Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Flip Side of Forgiveness: How To Apologize

Here we are on the flip side of forgiveness, in the doorway to relationship repair.  Apology is a lost art in our society, from politicians who earnestly swear that they ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY  DID NOT DO . . . . whatever they have to admit to doing the next day, to our kids who wallop each other in the head and are forced to mutter a snotty "SORRY" through clenched teeth.

Really?  It's not that hard.  Just have to get your head and heart in the right place and realize that you're not giving anything up with an apology, you're taking the high road and setting the bar for the other person to respond in kind. 

Here are a few things to consider in delivering a sincere, and boundaried apology:

1.  Have good self esteem.  As I said in my previous post, you're a good person.  Most of the time, a well-meaning person.  You made a mistake.  If you had, in the moment in question, had the tools to do the right thing, you would have.  Keep in mind that what I mean by "tools to do the right thing" includes things like: 
  • Enough inner resources to not have a knee-jerk reaction to be selfish (read:  self-protective), which in today's world many people don't.
  • Skills to know what the right thing is, which can be tricky in relationships.  We're not talking about do or do not rob a bank.  This is do or do not tell someone that you don't want to go to their cousin's reindeer dress-up party and instead saying that you have the flu and getting caught not having the flu. 
  • Also required is wanting, in the moment, to do the right thing.  Go back and read about your amygdala hijack.  When adrenaline hits your system, you're not using your decision-making skills, you're flying by the reactive, fight-or-flight based seat of your pants.  WANTING to do the right thing comes from your thinking brain which, in that moment, is off-line. 
So good, well-meaning people, present company absolutely included, screw up all the time.  We trip and fall and damage a relationship.  You're still a good person.  You can be a good person who has the skills to fix it.  (AHEM . . . THIS IS NOT A GET OUT OF JAIL FREE CARD.  If you want a relationship, you must learn to act relational-LY even when it's hard.)

2.  Really BE sorry ... not just sorry you got caught, or sorry the other person called you out on being a selfish jerk, or sorry you can't figure out a way to escape responsibility.  If you care about the other person, you naturally feel sorry that your behavior caused them pain.  Or at the very least you feel sorrow that they are hurt.

I'm a literal definition kind of gal, and think it often helps to go back to what a word actually means rather than what it's been watered down to in today's world. Good ol' Merriam Webster says apology is "a written or spoken expression of one's regret, remorse, or sorrow for having insulted, failed, injured, or wronged another." It is not an admission of guilt, it has nothing to do with power, and it certainly isn't a one-sided deal. MOST of the time, "FAULT" for any given person is equally divided between the two parties. There is the offender, who gets the finger pointed at him or her, but the offender is often reacting to some equally egregious, but often masked, bad behavior on the part of the other person. Often, people just get into a power struggle over who was wrongEST, and wait the other person out for that apology, all the while building resentment and further damaging the relationship. You can feel sorrow that the other person is hurting AND be aware that you are hurt too. 

Whoever takes a step to try and fix it first, wins.

Frankly, if you're not feeling sorrow that as a result of your behavior someone else is feeling hurt, you shouldn't be in a relationship anyway.  Go to therapy until you have worked on your issues enough to be able to feel empathy and remorse in a healthy way.  There's a word for someone who is INCAPABLE of recognizing the impact their behavior has on others.  Rhymes with "SchmOCIOPATH."  That's another blog.

3.  Be specific.  There's always something in a conflict that you can have sorrow about.  However, oftentimes, people get their feelings hurt when we tell them the truth about something they don't want to hear.  That doesn't mean you shouldn't have said it - sometimes it is important to let someone else be uncomfortable for a while and struggle with an issue.  It takes a LOT of skill in communication to navigate that minefield.  In the meantime, try the following: 
  • I'm sad about where our relationship is.  Would you be open to talking about how to fix it? (Yes, MEN, you can say SAD without your gonads falling off)
  • I know what I said was hard to hear.  I'm sorry that we're struggling.  I care about you.
  • I know it hurt you when I (insert behavior here).  I'm sorry for that.  I hope we can move past it.
  • Ooh .... I really blew it didn't I?  I'm sorry (optional hug)
  • Look - I don't even really know what to say about what happened.  I just know I care about you, and you matter to me, and I want to fix it. 
4.  Get the message out any way you can.  An apology over text or email is better than no apology at all.  We don't have conflict management skills taught to us, and many people aren't good at it.  Delivering an apology face to face requires not only good communication skills but also good self-esteem, boundaries and limit-setting.  Don't avoid doing the right thing because you're not sure you can handle the aftermath.  Do the right thing, and see what happens.  THEN figure out what comes next.  I edit many client emails for boundaries.  Get a second opinion from someone with good skills.

5.  Be ready to hear the other person's feelings . . . with good boundaries.  You're not a punching bag.  Personal attacks on your integrity aren't ok.  "I'm so hurt by what you did" is different from "You're a selfish jerk."  The question "Why did you do that?" really has no good answer.  Obviously you didn't mean to.  (If you did, you don't belong in a relationship)  Obviously you did it because you couldn't come up with the resources NOT to do it in the moment.  "I don't know" is a cop-out.  The answer is "I really don't have a reason that will make it ok."  Because you don't.  If the tirade goes on and on, ask "what is it that you need to hear from me?"  Often you will get "I need to know you're not going to do it again"  the answer is "I will do my very best."  and mean it.  Now read #6.

6.  Don't do it again.  Apology wears thin after the 16th time.  It starts being less believable.  Relationship involves responsibility; responsibility to be thoughtful and considerate, to not do things that you know will damage the other person either physically or emotionally.  Repeated hurt leaves scars, and often those scars last long after you have parted ways.  If you can't commit to changing your behavior, be honest.  Acknowledge that you aren't willing to make those changes and give the other person the respect to allow them to make an informed decision about the future with or without you.  If you care about the relationship, but can't commit to changing the behavior, get help.  FAST. 

7.  NO BUTS.  YOUR behavior is YOUR responsibility.  Barring physical violence, there is NO behavior on the part of the other person that CAUSES you to act out.  DO NOT use an apology to call for change in the other person (as in "I'm sorry BUT IF YOU DIDN'T . . . THEN I WOULDN'T . . . ).  Apologize for your part of the problem and leave it hanging there in the silence.  Doing so creates healthy pressure on the other person to take responsibility for THEIR part of the problem.  They may.  They may not.  This isn't the time to demand an apology in return.  Most of the time, if you genuinely change the problematic behavior, it upsets the (unhealthy) pattern in the relationship in a way that makes it impossible for the other person to continue their own hurtful ways without feeling like a jerk.  This is where you can just let them marinate in the knowledge that it is their turn to make some changes.  Enjoy it.  You lose all the impact if you give them the answers.  It's healthy manipulation.  I like to say I have a job tricking people into doing healthy things despite their best efforts.  It's fun. 

Friday, December 5, 2014

Apology: The flip side of forgiveness

Forgiveness is not a crowbar, a battering ram or a bargaining chip.  If you’ve screwed up, forgiveness is not a right or a demand. 

