Learning to Speak

Voice-header

When I look back on my first marriage, one of the things that is most disappointing is how blindsided I felt when I found out it was in trouble.  I knew my ex wasn’t really happy, and I even thought I knew the reasons; but I had no idea that one of those reasons might be me (and/or the marriage).

How does that happen?

How does a person (or couple I guess) get into a spot where one person basically wants out and the other person has no idea that is happening?  Was I some cold callous person who ignored her and only cared about myself?  I guess you would need her thoughts on that, but I sure didn’t think so.  For us to have that sort of gap in our understanding of things, the only thing I can definitively say is *something* had clearly fallen apart in communication.

The past is the past and can never be changed.  Which isn’t to say it doesn’t matter, as it absolutely does.  But the only place it really matters is in how you move forward and what you learn from it.

My goal was to learn enough to hopefully never be in that sort of position again.

 

If I never wanted to be in that spot again, it was up to me to try and understand how I got there.  It seemed surprising, because my ex and I never fought.  Like, never.  And in retrospect, maybe that was part of the problem.

Although we never fought, I can guarantee we didn’t always agree on things.  Which is to be expected, as people won’t always agree on things.  But maybe part of the problem was with how we approached those things we didn’t agree on.

I suspect we didn’t ever fight because instead of sharing how we were feeling, facing issues, and trying to work through them; we just ignored them.  Which is a fantastic idea of course, because we all know that if we ignore something for long enough it will go away (note, sarcasm intended).

That’s not to say I never raised issues.  But under the guise of picking my battles, I ignored way too much.  And many times I should have raised something, I didn’t.

 

Why didn’t I raise issues I felt should be raised?

Looking back, as embarrassing to admit as it is, it was fear.

Fear of the discomfort that it would cause.

Fear of the fight that may ensue.

Fear of the damage it could do.

 

It was WAY easier to tell myself something didn’t matter.  And there is some truth there, because often things don’t matter (the book “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff” is all about reminding us that some things don’t really matter).  But I think at some level we know when things do matter, and when they do, it’s a mistake to keep silent.

However I often kept silent.

I think part of it was because it’s natural to feel uncomfortable with conflict.  In addition I think it was because I didn’t have the personal “tools” for working on things.

 

I had a pretty good childhood, and to this day I think highly of both of my parents.  It’s not like they were perfect or anything (no one is), but I think they are people who generally did their best.  And to me, at the end of the day I think that’s the most important thing.

One thing that my childhood didn’t prepare me for however, was conflict.

See, my parents didn’t really fight or argue.  I’m sure they didn’t always get along, but either their disagreements were behind closed doors OR because I was a kid I was just oblivious to it.  Talk to anyone who knows me well and they will tell you I can be completely naive and oblivious at times, so there’s actually a good chance it’s the latter.

Beyond parents, one of the main places young people learn is at schools.  And although it may be different now, learning about conflict, our emotions and how to manage them wasn’t exactly one of the topics that was covered when I was going through the school system.  It’s something that’s extremely important, but we all just kind of figure it out on our own, at our own pace.  Whatever that pace may be.

As a result I entered young adult life (and relationships) not knowing what to do with conflict.  Not knowing how to have “difficult conversations”, and often avoiding them.

 

Not knowing what to do with conflict was only part of the problem.  The larger problem was the associations I made about conflict…

The people I knew and loved didn’t seem to argue, so in my head I interpreted that as arguing was *bad*, or a sign of problems.  And I sure didn’t want that.  Eventually I found myself in a relationship (and later marriage) with someone who was just as conflict avoidant as I was.  And without being forced to face conflict together, I didn’t build up skills at dealing with it very well.

 

To be clear, I don’t blame anyone for this.  It was how *I* shaped my beliefs about the world based on my experiences.  And I share this primarily because I suspect the way I grew to view the world is not uncommon.

It took me a long time to learn that conflict isn’t bad.  It’s actually super important, and when done right is very healthy.  Conflict is nothing more than differences plus tension.  And since we are all different, it’s natural.

Sure it can go badly as well, but that’s more around how you handle the conflict.  Conflict itself is neither good nor bad.

And communication at its core is all about how you handle that conflict.

My ex and I didn’t come into our relationship with a very good toolset for allowing us to communicate and handle conflict.  And for whatever reason, we never built those tools up.

Looking back, we both had terrible communication skills – though I doubt either of us realized that at the time.  And that was likely a significant factor in the failure of our marriage.

 

When my fiancé and I met, one of the things I told her was that in our relationship no topic could ever be “off the table”.  And in fact, the harder something was to talk about the more important it probably was.

