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

When a Relationship has ran its Course

run_its_course_header

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.

 

creating_love_till_the_end

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.

Why Do Guys not “Get It”?

JimCarrey

A while back I was talking to a friend of mine, and we were talking about those final sputtering gasps of relationships and how they often look the same.

Usually it looks something like this…

A couple stops doing things together, they stop having fun together, they stop having sex, and often even stop sleeping in the same bed.

The sense of “we” breaks down, and they increasingly become two people living separate lives; simply occupying the same space instead of being “a couple”.

Maybe they start fighting a lot, or maybe they just stop talking and interacting AT ALL.

 

Even still, when one person finally decides to initiate the breakup – the other person is often caught completely off guard.

 

The way the scenario was presented to me, it was the woman who was the one initiating the breakup; and the question was asked of me:

“why in the world are guys surprised when this happens?  You’re not getting along.  You’re not having sex.  Why is this a surprise?”

Yet for the person on the receiving end of the breakup, it often is.  Sometimes the other person is completely blindsided by the loss of the relationship.

 

As I thought about it, I realized it was a great question.

Why is it a surprise?

Why in the world doesn’t someone see it coming?  Especially when there are usually a significant number of signs that something is clearly wrong.

Is the person on the receiving end of the breakup stupid?

I suppose it’s possible that stupidity, ignorance or naivety plays a role here.  But often I think the issue goes a little bit deeper than that.

And I think it’s a sign of a relationship where there is very poor communication.

 

One of the biggest issues plaguing couples is an (often unspoken) belief that if your partner “knows you” then they will know what you are thinking, or be able to read your body language.

News flash – it’s not true!  People *aren’t* mind readers.  Well, I suppose some might be – and if you actually can then great, I’m not trying to downplay that ability.

But by and large?  Ummmmm… no, things don’t work that way.

When you’ve spent enough time with someone you often can make some guesses as to how they will react to events.  And you probably get pretty good at reading their body language (when you’re actually paying attention) over time.  But no, you can’t read their mind.  You don’t actually know what they are thinking – it’s just guesses.

In fact, believing people should be able to read your mind (or thinking you can read theirs) is one of the leading thinking patterns (or cognitive distortions) associated with things like anxiety and depression.  Or on a lesser scale, unhappy relationships.

So if we can accept that the person who is caught off guard on the receiving end of a breakup can’t actually read minds, and we can accept that they aren’t necessarily stupid, then maybe something else is happening here.

Maybe, just maybe

They are caught off guard because although they knew *something* was wrong, they had no idea what it was, or they had no idea how severe the issue was.

 

Going back to the common signs of a relationship in distress, I mentioned things like a couple no longer  doing things together, not really having fun anymore, not really having sex, and even not sleeping in the same bed.

Basically, a couple ceasing to be a couple.

When this happens, usually one person has pulled away or started to check out of the relationship.

Depending on what is going on in their lives, maybe the other person doesn’t notice at first.  But eventually they clue in that *something* isn’t quite right.

And I think what happens next is what will likely determine the outcome of the relationship.

 

There’s a pretty good chance shitty communication and a dislike of conflict on the part of one or both parties has gotten the couple to this point.

So chances are, the person who notices things aren’t quite right will wait it out for a bit.  After all, people and couples have good days and bad days; maybe this is just something that will pass.

Maybe they try engaging their partner a bit more.  Or maybe they actually ask them something like “hey, is everything alright?”

No one *likes* to discuss difficult things.  No one likes conflict.

But the worst thing people can do is say “yeah, things are fine” when they really aren’t.

Issues and concerns need to be out in the open, and they need to stay out in the open as long as is required to either get things resolved, come to terms with the fact that this is an issue that will always be there (and you can accept that), or realize that the nature of the issue is one which means a couple may be better apart.

People may not like to admit that last one.  But really, sometimes couples are simply not good together.  Sometimes there differences are things that they will never resolve, and if they can’t accept each other for who they are then ending a relationship is actually an act of kindness and compassion.  Time is the one thing we can never get back, so if you don’t actually WANT to be there, get out.  Don’t waste someone else’s time.

 

If someone notices that their partner is withdrawing from the relationship, yet their partner claims things are “fine” or won’t talk about it; it becomes very easy to mentally fill in the blanks and find other reasons as to why they may be withdrawing.

Perhaps they are stressed with work.  Perhaps they are unhappy with something else in their life.

There can be any number of reasons why someone can check out for a while, and often those reasons can have nothing to do with the relationship.

And if they are telling you it’s not the relationship, not being clear about the issues in a relationship, or being passive aggressive in addressing these issues?  Well, it’s easy to tell yourself it’s something else.

Maybe it’s a form of denial or wish fulfillment, but when there are signs of trouble yet your partner won’t tell you what is wrong, it’s really easy to find other reasons to explain away their behavior.