Let me give you a helpful piece of advice.  If you care about a relationship, the MOMENT you realize you blew it, RUN, don't walk - race as fast as you can to the relationship repair department and start taking steps to fix it. 

I always talk about maintaining good self esteem in relationship, so I don’t want you to lie prostrate on the floor while moaning "mea culpa, mea culpa."  Let’s have some dignity here.  You’re a good person.  You made a mistake.  If you could have figured out how to do the right thing in the moment you would have.  Lots of factors come into play there, including being more or less interested in doing the right thing in the moment. 

One of the most disabling disservices we do our children in this society is to not teach them how to screw up and recover.  We teach them to screw up and hide it, to screw up and give 100 reasons why it wasn’t REALLY their fault, to screw up and accept being berated and shamed in a manner out of proportion to the seriousness of the screw up, but we don’t teach kids how to deal with the unavoidable situation in which either knowingly or unknowingly we have hurt another person. 

The funny thing is, we have an easier time apologizing to strangers.  I did it this morning on my way to my plane (yep.  That’s why I’m writing.  I am stuck in a plane!)  I heard a chuckle behind me, and the guy said “I’m trying to pass you and you’re just all over the place!”  First words out of my mouth?  “I'm sorry!”  It’s habit.  And it’s not a lie.  I was totally in my own little world, daydreaming about my upcoming VACATION and not paying attention to anyone else on the planet.  I didn’t do it on purpose, but I impeded someone else’s progress with my (albeit unknowing) self-centered lack of awareness of my relationship to other travelers.  Apology was easy, as was having a short conversation with this total stranger who was apparently rushing back to Ohio.  We had a nice relationship.  It was short, but pleasant.  We even worked through conflict in a positive way.  A lot happened in that 5 minutes.  Our relationship ended abruptly, but I’m OK. 

We grow up being made to apologize for things we aren't sorry for, that really weren't WRONG in the first place.  I VIVIDLY remember being forced to go to the door of my next door neighbor (I was probably 6 or 7 at the time) and apologize for picking peaches up off the ground, and subsequently from the tree that was technically the neighbor's but halfway in our yard, and from which the neighbors NEVER picked peaches.  In fact I remember hearing MANY complaints about the peaches rotting on the ground.  Yet myself and my two neighbor-friends were trotted to the front door and made to spit out an apology.  It made no sense to me.

I heard a story once of a kid who was being picked at by his older brother and when he had finally had enough, picked up a pencil and stabbed the offending kid in the hand (No one died of lead poisoning . . . not even sure there was a band-aid required).  The mother, horrified, asked "DOES IT MAKE YOUR HEART FEEL GOOD TO HURT YOUR BROTHER???"  And at that moment, the youngster replied absolutely honestly "YES."  Gotta love that kid.

I don't make my kids apologize.  I thought long and hard about this one.  I don't make them say "I'm sorry," especially when I know darn good and well they aren't.  I think that teaches kids to be disingenuous and frankly, to lie.  Instead, I force my children to say "It was wrong for me to (whatever they did)."  I used to make them add "and I won't do it again."  But I stopped because everyone in the room knew they would.  I also make my kids write lines and/or paragraphs about their offenses, but that's another blog.
"I'm sorry" should mean "I am experiencing sorrow that I didn't pull my self-centered head out of my clueless ass quickly enough to avoid damaging our relationship."  Instead what it usually means is "don't hold me accountable," or "I'm sorry you aren't tough enough to take it."  I generally don't say "I'm sorry."  But I will speak volumes about recognizing that a relationship is damaged and expressing my desire to repair that damage. 

We all trip and fall and act like jerks once in a while.  Know who I apologize to and own up to my behavior with most?  My kids.  First of all because I screw up with them most frequently.  They get the dregs of me and have to deal with it when my head falls off and I fall back into old patterns of drill-sergeant parenting.  But secondly, and I think most important, because I want them to know how to make mistakes and still feel good about themselves while having an expectation that the other person will recognize a g

enuine effort and accept the apology. 

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Forgiveness: Door Mat to Door Master (Part 2)

I LOVE this guy!! 
photo by Imagerymajestic
And returning to the idea of Forgiveness ...
You may be reading these posts and thinking I'm Pollyanna-crazy. 

"That works just fine in fantasyland," you might say, "but in MY world, there is no way I could go to this person and talk to them about our conflict!"  Yep.  That happens.  What if you have absolutely no expectation that the person can deal with you in anything resembling a healthy way?  What if you've tried to talk to that person and they absolutely refuse to come to the table to work on a compromise?

Forgive anyway.  Write it off.  Let it go (With or without singing the "Frozen" song).   

Do not let that person control you with their refusal to acknowledge fault or even that they might have hurt you inadvertently.  Do not give them power over you by letting them make you nervous that you might run into them at a family function or at the grocery store.  Stand right up and be relaxed about it.  After all, THEY are the one that should be uncomfortable.

Own your boundaries. 

What if they come to Christmas Dinner?  So what.  Be pleasant.  Be polite.  Be generous, and wish them the same happy holiday you would wish the bell-ringer at Wal-Mart who is a total stranger.  Genuinely wish that Bob has a pleasant time.  Because that will make him a healthier person for you to deal with in the long run.  Don't let fear that being nice to them somehow makes you vulnerable turn you into a crunchy, cranky, uncomfortable version of yourself.  BE YOU.  Smile.  Say "Hi Bob."  Let Bob squirm.  Because let me tell you, unless Bob is truly clueless, he is ready for the fight.  He's ready for you to let him have it and give you his pre-prepared defenses.  When you don't give it to him (and this applies equally to Barbara), he is off-guard.  He is wondering what happened.  He is uncomfortable.  Because now, he has to let go if whatever grudge or anticipated conflict he made up too, or at least wonder when you will lower the boom.  Who has the power now?  That's right.  You do.  Because at the end of the day, no one will have anything to say about it because you didn't act like a jerk and give Bob the opportunity to play the victim.

What if Bob thinks he's off the hook?  What if he thinks you've forgotten his evil deeds, or given him a get-out-of-jail-free card?  WHO CARES.  We're talking about YOUR emotional well-being here.  If Bob labors under the misperception that he's off the hook, you can set him straight if and when he tries to engage you on a deeper level.  Then?  Step up with the limits to clarify your boundaries.  (See previous post)  Until that moment?  Think of yourself as gloriously, blissfully IMMUNE to Bob and his narcissistic short-sightedness.  Karma, as they say, is a bitch.  Bob will get his.

Don't let someone else's unhealthiness drag you down.  If a person is unwilling to mend a relationship, the relationship isn't worth mending.  You're not missing THAT relationship.  You're missing the fantasyland picture of the relationship you have in your head that doesn't exist anymore.  Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again, all the while feeling GREAT about the fact that you rose above the petty BS that gives me job security. 

Bask in it.  Wallow just a little, if you will, in the knowledge that you didn't participate in the passion play that erodes human relationship.  Shoot me an email and tell me about it.  I will be proud of you.   