I understood this at an intellectual level, but practically my skillset was still very rudimentary.  She was (and is) much better in this space than I am, and has a much easier time raising the things that need to be raised.

At first it was very difficult.  She would raise something, and I would feel that discomfort – my chest starting to tighten and the blood rushing to my ears.  Sometimes she would suggest that maybe we shouldn’t talk about things, at least not right now.  And sometimes we drop things for the moment at least to gain some space and clear our heads.  But we both realize the importance of talking things through no matter how uncomfortable they make us.

Over time, it’s gotten easier.  I am able to listen, and push back at that discomfort I feel.  And I also find it much easier to raise things that I feel need to be said.

I firmly believe that when it comes to conflict and communication, there ARE tools that you can build up over time.  They are really skills, and the more you work at them the more you can improve them.

 

As a parent, it’s very important that I try to pass this along to my children.  When I think back on how I grew up believing conflict is bad (and how that shaped me), I don’t want that for them.  I want them to understand that conflict is natural.  That it’s alright to disagree.  To be frustrated or mad at each other sometimes.  And that in those moments it’s important to be able to talk to each other.  To tell each other what we are feeling and try to get at the root of why, in a caring and respectful way.  The feelings are natural, it’s how we manage them that really matters.

 

I went almost 40 years without understanding conflict and without having tools to deal with it.  I realize I still have a long way to go and I expect I will spend the rest of my life trying to improve my skills in this area.  That’s alright though, because although it took a long time I feel like I have found my voice, and learned how to speak.

It-s-not-about-finding-your-voice-it-s-about

Growth

A few months ago I took a trip to Italy.  It’s a stunning country with incredible diversity, and every day was a new (and fantastic) experience.

While in Tuscany my group visited a few wineries, and we learned all about the wine making process.  Tuscany is quite hilly, so the wineries generally grow a few different types of grapes.  They do this because moisture naturally settles to the lower parts areas, and some grape varieties do better with different moisture levels.

We figured that moisture levels would be important, so we asked our guide which types of grapes were “the best” and what the optimal conditions were for growing them.  His response (paraphrasing here) was:

Moisture levels are important, but we don’t want too much.  The best quality grapes are actually those that have had to struggle somewhat.  Grapes are like people in that way.

 

My trip to Italy was life changing for me; not just figuratively but also in a literal sense.  Because on this trip I proposed to my girlfriend (now fiance)!

Since getting engaged a few people have asked me “why”.  I’ve been married before (as has she).  And statistics show that the divorce rates for second marriages are higher than the rates for first marriages.  Statistically at least, the odds are against a second marriage being successful.

So why?  Why get married again?  Why not just date?  Or just move in together and cohabitate?

 

To me it comes down to what marriage means (to me).  What is it we actually want out of life, and out of a relationship?  For both of us, we aren’t looking at our relationship as a temporary thing.  We are looking at achieving that idea of “forever”.  Of sharing our lives, and growing old together.

Do we *need* to get married for that?

Absolutely not.

We could definitely achieve that without the marriage.  However I don’t see marriage as just a legal/contractual entity.  To me it’s more than that – it’s a symbol of the commitment we are making both to each other.  And that commitment is something we want to celebrate publicly, with close friends and family.

 

Will we make it?  Will we succeed?  I believe so.  But there’s actually some beauty in not truly knowing the answer to that.  And it makes me think back to the comment made at the winery.

Grapes are like people, in that the best quality is often shaped through adversity.

Well, we’ve both been through some of the ups and downs of life.  We are old enough now that we not only have a pretty good idea of what we want out of a relationship and out of life; but more importantly we know who WE are.  And we are better able to understand what a lifetime of commitment actually means.

I think one of the challenges in relationships that start when we are younger is, we don’t really know ourselves.  So as we grow and change, that relationship that may have made sense for who we “were” no longer makes sense for who we have become.  In an ideal world a couple is able to grow together.  But that doesn’t always happen, especially when we meet when we are young.

That’s not to say we should ever stop growing and changing, because we should.  However the ways and speed at which we change tends to slow down over time.  And more importantly, we’re now conscious of the fact that we will continue to change over time.  It’s on us to communicate how we are changing over time.  To talk through problems.  To be open and upfront about what we each need from each other.

We realize that communication will be the key to our success or failure; and that is at once liberating and terrifying.

Liberating because our success is totally up to us.  It’s on us to choose each other every single day of our lives from here on out (even on the ones we might not particularly feel like it).

