The Excitement And Anxiety Of A New Start
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The Excitement And Anxiety Of A New Start

Transitions can be tough—here’s how to embrace them in this moment of change.

Tue, Aug 23, 2022 9:17amGrey Clock 4 min

Bill Holdar, a father of two in San Antonio, is starting a new chapter this month—this time for real.

He’s going back to work, after three years as a stay-at-home dad and one ill-fated attempt to return to his job as a teacher right before the pandemic hit. His 2-year-old daughter, Nora, recently wrapped up a year of chemotherapy treatment. She and her brother got vaccinated against Covid-19 this summer. The whole family is heading back into the world: school, daycare, a prekindergarten program.

“It’s all starting to get really different, really fast,” Mr. Holdar told me after watching Nora settle in next to her new classmates during circle time. He felt relief that normal life seemed to have arrived, and trepidation about the possibility of the kids getting sick or having trouble adjusting to an unfamiliar rhythm.

“I’ll definitely miss those other days,” he said of time spent at home doing arts and crafts or catching bugs with the kids on the trails out back. “But it’ll also be freeing.”

After some false starts, this fall is a moment of transition for many Americans. The halting, tenuous shifts of the last couple of years—half-empty offices and halfhearted return plans, kids home again thanks to another mandatory quarantine—are dwindling. We’re returning to our uninhibited lives, whether that means restarting old routines or taking the plunge on big life changes, with all the accompanying excitement and terror.

Lissa Jean Ferrell says she feels like she’s starting a second life. After two years in which school was disrupted for millions of American students, the lawyer and divorced mom finally saw all three of her daughters graduate this spring—the youngest from high school, the middle from college, and the oldest, a law student, belatedly celebrating her 2020 commencement with a rescheduled Georgetown University ceremony. Now Ms. Ferrell is selling her longtime home in New Jersey and moving. Where is up in the air. (Top contenders include Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and California.)

“The world is open to me,” she says. “I feel like I’ve done my job and now I’ve earned the right to sit back and live for myself.”

Our modern lives have been filled with more and more transitions over the years, says Bruce Feiler, the author of a book on the topic. We have more autonomy and options than the generations that came before us, he says. People are seizing on this moment to swap jobs, partners, regions and religions.

“Nobody can cope with this much change,” he notes. Some of us launch into multi-item to-do lists, determined to ace the transformation in a weekend. Others “lie under the covers in a fetal position with their cat and they say, ‘I’m never going to get through it.’ ”

Both paths are wrong, he says. Instead, take time to mark the transition. Commemorate it with a ceremony, a trip, a special meal. Talk about your feelings, instead of blocking them out.

Then try something new. Things were upside down for so long anyway. Now is the moment to embrace your creativity, he says, launching a personal project like woodworking or poetry-writing. Shed things you don’t like about yourself, from extra pounds to your people-pleasing tendencies. Finding a community to go through it with you can help.

Of course, it’s almost never easy. Ms. Ferrell, the new empty-nester, says she wakes in the middle of the night sometimes, heart heavy with the surreal realization that her girls will soon be strewn from Los Angeles to London. Will Pryor, who moved to Raleigh, N.C., last month for his first job as an attending physician, worries about how welcoming his new community will be to his same-sex relationship.

“We go where we have to, where we’re needed,” says the 35-year-old, who finds it thrilling and strange to be done with a decade of medical training.

A few hours away in Charlotte, N.C., Christine Schmid is marking the days until her Sept. 17 wedding with an iPhone countdown and daily love notes from her soon-to-be husband. Forty-five years old, she never thought she’d marry, opting instead to focus on her career in human resources.

She can’t wait to wear the off-white gown that makes her feel like Cinderella and be reunited with extended family coming in for the occasion. But grief is ever-present too. The dear friend who helped set her up with her fiancé passed away from cancer last year, as did Ms. Schmid’s beloved dog. The friend had been set to perform the wedding ceremony; the pup was going to walk down the aisle.

Now both are gone, and Ms. Schmid is reckoning with losing a part of herself, too. She’s changing her name, becoming a stepmother, losing the ability to do what she likes without asking or informing anyone else.

“I wanted to make sure I wasn’t giving up ‘me’ to become ‘us,’ ” she says. Taking some time for herself each workday—an hourlong break, no interruptions allowed—has helped, along with supporting causes she cares about, like animal rights.

Even the happiest of changes can come with some stress, says psychologist Joshua Coleman, as we grapple with the future and all its unknowns. Plus, many of us were promised prior fresh starts that didn’t materialize. We had to reschedule the bat mitzvah again because of a new Covid-19 variant; we had job offers rescinded due to a swinging economy. Holding our breath through the uncertainty, exhausted after so much back and forth, can make transitions even harder, says Dr. Coleman, who is a senior fellow with the Council on Contemporary Families.

Examine your anxieties up close, he recommends. Are they rational? Parse what you’re afraid of and figure out which problems are solvable. Then solve them. Talk back to the worries that are irrational, reminding yourself of past transitions that worked out well.