Friday, November 28, 2014

Thankful ... MORE OR LESS.

Well, here we are, all stuffed with Turkey and nursing the aftermath of over indulgences of one kind or another (#pie).  I wrote this blog in my head yesterday, but never had a chance to put it in a format that was accessible to anyone else. 

Thanksgiving.  We are long past the idyllic days of old where tables were set in the school hallways, covered with brown butcher paper, and adorned with turkeys made from tracings of our hands while we wore pilgrim hats or Indian bonnets made from construction paper.  Now we must face reality.  The Pilgrims were horrible, malicious marauders who forced the hapless Indians ... wait - Native Americans, no FIRST Americans ... anyway, those nasty Pilgrims (can we still call them pilgrims??) ... oh who cares.  Let's just forget history altogether because someone will get their feelings hurt and goodness knows we can't have THAT.  Besides.  The stuff we would eat at those feasts wasn't gluten free, bought from a store or had a label.  I'm not sure how we survived.  Anyway, Sorry kids, no more cool fringed Indian outfits made out of paper grocery bags.  Let's do some MATH.   

Yet we persevere ... each year at this time, we briefly take a time-out from bashing each other on facebook, waving our arms about the injustice of forcing those poor people to work on Black Friday ... or waving our arms about the people who wave their arms about the injustice ... I can't keep track ... and get around a table with people we may or may not like.  It's all well and good for those who have some sort of Normal Rockwell experience, but what about people in the thick of it?

It's hard to hear about being thankful when all you can see is what is going wrong. 

Human brains are hard-wired to pay attention to problems.  In 20 years as a therapist, not one person has ever reported to me that they are obsessed with thoughts of how GREAT things are, and how WELL things are going.  "I keep thinking about how AWESOME my life is.  I can't get anything else done!  I can't work, I can't sleep, all I do all day is think about all the things I'm GRATEFUL for!!  Can you help me with this?"  Said no one, ever.  And if they did, I would immediately start screening for mania.  That's just not the way things work.

Life is HARD these days.  That is just fact.  If you're not struggling, congratulations.  If the little bubble you live in is intact, good for you.  If you manage to be untouched by the horrors and tragedies in the everyday lives of so many people, I mean beyond the sympathetic "oh golly, isn't that AWFUL???  Those poor people!  BLESS THEIR HEARTS . . . " then it's easy to find things to be thankful for and let that gratitude just ooze from your pores.  There's your thankful right there.  In my humble opinion, you now have a responsibility to get out of your bubble and go help someone. 

We DO have things to be grateful for.  We may not have as much money as we want, but we did get to take that vacation 2 years ago . . . .and maybe there's no money for vacation, but we have a home and enough food .... or maybe there's not home and food, but we have our health ... or maybe we don't have health, a home, any family, or like a family in a small Texas town where my high school BFF lives, maybe they lost 5 of 6 kids in one terrible night.  Harder to find gratitude in times like that.

We have the platitudes.  "God is in control," "Everything happens for a reason"  "Yes, you lost both your legs, but aren't you super excited you still have arms???"  Reality??  Those things bring little comfort when you're grieving a loss, or wondering how you will pay your medical bills, or how you're going to afford the new"affordable" healthcare plans with double the premiums and half the benefits.  In those times, brains believe that the way to solve a problem is to think about it.  A lot.  And brains fight us when we try to take a break from balancing the checkbook ONE MORE TIME to see if we missed something somewhere and indeed things are going to be all right.  Replay the tragedy ONE MORE TIME to try to find a way to make it un-happen.  Brains don't know that solutions aren't easy these days.  Brains keep trying.   

In those times, gratitude helps us find balance, yes, but it is unreasonable to think that some goofy gratitude journal will somehow take the sting out of losing 5 kids.  So if you're one of the millions out there who are finding it hard to maintain an "attitude of gratitude," take heart.  You can still get through the holidays.

1.  It's OK to say no.  Evaluate whether social gatherings are helpful.  Sometimes it's like getting over a speed bump.  Once you get there, you actually do feel better for a while.  If that is the case, persevere through the speed bump.  Sometimes a good enough reason to do something that will be difficult is that you know that later when you're feeling better you'll wish you had.  You can go to a gathering, and then beg out after an hour too.  If anyone gives you a hard time, tell them to call me.  I will explain it to them.  Conversely, don't be a hermit if feeling alone is the problem, and BEING alone makes it worse.  Spend time with people who feed your soul, even if those are total strangers in a coffee shop and you never say one word to them.  Shared experience is healing. 

2.  Self Care.  Do things that make you feel better.  Get the responsibilities taken care of, yes, but otherwise get enough sleep, don't OVERindulge in vices (my favorites include peppermint ice cream and red wine).  Go to the dollar store and get one of those massager roller thingies and use it on those shoulders that are tired from carrying the weight of the world.  Go sit in the massage chairs at Bed Bath and Beyond.  Those things are AWESOME.  Paint your toenails.  Here's Someone else's cool list.  

3.  Don't be a Grinch. If you can't go out and have fun, stay home and have fun.  Go to a movie and escape reality for a while.  Yes, even by yourself.  No one is looking at you.  They are way too wrapped up in themselves.  Don't expect the whole world to slow down because you're struggling.  Many people are having fun this time of year.  It isn't a personal insult when others are happy. 

4.  Don't Mope.  Taking time to rest and regroup is one thing, out and out wallowing in self-pity is another.  Now don't get me wrong, having a good wallow has its time and place, but healthy wallowing is time-limited, and while you're wallowing you know you will stop in a while and resume problem solving.  Trying not to acknowledge things that are going wrong is like trying not to breathe.  We are humans.  But we are at the top of the food chain because we can think about the future and plan for things.  Do it. 

5.  Give back.  This does really help.  Find a charity and go volunteer, if you have the time.  If anxiety, or a crazy schedule keeps you from going to a soup kitchen, donate a coat.  Or mittens.  Or something.  Bake cookies for a military unit overseas.  Go read to someone at a nursing home.  Give back with the click of your mouse.  Shovel your neighbor's walkway and let them wonder who did it.  Or heck, just send a nice card to someone you know. 

 6.  Look to the future with at least one squinty, jaded eye.  It won't suck forever.  If you're going to think about how bad things are, spend some time making plans or taking action that will make it better.  Get a better job.  Ask for help.  Join a support group.  Read a book on whatever you're struggling with.  Pick ONE THING that might make a difference and do it.  Feng Shui says if you simply MOVE 20 items in your home, it will release stuck energy.  So re-arrange that living room!!

Most of all, hang in there.  34 days till January 2.  You can make it till then.  After that, the lights come down and we get busy forgetting our New Year's resolutions and hunkering down to get ready for taxes, and everyone is grumpy again.  :)

Friday, November 21, 2014

Forgiveness: 4 steps from Door Mat to Door Master

Once you’ve wrapped your heart around forgiveness, you come face to face with the very human instinct to avoid that which causes us pain. It makes sense to stay away from toxic relationships. No one can fault you from keeping distance with someone who is a repeated source of relational chaos.