And it’s terrifying because…

well, it’s on us.  And communication may seem simple on the surface.  But sometimes it’s the hardest thing on the planet.

 

With a new phase of my life starting, I also have a lot of thoughts about a new phase to this blog.  I plan on being back at it, and have the next 5-10 posts already loosely planned out.

I’m not sure who (if anyone) is still around. If so, hopefully you’ll continue to stick around for the next part of my journey. And for anyone stumbling across thezombieshuffle.com now, welcome aboard!!!

Remembering Grandma

PlayingCards

At my work, we have a group that has recently started up to get together and play cards at lunch periodically.

Today was my first day playing with the group, and the game we played was Canasta.

From as early as I can remember cards have been a part of my life, and when I think of cards I automatically think of my Grandma.

I had a pretty great childhood, and some of my favorite memories are about Grandma and weekend sleepovers at her house. it’s funny that I thought of it as “her” house. Grandpa was there too – but he was often off doing his own thing, mostly joining us for meals and cards after dinner; so most of my memories revolve around Grandma.

I’m one of 4 siblings, but Grandma would have us over individually so she could focus on us. And when we were there she made us feel like the most special kids in the world.

There were all sorts of great moments.

At the start of every Grandma visit she and I would walk to the grocery store, where she let me pick my own box of cereal. My parents didn’t buy sugary cereal, so I almost always chose Fruit Loops (you can’t get much more sugary than that).

I loved to draw, and Grandma kept a drawing pad waiting for me in a drawer in the guest room. I would spend hours drawing assorted creatures and monsters. Once done I would show them to her and she would tell me how horrible they were. Then she would lovingly hang them on the kitchen wall.

And that kitchen…

Grandma was a great cook. The only times I was ever involved in the cooking was when she let me help roll out her spice donuts. But I can still picture her in a floral shirt and an apron working in the kitchen; tasting, seasoning, and ensuring everything was “just right”.

There are all sorts of memories, but my best ones revolve around cards.

My earliest memories of cards are playing games like Concentration and Crazy 8’s. As my skills grew we moved onto more complex games; and our favorites were Russian Bank (when it was just the two of us) and Canasta (when Grandpa played).

At the start of my visit Grandma would give me a small pile of change, and we played for money (I believe Russian Bank was 10 cents a game for the winner, while Canasta was 25 cents). Not only did she provide my starting money, she also ensured I went home after the weekend with a few dollars in my pocket.

I was always proud of the fact that I did well enough against her to come home with a pocket full of change; and it was years before I realized that she was letting me win.

Grandma always taught, pointing out moves when I missed them to help me learn. Or sometimes just asking “are you sure you want to discard?” to make me look at the table more closely for the move I was clearly missing.

As I learned the games she would start to play harder. And I would like to think we eventually got to a point where we were both playing hard and competing. I suppose I’ll never truly know – maybe I only ever won when she let me. I would like to think I earned at least a few of those wins though.

There were so many lessons I didn’t realize I was learning during those hours spent playing cards. Grandma taught me to be a good sport. Winning was secondary to having fun, and cards were primarily an opportunity for visiting and just being present with each other.

In my teen years and early University years I didn’t see my Grandparents very often (though it was still very special when I did). When my Grandpa died, Grandma went to an independent living apartment and I started seeing her on a more regular basis again.

I was a young man now, early in my career; and just as I had changed so had our relationship. She was still my Grandma, but she was also like a friend. I felt no sense of obligation in seeing her, I went because I enjoyed it. She was this cool friend who I could talk to about anything – she just happened to be a lot older than me.

As the years went by, Grandma remained remarkably lucid. I would start hearing her stories repeat a bit more frequently – which for the most part was fine as she was a fantastic story teller, with fun stories.

Eventually the stories started repeating multiple times in a single game of cards, and we knew her mind was starting to go. She was in her 90’s by then so it wasn’t unexpected, but it still wasn’t easy.

It had always seemed like she would live forever, which was ridiculous in some ways. But as her memory continued to go, realization set in that her time with us was coming to a close.

Eventually she was hospitalized, and at some level my family all knew she was never going home again.

She was only in the hospital for a few months, but I hated seeing her there. She was this fiercely independent woman who had made it to her mid 90’s on her own; yet here she was in a hospital bed day after day.

When I would visit she would always ask me “Andrew, when am I going home?” I knew she never was, but I couldn’t tell her that, so I would just respond “as soon as you are strong enough Grandma”. It broke my heart to lie to her, but I couldn’t tell her the truth.

A few weeks before she died, I went to the hospital and brought two decks of cards. I asked the nurses for a second table for her bed so we would have a space big enough for Russian Bank, and we played.