And when you start to tell yourself that the issues are due to something else, then it’s easy to feel blindsided when things completely fall apart, even when there’s ample evidence that something is wrong.

So to me, it really comes down to communication.

 

Let’s look at this another way.

When you are the person on the receiving end of a person who’s checking out of a relationship, yet they aren’t articulating to you (in a way that you understand) that there are problems, what’s really happening?

Maybe they are scared to communicate and avoiding dealing with things.

Maybe they they’ve tried communicating, but they feel they haven’t been heard.

Or maybe they’ve communicated in a way that made sense to them, but really wasn’t understood by you.

Personally, I think it’s often the latter of these.

 

I’m operating from the premise that people aren’t actually stupid (alright, some are).  I also believe most people are in the relationship because they actually “want” to be there, and DO want things to work out.

People communicate in different ways, but communication is a two way street.  It’s not just about one person describing what they are thinking or feeling.  It’s also about the other person actually understanding those things, and not just hearing the words.  Without understanding, you have a monologue – not communication.  And without actual two way communication, a couple is in a world of trouble.

communication model

In the above communication model feedback is the key piece, and if you note the arrows, it’s a two way street.  It involves two people going back and forth, as much as they need to in order to ensure the message is understood.

It’s this feedback that is often missing piece with couples.

It can be frustrating and exhausting to go back and forth ensuring you are understood.  It may result in arguments, and your partner may never fully agree with what you are saying.

But that effort to ensure there is two way communication is incredibly important.  Because think of the alternative…

  • One person speaking but not feeling heard.
  • Resentment and apathy setting in.
  • The relationship slowly breaking down as one or both people emotionally detach, until you are two people occupying the same space instead of two people sharing and building something together.

No one should ever be blindsided by the ending of a relationship.  If they are, then somewhere along the way the communication has broken down; or it was never really there in the first place.

Communication isn’t always easy, but some things are worth fighting for.  And if you want your relationship to last, communication needs to be built so that both people know they are being heard.

Making Choices

choices_header

Choice.

In life, there is very little we have control over.

We all come from different walks of life, and have had different things happen to us.  Sometimes life goes relatively according to plan, while at other times life throws us curveballs we never could have anticipated (both good and bad).

Yet no matter what happens to us in life, we are never just passive observers caught in the wake of events.

The one element we are always in control of is how we respond to the events in our life.

That response is always our choice.

 

When things go wrong in our lives it’s understandable to be upset.  And it’s natural to look for someone to blame.

But blame doesn’t help us.

Whatever has happened has already happened, and we can’t change it.  Plus sometimes there isn’t even anyone to blame.  Sometimes things just happen and all we can do is accept them.

That doesn’t mean we have to like whatever has happened, but the reality is we can’t change it.

Our only choice is in deciding how we want to move forward.

That decision is an important one, because we have to move forward.  When we get caught up in blaming and we don’t move forward, we are allowing ourselves to remain stuck in the past.

 

I’m not suggesting people try to hold in their feelings and emotions.  We’re human, and we are emotional beings.  When something bad happens in our lives it’s understandable (and normal even) to be upset.  Anger, sadness, fear – these are all natural responses to events and it’s important that we accept them.

However it’s also important that we process them and deal with them.  Because when we don’t, those emotions can control us and keep us trapped, unable to move forward.

 

When someone has hurt you, it’s easy to be angry at other people for things that have happened.  It’s easy to blame, and want to lash out.  It’s easy to let that hurt shape you, and change you.

It’s much harder to work through it, and then let it go.

I don’t pretend to have any magic answers for how to do this, but when facing challenges in life I ask myself a number of questions:

  • How am I spending my energy, and more specifically is it in a positive way?
  • Can I change something?
  • Can I influence something, or do I need to accept it.
  • What can I learn from something?
  • In the big picture, does this really matter?
  • How can I best move forward?

If my energy is being spent focused on what has already happened, then I am allowing myself to be stuck in the past.  Our past shapes our present, and beyond being part of our journey our past also gives us an opportunity to learn from it and try to better ourselves.

 

How we move forward is always our choice.

We only stay stuck if we won’t move forward, and if we can’t let go.

Sometimes letting go means letting go of the hurt and resentment that can keep us stuck.  Other times it means letting go of the people in our lives who are hurting us.  Letting go of people isn’t always an easy choice, but we can’t change others.

If there is something or someone is hurting us, we can’t keep doing the same things and expecting a different outcome.

Something needs to change.

And if we aren’t willing to make changes, then staying where we are is also a choice.

Because the only person who can change where we are, is our self.

The-purest-form-of-insanity-is-to-leave-everything-the-same-and-the-same-time-hope-that-things-will-change.-Albert-Einstein

Prevention vs. Cure

ZenBalanceHeader

During my recent tour of China, one of the things I did was go to a hospital that does traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).