The easy thing is to just summarily cut the person off. To slam and deadbolt that door and to stop giving them the chance to hurt us by making sure they aren’t within striking distance. How much we need to involve the other person in the process of forgiveness and relational repair depends on how important the connection is to you.

Close personal relationships are a little more challenging than the guy who flips you off in traffic. These aren’t throw away people with zero impact on your life, this is the meat and potatoes of our relational selves. I think the biggest thing that gets in the way of relationship is our inability to manage and tolerate conflict. We either go over the top into grandiosity and self-riteousness or shrink away like WE did something wrong. Somewhere along the way we learned as a society that we should never make anyone uncomfortable. We’ve taken it too far. Feeling uncomfortable is important in maintaining relationship because ideally, it keeps us from acting like jerks.

So. Step 1, gather up your best assertiveness and conflict management skills. (Note to self, write about conflict management skills) Have an awareness of your ability to protect your boundaries by setting and holding limits. Say to yourself “however this turns out, I can handle it.”

Step 2: GO TO THE PERSON YOU HAVE AN ISSUE WITH. NOT TO SOMEONE (or several someones) ELSE. Even the bible backs me up here. I’m out on the whole get your pastor involved approach if the one on one goes south, but I’m all over the idea of dealing with things directly. Use assertive language, I statements, and good boundaries. Stay in your own energetic space. Address what HAPPENED, rather than your armchair psychologist assumptions about the motivations behind what happened. This sounds like “I care about our relationship and I’m struggling with getting past how hurt I am about some of the things you said to me yesterday,” or “I’m having a hard time wanting to make plans with you because the last 4 times we were supposed to meet you either didn’t show up or cancelled at the last minute, and I’m feeling disrespected,” not “you can’t treat me like that, you’re an idiot and you need to stop being a jerk.”

Offer concrete solutions for how you would like to resolve the situation, up to and including specific words you would like to hear the person say, if that’s the way it is in your head. “You know Bob, what I need to hear you say is that you understand how your words/actions impacted me, and that it matters to you how I feel.”

There’s a great deal of debate about how to deliver this message. In a nutshell, here’s my 2 cents. ANY WAY YOU CAN. If you have the relationship skills to have a sit-down with the person, keep your wits about you and look them right in the eye, that’s awesome. Most of us don’t. Most of us get overwhelmed and emotionally flooded in the face of conflict and will pull out our less-than-helpful communication habits (see amygdala hijack and how the part of your brain where you store all those awesome relationship and communication skills is more or less locked out when you’ve got adrenalilne running through your system). Secondly, face to face conversations can feel like a blitz attack to the other person and set up some defensiveness right from the get go. For my money? Pick up a piece of paper and a pen. Write words. I think email is a completely acceptable option. Text. Send the message by carrier pigeon if you have to, but GET IT OUT THERE. Keeping it inside your head fosters resentment and impedes forgiveness.

Step 3: Wait to see what happens. Don’t play the big fight over and over in your head. Don’t rehearse all the nasty biting sarcastic comments you could possibly make. If you’re going to practice for the other person going on the offensive and waging an attack, prepare for level 2 de-escalation which sounds like “hey – hold on – I’m not attacking you. I care about our relationship enough to come to you and try to work this out between us. You’re a good person. I know that. I want you in my life. Can we talk about it?” Yep. I know. This flies in the face of everything we have learned from TV and movies. Please refer to my future best-selling self-help book entitled“Being healthy is really boring.” No one makes movies about GOOD communication. There’s no crisis. No opportunity for denoument and the swell of violin music. There used to be this series of greeting cards with a couple little ants having a conversation. One ant said “forget your troubles” and the other one said “ok.” Now that’s brief therapy!

Step 4: LET GO. Communication about conflict has one of two possible outcomes. Either the relationship continues or it doesn’t. If the relationship continues, stop beating a dead horse. Don’t beat the other person with it either. Don’t lay in wait for them to offend again. It’s human nature when we’ve been hurt to feel a little guarded. Own it. This might sound like “I know I’m a little guarded. I’m working on it. Thanks for your patience with me.” (note to self: write article about how to respond to this statement) It does NOT sound like accusing the person of offending in the FUTURE. “Oh yeah the moment I let my guard down you’ll just do it again.” If you’re in that corner and won’t get out of it, leave the relationship. You’re done.

If you’ve gone through level 1 and 2 of respectful resolution and the other person just isn’t getting it – they blame you, they don’t even admit what happened, or they justify their behavior and maintain their defensive and angry position, you might need to limit your interactions with this person. But with forgiveness. Not “I can’t deal with him” or “she’s just a toxic person.” With an understanding that whatever is going on for that person right then, they weren’t able to come to the table and work it out. It’s not a commentary on your worth as a person. It’s not an attack or an insult. It’s sad. It’s a shame. Shake the dust off your feet and move on, energetically wishing the person well and keeping the door cracked open just in case they read my next blog on the flip side of forgiveness. Don’t expect Francis Ford Coppola to come knocking at your door for the screen rights. It won’t be dramatic enough. Grieve. Accept. Move on.

“This is the way the world ends – not with a bang, but a whimper.” - TS Eliot 

Friday, November 14, 2014

5 Myths About Forgiveness

What's all this business about forgiveness?  Doesn't that mean we walk around as human doormats?  Powerless victims over those who are more willing to act out their self-centered, myopic agendas?  Nope. 

Forgiveness is as much (if not more) about what you’re going to carry around with you as it is about how you handle the other person.  When we forgive, we let go of the resentment that eats away at our ability to be peaceful in the world. 

Myth 1. The other person has to apologize for me to forgive them.  This is a nice theory, and it is easier when someone owns their own behavior, but reality is that most people don't know how to apologize.  They know how to slink around, lay blame, avoid you, be defensive and give you 45 reasons why you shouldn't hold them accountable . . . but they don't know how to apologize.

More often than not, someone's bad behavior has less to do with you than it does with their own insecurity and lack of relationship skill. When you know that, you can forgive, knowing that there WAS a reason for whatever offense was committed, and that the reason probably had very little to do with you personally. You can realize that the other person is doing the best they can with the tools they have in the moment ... and that you don’t have to be a punching bag. You have compassion for whatever pain they must be experiencing to make it seem acceptable to behave the way they are, and you LET IT GO. You don’t stew about it, or play nasty conversations over and over in your head. You don’t form a committee of your 76 closest friends to make sure they are on your side. You don’t put it on facebook, you don’t text nasty messages. You don’t turn and walk the other way to avoid the person at church. You stop insiting that they change their behavior, and you change yours. 

