Tag Marriage

We Disagree. Now What?! (Part 1)

couple alienatedIt can be fairly stressful when parents disagree about a parenting issue. This week I will address strategies for parents who are still living together. Next week, I will address families  in which the parenting occurs across two households.

The first thing to assess is how often these disagreements are occurring. If they seem to be occurring on a regular basis, I’d wonder whether this is a symptom of a poor maintenance schedule in your relationship. Couples who practice good maintenance regularly (1) have fun together, (2) have mutually enjoyed sex, (3) share what’s going on and (4) avoid going toxic in disputes. If one or more of those are off with in your relationship, consider addressing that less you continue to put out bush fires while the house is on fire.

Here are eight tips for managing the discussion once you sit down to resolve the parenting conflict:

  • Try to avoid having this discussion in front of your child or letting family stressyour child triangulate you (i.e., playing you off of each other).
  • Start out by recognizing the good goals that you both have for your child. No matter the context of the conflict, most parents want good things (e.g., for him to be sociable, for her to be physically fit, for him to be safe). It’s disagreement over the methods that causes the conflict. Starting out recognizing you’re on the same page regarding your goals can soften the tension and help you to understand each other better.
  • happy latino coupleTry stating your partner’s position back to him or her. You should do this from your partner’s perspective, not yours. Don’t include qualifiers, or breakdowns in your partner’s reasoning. Simply say back to your partner what you hear his or her position as being, in as kind and empathic as a form as you can. Letting your partner know that s/he is heard can promote functional next steps.
  • Acknowledge any mistakes you may have made up until this point in time. Try to do this in as open and non-defensive of a way as you can. This also can facilitate openness in your partner.
  • Endeavor to communicate well even if your partner doesn’t. So often when couples break down, it’s because of the tallying or counting that goes on (ie.g., “I admitted to my faults but all she did was agree without owning any of her faults”). It’s good for you and for the relationship if you can be empathic with your partner, and own your mistakes, even if your partner doesn’t reciprocate.problemsolving
  • Consider getting outside consultation when there is some expertise that might resolve the matter (e.g., what side effects are commonly found when a kid takes a medication, how a college might value a kid having attended a debate camp).
  • If you cannot get on the same page, and barring that significant neglect or abuse would occur or continue if you did nothing, a change from the current would not normal be made unless you both agree. Said another way, changes shouldn’t normally occur unless you are both on the same page. This can make it seem like the one who doesn’t want the change has more power. But, it’s more about respecting that you both should agree before the status quo can be modified.

blocking a processSix things I would usually suggest avoid doing.

  • Being secretive. Secret parenting suggests that there is a larger problem in the relationship.
  • Deciding what to do based only on what other parents are doing; this is a source of information, yes. But, the herd sometimes strolls through minefields.
  • Letting your kid beat you down from your agreed upon strategy with pestering. Want to experience more pestering? Just follow this strategy. (Note: this is different from when your child forwards new data that you and your partner hadn’t considered. In these instances, you might decide to reconvene and reconsider.)
  • Not stating what you think is advisable because you’re concerned about upsetting your partner. This also suggests that there is a larger problem in the relationship (e.g., codependency).
  • Bullying your partner into seeing it your way. This often comes with a long term price tag that can be most unpleasant and drastic.
  • Failing to get your kid’s full perspective before making the decision. This doesn’t mean that your kid is in the room when you and your spouse hash it out. But, knowing what your kid thinks about the issues can help you to empower him or her when it’s appropriate to do so.hope sign

Bogged down? Broken down on the highway of your family life? Well, call 9-1-1.



Spicing up the Romance

alienation, long termLet’s face it, having kids is a romance crusher. Time for romance shrinks dramatically. Then, when you do MAKE the time, one or both of you is often physically, cognitively, emotionally or existentially exhausted. However, if you give in to that, and don’t think of your relationship as something that requires ongoing and consistent discipline, your odds go up that you’ll be turning your coin over to a divorce attorney. Here are 30 ideas designed to create a good feeling between you (I’ll end with some caveats):

Initiatives for the person with traditional masculine interests

• Get tickets to a sporting event

• Arrange to go bowling

• Go to some sort of racing event

• Take a trip to a casino

• Go target shooting (hey, it’s the road less traveled!)