That day, I had to teach her how to play. She couldn’t remember the rules of the game that she and I had spent the last 20 plus playing, though periodically she would tell me that it seemed like it was a wonderful game. It was. And I will always hold dear my memories of playing it with her through the years.

That day I let her win, one last time.

Grandma has been gone for around 10 years now, but she is still very much alive in how she impacted my life.

I don’t play cards that often anymore, but I still play. I have tried to teach my boys, and pass along some of the lessons that I learned. My boys are a different generation and are more interested in electronics, but they will play cards sometimes. And when we get together with my family, it’s always a highlight when the cards come out.

My girlfriend and I have started playing Canasta with my parents, and although we haven’t played that often when we do it’s great.

The lessons of cards are really lessons of life. You won’t always win, and that shouldn’t be the focus. In all aspects of life you need to learn to enjoy the process, and the journey. Because when you enjoy the process it really doesn’t matter what the outcome is.

All those lessons.

All those memories.

And for me, it all started with Grandma.

A Relationship without Empathy

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I little while back I watched the Netflix series “Mindhunter”. It is about the development of the FBIs behavioral science unit in the 1970s, as they start to study and try to understand the mindset of serial killers.

It’s a cool show. It’s slow moving at times, but starting to get into the psychology of killers (and specifically serial killers) is fascinating in its own way.

The was one scene in the series where the main characters are investigating a murder, and one of them says that he anticipates additional victims. I can’t remember the specifics, but he says something along the lines of how he believes that with serial killers they have probably played out the scenes of killing someone in their heads many times, and with the first victim it is often a case of opportunity. Maybe that first victim fell into their lap, and they got away with it. It gave them a sense of power, and excitement, and they get “a taste for it”. So after that first victim, it’s only a matter of time until they kill again.

It’s a disturbing thought, but also one that makes a lot of sense to me. The realization of fantasy can make it so fantasy isn’t enough anymore, and it starts to spill into reality.

This got me thinking about affairs.

Yes, really.

And if you bear with me a moment hopefully this will make at least *some* sense.

Within law, there are different classifications on the severity of what it means when you kill someone.

  • Manslaughter is a scenario where you killed someone, but it was an accident. There was no intent. Negligence perhaps, but not intent.
  • Second degree murder is intentional, but it happens in the heat of the moment and wasn’t planned in any way.
  • First degree murder is the most serious offence. It is not only intentional, but it is also planned/premeditated.

And then you have serial killers.

Serial killers engage in a series of first degree murders (though going with the idea from Mindhunters, I suppose their first victim *may* have been second degree). In law, they are charged with multiple counts of first degree murder.

But I think most would agree that serial killers are a whole other class of nastiness.

I’ve said before in these pages that I don’t think all affairs are created equal. Don’t get me wrong, they are all bad. They are all destructive, and it’s up to each individual and couple to think about what the affair means for their existing relationship. But that doesn’t mean all affairs are equal.

I have heard people claim their affair was an “accident” and they “never meant for it to happen.”

I don’t buy that excuse at all.

There is no affair equivalent to Manslaughter, because affairs can’t be accidents.

It’s not like someone is walking around one day and they slip, and they accidentally make out with/have sex with someone else while they are falling. I’m *pretty* sure it doesn’t work that way.

However I can buy the notion that affairs can be like second degree murder. They can be something that wasn’t planned and happens in the heat of the moment. THAT I can buy. And when affairs *are* like that I suspect there is a lot of regret and remorse, and “oh my god what have I just done” feeling after.

Affairs are frequently a point of no return for relationships, because trust is at the foundation of any relationship and when an affair is revealed that trust is gone.

That being said, in these scenarios, I do think it’s actually possible for couples to work through rebuilding that trust and continuing the relationship. Both people would need to be willing to face it, work through it, and let it go. But I believe it IS possible.

Calculated affairs (which are more like first degree murder) are different though. These are planned, and the adulterer knows exactly what they are doing and getting into. They are fully aware of the damage they are doing to their relationship, they simply don’t care.

Perhaps they do care at some level, but they have decided that what they are getting out of it (pleasure, a feeling of being desirable, a feeling of power, living out a fantasy, or whatever they are looking for) is worth the risk.

In these scenarios I would caution someone to think long and hard before they give the adulterer a chance.

Healthy relationships require mutual respect and caring. When someone has intentionally gone down the road of an affair, they are showing exactly who and what they value in the relationship.

And what they value is themselves.

In going ahead with this sort of affair, they are showing a complete lack of empathy for their partner.