Myth 2.  Forgiveness comes after a big, dramatic confrontation worthy of an Oscar nomination.
Sometimes, you can pull off forgiveness without involving the other party at all.This rarely works if the relationship in question is a close one, so keep reading for tips on how to appropriately confront and ask for an apology if one is not forthcoming.  However, there are situations in which it isn't possible to get resolution, or where the attempt to get resolution is likely to turn out poorly.   If you’ve been treated poorly by a fellow driver on the highway, for example, odds are this isn’t a relationship you’re going to nurture and depend on. So someone swerves in front of you AND flips you off. Smile. Wave. And for the rest of the day instead of thinking how dare that JERK disrespect you and running through the list of searing insults you would be happy to deliver, energetically wish that person peace as you smile and wave. Energetically understand that they’re insecure and scared inside if they need to be that outwardly aggressive and hope for them that they have the opportunity to heal. Take the opportunity to reflect on how thankful you are that you’re secure enough in yourself to not need to be a jerk in return just to show that total stranger that you won’t stand for being treated like that by golly. Let it go. Notice how much less it takes a bite out of your mood. In 5 minutes you won’t even remember it happened. Similar skills apply with someone you think won't respond positively to an attempt to work it out and you decide it isn't worth your time.  And if it is really that hard to not flip off some jerk driver, or make a nasty comment to the server/customer service person? Take a good look in the mirror at your own insecurities and low self-esteem. 

Myth 3.  Holding a grudge is the same as boundaries.  Boundaries are often confused with WALLS.  Forgiveness REQUIRES good boundaries.  It means that you no longer have to avoid a person or be mad at them because you know that if it gets uncomfortable, you can handle the situation with grace.  You can set limits, including limiting how much access the person has to you.  Including whether or not to be around that person.  The difference is whether or not you have to skip Thanksgiving dinner at Grandma's because your sister will be there, and whether or not you feel uncomfortable about being there.  Good boundaries mean you go, and you feel fine.  If it goes south, you can make choices about it, up to and including leaving the scene. 

Myth 4.  Forgiving someone makes you a doormat
Forgiving someone does not give them power over you.  It means that you’re not going to give the situation power OVER YOU and let it ruin your day.  Forgiveness is the energy with which you set limits.  Kind, loving, and sometimes sad limits, as in “I’m ending our relationship because I can no longer be around you AND be respectful to myself.” Forgiveness is not a “get out of jail free” card for the offender.It is an opportunity – a partially open door– for relationship repair and growth.  Anyone who demands forgiveness is avioding responsibility.  No one DESERVES forgiveness. True Forgiveness is a gift.  Continued relationship depends on what happens next.

Myth 5.  Forgiving someone lets them off the hook.
Forgiving someone doesn't mean their behavior acceptable. It doesn’t mean you condone or accept what they did.  It also does not mean the door is open for that person to continue to treat you badly.  Forgiveness just means that you're not going to carry around a grudge about the LAST event, and that if you continue to be around that person, you will treat them with kind limits, and protect your boundaries.  You will not let their acting like a jerk lead you to act like a jerk.  Take the high road. 

But how do you forgive and still have expectations?  Aren’t those opposites?

I don’t think so.   Stay tuned.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Forgiveness is an attribute of the strong.

Here we go into the Holiday season once again.  The season of parties and dinners and sitting around the table with those nearest and dearest, and often with whom we have the most conflict.  We tend to talk a lot about forgiveness, and conflict, and how we ought to treat each other.  Especially forgiveness.  Turn the other cheek and all that, forgive, forgive, forgive.
Well, that sounds like a lovely idea and all, but what does that mean and how do you do it?  I think society has watered down the powerful force of forgiveness to a point where it feels like we must be the proverbial doormat, and totally give up on being respected.  Au contraire.  Buddhaghosa, the 5th century commentator, is credited with the saying "by holding onto anger, you are like a man who wants to hit another and picks up a burning ember or excrement in his hand and so first burns himself or makes himself stink.” Visuddhimagga IX, 23.   Forgiveness frees us from this.  Anger and resentment are cancer in relationship, eroding trust and inhibiting connectedness; both of which are absolute must haves. 

I think there are many ways to practice forgiveness, all the while maintaining our boundaries and personal integrity.  Forgiveness isn’t pretending it didn’t matter, or forgetting it happened.  It isn’t saying “that’s ok” when it’s not ok.  I’m not talking about that kind of forgiveness, which is the fake surface-level crap I often complain about.  It isn't “Oh ... I’ve forgiven that selfish, vindictive, spiteful person for being the awful person she is .... I’m praying for her ...” which gets repeated over and over to anyone who will listen.  Hey folks.  That’s complaining.  That’s an underhanded way to publicly assassinate someone’s character and still get to wear your “LOOK HOW HOLY I AM” t-shirt.  If there’s one thing that makes my blood boil it’s using God as an excuse to act like a jerk. 
In my opinion, forgiveness has to do with an understanding that the other person isn’t necessarily doing whatever they’re doing TO you, they’re doing it NEAR you.  Their big fault is not NOT doing it to keep you from being collateral damage to their wounded process.  Once upon a time when I was a baby therapist I had a lot of judgments about “bad” people out there.  I couldn’t understand how poeple could carry out the atrocities they inflicted upon each other.  20 years later, I get it.  I get that the more horiffic the offense, the deeper the underlying pain.  Take my word for it.  I’ve walked with people through some of the most unimaginable hells and heard every nightmarish detail of how, in the moment, that behavior is all that makes sense. I understand way more than I ever set out to. That doesn’t mean it is acceptable, of course. And it definitely doesn’t mean I have to watch it happen on the news.

Forgiveness is for the forgiver. It's a way to keep from internal combustion. It may or may not have anything to do with the person who wronged us. Stay tuned for a series on how forgiveness and boundaries work together. Just in time to deck the halls.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Grieving Robin Williams - an unanticipated part 2

When I wrote my previous post, up to my eyeballs in grief over the overwhelming sense of being alone that is rampant among people in today's high-tech, fast-paced, slash and burn world, it was a plea for people to remember the importance of COMMUNICATING how you feel about someone.  About recognizing that you may deeply care about a person, but if you keep that information inside your head, the other person may not get the message.  My hope was that people would take the opportunity to reach out to others in their circles and have a touching moment of connectedness. 

It didn't occur to me that some of my readers are also friends who form the pillars of my own support system and would take the opportunity to reach out to ME. 

You see, one of my really bad habits is that it's always about someone else for me.  Most of the time I'm pretty ok at taking care of myself, and my best friend teases me that I'm allergic to help.  In fact, most of the people in my inner circle enjoy setting me up by asking if they can help with something, and then answering WITH me "Nope!  I got it!"  (I show them though, from time to time.  I ACCEPT help)  We won't go into how I personally learned that asking for help was a negative thing.  No one MEANT to teach me, but I learned it anyway.  And it benefitted me in many ways, driving me to work hard and strive for excellence.  The dark side is when I need support, I have a hard time asking for it.  Or when I do ask for it and sometimes people don't know how big a deal it is for me to ask and think it's a take-it-or-leave-it issue when really it's a desperate plea in a very tiny voice.  I've trained the people in my life that I'm capable.  I like that they see me that way.  But I have to raise a fairly high flag sometimes before the lightbulb goes on that I've reached the point where I recognize that support would be helpful and that I need someone to reach out to ME.  Sometimes, I get to the point where the effort of getting that lightbulb to go on doesn't seem worth it.  Sometimes, I've faded out of relationships because it became clear that while the other person enjoyed being on the receiving end, when my bucket was empty there was nothing in the relationship for ME. 