• Go fishing (yes, you can wear latex gloves if you must)happy latino couple

• Take golf lessons together

• Give him a foot rub (no, you cannot wear latex gloves)

• Learn how to make beer or wine together

• Go to a car or aviation show

Initiatives for the person with traditional feminine interests

• Write her a poem regarding either your love for her or great things about her (no, it doesn’t have to rhyme sparky)

• Take her to get her nails done

• Do her toe nails for her (be nice and slow and meticulous)

• Take a trip to the closest outlet mall to buy her something nice (only positive comments and no fretting allowed)

• Brush her hair for an hour

• Set her up in with a luxury bath while you take care of your smelly progeny–finger food, sweet aromas and gentle music are all pluses

marriage in progress• Take her to get her makeup done, letting her know that she never needs such things when it comes to you

• Arrange to go dancing and then, as Souza suggested, do so like no one is watching

• Arrange to chauffeur her and her friends for a girls night out (man, you’ll learn all kinds of stuff!)

• Hand carry her flowers to her work


• Set up a picnic in the park

• Go to wineries for tastings

• Offer an hour massage

• Write and deliver a gratitude letter

• Take a regular walk around your neighborhood

• Make his/her favorite meal and serve it in a part of your residence where you wouldn’t normally share a meal. (it’s amazing how intimate a card table, a simple table cloth and a candle can make any part of any residence…as long as you medicate the children first, or turn them over to some other humans for the night…I’m kidding about the medicating your children part…or am I??)

• Go to a comedy club

• Get a babysitter and do an overnight to a nice hotel, prepping the room first yes i can(e.g., flowers, chocolates, champagne)

• Go horseback riding (what great pictures you can get!)

• Play a round of tennis or some other racquet sport

A few caveats:

• Don’t do anything nice with an expectation for a return or a certain reaction. If you do, the nice gesture could make things worse. Think of this as something good you are doing for it’s own sake, regardless of how your spouse may respond. This REALLY takes discipline and practice.

• Never act like you’re sacrificing yourself for your partner’s sake.

• Don’t act like this is a quid pro quo scenario. For instance, if you’re the one who tends to pursue sex, don’t do so after doing one of these gestures.

• Stay away from any gestures that get you into sensitive areas with your partner (e.g., you’ve complained that your partner never gives you a massage and then you offer one).

• Set a weekly date night. Lots of times you won’t feel like it or be tired. DO IT ANYWAY, most of the time that is. Anything that we do only when we feel like it, or only after life’s obligations have been met, will be half baked.

marriage counseling• If these sorts of interventions seem to worsen things and/or your relationship has gotten toxic, please seek out the services of a qualified relationship counselor. For a referral, click here.

Good luck. And remember this is hard for everyone. After all, at the point in human history when some yuck-a-buck came up with the concept of “till death do you part” people tended to die when they were in their early 30s! 😉

10 Tips for Avoiding an Affair

woman rejecting man's kissOne of the quickest ways to threaten the viability of a family is to have an affair. This entry offers 10 tips for avoiding one.

Tip #1: Be humble. Realize that an affair can happen to anybody. Affairs just don’t happen to people in problematic marriages, though they certain can. The key is to realize that anyone can lose control if enough of the wrong circumstances line up; one does well to stop the progression before it passes the point of no return.

Tip #2: Through water on the spark. If you start feeling titillation towards another person do something to kill that. Putting some distance between you is always a good idea (e.g., stop having contact, make sure you are never alone together, don’t complain about your spouse to this person or encourage the same from him or her, avoid mixing contact with substance use). Another strategy is to tell a wise friend, therapist, or clergy person about it, with an eye towards having them say back to you what you already know. Pre-affair flirtations are like mushrooms: they thrive in the dark. Throwing light on them makes them ill.

forgivenessTip #3: Spice up the fun and sex you have with your spouse. There is a concept in psychology called “hedonic adaptation.” It means we all start losing pleasure in doing things that become too routine or familiar. Novelty in having fun and sex enhances your interest in your spouse and weakens pre-affair titillations. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen it happen that someone gets bored with their spouse, has an affair, marries that second person and then gets bored with that person as well.

Tip #4: Fix any impairing psychological pain in your life. Affairs can be used like medicine for mental agitations. If your mental health is troubled, seek out a upset black woman, white backgroundconsultation with a qualified mental health professional. You may be amazingly surprised at how helpful this can be. It can also have way fewer side effects and be much less costly than medicating your pain with an affair. For a referral click here.

