Communication

Communication Matters

Communication. It’s key. People coming to me for help in their relationships (alone or together) tell me all the time that they

“just need to improve their communication skills.”

Most people strive really hard to do just that.

They work on being kinder and having a softer approach. They work really hard on analyzing correctly so they can get their point across clearly and “be heard.” They gather evidence and examples. They keep an historical record, sometimes verbatim. They submit the hypothetical to their partner “how would you like it if…?” They make appointments to have big talks and get to the bottom of things. Sometimes they even use “date nights” as a time for those big talks. They work really hard to hold it together even when things get tense.

Sound familiar?

Yikes.

Even people who specialize in relationship and couples work often don’t help effectively. They teach people to “attend to listening” or “pay attention” when it’s their partner’s turn to talk. Eye contact. Body language. Turning toward, not away. Leaning in. (No eye-rolling, sighs, or other displays of impatience.) They teach “reflective listening” and hope each person can “issue an empathy statement.”

Huh?

It’s good stuff… if you can do it successfully.

But sometimes it’s so much work.

Especially when, as a listener, you are seething and you already know the next thing your partner is going to say because she’s said it a hundred times and you are being forced to override every cell screaming to get away from this confrontation.You are, after all, in the counselor’s office and you are paying to do this conversation in front of a professional!

Or maybe the words coming out of your man’s mouth feel scathing and you just want to break down and cry but you’re being forced to “hold it together” long enough to be seen as “rational and logical.”

That kind of communication doesn’t truly work.

And by “work” I mean it does not get you what you want: connection, feeling understood, feeling like a team, solution and resolution. That’s why I regularly tell people to stop talking.

Now I don’t mean literally to stop talking entirely. I mean STOP TALKING so much. Stop talking like that. Do something entirely different.

I teach people to use my Clean, Non-blaming Communication (CNBC)™ framework.

It’s nifty. It diffuses huge issues. It’s simple. But not necessarily easy. And it’s usable and useful in so many situations and with all kinds of relationships. I mean that. With kids, bosses, underlings, acquaintances, potential dates, friends, siblings… you name it! Of course, it’s productive and helpful inside relationship!

I love it and I talk about it all the time. That’s because it has changed my life and the lives of so many clients. It grew out of years and years of my own experience, pain, hard work, broken heart, study, research, investigation, trial and error, and finally, complete transformation!

If you’ve signed up for my FREE Coaching Club, you already have a PDF copy of the framework.

Use it. Keep the framework handy because, of course it will feel strange and unnatural at first. It’s very different from what you’ve been doing! You will slip back into the pattern of the The Usual Subtext ™. That’s what’s natural. We’ve been conditioned to use that way of communication and try harder and harder, believing that our efforts have to yield results!

Or, worse, that there is just something wrong with the other person. They’re a bad mate, (we chose the wrong one!) or a bad employee, or bad sales clerk, or aggravating, troubled, difficult son (or daughter.)

We try and try and try and yet, all our efforts fail to get us what we want: cooperation, compliance, respect, connection, empathy, RESULTS!

If you want to learn more about the specifics of how Clean, Non-blaming Communication works, do one of three things:

  1. Sign up for my FREE Coaching Club if you haven’t already. (Under the arrow on the side if you’re on a computer, below here if you’re on a phone or tablet.) You’ll get the PDF plus more info reserved for the Coaching Club and receive Love Letters from me about once a week.
  2. Listen to this episode of my podcast.
  3. Watch the TEDx talk from spring, 2017 in Minneapolis. (I tell a lot of my own story and how CNBC developed.)

Either of the last two will give you a good overview of the framework and insight into WHY it’s time to make a change. Plus, you’ll get some examples of what that might sound like.

Then, jump in and start using it. Try it out and let me know how it’s going. I LOVE, love, love to hear from you! Comment here and let me know how it’s going.

And if this is helpful, share it! We’re interested in helping more people, right?

Your work in relationship

It can be really hard to do your work in relationship when you’re so bothered by someone else NOT doing theirs.