It's been a pretty weird experience in the last few days to have people text, email or message me "YOU MATTER TO ME."  Especially the anonymous poster ... don't tell me who you are, it has been GREAT for me to think about accepting that message blindly without even knowing who I'm touched by.  It brought up a good point for me, and since I'm taking the day off today to regroup and breathe a minute before my next stretch of crazy frenetic life, here I am.  2 blogs in a week.  Crazy.

The flip side of reaching out to connect and go the extra step to make absolutely sure that someone knows that they matter to you is to have the ability to ACCEPT that connection when it is offered.  To open up the gates of your emotional fortress and LET IT IN.   

I'll go ahead and use myself as an example, since I'm here.  Some of the reactions in me to people reaching out have been a reminder that despite the work I've done, the dragons still linger in the shadows.  I found myself ANXIOUS AND UNCOMFORTABLE on the receiving end of some of the love.  How weird is that??  I found myself worried that I had come off somehow as ASKING FOR strokes, and that others felt like they HAD TO reach out and did so begrudgingly.  Now the benefit of having been working on this stuff for years is that it didn't take but a second to realize that A) that was completely ridiculous and B) if it were true, it wasn't my issue.  But it's a reminder of the challenges we face.  Not everyone gets to talk about healthy relationship every day for 8 hours, and I remember a time when I got caught up in those irrational beliefs for more than a few seconds. 

It's easy to play the negative stuff over and over in our heads, and get all wrapped around the axle about someone thinking something BAAAAAAD about us.  Give the good stuff just as much power.  Roll it around in your head and soak it up.  "I MATTER TO PEOPLE."  Don't let the thought of the people you know you DON'T matter to mar the bright, shiny diamond of the relationships that ARE working.

Especially in depression it is hard to let others in.  Someone who is experiencing depression is in physical and emotional lockdown mode.  It takes energy to reach out.  Depression drains energy.  In addition we build up walls when we're hurting that make it feel like accepting someone else's gift gives them power and makes us vulnerable.  It takes energy to remember that even if there ARE strings on the gift, the best way to unhinge the other person is to accept the gift and ignore the strings.  That being said, depression is not an excuse to lay on the floor and expect people to rescue you. That is a blog for another day.  The point today is that when someone you know is depressed, YOU HAVE TO WORK HARDER TO GET THEM TO HEAR IT. That's how you can help. And still, it may not be enough if the recipient doesn't accept it. 

Robin Williams was one of our best-loved icons.  You would be hard pressed to go out there and find someone who had NO idea who he was.  I imagine he received tons of positive feedback, and heard from literally millions of adoring fans.  Still, somewhere there was a disconnect.  I don't know what it was, and since I won't have time to read the tell-all best seller written by some person out there who is seeing dollar signs right now, I will probably never know.  But I will bet it had something to do with feeling alone. 

Once I had a really bad day.  Fortunately, I also have a great friend.  I told her over and over that I was fine on my way home from work that night, and I was fine-ish.  I would have gone home and recovered and gotten up the next day and done it again, there was zero chance I would hurt myself.  Still, when I walked in my door and found her in my house, not expecting me to TALK about it, not expecting me to put on a happy face and be positive, but just refusing to allow me to feel awful AND also alone, I could not miss that I mattered.  She went WAY out of her way and re-arranged her own busy life just because she cares about me.  I'm a little hard-headed sometimes, and it takes some drastic measures to get the message across.  Be willing to do that for people.  It makes a difference.  Thanks, B. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

I'm not ready to celebrate the life of Robin Williams. I'm still stuck on his death.

I am utterly heartbroken over the death of Robin Williams.  I was at a dinner party when I heard the news on Monday, and had to suck it up because I had a clinic to present on Tuesday, but the tears came later that night and I’ve been in a funk ever since.  Tomorrow I have to figure out how to go to work and fight the good fight.  

As a mental health practitioner, the reality of suicide is part of my everyday life.  I have heard story after story of the struggles people endured in their decisions to attempt to take their own lives.  Thankfully I’m hearing these stories from survivors.  I’m not here to overdramatize it, but this one is kicking my therapeutic butt.  Today I wept (more than once) over a video of Robin Williams with Koko the gorilla.  In the last couple of days, I’ve wept over the writings of other people who are similarly wrecked by this tragedy.  I've shed more than a few tears over the pictures in my head of what it takes to get to the point where you're willing to take that final step.  I’m not on the “OMG A FAMOUS PERSON DIED” train here.  To be honest, I feel the same way about every suicide.  About the woman who took a presumably accidental overdose of pain medication and alcohol.  About the man who shot himself in front of his family.  About the 22 year old who thankfully was discovered before the lights went out when he tried to hang himself, who was the inspiration for the "It won't suck forever" campaign.  There are now 1000 wristbands out there.  I’ve heard way too much about what it takes to make that decision and follow it through, and have more pictures in my head than I want anyone else to imagine.       

I’m disgusted by the media (as usual).  I’m disgusted by the sunny-side-up presentation of celebrating the life of this man with not even a nod to how awful this is.  I’m disgusted by the “OH DEPRESSION IS SUCH A TERRIBLE DISEASE AND OF COURSE SUICIDE IS THE OUTCOME” posts.  Guess what.  It isn't a straight line.  Lots of people have depression and don’t kill themselves.  It’s a nice way for people to let themselves off the hook.  We’re good at that these days. 

What makes the difference???  You know me well enough by now to not be surprised that the answer in my opininon is CONNECTEDNESS.  It is harder to think that killing yourself is a great idea if you believe that A) there are people who love you and B) those people will be worse off without you than with you.   

There are no words to describe the helplessness I feel about how ti fix this problem.  I preach it over and over.  I feel such desperation every time there’s a reminder in the media of the devastation that the lack of connectedness brings, and this is yet another example.  I will stand on my soapbox like the Lorax and loudly proclaim that something has to change. How many people have to die before we get it?   I am also a believer in the right to make your own choices, and I will respect the decision Robin Williams made to end what he saw as unbearable and unending sufferning,


I won't miss this opportunity to make a plea for people to connect.  Folks, don’t miss any chance to tell people you love them.  Don’t let a day go by without telling someone how much they mean to you.  You never know when that will make a difference.  Did you see “What Women Want?”  That’s not total make believe. 

What Women Waant
Sometimes a kind word makes all the difference.  Get off your cell phone and make eye contact with the cashier at the grocery store.  THANK someone for good customer service.  If you get someone who is having a cranky day, offer a compliment, or a kind word, or even a smile. 
 Pick up a pen.  Write a letter.  Put a stamp on the envelope and walk it ALL THE WAY TO THE MAILBOX.  Send an email.  Make the extra effort to type more than 10 characters at a time.  Let someone know they are worth the effort.  Take the high road in a conflict.  Even when someone else is acting like a jerk, don’t take it as license to out-jerk them.  It will make a difference.  Sometimes, you have no idea how big the difference might be.  Don’t take the chance that you might forever regret NOT taking that step.
I don’t care how you look at it, but I’m begging you not to let your own ego or laziness get in the way of someone knowing that you care about them.  Say "I CARE ABOUT YOU."  In English (or whatever language that person speaks).  Just like that.  Let's practice . . . 1 ... 2 ... 3 ... "I CARE ABOUT YOU ... YOU MATTER TO ME ..."  See?  Easy peasy.