At the hospital a doctor came out and gave our group a short talk on the ideas behind TCM, and coming from the world of western medicine it seems pretty bizarre.

I’m probably going to mess this up completely, but as an overview the premise is that the human body has 5 main elements – wood, fire, earth, metal and water; and that each of these elements is related to an organ in the body.  The kidney represents water, the liver is wood, the heart is fire, the spleen earth, and the lungs are metal.

Why, who knows?  That’s just how it works.

But the key to health in the Chinese model is that it’s important for us to maintain a balance between these elements, and when we don’t, bad things happen.  Similar to rock/paper/scissors, there is a relationship between the elements, so an imbalance in one vs. the others will cause specific effects.

After the overview, they had doctors come in and assess us.  The approach is to look at our tongues and hands, and then based on whatever it is they are looking for they prescribe herbal remedies that are supposed to help alleviate any imbalances in our body.

It was pretty interesting stuff.

the-five-elements

My biggest takeaways from traditional Chinese medicine were as follows:

  • Balance is important to a properly functioning system, and when things get out of balance bad things happen.
  • Prevention is better than cure.

Whether you believe in traditional Chinese medicine or not, these two points seem painfully obvious.  And really I think they apply to virtually everything in life.

Balance is important.  And prevention is better than cure.

 

 

As people, we have (at least) four different sides to ourselves.  There’s the physical – our bodies.  We also have our emotional state, and our intellectual.  And then there’s our spiritual side.  I’m not going to delve into religion here, but whether your spiritual side is manifested through religion or not, I think you can look at your spiritual side as your connection to yourself, and/or the world around you.  The idea that there is “something more”.

It’s important to nurture and take care of all these different sides of ourselves.  And I believe the more we are able to find balance between these different sides, the healthier we are as a person.

 

In addition to trying to find balance between these states as a person, we should also strive to find that balance in our relationships.

Often a relationship starts with physical attraction, leading people to start to get to know one another.  As they learn more about each other person, attraction and connection will hopefully start to happen on additional levels.  Emotionally, intellectually, and even spiritually.

There can be different depths of connection for the different areas.

For example, two people may have an incredible physical connection.  And that may be fun, for a while at least.  But if that’s all there is, it’s unlikely to sustain a relationship over a long period of time.

A couple needs to be able and willing to explore and connect with each other on all levels.  Sharing beliefs, ideas, thoughts, feelings.  And striving to accept and understand each other for who they are.

Some people wall themselves off, either because they’ve never learned how to open up to another person or because they are trying to protect themselves from being hurt.  Ultimately doing just hurts the relationship, as you can’t have closeness without vulnerability.

Finding balance in relationship is important.  Between being an individual and part of a couple; and between the different levels of connection.  The goal in relationships should never be just building connection initially, but also continuing to grow and maintain this connection over a long period of time.

And I think this is where couples often get into trouble.

 

Prevention is better than cure.

At some level we all know this.

When rot or decay has infected something, that rot needs to be cut out before it spreads and does further damage.  So preventing rot in the first place should always be the preferable approach.

Yet time and again couples struggle to build resilience into their relationships.  Couples build the relationship, and once they have it they act like the work is done.  They stop doing the little things.  They stop putting in the effort.  And they stop trying.

 

It’s an easy trap to fall into.  After all, life gets busy.

Most of life is mundane – jobs, chores, bills.  All these little things eat away at our time, and prevent us from focusing on our partners.  There are countless little things which on their own are perfectly valid reasons for not putting effort into our relationship.

As one-offs that should be fine, and understandable even.  But when it continues to happen over time, it becomes a pattern.  And that pattern clearly tells the other person:

“This relationship doesn’t matter to me”.

“You don’t matter to me”.

If we aren’t making our relationship a priority in our lives, why should we be shocked when we realize our relationship is in crisis?

MakingTimeForWhatMatters

 

 

What does prevention look like in a relationship?

Taking a page out of traditional Chinese medicine, I think it comes back to balance.  Maybe not between wood, fire, earth, metal and water; but between the different parts of our life.

Yeah, we probably all have jobs to do.  And there is always *stuff* that needs to be done.  Groceries, laundry, cooking, cleaning, bills, etc.  For those who are parents, there is also the time spent on kids.  And these things have to be balanced with having time for yourself and for maintaining friendships.

But there also has to always be time for your relationship.  To not only maintain it, but hopefully to continue to grow it, and continue to learn each other as you change and grow over time.

 

I think prevention means taking time out every day and being present, in the moment, with each other.  Taking that time to try and stay connected with each other on all levels – physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual.

It is about staying curious about each other, and interested in continuous growth both as individuals and as a couple.

