Retirement Really Changed Her Father

Dear Vicki: When my mother passed away 10 years ago, my father chose to keep the family house and has done just fine living there alone. At least until now. Recently, he’s become a bitter, hopeless, and rather narcissistic old man, which is so not like my father. He was career military; always very logical, rational, kind, and even-keeled. But since he retired three years ago, that part of him has slowly disappeared and now he seems impossible to please. He’s also very sad, more so than he ever was, even when Mom passed. Is he becoming senile? I worry about him all the time, and often take meals over to him, but he hardly asks about me or his grandchildren when I’m there. Instead, he complains and almost seems to resent my presence. It breaks my heart. What can I do to help him? Signed, Worried About Dad

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Dear Worried: It is possible your father is becoming senile, so having him checked out by a competent health care professional would be a good idea. But that might not be what is going on for him at all. What I suspect might be happening is that, with his retirement, your father has moved from the life phase of outward productivity to a phase of slowing down and introspection. His choice of a military career suggests that he is a primary Metal personality, someone who embraces order, hierarchy, and perfection in everything. And while our primary elemental personality is ours for the totality of our life, we do move though different phases as we grow and age. This is a fascinating aspect of the Five Elements model: the idea that each of the elemental personalities can be seen in a specific phase of our life. I think a brief exploration of how this works might help explain what is going on for your father.

In the Five Elements model, regardless of our primary elemental personality, we all move through five distinct phases in life. Birth and early childhood are associated with the wintery time of Water when potential is unlimited. Young adulthood, a time of exuberance and rapid growth, is associated with the intense spring energy of Wood. The process of maturation is associated with the warming summer sun of the Fire element, while the final ripening of our life relates to the fields of late summer and the Earth element. The end of our life cycle – the harvest of all gained from this cycle and storage of what will be used in the next cycle – relates to Metal. However, for many ancient teachings, instead of ending with Metal, our final stop is said to be a return to Water, as seen in the innocence and playfulness of a young child mirrored in the elderly. That’s why many philosophers claim that both birth and death sit in the Water Element.

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Should She Lend Him Money?

Dear Vicki: Brad and I met our senior year at college and have been friends for over 5 years now. We both found jobs in LA after college where I love working as a station chef for a well-known restaurant and he’s in computers. It’s never been romantic between us; we just have fun hanging out and are there for each other in tough times. He helped me through the loss of a very special aunt, I stood by him when his programming job was eliminated. Last week he announced that he’d developed what he thinks is a fantastic new software program but needs start-up funds. He knows I inherited money from my aunt, so asked if I would back him and assured me it will be a great investment. I really like Brad, and I really, really want to help him, so do you see any problem with lending him the money? Signed: Likely Lender in LA

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Dear Likely Lender: It’s a wonderful gift to have a great friend like Brad. Friendships like yours are very important personal relationships; we all need them in our lives. However, you are contemplating entering a business relationship with Brad, and that is a horse of a different color (as the old saying goes). It’s clear you like Brad, but how well do you really know him? Do you know what kind of business man he will be? Does he have any financial savvy? Is he a good salesman? Does he understand marketing? These are things you should know before investing in his business. But since you really, really want to help Brad, let’s look at whether a business relationship with him might be a good idea for you.

It’s an easy guess that your primary elemental personality is Earth. Wanting to help someone is a very Earth thing, as is excellence in the kitchen. It’s no wonder you love working as a station chef; it truly is right up your alley. Brad, on the other hand, sounds like he could be a primary Metal personality. Skill with computers and software design usually requires the precision and detail-orientation that are very characteristic of the Metal personality. In the Five Elements model, Earth and Metal relate via the Nurturing Cycle, with Earth feeding Metal. This is another big reason you really want to help Brad – an Earth personality’s attention and energy naturally flows toward Metal personalities. It would also explain why Brad came to you for help. Metal people are used to Earth people helping them. But just because a partnership of some sort feels natural to both of you, is a business relationship a good match?

