. “They didn’t respect my boundaries,” she says. “I just want to have ownership over my own life and make my own choices.”

The impact of estrangement

There are strong positives for many estranged adult children who’ve detached themselves from what they believe are damaging parental relationships. “The research shows that the majority of adult children say it was for the best,” says Coleman.

But while improved mental health and perceived increased freedom are common outcomes of estrangement, Pillemer argues the decision can also create feelings of instability, humiliation and stress.

“The intentional, active severing of personal ties differs from other kinds of loss,” he explains. “In addition, people lose the practical benefits of being part of a family: material support, for example, and the sense of belonging to a stable group of people who know one another well.”

Feelings of loneliness and stigma seem to have been exacerbated for many estranged people during the pandemic. While the ‘Zoom boom’ enabled some families to feel closer and stay in touch more regularly, recent UK research suggests that adults with severed ties felt even more aware of missing out on family life during lockdown. Other studies point to Christmas and religious festivals being especially challenging periods for estranged relatives.

“I have my own family and my partner and my close friends, but nothing replaces those traditions you have with your parents,” agrees Faizah. Now in her thirties, she still finds the Muslim holiday Eid al-Fitr particularly tricky, even though she’s distanced herself from her parents’ religion. “It’s so tough. It’s so lonely… and I do miss my mum’s cooking.”

Estrangement, though difficult to navigate, may not be permanent as people can successfully reconcile (Credit: Getty Images)

Choosing not to stay in touch with parents can have a knock-on effect on future family bonds and traditions, too. “For me, the biggest regret is my kids growing up without grandparents,” says Scott . “It’s preferable to [my parents] saying – gosh, I don’t know what – to them [but] I feel like my kids are missing out.”

Of course, all of this also has an impact on the parents who have, often unwillingly, been cut out of their children’s – and potentially grandchildren’s – lives. “Most parents are made miserable by it,” says Coleman. As well as losing their own footing in the traditional family unit, they typically “describe profound feelings of loss, shame and regret”.

Scott says his mother recently tried calling him. But he texted her saying he’d only consider re-establishing contact with his children if she recognised her comments had been “horribly racist” and apologised. So far, he says she hasn’t done that. “Even if all those things happened, I would always limit what I tell them about my life and certainly supervise any visits with the kids. Unfortunately, I don’t see any of that happening.”

Attempting to bridge rifts?

With political divisions centre-stage in many nations, as well as increasing individualism in cultures around the world, many experts believe the parent-child ‘break-up’ trend will stick around.

“My prediction is that it’s either going to get worse or stay the same,” says Coleman. “Family relationships are going to be based much more on pursuing happiness and personal growth, and less on emphasising duty, obligation or responsibility.”

Pillemer argues that we shouldn’t rule out attempting to bridge rifts, however, particularly those stemming from opposing politics or values (as opposed to abusive or damaging behaviours).

“If the prior relationship was relatively close (or at least not conflictual), I think there is evidence that many family members can restore the relationship. It does involve, however, agreeing on a ‘demilitarised zone’ in which politics cannot be discussed,” he says.

It’s so tough. It’s so lonely… and I do miss my mum’s cooking – Faizah

For his book, he interviewed over 100 estranged people who had successfully reconciled, and found the process was actually framed by many as “an engine for personal growth”. “It is of course not for everyone, but for a number of people, bridging a rift, even if the relationship was imperfect, was a source of self-esteem and personal pride.”

He argues that both more detailed longitudinal studies and clinical attention are needed to get the topic of estrangement further “out of the shadows and into the clear light of open discussion”. “We need researchers to find better solutions – both for people who want to reconcile, and for help in coping with people in permanent estrangements.”

Scott welcomes the growing interest in adult break-ups. “I think it will help lots of people,” he says. “There is still a big stigma around estrangement. We see these questions in the group a lot: ‘What do you tell people?’ or ‘How do you bring it up when dating?”.

But he’s unlikely to reconcile with his own parents, unless they recognize they’ve been racist. “The whole ‘blood is thicker than water’ – I mean, that’s great if you have a cool family, but if you’re saddled with toxic people, it’s just not doable.”

Scott, Sam and Faizah are all using one name to protect their and their families’ privacy

Image By: Maddy Savage

Source: Family estrangement: Why adults are cutting off their parents – BBC Worklife

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How To Find a Buyer For Your Annuity

Remember to give a discount on the cash value of your payments. According to the industry group, the National Association of Settlement Purchasers, the maximum discount rate in the industry is 18%.