 Ready for the hard part?  If you screwed up in a relationship, APOLOGIZE.  Do what it takes to repair the damage.  Take the high road.  Put on your big kid pants.  Knock of the petty bickering and BS and take the high road.  In case you haven't heard me say it before, THERE IS NO EXCUSE FOR BEING DISRESPECTFUL TO ANYONE, EVER. It is ALWAYS your responsibility. ALWAYS. Doesn't mean it won't happen, but go fix it.
I don’t know about you, but if I hear that someone in my little world decided to end their lives, I will know it isn’t my FAULT, but I want to know that they know regardless of the status of our relationship, in my eyes, they have worth.  In relationships that are toxic, that you choose to end, always differentiate between the worth of the PERSON and the decisions you’ve made about your willingness to participate in the relationship.  You can end a relationship respectfully, being clear about the changes that are needed for that person to be welcome to re-connect.  Never unconditionally close a door.  There’s a whole lot less drama than we like, but it leaves an opportunity for the person who has offended you to know that if they decide to take steps to make amends, they will be met with some degree of openness, and the option of forgiveness should they make that step. 

If you’re the person thinking about ending it, don’t.  Reflect on the ups and downs in life, and know that whatever downs you’re in right now, there are ups to follow.  There are more downs to follow too, but set your sights on learning some new skills to better tolerate those.  Identify things YOU can change and start taking small steps to change them.  Get connected in your community.  Volunteer.  Go to meetup groups.   Find a (good) therapist to be your coach and cheerleader in the process.  Connect, connect, connect.  If all else fails, call ME.  I’ll help you get hooked up.    

For now, I will grieve, not only for the loss of a beloved and talented artist, but for another reminder that one can be loved by an entire nation and still feel alone.  What I can do about it is encourage YOU to pick up your preferred method of communication RIGHT NOW and tell someone that they matter.  Even if it sounds weird, and feels weird and they laugh it off as a joke.  Love and respect are gifts you give without strings.  Do it.  Like your life depended on it.  Because someone's just might.

RIP Robin.  Thanks for all the laughs and the tears.  I hope you found some peace and I’m aching with sorrow that you couldn’t find it here. 

Friday, February 28, 2014

Cherish - turn it inside out!

Squeaking in under the wire, right before the end of the month of February, the therapist comes in with a blog on the final component of how to build a lifetime relationship.
Photo by digitalart
Our friend Merriam Webster says that Cherish means "to keep or cultivate with care and affection."  That sounds like something you do inside your head, and to a certain extent, it is.  Cherish is that warm feeling you can get when you're nowhere near your partner.  It's the feeling you get when you hear that song on the radio that reminds you of that time . . . you get the picture. 
And you get ZERO points for it in a relationship when it's inside your head.  Zero.
How do you cherish someone out loud?  First off, you SAY THANK YOU.  You recognize when your partner is doing something that's outside their realm of normal behavior JUST because they're loving you.  As in "I get that you went to my company dinner just because it was important to me even though you'd rather be getting a root canal.  Thank you."  Bonus points for "I understand that what I said to you last night was hurtful and mean.  I appreciate that you didn't react.  THANK YOU."
Next, KNOW YOUR PARTNER.  Love every quirky, idiosyncratic thing about them.  Is their definition of being "on time" being 15 minutes early?  Be early.  They like their cheese grated and on the side of their hamburger?  Remember to order it that way for them.  If you know that leaving the dishes in the sink bugs them to death, and you leave the dishes in the sink, smile when they look irritated.  Say "I know that bugs you sweetie.  I'm sorry." 

Photo by Photostock
Cherish is TAKING RESPONSIBILITY for your foibles and not blaming your partner for them.  Ideally, this is the person you know best, who knows you best.  You know every button to push.  Don't push.  When they're driving you crazy.  When they're acting out in all of the worst ways they know how, give them the benefit of the doubt and take the high road. 
Cherish is giving the BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT.  It's looking for a reason for your partner's reaction that is something other than "they're a jerk."  It's saying "I know you're scared . . . I'm here for you."  Instead of getting after them for their tone of voice or their over-reaction.  Switch from process to content, meaning the dishes in the sink no longer matter.  It's all about preserving the relationship.  Say "Hey - hold on . . . we're in this together," not "What's your problem?  So I didn't clean up the dishes, SO WHAT??"  Cherish is about taking the high road, and doing it lovingly, without resentment. 
Cherish is about having the other person's back for the sake of the relationship.  It's recognizing that by giving your partner what THEY need, you allow them to give you what YOU need.  That's different than demanding what you want.  It's about saying "let me do this for you" when your partner is at their worst, not their best.  And waiting until they get their wits about them again and can pick up the slack. 

Love, Honor and Cherish make or break it.  It's about YOUR behavior, not theirs.  Yes, there's a point at which the balance is off and the relationship doesn't work.  But that's way down the line.  Be sure you've put in YOUR best effort before pointing your finger at your partner and demanding theirs. 

Make Valentine's day last all year round.  And yes.  It can happen.  :)

“So it's not gonna be easy. It's going to be really hard; we're gonna have to work at this everyday, but I want to do that because I want you. I want all of you, forever, everyday. You and me... everyday.”
Nicholas Sparks, The Notebook

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Honor spelled backward is "Ronoh." (or ... I couldn't come up with a catchy title for this post)

When is the last time you looked deeply into your partner's eyes and said "Darling, I honor you?"  Never?  Probably not.  What the heck would that mean anyway??

Bluntly, honor is about not being a jerk, and it's something that mostly happens INSIDE your head.

These days, Honor is nearly a lost art form.  It's hard to find anyone with honor in the media, in politics, even in literature.  Honor is about doing the right thing whether you feel like it or not.  It's about saying NO to the 5 year old in your head who wants what he/she wants when she/he wants it because you realize you're not a 5 year old, you're a partner in a relationship, and relationships don't work when one person (or both) is a 5 year old.  That's why we make jokes about our kids saying things like "I WON'T BE YOUR BEST FRIEND ANYMORE ..." because we realize that 5 year olds are impulsive, and short sighted, lacking in good judgment and frankly, they're fickle. 