In many ways, the difference between a friendship and a business connection can be seen in the expectation and timing of what is exchanged between the people involved. In a friendship, one of you may call the other more frequently for a while, then the other may be the one who calls more often. He helped you when you lost your aunt, and then some time later you were there when he lost his job. Friendship is a seesaw kind of give and take that is quite organic. A business relationship, however, should be anything but organic. And that is the issue here.

Business relationships should be defined by clear representations of what each person is bringing to the arrangement. There should be specific time frames, definitions of success, and minute details regarding what each party will do and by when. Issues like interest on the loan, timing of payments, penalties for missed payments, etc. need to be discussed and agreed on. And all of this should be in writing and signed by everyone who is part of the business relationship. The good news is that Metal people will love this kind of detail and concreteness. The bad news is that Earth people usually won’t. They don’t want to “insult” someone by creating a contract that implies the person won’t make good on their word. It feels unkind. They also aren’t likely to demand that the person they care about stick to the agreement if they know they are having trouble.

However, the act of putting down in writing what each person can expect from the business relationship actually serves to protect the personal relationship, especially when Earth personalities are involved. Not only will you naturally want to trust Brad, unless you have a strong secondary Metal or Wood personality (both of which bring a lot of structure), you won’t be particularly facile regarding what you should expect from Brad in a business relationship. Without that structure, and maybe even with it, you risk the possibility of damaging your personal relationship with Brad if things don’t work out well and he loses the money from your aunt. History shows that half of all new businesses fail within 3 to 5 years, so you absolutely should never loan out money you can’t afford to lose, either. A very wise Metal person (Shakespeare) once offered this warning: “For loan oft loses both itself and friend.”

The bottom line is that there are reasons people suggest never lending money to family or friends. When the payments aren’t timely or the venture isn’t successful, what to do about the lost money gets very messy, very quickly. Damaging your personal relationship with Brad will be especially hard on you as a primary Earth personality because lasting relationships are everything to Earth people. If you have your heart set on lending the money to Brad, at the very least please enlist the assistance of an attorney to draw up a contract between you and Brad regarding the terms of the loan. But think long and hard about doing this because, as Shakespeare warned, you run the risk of losing both the money and the friendship if things don’t work out well for Brad. Best of luck to you (and Brad)!

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Her Best Friend is Lying to Her

Dear Vicki: Sammy and I met at the restaurant where we both work and something clicked between us. Even though we’re pretty different (Sammy is really loud and laughs a lot, I’m much quieter and more of a slow mover), our friendship has been growing for almost a year now and I’ve come to think of her as my best friend. But lately, I’ve caught Sammy lying to me which is something I would never, ever do. It hasn’t been big things, but it’s made me question if I can trust her. For example, we agreed to buy a birthday gift together for another girl at work, but then Sammy went in on a gift with someone else. And just last week we set up a time to meet for dinner, but she never showed and didn’t answer my texts. Later, I found out she was at the movies with her brother. Sammy is such an outgoing, funny person that it’s super having her as a best friend, but the lying is a big problem. Relationships matter a whole lot to me and I need to trust my closest friends. What can I do about Sammy? Signed, Needs Honesty

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Dear Needs Honesty: It’s never easy to discover that someone is intentionally not telling us the truth. It does make it harder to trust them, and trust sits at the core of every relationship. While it is never really okay to lie, there are different kinds of “mis-truths” and different reasons they happen. One person’s “exaggeration” is another person’s lie. Different people have different ideas of what constitutes truth, and that’s especially relevant to our elemental personalities. I think if we take a closer look at the elemental personalities of you and Sammy, we might see where some of those differences stand.

You describe Sammy as someone who is outgoing, funny, and laughs a lot. That is a very apt description of someone with a primary Fire personality. You, on the other hand, are likely a primary Earth personality given your strong need to trust your closest friends and the importance you place on relationships. And it’s no wonder you two clicked. In the Five Elements model, Earth and Fire relate on the Nurturing Cycle, with Fire feeding Earth. As an Earth person, a connection with Sammy will have an undercurrent that feels nurturing to you, something Earth people value. And Sammy probably appreciates her relationship with you because in nature, an earthen hearth is a very natural and safe container for fire. She probably feels very supported by you. The combination of your Earth stability and Sammy’s joyful Fire is sure to be good for both of you.