Emily Hulthen’s transition to parenthood earlier in the pandemic was so trying she considered not having any more children. Working until 1 a.m. while watching her son during the day, she felt exhausted and irrationally angry, she says.

“I thought I would be a natural at this,” the 32-year-old in Columbus, Ohio, remembers thinking.

Eventually, she was diagnosed with postpartum depression, and found relief with therapy.

She still feels guilt and sadness over her son’s babyhood. But pregnant with a daughter, she told me she was grateful for the chance to try again. Watching her son get vaccinated recently, thinking about the pumpkin picking and tailgating to come this fall as a family of four, she cried.

“It felt like it was a light at the end of the tunnel,” she says.

Her daughter, Nora Lynne Birnbrich, was born on Friday.

Reprinted by permission of The Wall Street Journal, Copyright 2021 Dow Jones & Company. Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Original date of publication: August 22, 2022


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What We Fight About When We Fight About Money

New research tackles the source of financial conflict and what we can do about it

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When couples argue over money, the real source of the conflict usually isn’t on their bank statement.

Financial disagreements tend to be stand-ins for deeper issues in our relationships, researchers and couples counsellors said, since the way we use money is a reflection of our values, character and beliefs. Persistent fights over spending and saving often doom romantic partnerships: Even if you fix the money problem, the underlying issues remain.

To understand what the fights are really about, new research from social scientists at Carleton University in Ottawa began with a unique data set: more than 1,000 posts culled from a relationship forum on the social-media platform Reddit. Money was a major thread in the posts, which largely broke down into complaints about one-sided decision-making, uneven contributions, a lack of shared values and perceived unfairness or irresponsibility.

By analysing and categorising the candid messages, then interviewing hundreds of couples, the researchers said they have isolated some of the recurring patterns behind financial conflicts.

The research found that when partners disagree about mundane expenses, such as grocery bills and shop receipts, they tend to have better relationships. Fights about fair contributions to household finances and perceived financial irresponsibility are particularly detrimental, however.

While there is no cure-all to resolve the disputes, the antidote in many cases is to talk about money more, not less, said Johanna Peetz, a professor of psychology at Carleton who co-authored the study.

“You should discuss finances more in relationships, because then small things won’t escalate into bigger problems,” she said.

A partner might insist on taking a vacation the other can’t afford. Another married couple might want to separate their previously combined finances. Couples might also realize they no longer share values they originally brought to the relationship.

Recognise patterns

Differentiating between your own viewpoint on the money fight from that of your partner is no easy feat, said Thomas Faupl, a marriage and family psychotherapist in San Francisco. Where one person sees an easily solvable problem—overspending on groceries—the other might see an irrevocable rift in the relationship.

Faupl, who specialises in helping couples work through financial difficulties, said many partners succeed in finding common ground that can keep them connected amid heated discussions. Identifying recurring themes in the most frequent conflicts also helps.

“There is something very visceral about money, and for a lot of people, it has to do with security and power,” he said. “There’s permutations on the theme, and that could be around responsibility, it could be around control, it could be around power, it could be around fairness.”

Barbara Krenzer and John Stone first began their relationship more than three decades ago. Early on in their conversations, the Syracuse, N.Y.-based couple opened up about what they both felt to be most important in life: spending quality time with family and investing in lifelong memories.

“We didn’t buy into the big lifestyle,” Krenzer said. “Time is so important and we both valued that.”

For Krenzer and Stone, committing to that shared value meant making sacrifices. Krenzer, a physician, reduced her work hours while raising their three children. Stone trained as an attorney, but once Krenzer went back to full-time work, he looked for a job that let him spend the mornings with the children.

“Compromise: That’s a word they don’t say enough with marriage,” Krenzer said. “You have to get beyond the love and say, ‘Do I want to compromise for them and find that middle ground?’”

Money talks

Talking about numbers behind a behaviour can help bring a couple out of a fight and back to earth, Faupl said. One partner might rue the other’s tightfistedness, but a discussion of the numbers reveals the supposed tightwad is diligently saving money for the couple’s shared future.

“I get under the hood with people so we can get black-and-white numbers on the table,” he said. “Are these conversations accurate, or are they somehow emotionally based?”

Couples might follow tenets of good financial management and build wealth together, but conflict is bound to arise if one partner feels the other isn’t honouring that shared commitment, Faupl said.

“If your partner helps with your savings goals, then that feels instrumental to your own goals, and that is a powerful drive for feeling close to the partner and valuing that relationship,” he said.

A sense of mission

When it comes to sticking out the hard times, “sharing values is important, even more so than sharing personality traits,” Peetz said. In her own research, Peetz found that romantic partners who disagreed about shared values could one day split up as a result.

“That is the crux of the conflict often: They each have a different definition,” she said of themes such as fairness and responsibility.

And sometimes, it is worth it to really dig into the potentially difficult conversations around big money decisions. When things are working well, coming together to achieve these common goals—such as saving for your own retirement or preparing for your children’s financial future—will create intimacy, not money strife.

“That is a powerful drive for feeling close to the partner and valuing that relationship,” she said.


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