Tip #5: Explore accounts of people who have been cheated upon by a spouse. Perhaps you know someone who’d be willing to tell you what it’s like to have his or her spouse cheat on him or her. If not, there are plenty of accounts to be found on the Internet. As a marriage therapist, I find many people are surprised by how much pain it causes their partner. Being connected to this awareness, instead of avoiding thinking about it, throws water on pre-affair sparks.

Tip #6: Explore accounts of people who have cheated. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve known people who felt wracked by guilt over an affair, and were really surprised by how much so. Such individuals often end up feeling in a terrible bind: if they don’t tell their spouse they feel a horrible, crushing guilt. If they tell their spouse it could end the marriage.

marriage counselingTip #7: If your marriage is stuck, seek out a consultation with a skilled marriage therapist. If the foundation in a marriage is strong, marriage counseling can go a long way to getting things back on track. In my experience there are four characteristics of a marriage that is working well: the couple has fun together on a regular basis, the sex life is mutually satisfying (in its frequency and nature), arguments don’t get toxic and couples share what matters in their lives. For a referral for someone who can help get you there click here.

Tip #8: Reflect on what the pain from divorce is like. Engaging an affair significantly increases the likelihood of a divorce and few human experiences are more stressful or painful than that. Moreover, if you share children you could find yourself having to co-parent with someone who feels significant hurt and anger towards you, even years later.

Tip #9: If you believe you wouldn’t feel guilty over an affair, can keep it black couple arguingsufficiently secret while continuing to be in a relationship with your spouse (very few can and it takes tremendous energy to do so) and are seriously thinking about moving forward with one, please seek out the services of a mental health professional. This profile suggests that you may be suffering from some very significant interpersonal problems, even though you may not be in conscious distress. The alternative is to put yourself at high risk for facing some of the common painful consequences that affairs tend to bring.

Tip #10: Do what you can to keep stress from getting toxic. It’s remarkable to me relaxed character in a coconut hot tubhow often this profile keeps stress from getting out of hand: getting a recommended night’s sleep, being physically active on a daily basis, maintaining a healthy diet, and having fun with friends regularly. A regular spiritual and/or meditation practice can also be very helpful, which may or may not mean practicing a specific religion. And, if you really want to get into it, try implementing strategies from positive psychology (e.g., see the book The How of Happiness or multiple blog entries on this site).

I hope these tips are helpful and I welcome others to share theirs.

Don’t Let Parenthood Kill Your Marriage

man and pregnant woman in disputeResearch indicates that couple satisfaction, over the course of a long-term relationship, is like a U shape. It is higher before couples become parents and after kids leave the home. I speculate this happens because we too often treat our marriages like self-sustaining cacti instead of orchids. In other words, and despite how willful and determined we may be in other areas of our lives, we are often not disciplined in our relationships. So, my fellow parent-spouses/committed partners, here are ten tips for orchid care.

#1. Have a date night each week. Yes, yes, yes, this is tough. So too is getting weekly aerobic exercise. But, there is no being fit without it. And, how difficult is it to live with the long term consequences of not being fit? Nothing says this has to be expensive or even occur outside of the home. It just needs to involve FUN WITHOUT THE KIDS. And, don’t let the babysitting issue stand in your way. Tap relatives, seek out local college girls, ask your pastor/rabbi/iman if s/he can recommend a responsible young woman, trade services with other parents, or medicate your children. (One of the preceding is a joke….can you guess?)

#2. Assume your partner has good motives or has a good reason for doing what s/he does. We get into trouble when we don’t give our partner the benefit of the doubt and privately conclude “he’s selfish,” “she’s cold,” and so forth, when that may not be so. Better to give the benefit of the doubt, assume that your partner has a good reason for showing the unfortunate behavior at hand, and (maybe) talk about it later when you are both calm and reflective.

#3. Vary your sex life. It’s amazing how much sex can become like flossing teeth. Share your fantasies, if only in writing. Get a sex book that list ideas (e.g., watch some videos and act out the scenes, roll play, purchase sexy clothing). Take some risks with your partner in terms of sharing what excites you.