Perhaps more alarmingly, when someone has been able to detach themselves enough from the relationship to have this sort of calculated affair; it rarely ends after the first time (if they “get away with it”). Rather, they will continue to engage in the affair or perhaps even have a series of affairs with different people.

Take the description of serial killers that I paraphrased from Mindhunter earlier, and replace the words “victim” and “kill” with “affair partner” and “cheat”:

“with the first affair partner it is often a case of opportunity. Maybe that first affair partner fell into their lap, and they got away with it. It gave them a sense of power, and excitement, and they get a taste for it. So after that first affair partner, it’s only a matter of time until they cheat again.”

I truly believe this is what happens here.

In fact a few years ago I interviewed two people (one male and one female) who had gone down the road of affairs and although it’s a small sample size they both furthered this belief.

The guy spoke of the affair becoming an addiction, and how he couldn’t stop thinking about her. He acquired that “taste for it”, and he described it as euphoria when they were together. He eventually ended the affair and to my knowledge has spent the last few years trying to rebuild the relationship with his wife.

The lady was a bit different. From our discussions I believe she once loved her husband, but she loved how the affair made her feel. The excitement, the power, the fantasy world. She continued the affair and I believe had at least a few different partners. She had no intention of stopping, but also had no intention of leaving her husband because she enjoyed the life that he provided.

Take a look at this list of characteristics:

  • Sensation seeking
  • Lack of remorse or guilt
  • Lack of empathy
  • Impulsivity
  • The need for control
  • Shallow emotions
  • Lack of responsibility
  • Cunning and manipulative

This is a list of characteristics exhibited by serial killers, and I believe it can also be used to describe serial adulterers.

To engage in a long term affair or multiple affairs, you can’t really have empathy. You can’t truly care about your partner.

You also can’t really be bothered by guilt.

I’m sure at some level you know what you are doing is wrong, but you’ve found ways to justify your actions to yourself. You’re special. You deserve this. Your relationship isn’t that great to begin with. In fact, it’s probably your partners fault because you wouldn’t be cheating if they were taking care of your needs.

A few years ago a number of my readers were women who had stumbled across my site while trying to understand and deal with the fallout and emotions of discovering an affair.

There was always pain, a sense of loss, but also frequently a sense of guilt (along the lines of maybe it wouldn’t have happened if I had been a better partner) and questions about whether I felt the relationship was still worth working on.

I never really wanted to answer that question because I think each person needs to make whatever decision they feel is right for them. But I do caution anyone to consider the following question:

If you find your partner has been cheating and they have continued it for a long time or had multiple partners, do you think they actually care about you? Is it you they want, or are you simple a means to an end – a way to have a life, a lifestyle and perhaps keep a family together? And if it’s the latter, are you really any more than a tool?

For anyone dealing with the pain of discovering an affair, remember that the affair is not about you, and it is not a reflection on you.

Maybe your relationship isn’t what it could be, and maybe you’ve played a part in that. Own that part of things, and only that part.

Having an affair is always a choice, and there was always a different way.

When a Relationship has ran its Course

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Last night I was at a party, and I overheard two people talking about one persons impending divorce.  They were talking about some of the things that naturally happen at the end of a relationship, and one of them told the other that “the relationship had ran its course”.

Hearing this had me thinking about the saying that some people come into our life only for a season.

People Come Into Your Life For A Reason Quote Quote About People Come Into Your Life For A Reason, A Season, Or

It’s true, people come into our lives for different reasons and for different durations.  And people also impact our lives in different ways.  Some people barely touch our lives, while others change it forever.

So yes, there are definitely times when relationships have ran their course.

Times when peoples time together has passed.

When their “season” is done.

 

Thing is, this was a marriage.  And I think all of us go into marriage with the belief that it will last.

No one goes into it expecting it to just last a season.  No one says in their vows “for better or for worse, and until the relationship has ran its course“.

We all go into marriage with a belief in the permanence of it, or we wouldn’t do it.

Yet divorce rates show us that it often doesn’t work out quite the way we expect.  Maybe people change and grow in different directions.  Maybe they find out that neither of them was quite what the other expected.  Maybe they realize that forever is a lot harder than they ever anticipated.

Ultimately the “reason” doesn’t matter; eventually many couples come to the conclusion that they are better apart than together.  So their time together comes to an end.

 

But if the goal of marriage is “forever”, how can we ever hope to achieve that?  Some relationships do last, so not everything has to run its course.

And if some last, the question becomes why do some relationships last while others don’t?

Is it just dumb luck?

 

I don’t buy either of these notions.