My mother used to say

“you are one hundred percent responsible for your actions and reactions.”

Gosh, I hated my mother sometimes. I rolled my eyes and knew she was right even as a young rascally little girl (with ten siblings!) intent on getting her own way at least some of the time.

It felt unjust to me. I got punished for “acting or reacting.” I got punished for “provoking.” The gist: I got punished.

The weight of being one hundred percent responsible as a child felt scary. Impossible. So burdensome. Too much.

And in fact, it is. There seemed no way to win except to somehow NOT FEEL.

I needed to know a healthy thing to do with my feelings.

Without acknowledgement for the very real thing I was experiencing (aka that feeling I didn’t like) I had no idea what to do with it except stuff it. We were told children should be seen and not heard, unless performing, which I was allowed to do for guests from time to time.

I needed someone in my life to reflect that the thing I was experiencing was real, valid, understandable, human. In short, I needed empathy. I didn’t need anyone to agree that I should feel that way or that I was right to feel that way or that my ensuing desire, hope, or fantasy about how someone else might fix my feeling was justified.

I needed to know I was not wrong or bad or crazy to feel the way I felt.

Instead I got the message not to feel.

It wasn’t common, respected, important, or expedient in my family to have feelings, much less act on them. It was okay to think stuff and do stuff, but talking about feelings… not so much. Displaying a feeling?! Good heavens! Moving an emotion from the rumble of our bodies to actually acting on it with movement or words?! Uh, that’s just not nice. That was punishable by OTHER activity (like running around the barn 20 times) or extra chores. From time to time, the assignment was to “go to your room and THINK about what you’ve done.”

So, we were allowed to “appropriately sublimate” our anger or rage or hurt.  We were allowed to think our feelings or run them out or work them out. And occasionally we were allowed to think our feelings.

Makes for some pretty intense resistance to being one hundred percent responsible…

for my own actions and reactions. I think this approach was very well-intended but what I learned was this: I should just get over it. And if that was hard for me I was being “too sensitive.”

Could have been part of the stoic German/Scandanavian culture and mindset so solidly part of my childhood. Could be that additional German/Protestant work ethic.

Of course, I would be doing my own work! Work is what we do.

And that meant all my own emotional and psychic work as well.

I’ve spent my life DOING just that very thing. And leading others into it as well. So, obviously, I agreed with and wrestled with this mandate in big ways.

Sometimes it meant I did TOO MUCH work in relationship.

I carried too much responsibility for the thing that needed fixing. I picked up other people’s work and tried to do their stuff too or, even better, I tried to do their work instead.

That’s a lovely recipe for disastrous results for everyone.

Maybe you can relate.

Now, I don’t know what are your cultural or family-of-origin contributions to this whole puzzle but they MATTER. They make a difference in how you approach this and how comfortable you are with “feeling your feelings, thinking your thoughts, and doing stuff” versus what you might do as a default: think your feelings, be your thoughts, and act out.

Those early influences also matter in relation to how well you can distinguish your real responsibilities for growth from someone else’s work in relationship.

You might have similar hurdles to mine. Maybe not.

What we know for sure:

We know relationships are healthiest when people are separate and whole individuals deliberately choosing connection.

We know each individual person has human challenges, pretty unique to the way (s)he is made. Lots of these challenges are made worse by the seemingly most-possibly-aggravating pairing of mates in love relationships.

And when that happens, it’s either an invitation to quit or a challenge to rise to the occasion.

Just be sure it’s the right occasion and not just a repeat of familiar, old patterns.

You can’t fix someone else.

And you can’t get someone else or a relationship to fix you. No one else can do your work for you.

Let me say one more thing about this. So often I see people trying to fill the void in their own lives with their primary love relationship. I see people going from relationship to relationship looking for the right person who is going to treat them the way they deserve.

This is a mighty tricky concept because there is a difference between having standards for healthy treatment within a relationship and having expectations that someone else will behave in a way that keeps you comfortable.

News flash: even among quite healthy individuals, you each have your own growth to attend to. You’re not going to get everything you want. And that other person is not going to make you happy, keep you happy, or secure your happiness once and for all.