A few basic guidelines come to mind when I think about how to honor your partner:
photo by Stuart Miles
  • DON'T LIE.  Read that again.  DON'T LIE.  EVER.  Lying is a double whammy.  In one breath you can tell someone "I don't care about you" AND "I think you're stupid."  Just don't.  If you can't tell the truth about it, don't do it.  It's that simple.  That's lies of COMISSION (an out and out bold faced lie) and lies of OMISSION (leaving out that OOOOONEEEEEE little detail . . .) as well.  That also includes shading the truth and trying to make someone think they're crazy when you know you're busted.  See below.  
  • ACCEPT CONSEQUENCES when you blow it.  One couple when asked what they needed from each other, responded with the following:  She went on and on about his lack of responsibility, how she needed him to step up and help around the house, follow through on what he said he would do, not lie, etc . . . he said that what he needed from her was "when I don't do it - she can't get mad!"  How's that for a double bind?  They didn't make it.  If you trip and fall and act like a jerk (that's MEN AND WOMEN), don't get mad at the other person for having feelings about it.  Give them a moment to react.  Sit with the fact that you hurt them.  Let that feeling sink in.  That is called guilt.  It's there for a reason.  It's supposed to keep you from doing it again.  Now.  Once you've fully experienced the depth of the consequences, hold yourself in warm regard, take a deep breath, and admit it.  APOLOGIZE.   It doesn't make you a bad person, it makes you a good person who blew it.  Move on from there.  (PS if you're not sorry at the very least that your behavior caused your partner pain, you have a much bigger problem) 
  • BE RESPONSIBLE.  If you say you're going to do something, do it.  If you are somehow unavoidably kept from living up to your commitment as a result of alien abduction or being trapped under a heavy object, go back to your partner and let them know BEFORE they find out on their own.  In this realm, surprise is never a good thing.  In the same vein, don't do things that you know will negatively impact the other person just because you feel like it.  Don't buy a new pair of oh-so-super-cute-won't-these-look-great boots and then not be able to meet your financial obligations.  It's called "impulse control." Grownups have it.  5 year olds don't.
  • BE A CHAMPION.  Safeguard your partner's character to the public.  Don't bitch to your friends about things you ought to be discussing with your partner.  It leaves a bad impression that will remain long after your tiff is over.  If the topic does come up, don't throw your partner under the bus.  Accept responsibility for your own failings and foibles, while keeping your self-esteem about you.  No one expects you to be perfect, but at least be fair.  And don't lie to make yourself look blameless, or like a victim.  That's the opposite of honor.
  • KNOW WHO YOUR PARTNER IS, and show respect for that even if it's different than you.  They're religious and you're not?   You will not die if you go to a church service now and the, even if it's not Christmas or Easter.  They don't like mushrooms and you do?  Add the mushrooms at the end, after separating out a portion.  Pay for a concert with music you don't like and have a ball watching them enjoy it.  Support them in their hobbies, encourage them in pursuit of their passions, and never EVER confuse "I don't like doing _______ " with "you shouldn't do that."  Know the three things they would NEVER say to the kids, and don't say them either.  Your partner's preference for having the carpet vacuumed in diagonal lines is just as important as your feeling like they're lucky you know where the switch is and are willing to shove the vaccuum around for a while.  Compromise.  Figure it out.  Make agreements on when the dishes are to get done that are agreeable to both parties and STICK TO THEM.  Even if you don't feel like it. 

Honoring someone is about doing these things lovingly and without resentment. You honor someone because you love them, and because honor breeds trust.  Be someone your partner can brag about.


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

L - Is For the Way You Look at Me ...

 WOO HOO I DID IT!!!!  Welcome to my SERIES on what makes relationships last.  I promised you the big 3, and here they are.  Lifetime partnerships are based in LOVE, HONOR and CHERISH.
The first thing that makes a relationship run is LOVE. 
I'm not 80.  I promise.  But Nat King Cole had it right in his famous spelling-bee hit.  We are all familiar with the hearts and flowers part, right?  L - is for the way you LOOK at me, O - is for the only ONE I see .... you get the picture.  If you don't, listen to the above link.  That is LOVE from one angle.  I love how you make me feel, how I feel when I'm with you . . . all about MEEE!!  That's courtship.  The initial Zing! Went the strings of my heart attraction.  We need that.  Attraction is what makes our eyes meet across a crowded room and think:  "YOU.  I bet YOU could bring home the antelope/pop out a dozen kids."  Love the noun is something that happens INSIDE your head.  It's a thing.  You HAVE it.  You're IN it.  Love the noun is about phermones and hormones and a bunch of other ... um ... MONES, if you know what I mean.  That lasts about 6 months.  Love the noun is the key turning in the ignition. 

And then there's LOVE the verb - the doing word -  the fuel for this thing to run. 

What I see over and over in my little office is people who have a great foundation of love for each other, but have stopped DOING anything about it.  Now this is a generalization so nobody get offended, but one partner (typically men) go to work and think about their significant others.  They look at the picture on their desks and smile, they wonder what amazing thing she is doing with the 2.3 children that day, they might have a conversation at the water cooler with a co-worker and express how lucky they are, drive home anticipating seeing the Norman Rockwell moment that awaits them at home .... and then they walk in the door and get clobbered for not being loving enough, being checked out, self-centered and just plain rotten.  In my experience, these guys don't even know where it's coming from because from their perspective, they've been in love all day. 

 Love becomes a verb when you do something about it OUTSIDE your head.  You gotta re-fuel that machine if it's going to keep running.  And not just on Valentine's Day, though that's a start if you're way behind.  Love is taking the time to write a sticky note and put it in your partner's daytimer (yeah I know I'm the only person who has one of those anymore ... work with me) or on the screen of their tablet.  It's folding socks and underwear the way someone likes them folded even if you're a throw them all in the drawer kind of person yourself, or remembering to push the little button on the bathtub spout so they don't get blasted in the back of the head when they turn the water on even though you would never push that button even once if you lived alone.  Love the verb is about trying to make your partner's life better. Love is recognizing when your person is in need and being there whether you feel like it or not.  It's taking the high road and not snapping back when you get snapped at.  And sometimes love is setting a firm limit and not letting someone act out in negative ways to avoid having to deal with a problem.  It's speaking up in an assertive way instead of picking a passive-aggressive fight.  It's calling someone on their bad habits.  It's bringing up a sore subject to get it resolved once and for all instead of letting resentment grow.  Sometimes, love the verb really sucks.

Still, love the verb is putting your money where your mouth is, relationship-wise.  It's the grease-monkey, nuts and bolts of making a relationship work.  How boring. 

Love that lasts is the noun and the verb working together.  It takes work to keep the excitement of that first 6 months going, but it can be done!  It takes planning and anticipation, and the absence of resentment because you've been keeping up with love the verb.  LOVE someone actively in exciting and creative ways.  Don't wait till you feel like it.  Pick a day and make it exciting.  Hey!  How about TODAY!!!  Leave love notes.  Plan a date.  Be creative.  Leave a trail of rose petals, or bread crumbs . . . or whatever.  Send an email with a link to a favorite song.  Come up with your "thing," like a secret phrase or way you hold hands.  Give a massage  Entice.  Enjoy.  Think about what lights THEIR fire, and give it to them.  That's when LOVE is FUN!
I can't get the photo captions to work.  Dangit.
Tree And Root Of Red Heart by Archipoch
Heart By koko-tewan
And my favorite Stock Photo couple is still going strong ... Photo by imagerymajestic.