Luck means it’s completely random.  And although a lot of pop culture talks about the idea of finding “the one”, I don’t buy into that concept (in fact, I can’t stand it).

The idea of “the right person” takes responsibility out of your own hands.  Because if things aren’t working out, then hey, obviously you just aren’t with the right person.  So why own anything?  Why work on anything?  Why look at what YOU are bringing to the relationship?

None of that matters if you just need to find the right person.

 

I have a different thought on this.

To me, when it comes to the success of relationships the why, what and how matters more than who.

Why are you in the relationship?

What are you expecting out of your relationship?

How do you treat one another, not on when times are good but also when they aren’t?

I can’t give you the answers to these questions, and I can’t tell you what is right or wrong.

However I CAN tell you that I think the honest answers to these questions plays a much larger role in the success of the relationship than the the question of who the other person is.

the_right_person

Of course, the other person does matter too.

A relationship requires two people, and one person cannot keep things alive on their own.

Both people need to want to be there.

Both people need to actively choose each other.

And both people need to try to be the right person.

 

That won’t always be enough – nothing in life is ever guaranteed.  People still do grow in different ways.  People still change.  And sometimes relationships will run their course.

However all we can ever control are our own contributions to a relationship.

So owning our part in things, and focusing on being the right person gives us the best chance of building something that will last.

 

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Lessons from the Past

letter

In the last year plus I’ve found myself single again for the first time in almost twenty years.

When I last was in the dating world I was in my early 20’s; and although I was legally an adult (and thought of myself as mature), looking back I was nothing more than a kid. I didn’t really know very much about life, relationships, or even myself for that matter.

People often imagine what they would do differently if they could go back in time with the knowledge they have gained since. How would they approach life differently with the benefit of that knowledge?

Well, I kind of have that opportunity now.

I can’t go back and do things differently. However I *do* have an opportunity in front of me to take the knowledge I have learned and try to apply it. To try to have the best future I can possibly have.

Even still, todays’ post is about that idea of going back in time. If I *could* write a letter to the younger me, what would it look like?

Although I know I can’t go back, I do have two children who will probably be starting relationships of their own in the next few years. Yeah, I know that they will have to go through their own experiences and learn in their own way. That’s a necessary (and often painful) part of personal growth.

But if I could share knowledge and experience, what would I tell them?

What would I tell myself?

 

Hey there, it’s me.

So you’re starting to notice women, or girls I guess (given your age). Yeah yeah, I know. You really don’t want to talk about this kind of stuff with me. I get that. But still, there are some things I want to tell you that may make life a bit easier for you, if you’re willing to listen.

You’re probably not even thinking about the word “relationship”. You’re probably more focused on the fact that you’re feeling an attraction towards someone. Maybe it’s her smile, her laugh, the sparkle in her eyes, her body.

Maybe it’s just the way you feel when you’re around her.

You want to spend time with her, and learn about her. And you hope that she’s thinking and feeling some of the same thing you are.

If she is? Well, hanging out becomes dating, and you find yourself building some form of a relationship. It will go through different stages and different levels of seriousness, but it’s still a relationship.

 

It’s human nature for us to seek relationships with other people. Family, friends, and of course romantic relationships. These relationships help give us a sense of connection and belonging.

It’s important to realize however that the most important relationship you will ever have is the one you have with yourself.

I really can’t overstate how important this is.

You need to know who you are, and what you want out of life. I get that you’re a kid, and you probably have no clue what I’m talking about. And really, it’s unfair of me to expect you to know who you are at this age. Honestly you’ll probably spend the rest of your life trying to figure that out. It doesn’t matter how old we are, we are always changing and always growing.

I guess the important part is, always accept yourself for who you are.

Right now.

Today.

Don’t worry about what you “are not”. Or about the things other people can do that you can’t.

You’re you, and the only person you should ever be competing with is yourself. Just try and be the best version of yourself that you can be.

Believe in yourself, and know that you can do anything you set your heart to. And on the days that you’re struggling to believe in yourself (cause those days WILL happen), know that I believe in you.

 

This relationship you have with yourself is SO important, because we teach others how to treat us. We show them our worth by how we value ourselves. And how can we ever expect someone else to treat us well, never mind love us, if we don’t love ourselves first?

It’s a process, I get that. And it can take years to truly be comfortable with who you are. In the meantime, when thinking about relationships with other people here are a few pointers…

It’s really easy to want to impress someone, and I’m sure you’ll do that to some degree. But the best thing you can do is to be yourself. Be authentic. Let the other person see you for who you are, flaws and all. Cause let’s face it, we all have them.