#4. Create separations before going nuclear. We can all feel those moments black couple arguingcoming on when we want to say the most hurtful things because we ourselves are hurt. How many of us have later regretted speaking during such moments? A lot I’m guessing. But, how many of us later regretted creating a separation, calming down, and then dealing with the issue(s) at hand? Not many I’m guessing. You can even agree on a signal with your partner (i.e., once one of you gives the agreed upon signal, all dialogue stops).

#5. Don’t use the “D” word when suffering from transient brain dysfunction. If one or both of you are enraged; or, if one or both of you are highly stressed; or, if one or both of you have been drinking, it is so, so, so, so easy to start threatening a divorce. This is like planning weeds in your orchid’s soil. Over time, they may kill it.

marital communication cartoon#6. Talk about more than division of labor, kid stuff and mundane current events. We can get dead eyes and dead tone with our partners when we don’t open up, share our dreams, share our vulnerabilities and share our existential musings. So, try taking some risks. Click here for a handout   that includes four levels of conversation prompts. (Each level calls for a deeper level of intimacy. Take it easy now. Don’t try to go too deep too fast. One shouldn’t scream at an orchid “flourish!!”)

#7. Learn to speak a foreign language. So often we and our mate express affection and caring differently. If the only signs of affection and caring I recognize are the kinds I’m inclined to offer, I’m likely going to be left concluding negative things about my partner’s feelings or character. Try to recognize your partner’s language and appreciate what s/he is able and willing to give you.

#8. Apologize and make reparation. Over the course of a typical long-term relationship couples hurt each other a lot. Try to be open to how you might have hurt your partner, whether intended or not, whether facilitated by your partner or not, and make a heart felt apology and effort to repair the damage. Sometimes repair might mean fixing what was wronged, or making a kind gesture, or doing some work on yourself to avoid making the mistake again, or something else. And, try to avoid getting caught up in the conditions game (e.g., I’ll apologize only if s/he does too. I’ll make reparation only if s/he meets me halfway). We apologize and make reparation because it is good for our individual wellness and contributes to the health of the orchid, whether a unilateral or a bilateral effort.woman hitting man with pillows

#9. Recognize symptoms of distress and take action to reduce them. Feeling sexual tension and a desire to engage a sexual dalliance with someone besides your partner? Spending a lot of private time feeling some negative emotion towards your partner (e.g., resentment, fear)? Doing a lot of measuring and counting in the relationship? Using the D-word a lot? These are signs of relationship distress and, in my experience, are highly likely to worsen unless you take action to repair the underlying problem(s). And, please, please, please know that affairs are like an icy steel boot slamming down on the orchid; it may survive, but it will be vulnerable in stormy weather. (By the way, illicit sexual tensions, like mushrooms, thrive in the dark. If you want to weaken one, throw some light on it by discussing it with a therapist or a wise confident and put distance between you and the other person…right now.)

marriage counseling characters#10. Seek our relationship counseling when distress can’t be reduced by your own interventions. At the risk of mixing my metaphors, relationships are very mechanical things. Often the engine is sound but the maintenance schedule is wacked. Meeting with a skilled and experienced relationship technician can go a long way to rediscovering just how sound your engine is and that taking it to the scrap heap, or trading it in, is not in your best long-term interest. For a referral click here.

10 Gifts to Give Her if You Wish to Die

Let’s face it, its way easier to read your average man’s mind than it is to read your average woman’s mind. Case in point: a few months back I was in a local bookstore with my teenage son. Around that time the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition had just come out, with the sort of cover that is typical for that edition. And, the magazine was all over the store. As I noticed my son looking at this cover, but trying to hide his glances from me, I initiated the following exchange:

Me: (chuckling) You know that I know what you’re looking at and what you’re thinking about.

Son: What are you talking about?

Me: Son, never forget that I usually know what’s going through your mind.

Son: Well, what am I thinking now?

Me: You’re thinking that you’re hungry.

Son: Ok…well, what am I thinking now?

Me: That you’d like to get back home to your new video game.

Son: Damn. How do you do that?

Me: We’re just simple creatures.

When we got home my son relayed the story to me teenage daughter, who turned to me and asked “Ok, Dr. genius, what am I thinking?!” To which I said “no clue.”