If you are looking for a buyer for an annuity, find out how to resell the value of your annuity. The number of payments you wish to sell, the amount of money you will receive, your payment plan (including the way payments are received), the current market situation, the RATING OF THE INSURANCE COMPANY THAT ISSUED the annuity, and any fees or other charges incurred on transferred annuities.

It is important to find a reputable bond buyer to guide you and explain the process. Sellers need to understand that they are not getting the full value of your pension until the company you are contracting out reviews the pension and makes an offer that is mutually beneficial. Once you have taken out your pension and agreed to the terms, you can mimic the transaction. 

In order to ensure careful consideration of pension scheme clauses, companies should ensure full transparency. They should offer personalized presentations outlining the non-guaranteed elements of the pension contract. It is recommended that you learn a few basic aspects before buying an annuity. =

If you sell an annuity in its entirety, YOU GIVE UP YOUR REMAINING INTEREST IN THE CONTRACT. You will receive the money left over from the payment of the contract, but no one else will receive future payments. If you buy an inherited annuity through a sales contract, you are the buyer, not the insurer. 

Another option is to sell the entire annuity, which can result in a much higher payout. Annuity holders may feel safer selling part of their pension than they do if they know they will get the payments on which they depend in the future. The time you sell the annuity passes and you get the remaining regular payments back.

Similar to partial sales, bondholders can sell part of their pension payments for a lump sum in lump sum sales. This means that they will receive a certain dollar amount that will be deducted from future pension structures for settlement payments. For example, you could sell years one to four of your pension in lump sums. 

Once you have decided how much money you need you can decide to sell the whole value of the annuity or part of it, either as a lump sum or as part of a certain NUMBER OF PAYMENTS. IF YOU DECIDE TO sell some or all of your payments, you continue to receive regular income and retain tax benefits. 

If you need cash immediately, you can sell the payments for a lump sum. You will receive a cheque for three payments at the time of sale and once the payments have passed through your annual pension, the cheque will be reinstated. If you sell part of your pension (or more) and need a cash lump sum in the future, you will need to repeat the process. 

For example, if you need $25,000 for a new car, you can sell the $25,000 of the value of your annual inventory. A company like DRB Capital buys part of your pension contract and gives you the money you need. You receive periodic payments for a certain number of years, but you can also receive and sell a lump sum if your annual payment amount is too low.

One of the biggest misconceptions about cashing in a pension is that future payments have to be sold. You have the right to cash in your pension if a third judge agrees. 

In other words, the sale and use of all annuities reduce the number of annuities you have. While selling an annuity can be a good option for reducing debt or settling financial hardship, this decision should not be taken lightly. There are ways to sell all annuities and it is important to check all of them to CHOOSE THE RIGHT ONE FOR YOUR NEEDS. In the same way, you will receive payments from a pension scheme on future dates.

An annuity can be bought as a lump sum in exchange for several future lump sums. If YOU CAN MEET YOUR CURRENT FINANCIAL NEEDS with money from your pension, you are ready to retire. Many pensioners keep the money they need and sell the rest of the value of their pension. They sell some of the value of the property and pay each other dividends on certain parts of the pension. Selling an annuity can be ONE OF THE BIGGEST FINANCIAL DECISIONS A PERSON CAN MAKE.

IN some cases, sellers opt for specialized financial firms such as the CBC Settlement Fund to handle their pension transactions, which can range from retirement accounts to trust funds. Some annuity buyers offer large lump sums to recipients of pensions who need to make regular payments on a lump sum basis. Large lump sums are usually less than the sum received by the beneficiary at the end of the term but the amount received at the end of the term is reduced by a so-called discount rate that gives the beneficiary MORE FLEXIBILITY TO MEET IMMEDIATE FINANCIAL OBLIGATIONS.

If you receive structured payments such as divorce settlements, child support payments, 401 (k) payouts, veterans benefits, or Social Security, you don’t have to sell your pension to raise money. Pension payments are subject to normal income tax when you receive them, but with guaranteed annuities for retirement, you only owe as much income tax on the money as on regular distributions. As we have already explained, there are many different types of pensions: annuities, lottery or jackpot pensions, deferred annuities, and more.

The first phase, known as the rewards payout phase, consists of a single series in which you receive a lump sum from the company. The lump-sum is the money with which you take care of financial obligations or changes in your life, such as STARTING YOUR OWN BUSINESS, BUYING A HOME, OR GOING to school.  It depends on the pension plan you are contracting out of, but generally speaking, paying a lump sum into one will set up the right accumulation period. 