So many relationships fail because someone is trying to be what they think the other person wants. Trying to be someone they aren’t.

That really doesn’t help you.

It’s better that someone see’s you for who you are instead of seeing you for who you are pretending to be. What good does it do you to get someone to fall for a you that doesn’t really exist? Eventually you’ll start to resent doing that, or you’ll have to be you. And if they don’t like that when they see you? Well, I hate to say it but will be your own fault. So you may as well just be honest from the beginning.

And guess what, you need to be able to accept them for who they are too. Don’t look at them as someone who would be great if they would just change a few things. You can’t change people, and you shouldn’t try. If you can’t accept them for who they are, then they aren’t the right person for you.

 

In addition to being authentic, be vulnerable. Be willing to let people in, and be willing to show them emotion. Let them see and feel the things you care about, the things you are passionate about. That can be really hard for us, because as guys we’re often taught to hide our emotions and taught that it’s weakness to show them. That’s a load of crap. Women, men, it doesn’t matter. We are all emotional beings, and we need to be able to accept our emotions. I’m not talking about being an emotional basket case, cause that just means you can’t self-regulate. But you need to be able to let people in.

You might get hurt. In fact, I’m pretty sure you will.

That’s alright though, it’s part of it. Over time, the people closest to us will hurt us. It’s up to us to determine how we handle that hurt.

 

One of the things we are rarely taught is how to deal with conflict. Often conflict is seen as this terrible thing, and if you have conflict it becomes a sign that something is wrong.

That thinking is so incredibly damaging, and wrong.

People are different, with different experiences and beliefs. And conflict is just a natural result of these differences. Instead of seeing it as a bad thing, think of it as a way to get a deeper understanding (and hopefully acceptance) of the other person.

Conflict in and of itself isn’t a bad thing. It’s how we deal with conflict (or not deal with it in some cases) that can potentially be a bad thing.

Do we assume that anything different from our beliefs is wrong, or inferior to our beliefs? Are we willing to communicate the things that bother us, or do we keep it in and let it fester? Do we learn and move forward, or do we hold onto the past and refuse to let it go?

 

If we can’t learn to let things go, we’re in for a lifetime of unhappiness and resentment. The past has already happened, and it can’t be changed. All we can do is apply the lessons the past has taught us to building a better future.

That’s not to say we should just accept and put up with anything – another concept that is really important to learn is boundaries.

Personal boundaries are really important to determine. Basically, what truly matters to you? What is acceptable and what it not acceptable to you. Learning this is a process that can take a lifetime, as we often don’t even know what our boundaries are until they have been violated.

When they are violated, defending our own personal boundaries is about calling people out and telling them “hey, you did/said this and this is how it made me feel.” As I said earlier, we teach people how they can treat us. So defining our boundaries and enforcing them is about making the people around us understand what is acceptable and what is not. If our boundaries are constantly violated and we do nothing about it, we are teaching people that how they are treating us is actually alright.

To defend our boundaries we may have to walk away and reduce our exposure to that person, or even remove them from our life completely. It’s not easy, but sometimes it’s the only way.

 

Lets say you can do all that, and find yourself in a relationship with someone where things are going great…

When you get to that point, I want you to be conscious of something called hedonic adaptation. I know, it has a crazy name. But really, it’s probably one of the most important concepts you’ll ever come to understand.

I also think it’s one of the biggest killers of relationships.

So what the heck is it?

 

Think about a time you’ve been excited to get something, and you finally do. Even if it’s awesome at first, over time you stop appreciating it for how awesome it is – because you have it now. It’s yours. So those awesome qualities/features/whatever just become its regular features. And over time, because you get used to having those features you stop noticing them and instead you start noticing the things that are missing.

That’s hedonic adaptation.

It’s part of our psychology, where we are basically hard wired to start taking things for granted once they become our norm. And it applies to everything. New job, car, apartment, cool new gadgets…

And yes, relationships.

 

It doesn’t matter how amazing the person you are with is. Over the long term you WILL start to take her for granted. You will stop noticing all the little things that make her special to you. Because once you’re around her enough, it’s just her. It’s who she is. Nothing can be “new” forever, and we tend to stop appreciating what we already have.

As I said, I think this is probably the biggest killer of relationships out there. This probably doesn’t make any sense to you because you’re thinking “no way, this girl I’m interested in is amazing”. I’m sure she is. So my suggestion to you is, keep that in your heart and in your head.

Be conscious of it.

Think about it.

And on those days when things aren’t going great and you’re having issues, focus on what is it you like about her. Focus on why you wanted to be with her in the first place.