What I think is going on for you and Sammy is something that occurs in every relationship: the newness is wearing off. That means the focus on good behavior and making a good impression is relaxing. This isn’t to say that Sammy doesn’t care about you as much, it’s more that she trusts your connection enough to relax into more of her real self. And for her, that means more of her natural Fire energy will begin coming out. That can be good news or bad, depending on how you look at it. Most importantly, you need to understand Sammy’s behavior.

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He Wants to Move, She Does Not

Dear Vicki: My husband loves working in his firm’s Human Resources department, and they love him. In fact, they have asked him to head the whole department. He’s excited about the promotion (and the hefty raise that goes with it), but I’m not excited at all because it means we have to move to California. We dreamed of moving there when we were first married and started our jobs (I worked as a secretary for 5 years), but now we have two small children (ages 3 and 5 years) and I don’t think it’s fair to disrupt their lives with such a huge move. It also means selling our house and leaving our friends and families. I’ve asked him to be reasonable, but all he says is that this is his chance to move up in the world and he doesn’t want to miss the opportunity. We’ve always seen eye to eye on most things, but not this. How can I convince him that he should stop being so selfish and pushy and just stay put? Signed: Happy Here

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Dear Happy Here: Change is never easy, but it’s easier for some people than others. In the Five Elements model, the Wood elemental personality is the one most likely to embrace forward-moving change, especially if it relates to personal accomplishment. Moving forward is what Wood people are wired to do. The Earth elemental personality is often the least likely elemental personality to embrace change, especially if the change involves relocating. Earth people are wired to care deeply about family, friends, and home, and leaving them behind is often unbearably hard. I suspect that you are an Earth personality and your husband is a Wood personality, so let’s see what we can do to help address the situation.

First, let me say that there is no perfect fix for your dilemma. Wood personalities will always be happiest moving forward and Earth personalities will always be happiest with a settled home life. But I hope that if you can better understand what is going on around this issue, you might be able to work with your husband to make these difficult decisions together. Also, it’s also important to acknowledge that in the Five Elements model, you and your husband relate on the Controlling Cycle with Wood controlling Earth. That means that there will be times when your husband’s enthusiasm for something will seem to threaten the security that matters so deeply to you. That fact that you find him “pushy” on this issue suggests that this is probably one of those times.

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He Can’t Stand Her Clutter

Dear Vicki: My sister recently shared something that has me really upset. After less than a year of marriage, her daughter and new son-in-law are having marital troubles. Betsy is a nurse, Stuart is an architect, and the problem is that Stuart has very little tolerance for clutter around the house. But sweet Betsy excels at creating clutter because she loves her doll collection and has plastic sacks of projects (sewing, knitting, etc.) strewn all over. Really, the few times I’ve visited I have to agree that their house was sort of a cluttered mess. But my sister said that the final straw was when Betsey wallpapered Stuart’s home study with a cheery floral print. Apparently, Stuart not only didn’t like her choice of paper, he was also quite miffed that she left the ladder and brushes in his study. I love my niece, and she seems very happy in this marriage, so how can I help her? Signed, Anxious Auntie

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Dear Anxious Auntie: The issue of “clutter” is an age-old problem that frequently defies definition because one person’s cozy decorating is another’s overwhelming clutter. As individuals, we have fairly ingrained behaviors regarding how we manage our personal space. But when we marry, or even just decide to cohabitate with a group of friends, we suddenly merge two (or more) personal spaces into one. Sometimes that goes smoothly, but usually it’s a humbling lesson in the art of compromise. How many marriages hit the rocks because the cap isn’t on the toothpaste? How many squabbles stem from dishes left in the sink? The short answer is a lot, so let’s see what we can do to prevent Betsey and Stuart from becoming another statistic in the category of failed marriages.

Based on your descriptions, it seems likely that Betsey is a primary Earth personality and Stuart is a primary Metal personality. Nurses are walking examples of the tender caring that Earth people love to shower on others. And Stuart’s skill at architecture speaks to the logic and rationality inherent in Metal people. The good news is that they are in love. The not so good news is that Earth and Metal people will usually clash on what they want in terms of the look and feel of the space they inhabit.

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