Life is not a fairytale.

Life is good and love can be good. And you’ve heard me say before that love is not hard, it’s not a lot of work. And I stand by that. But there is no happily ever after. There’s just now.

Love is not a lot of work.

But doing your own work can feel mighty hard and it is still your responsibility. And sometimes doing that work is the most challenging piece of all. Most of us can’t do it all by ourselves. That’s partly because it’s tough to see our way around those common blind spots.

It’s also because it takes real courage to face ourselves, to be vulnerable, to tell the truth and see the truth and then do something truly constructive with the information.

Relationship is good.

We need it. Could be the best relationship you can have with anyone right now is the one with a therapist or coach who has been down the road ahead of you and knows how to gently illuminate the path for you to choose. One thing is sure: that relationship you have with yourself will be stronger for all the work you do that is truly your work to do.

I guarantee that.

And the relationships you have with others will get healthier and healthier the more you can see what is truly your work to do. Fun thing in the whole deal? You’ll be able to stop working so hard at the wrong things and get on with the work that actually makes life better.

It’s not so scary.

Give me a call if you want to talk about how I can support you in the work that matters.

 

 

Taming Required

The fox says, “tame me” in Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s famous children’s tale titled The Little Prince.

If you haven’t read it, you must. It’s full of those not-really-just-for-children moments when it so gracefully teaches us how to live as adults. I’ve never gotten through it without a lump in my throat, outright anguish sometimes. Tears? Why yes, of course. (Because I am that kind of reader. Not everyone is or needs to be to get the benefit. Don’t judge my soft heart.)

You’ll find the fox and his system of taming in the final third of the book, just when the Little Prince is ready to understand the utter value of his one true love, a rose he’s cared for on his little home planet. On his travels all throughout the book, he misses his rose. He worries about her. He ruffles at the thought of her vanity, her ego. He struggles to understand her.

Enter the fox. He shyly invites the Little Prince into a process of “taming.” That process and their relationship become a rich metaphor for us to understand both the great value in loving and the great risk of loss inherent in the process. It emphasizes the necessity of taming, returning at an anticipated time, getting a little closer each time, maintaining a safe experience for both, and celebrating together.

Given my sensibilities, I cry every time when the two- after sweet taming, connection, sharing, play, and joy – must “lose” one another. Yet, it’s still my favorite part. Is it any wonder I work in the specialties of Love and Loss?

You can’t have one without the other, try as we might. No matter what.

The acknowledgement that love and loss are married seems a prerequisite to ALL willingness toward taming. And what is taming, after all, if not those tender steps forward and back which we all experience in our lives and in every type of relationship? Even so, some of us want to skip the process. We want to know. We want a guarantee. We want security. We want to insulate ourselves against the inevitable. We want, essentially, to avoid the loss.

And that’s just not possible.

In fact, it’s not even good or healthy.

Know what is healthy? Realizing that life is both beautiful and short. Plus realizing that, while life is short, love is not. The Little Prince comes to realize he is carrying his love for his rose with him and that he will carry it forever even though she will not last forever. Though she is unique in all the world, she’s a rose, after all. And she’s special to him because he loves her and he has taken the time to tame her even though he did not understand what he was doing. It took his experience with that sly, lovely fox to teach him all about taming and love and loss. It’s a beautiful story.

I suppose I’ve ruined all the embedded themes, but trust me, the book is still a beautiful read.

Much like the cherry blossoms symbolize in Japanese culture, remembering the brevity of life and the inherent danger in taming can serve to enrich our experience. Of life. Of love. Of taming and connection. And being mindful of this can inspire us to love well in each moment.

It can make us brave in our quest to step out and venture into the process of taming.

And it is that process, not its result, that serves us. If we are willing to engage it.

So, for all of you scared to connect, wondering about how you’ll guard yourself against future loss, those of you who want a secure relationship, to not risk heartache, or betrayal, or hurt feelings, or risk losing an intimate relationship again… you are not alone. For those of you hoping to skip ahead, wanting to launch suddenly into an instant relationship or puzzled that the person you thought was just right for you turned out not to be the one you’re going to ride off into the sunset and old age with… hold on.