The only way to fight against this natural tendency to take things for granted is to practice active appreciation. Focus on the good, not the bad. I’m not saying ignore the bad, as I’m sure there will be some. Work on that, and have your boundaries. But don’t let it cause you to lose sight of the good.

And remember, she’ll be doing this (taking you for granted) too.

For some people, once they stop seeing the good they start looking for something new. If that happens and they need to be chased, let them go. Because they’re looking for excitement, and you’ll never be enough.

 

So I guess that’s my advice to you. Those are my lessons:

Accept yourself. Be authentic. Be willing to be vulnerable. Accept conflict as natural and learn to work through things. Understand and enforce your own boundaries. And last but not least, learn to appreciate what you have, each and every day.

Beyond that? Smile, laugh, and love.

Nothing in life is guaranteed, but I think doing those things will give you the best shot at something great.

And really, that’s all we can ask for.

Owning your Choices

A number of years ago I remember watching some talk show that was interviewing Charlie Sheen.

The timing of this interview was fairly significant.  He had just gone through a fairly public downward spiral, where he had displayed all sorts of strange and erratic behavior.  I don’t really follow celebrity culture, so I don’t remember the details, but I *do* remember some of the things he said in the interview.

He was asked about whether or not he had any regrets about the things he had done, and he said no.  He said the past was the past and he couldn’t change it, so he wasn’t going to worry about it.

 

I’m a big believer in the notion that our life is our own person journey.  Along the way we are having all sorts of experiences, and we are constantly making choices.  Our experiences and choices are sometimes good, and sometimes bad.  But they ultimately shape us into the people we are today.  This process never really ends, as we are always growing and changing.

So I understand the notion of trying not to get caught up in the past.

He’s right, the past IS the past.  For good OR bad, it’s already happened and can’t be changed; so it really doesn’t make sense to waste energy on something you can’t change.

In fact focusing on the past, getting caught up in it and refusing to let it go, is extremely unhealthy.  Often this is referred to as rumination, and it’s something that’s commonly found in both anxiety and depression.

But (and this is a BIG but)…

That’s not to say the past doesn’t matter.

The past may have already happened, and we may not be able to change it.  However we can ALWAYS learn from it.

We are always going to do some things well, and we are also going to make a lot of mistakes.  The value of this experience is LEARNING from it, and trying to grow as a person.  To improve, and minimize those mistakes moving forward.  To try and do better, and BE better, each and every day.

That is what growth and experience is all about.

And PART of that process is OWNING our mistakes.

Because if we can’t even own our mistakes, then how in the world are we ever supposed to learn from them?  How are we supposed to grow?

We don’t grow if we are blaming someone else or rationalizing away our behavior.  If we say “sure I did that, but it was because…” then we aren’t truly owning it.

To own our choices we need to be able to say “yes, that was me.  I did that.  It was MY choice”.

It’s only THEN, that we can recognize how our choices may have impacted or hurt others.  And it’s only when we do this that that we can truly apologize for something we have done.

 

That was my issue with the Charlie Sheen interview back in the day.

I didn’t sense remorse.

I didn’t sense learning or growth.

There didn’t seem to be any real ownership.

Rather, it was “yeah, I did that.  But I can’t change the past so it doesn’t really matter”.

He didn’t seem to get the impact his actions, his CHOICES, had on others.

 

We all do stupid things sometimes.  We all have moments where we will say thing or do things that will hurt the people we care about.

And these are moments that over time have the potential to seriously damage a relationship.

I believe that when relationships end, it’s usually not because of a particular incident or event.  Sure that happens sometimes, but more often it’s a series of smaller things that allow resentment to gradually build, and over time allows apathy to set in.  Most relationships die the death of a thousand cuts; and maybe there’s an incident that pushes things over the edge – but it’s really all the smaller things that have done the real damage.

And that’s where ownership comes in.

 

People talk about how they would never do anything to hurt someone they love.  Well, I have a different take on that.

We may not *want* to hurt those we love, but if you are around someone long enough you will hurt them.  That’s just human nature.

 

And once you have hurt someone, it’s already happened.  You can’t take it back.

That doesn’t mean you can’t try to make it right though.

Ownership to me is about recognizing what we have done, and how it has impacted those around usIt’s about showing remorse for how we have made the other person feel, and trying to learn from those moments.  It’s about taking steps to prevent those sorts of things from happening again in the future.

It may be true that we cannot change the past.  But we CAN avoid making the same mistakes.  And if we can do that, then we can use the mistakes of our past to build a better future.

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