So, in the spirit of trying to help dudes understand their ladies, or to help ladies to bring their dudes along. I’ve constructed this top 10 gifts to avoid giving her, unless you want to die. (Keep in mind that if your lady has explicitely requested something on this list, you’re probably okay. But make sure she explicitely asked for it and her doing so is not a test.)

• Appliances

• Jewelry, clothes or perfume that your mother is partial to

• Any article of clothing that is the wrong size

• Hobby equipment that you want her to take up but she has been resisting (e.g., golf clubs)

• Electronics, tools or sporting equipment that you wish someone would give you

• Any gifts even remotely suggesting that she would do well to lose weight

• Gift cards (suggests you either didn’t have the energy to shop and/or have given up on trying to read her mind)

• Sexy lingerie (risks her concluding that you are giving her something for you)

• Something re-gifted

• Anything used

I know, I know, you’re thinking things like “What’s wrong with something used, as it saves money for something that could be just as good?” Or, “But a gift card gives her more flexibility in what she wants to get!” I hear you man, and for your partner, you might be right (even a broken clock is right twice a day). But, remember she thinks differently than you, so sometimes its best to not trust your gut and to read your indicator lights (e.g., this blog), less you crash and burn.

51 Truths (as I see things anyway)

I recently saw a blogger use the occasion of his birthday to write a list of tips that equaled his years. I thought that such a good idea that I didn’t want to wait until my birthday to do something similar. So, this is my top 51 truths. One caveat–which I feel somewhat apologetic for and which will be obvious as you read on: while the large majority of these statements are supported by research findings, others are merely personal beliefs that are not testable by science.

1. Self-care is an act of love towards one’s children.

2. Effective discipline = effective teaching.

3. Self-entitlement has many faces, but two common ones are expecting others to protect one from the consequences of one’s choices and expecting that others, if they are fair, will give one the outcome that one wants because one is a good person who tried hard.

4. Behind just about any action of abuse or neglect is pain.

5. At the end of everything, how well we love is what matters the most.

6. Avoiding avoidance is generally advisable when the avoided thing, person or situation is not truly dangerous.

7. More determinative of mood is what we think about what has happened, not what has actually happened.

8. Being kind to others is a great mood enhancer.

9. We loose IQ points when we get angry.

10. Show me someone who is not engaged in an internal battle and I will show you someone whose life is in shambles.

11. Being in a successful long-term marriage is one of the most difficult things a human can try to do.

12. The greatest pain is having one’s child die.

13. The opposite of love is not hate, it’s fear.

14. We get use to just about anything. One of the many things this teaches us is that we need to mix things up lest our sex life become mundane.

15. Single parenting in a two-parent household is a symptom.

16. Becoming physiologically and psychologically calm on a daily basis promotes many health and psychological benefits.

17. “Physical activity” is a much more effective term than “exercise.”

18. Fast food is generally poisonous, though it may take a long time for the effects to become obvious.

19. We are suffering from an epidemic of sleep deprivation, across the lifespan.

20. The large majority of kids, teens and adults who could benefit from evidence-based mental health services do not get it. This truth is even harsher for minorities and the poor.

21. We parents love our kids so much it makes us lunatics some of the time.

22. The practice of a spirituality correlates strongly (and positively) with multiple physical and psychological benefits.

23. If Heaven exists (and I believe it does), there are no institutions there.

24. When we don’t know what is motivating another person’s irritating behavior, our own mental health is nurtured when we assume she or he has good cause.

25. Adaptive rituals produce positive illusions.

26. Men are generally simpler creatures than women.

27. There are many more ways to promote misery than there are to promote happiness.

28. Corporal punishment can usually be aptly labelled “undisciplined discipline.”

29. Willpower, when used in isolation, is not a very reliable tool for changing harmful habits.

30. The more we learn the more nuanced we become.

31. Understanding how well a person can do things when he or she doesn’t feel like it can tell you a great deal about his or her success in both vocational and personal arenas. This is why teaching such skills to our children is a top parenting activity.

32. Heaven exists outside of space and time, which makes it very difficult for us to think and talk about what it is like.

33. Crisis = (pain/2) + (≥ opportunity/2).

34. Using addiction to deal with pain is like drinking ocean water when on a life raft: certainly understandable but it makes things worse.