Breathe.

As long as there is life, there is time for love, for taming, for this moment, for connection, for goodness.

Don’t let fear of loss keep you from truly living and loving.

Most of us fear the loss because we don’t understand out own natural capacity to withstand it. Or, for some of us, we’ve done a very poor job of it in the past so that fear intensifies. Some of us were forced to handle loss at such an early age without much wise guidance in making sense of it that we forged unhealthy ways of processing our own pain.

I know the fear is real and the fear comes from somewhere and it has a different flavor for each one of us. That’s okay. We’ve kept it around for very good reasons.

Want help managing that or learning more about it?

We can make it work for you instead of against you. And we can explore together the ways you naturally move through loss and figure out if it’s helping or getting in your way.

Give me a call: 513-530-5888.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alone for the Holidays

Is it disgusting how early we promote the holidays and plan for them and contemplate them these days?

If you’re once again dreading the stretch from Halloween through March (including another Valentine’s Day) as a single person, you are not alone.

There’s a reason the chill of autumn signals a downturn in mood and an influx into mental health care. And it’s not all about Seasonal Affective Disorder or the lack of light threatening to undo us all.

It’s the space in the bed and the empty table setting and that we are alone on our snowy hike. Again.

And this state feels permanent. (Just as this present moment so often feels permanent.) Therefore, its foreboding is not really a surprise. How to handle it can feel pretty daunting, though. Even when you’ve done this before. Especially, sometimes when you’ve done this many times before or when you used to have a partner and you’re still healing from the heartache.

First, let’s explore what many people do -including the stuff you may have done before-  to “get through the season.” Then let’s look at how you can add even more helpful and effective methods to your approach this year.

Maybe you’ve tried some creative approaches

Some singles volunteer to feed the less fortunate. They might head up a Toy drive or another fundraiser or work more at church, synagogue, or temple. (There’s nothing like helping people worse-off than you, or reflecting on the deeper meaning of the season to float your boat long enough to bob through the dark and dreary winter ready to emerge on the other side gasping for the fresh air of springtime.) If it’s still working for you, do it. Do it some more.

Some people skip the holidays. These people either leave town on an alternate escapade or they hang out alone, hibernating away the season, resisting all doses of holiday engagement including the commercials sparkling across TV and our hulu and Netflix channels where we’ve gone to escape the constant reminders that everyone else has a partner but us.

Some of us take up the role of perpetual single among family and friends with a hearty bravado and we prep ready retorts for the time when Auntie May asks again if we’ve met anyone special or Cousin Rudy wonders aloud why we don’t just go out and bag all the single ladies in an effort to mend our broken heart. He would certainly be living it up if he had the chance, after all.

Maybe your family and friends treat you differently

Are you the family single guy or gal who elicits expectation from other family members and friends? Maybe your sister-in-law expects you’ll get the tree, haul everyone to the family gathering twice, and go get Granny from the home, because, you know, well, you don’t have a schedule or anything else to do.

Or maybe your friends are doing the pity dance trying to set you up with Everyone and his brother. Does it feel like it’s just to get you off their hands (and maybe feel a little less bad for you.) Worse yet, are they making plans to introduce you to another Thanksgiving orphan at the festivities?

That alone would be enough to make anyone want to fly to Mexico or otherwise escape the whole season.

You probably know exactly how your season is shaping up. You know the particular challenges you face and exactly why they seem so painful. Maybe this year, facing the coming weeks and months is worse than usual. You know precisely what you’ve tried in the past. You might even know exactly why your approach seems not as effective as it may have once been. You don’t need an analysis.