It’s about showing your partner that no matter what else is happening in life, they matter to you.

 

Pink lotus blossoms or water lily flowers blooming on pond

I think the above graphic illustrates this need for balance well.  Physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual – these different levels of connection are all related.  You can’t neglect some parts of a relationship and not expect the other parts to suffer as well.

 

So don’t wait until there are issues in your relationship until you remember to show your partner that they matter to you.  When you neglect it, sometimes it’s too late for “a cure”.

Instead, focus on prevention; and make each other a priority each and every day.

A Beautiful Love Story

BeautifulLoveHeader

A few days ago I was talking to my sister.  Among the many topics we discussed was the death of my Grandmother; how near the end she thought my father was her husband (who had been gone for over 20 years), and how she told him she was glad to see him because she believed that he had come to take her with him.

Honestly, in some ways that doesn’t even seem real.  It seems like something out of a Nicholas Sparks novel or something.

But it happened.

That moment was at once sad and beautiful for me; the thought that near the end, someone’s thoughts would be with their husband/wife, and that they would find peace in the prospect of being reunited with that person.   To me it spoke of a love and a bond that has survived for over 70 years.

And for many, that sort of love seems to be reserved for Hollywood movies and romance novels.

 

It got me wondering what their relationship was like when they were alive.

The truth is I have no idea.

My Grandfather has been gone for over 20 years; passing away while I was in university.  I didn’t really see them interact much, or perhaps it’s more accurate to say I didn’t really pay attention to their interactions at the time.  This may sound terrible, but back then I’m not sure if I really saw my grandparents (or parents for that matter) as real people, I saw them primarily through the roles they played in my life.

However although they were my grandparents they were also real people, and real people have problems.

They have highs, and lows.  They have successes, and suffer disappointments.  Real people tend to get short with each other when they are feeling stressed, and will sometimes say things they later regret.

So I’ll guess they had problems, both individually and as a couple.  I’ll guess they had moments where they didn’t like each other very much.  They may even have had moments where they wondered if they made a mistake, and if there was something different, and better out there.

I don’t really know though.

All I know is, a few days before my grandfather died I sat at the table with them in their kitchen, and they talked about their life together.  I also know my grandmother was in pain when my grandfather passed away.  And I know she seemed happy at the prospect of being reunited with him when she was dying.

 

What is a beautiful love story?

What does it look like to you?

 

It is about meeting your prince/princess charming, who will “complete you”, always love you, never hurt you, and will make your life wonderful?

That isn’t real.  And is more about looking for someone to fill a hole inside you than it is about love.

Is it about meeting someone who will make your heart beat faster, where you can’t stop thinking about them and you want to be with them every waking moment?

That’s something that’s not sustainable, and is more about hormones and infatuation than it is about love.

Is it about traveling the world with someone, and having them shower you with gifts?

That’s about lifestyle, and money, and has little to do with love.

 

No, to me a beautiful love story looks a bit different from what you see in the movies.

To me a beautiful love story is about two people who share values and have a shared vision of the type of relationship they are looking for.  And as they learn each other, they realize that they want share that vision with each other.

It’s about two people who meet and (over time) are willing to let their defenses down with each other; and to be authentic and vulnerable with each other.  People who may still want the other person to like them, but see no need to pretend to be something they are not in order to achieve that.  People who are willing to share their insecurities with each other, and know that although their partner may always push them to try to improve and be the best version of themselves, they are also able to accept them for who they are.

It’s about two people who have individual hopes and dreams, but also have shared goals.  So they share the things they can while also supporting each other for the things they can’t share.  Where one person gets joy not just from having their own needs and wants met, but also by being there to support their partner.

 

Real life isn’t like the movies.  It’s often mundane, and day to day life is often routine.  It can also be messy, as sickness and tragedy can strike at any time.

So in my love story people aren’t always happy, and they understand they don’t need to be.  There are moments of joy, happiness, pain, disappointment, anger and sadness.  There are times when one person will have to support the other, times where a couple will disagree, and times when they aren’t sure if they are going to make it.

But in my love story, people realize love doesn’t just happen.  They realize it can be lost if it’s not nurtured.  They realize that not only are we responsible for making love and affection a part of our everyday interactions, but we are also responsible for maintaining our feelings of love towards our partner.

In my love story each person focuses on who their partner is, instead of worrying about who they aren’t.  And each person continues to choose the other, and continues to reach out to each other with love, each and ever day.

 

That’s my love story.

It may not be the stuff of Hollywood movies or romance novels.

But that doesn’t make it any less beautiful.

 

And if I can find that?

Then maybe I will have found someone who (hopefully a long time from now) will miss me when I am gone, and will find peace in the prospect of one day being reunited with me.

Because that type of love is a love that endures.

long_term_relationship