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Marriage & Family Stimulus Package Part II: Lean On...Someone!

You would think in this economy everyone would be in bunker mode, hunkered down and looking out for number one. But, if anything, I have found that the opposite is true.
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I want to thank the folks who took the trouble to comment on my first blog. I'm humbled and grateful for the ideas you shared, whether you agreed with me or not. I know that I am blessed in that I am not facing the kinds of hard choices confronting many Americans, such as whether to pay for their house notes, their health insurance, or their grocery bills. One of you rightly pointed out that we need to talk to our kids more about what this recession means for them, because it's their financial future as much as it is ours. "Larry Taman," I especially loved your comment, "things work out best for those who make the best of the way things work out." "NFS" keep up the good work in your blog. You are right, love does bear all things. You just have to believe it's there.

Which brings me to the point of this post. We need to have a support network that extends beyond your immediate family. We need this now more than ever. According to the latest Gallup poll, two thirds of all Americans say they are stressed because of the recession and almost half worry that they won't be able to support their families. Calls to mental health hotlines have almost doubled in the last year. Emergency rooms are seeing spikes in people being admitted for alcohol abuse and drug overdoses. I read one report in Newsday that one ER admitted two men for overdosing on Tylenol! One had a fight with his wife; the other was just feeling overwhelmed. Some of us are destroying ourselves by self-medicating in solitude when the only prescription we really need is each other.

Now I don't pretend to be an expert and I'm not trying to preach here. I have no mental health credentials. I'm just a man who's made a few mistakes in my life and, hopefully, learned from them. But one of the things that struck me just in the last few months is that, when you reach out, people do respond. It's happening now, right here with this blog. By commenting on my column, you've all shared information that's helped me, and, I can only hope, thousands of others who read The HuffPost.

I was one of those people who rarely asked for help with personal challenges. Back when my mother died after a very courageous battle with cancer, I told very few people. My colleagues at work had no idea. They couldn't understand why I was so unfocused at times, and I didn't let them in. I didn't even share with my wife just how much pain I was in. It was a rough time in our marriage. Typically, I'd seek solace in a quiet room, alone in my thoughts. It wasn't healthy. Now I tell my wife everything, even about emotions and feelings I may not fully understand myself. But beyond that I am starting to reach out to friends and extended family, and the response has been overwhelming. You would think in this economy everyone would be in bunker mode, hunkered down and looking out for number one. But, if anything, I have found that the opposite is true.

On the business front, I'm finding people more willing to connect and collaborate as they seek to network themselves and spread their own wings. I learned this in February when I formed a partnership with an old associate in Savannah, Georgia. At another time I would have investigated the potential partnership primarily over the phone and via email. And if we happened to be in the same place at the same time, I would have organized a lunch meeting. But something told me I could really work well with this guy. So I hopped on a plane so we could hash out some ideas in person. Within 36 hours I had a clear vision of what our partnership could be, and how we could work together. My new partner told me something I'll never forget:

"You have a great network of people, and if you reach out to them and tell them what you want to do, they are going to greet you with open arms. But if you don't reach out, you're career and entrepreneurial options will be limited."

I took his advice and got so much affirmation and reassurance from potential clients that I knew I was ready to rock! Going it on your own as an entrepreneur is scary enough without that kind of shot in the arm, but now, because I picked up the phone and asked my peers for feedback on a new venture, I am even more certain about the path our company should take.

On the personal front, I used to get so consumed with work that I would go for months without speaking with my baby sister. She lives back home in Detroit, and a few weeks ago she told me she was thinking about visiting us in California to celebrate my daughter's 13th birthday. The problem was she was facing cutbacks at her company, and didn't know if the timing would work when we last talked. The birthday came and went last weekend. My sister called to wish her niece a happy birthday, and only then did it occur to me that she was supposed to come and visit. When I asked her what happened, she said she knew I was busy with my book and new venture and wanted to give me some space.

I stopped her right there and said, "To hell with that! If you really need to see your nieces and big brother, just get on the phone and tell me and I will have you on the next plane!"

In the past, I'd have allowed whatever was going on in my sister's life to fly right past me. But now I try to do better at making the most of the moments when we talk and it has been a joy to begin the process of reconnecting. Growing up, we used to lean on each other all the time, and we still can.

Another blogger, marriage expert and author Lori Lowe ( talks about the importance for men in particular to reach out. She urges wives to encourage their husbands to communicate more with friends and extended family members. That's good advice.

You may not even realize you need someone to lean on. Stress has a way of sneaking up on us. That's why I devised this quiz. It lets me know when the pressure of it all is starting to affect my behavior and strain the very relationships I depend on to get me through the day:

-How would you describe the daily interactions with your significant other?
1) Excellent, 2) Good, 3) Fair, 4) Poor, 5) A nightmare

-How would you describe your talks with your significant other regarding finances?
1) Very productive, 2) Somewhat productive, 3) Just okay, 4) Somewhat unproductive, 5) Very unproductive

-How would you describe your stress level?
1) Very little if any, 2) Some degree of stress, 3) No more than usual, 4) Escalating stress level, 5) Insanely stressful

- How would your partner describe your stress level?
1) Very little if any, 2) Some degree of stress, 3) No more than usual, 4) Escalating stress level, 5) Insanely stressful

-Do you have someone that you can talk to when you're feeling stressed?
1) Absolutely, 2) Sure, if I choose to reach out, 3) Sometimes yes, sometimes no, 4) Not really, 5) I don't have anyone I can talk to about my situation.

-How would describe your fitness level?
1) I do some form of exercise 6 times a week, 2) I do some form of exercise 3 times a week, 3) I fit it in when I have time, 4) I haven't done any exercise in weeks, 5) I haven't done any exercise in months...or longer.

Add up the numbers 1-5 for each question. Anything over 18 I humbly suggest requires immediate attention to your relationships, and yourself. Don't try to handle this on your own. You need to tap into your support network now!

Darryl Cobbin is a veteran marketing executive, serving in senior marketing positions at The Coca-Cola Company, Boost Mobile and Twentieth Century Fox Films. His self-published book on marriage and family is due for release later this year.