35. We parents are shepherds, not sculptors.

36. Having kids quadruples the importance of having a good maintenance schedule for a committed relationship. (I’d write something higher than quadruples but I had a hard enough time spelling quadruples.)

37. If swimming is the activity that uses the most physical muscles forgiveness is the activity that uses the most psychological muscles.

38. What an apple is to a pediatrician, positive one-on-one attention is to a child psychologist.

39. Simultaneously pursuing self-interest and effective political service is like trying to iron clothing underwater.

40. Addiction is a jealous, cunning and harsh mistress that isn’t satisfied until its victim is left with nothing else.

41. An important mistake we make in thinking about race is to suppose that being impacted by someone’s race is the same thing as being racist.

42. Show me someone who is critical and unloving towards others and I will show you someone who is critical and unloving towards himself or herself.

43. Though they vary, we all have our limitations and when we exceed them we break.

44. No engaged parent can be generally happier than his or her least happy child.

45. Improving someone else’s life, without them knowing one did so, is glorious.

46. Well-conceived mission statements can help one to make many decisions about how to spend one’s time and resources.

47. Considering a difficult decision from the context of one’s deathbed can promote clarity.

48. That which is loving is of God. That which is not loving is not of God.

49. Empathy tends to soften anger.

50. Going through an effective psychotherapy is like being reborn.

51. Show me a spiritual person who is generally physically active, getting enough sleep, eating a good diet, executing his or her top talents in service to others, and being loving in his or her personal relationships and I will show you someone who is wise.

I enjoy receiving all comments, but would especially  welcome others sharing truths I have left out. Also, if anyone would like me to do a subsequent blog post on any of these assertions, I’d enjoy hearing about that as well.

The Best Marriage Advice I’ve Ever Heard

The best marriage advice I’ve ever heard didn’t come from a research study on couples, or from a book on marriage therapy or from a workshop by a marriage counseling expert. No, the single best advice I’ve ever heard came from a couple I worked with when I was practicing in Chicago in the mid nineties. This couple was not seeing me for marriage counseling but for the treatment of their nine year-old daughter, who was suffering from a severe case of depression and a moderate case of defiance.

Mood disorders, when they persist in children, tend to demoralize parents and stress marriages. The demoralization happens because the sorts of interventions that parents typically try not only don’t work but often seem to make things worse. The marital stress subsequently occurs when parents start to oversubscribe responsibility for their child’s problems onto their partner (e.g., if only you would do x or not do y maybe our child would not have these difficulties).

The couple I’m referring to experienced the demoralization but not the marital problems. After a year’s worth of treatment, which included behaviorally oriented family therapy, individual cognitive-behavioral therapy and medication (the nature of these treatments is described in my book Working Parents, Thriving Families), their daughter was no longer symptomatic. We had some extra time in our last session so I indulged a curiosity and asked: “You guys made it clear from the get-go that you have a strong marriage and are each other’s best friend. But I’m puzzled about something. Often when I’m helping parents to treat problems like your daughter’s I notice that they have periods when they feel alienated from each other, but I never saw signs of that in the two of you. Actually, you seemed to remain close throughout all phases of our work, even though there were some very rough patches.” As they nodded in agreement I asked: “What’s your secret?” To which the husband instantly answered (because they had thought and talked about this a lot): “We know the other person is not crazy.”

The couple elaborated that when the other person acts in a way that is grating they just assume that she or he has good cause. So, instead of just concluding that their partner is being a jerk, or selfish or unfair, they conclude (1) that she or he has an understandable reason for acting that way and (2) that she or he will rebound soon enough, especially if their own response involves patience and empathy instead of irritation and counterattacks.

Clearly there are multiple and important strategies that go into having a successful long term relationship (e.g., making time to have fun with each other, working on having a satisfying sex life, etc.), but I was struck by the truth of this couple’s insight and how well it was working for them. They also helped me to connect the dots and realize that this sort of way of being in a relationship captures a lot of the good outcomes that happen when communication training goes well. So, those of us in marriages that have existed since there has been dirt would do well to consider the wisdom of this couple’s insight.

For Men: Parsing When a Woman Says “Fine.” (Humor)

Clearly men and women speak different languages. This post is meant to aid married or committed men, who ask their wife or partner if it is okay to play with friends, to parse what the response “fine” could mean.

I hope you can use this guide to promote harmony and understanding in your relationship 😉

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