By:

Source: www.bufeez.com

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The Problem of Marital Loneliness

My husband is really into geometry, and once he’s mastered a complicated proof he likes to go through it with me in exacting detail. If he sees my eyes wandering, he commands me to pay attention. In general, the kinds of conversations he enjoys are the ones in which he expounds his latest cognitive treasure, be it scientific, historical, or some fine point about how to interpret an obscure ancient text.

I, on the other hand, gravitate toward paradoxes, and enjoy conversations in which I am the one who sets the terms of the problem and I am the one who gets to push all the simplest answers aside. Recently, I tried to spark a debate: Why isn’t it permissible to walk up to strangers and ask them philosophical questions? As I probed for the deeper meaning behind this prohibition, my husband was frustrated by my ignoring the obvious: “Literally no one but you wants to do that!”

Occasionally, the point he wants to explicate magically lines up with the one I want resolved, but much of the time there is a decidedly unmagical lack of complementarity between his love of clarity and my love of confusion. Of course, we compromise: by taking turns, and by putting up with the fact that one of us is, to some degree, dragging the other along for the ride. But we can also tell that we are compromising, and that makes each of us feel sad, and somewhat alone.

Conversation is only one example of the various arenas in which we routinely fail to connect; broadly, he’s considerate and unromantic, whereas I’m romantic and inconsiderate. Marriage is hard, even when no crises loom, and even when things basically work. What makes it hard are not only the various problems that arise but the lingering absence that is felt most strongly when they don’t. The very closeness of marriage makes every bit of distance palpable. Something is wrong, all the time.

Ingmar Bergman’s “Scenes from a Marriage,” from 1973, is the greatest artistic exploration of the vicissitudes of marital loneliness. It consists of six roughly hour-long episodes, in which a married couple—Johan and Marianne—try and mostly fail to connect to each other. Marianne is a lawyer, and early in the series we see her counselling an older woman who is seeking a divorce after more than twenty years of marriage.

The client admits that her husband is a good man and a good father: “We’ve never quarrelled.” Neither has been unfaithful toward the other. “Won’t you be lonely?” Marianne asks. “I guess,” the woman answers. “But it’s even lonelier living in a loveless marriage.” The client goes on to describe the strange sensory effects of her loneliness. “I have a mental picture of myself that doesn’t correspond to reality,” she says.

“My senses—sight, hearing, touch—are starting to fail me. This table, for instance: I can see it and touch it, but the sensation is deadened and dry. . . . It’s the same with everything. Music, scents, faces, voices—everything seems puny, gray, and undignified.” Marianne listens in horror: the woman represents the ghost of her own future.

It is a profound insight on Bergman’s part to notice that loneliness involves a detachment not only from other people but from reality in general. As a child, I had trouble forming friendships, and turned instead to fantasy. I could imagine myself into the books I read and, by embellishing the characters, supply myself with precisely the sorts of friends that I’d always longed for.

If you have engaged in this kind of fantasizing, you know that the thrill of creativity eventually collapses into a feeling of emptiness. This is the moment when loneliness hits. You’ve prepared yourself an elaborate psychological meal, and you realize, belatedly, that it can never sate your real hunger.

One is often loneliest in the presence of others because their indifference throws the futility of one’s efforts at self-sustenance into relief. (If you spend a party reading in a corner, you come to see, no matter how good the book, that you are not fooling anyone.) In a marriage, this loneliness manifests in the various ways that couples give each other space, demarcating spheres in which each person is allowed to operate independently.

If I allow my husband to hold forth and he allows me to go paradox-mongering—if we humor each other—the very frictionlessness of the ensuing thoughts infuses them with unreality. “My husband and I cancel each other out,” Marianne’s client says. She means, I think, that we sap the reality from one another’s lives by way of our lack of interest, our noninvolvement, our failure to provide the constraining traction that is needed for even the most basic sensory experiences to feel real.

Source: The Problem of Marital Loneliness | The New Yorker

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Robert DeNiro’s estranged wife, Grace Hightower, is allegedly trying to make their divorce public, a move that’s likely to irritate the famously private Oscar winner, who filed for divorce from Grace in December.

via Robert De Niro’s Estranged Wife, Grace Hightower, Is Allegedly Pushing Their Divorce Into the Spotlight — BCNN1 WP

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