You need new ideas that truly help

Here are my top three:

  1. Tell a trusted someone just how you’re feeling. Hard stuff often loses much of its impact when we’re able to share it honestly. Choose wisely. You’ll want to pick someone who responds by listening instead of trying to fix things. It’s okay if they don’t do this automatically. You might need to say “I feel bad. I want someone to listen without trying to solve my problem. Can you help with that?” You know which friends or family members will respond in a positive way. And if you don’t know for sure, testing by asking the above question is a really Clean, Non-blaming Communication ™. You might already know who will really listen when you ask them to listen. If you can’t think of anyone you’d take the risk with, consider a therapist or helping professional. It’s what we do. 😉
  2. Make space for the reality. Allow it instead of skirting it. Look it square in the face, sit down with it and go ahead and feel the weight of it. Scared the feeling will linger, take you over, be difficult to escape? That’s okay too. It’s normal to have the fear. In fact, fearing the weight and power of our feelings is one of the things that drives us to avoid them or medicate them with (well, medicine) or food, alcohol, or activity. Honestly, the nature of emotion is that if you allow it and feel it fully (even experiencing it in your body) it will change and drain away. Try it. Worried about emotional overwhelm? Again, seek support from a friend or family member using Clean, Non-blaming Communication ™ like this: “I feel so heavy. I don’t want to get completely overwhelmed with this bad feeling. I want someone to sit with me in it and help me get out of it if it lingers too long. What do you think?” And if there’s no one who can keep you steady like that, pay someone to do it. You’ll be glad you did.
  3. Try something completely new. If you’re harboring a heartache or just facing one more season of holidays in the same old manner, mix it up. Try something different. Do skip the holidays if you haven’t done that before. Stay put if you’ve tried the escapism route before and see what it’s really like to experience every element of what you’re dreading. Start a tradition of your own, different from what you did with your ex or different from what you’ve done with family and friends in the past. Instead of thinking how you can help everyone else, think of what is a great gift to yourself this season. Have you been on the pity pot? Go ahead and see what it feels like to invest time giving to others.

You can do this

You’ve already weathered a good deal of pain and suffering in your current state. You’ve survived this long. And no matter what your path getting here, you did manage to get here, to this place, reading this information. Now, be encouraged. You have skills. You have choices. Implement both to find a way through the season. It just might surprise you how good each one of the days of the holiday season can actually be. Even if only a few of them are lighter than you were first anticipating, you’ll be ahead of where you started.

Don’t go it alone if you feel it might get to difficult or overwhelming. Need to know more about choosing the right therapist? Here’s a great place to start, including links to other resources. And, as always, feel free to drop me a line and let me know how it’s going.

 

 

Time Alone

If you’re still searching for a partner, it might surprise you I’m an advocate for time alone. For singles AND for those IN relationship. If you’re looking for a partner, I still advocate time alone regularly. Either way, I know this can sound like crazy-talk. Read on and find out just what I mean.

Every connection needs the space required to desire dancing back together. We need time in deep intimacy and connection AND away from it. We all need time to miss the other.

We also need time to refocus and reconnect with our selves. Believe it or not, this is good for extroverts too, or those who get energy from being with others. No matter how you’re made and what your current relationship status, I’m talking to you.

In relationship or single and unattached, we all need time for THE most important, longest, guaranteed-to-last relationship we will ever have: the one with SELF.

This relationship is the foundation for all the other ones we have in life, whether you’re aware of it or not. (More good information on the topic here.)

Frankly, I like my alone-time. Sometimes I need to NOT give my time, energy, and attention to a single other human on the planet. I need time to reconnect with myself. Not only am I introverted enough to NEED it, but I like doing what I want when I want, thinking about whatever, while I’m wearing what I want.

For instance, I love thinking who cares if I look frump-city ? If I utterly neglect grooming: no make-up, air-dried crazy hair and mismatched, baggy clothes? Hurray!

More than just being funny, that’s a big deal for me because I spend a lot of energy paying attention to all the visuals I send, create, and receive. It’s great to take a break from that for a minute and shift my awareness elsewhere.

You’ve got your own thing you identify with heavily all the time and you could stand to take a break from that too. I’m sure of it.

I hear your protests.

Not all of us have the luxury of time alone. (Everyone needs me.)

I just can’t afford it. (There’s too much to do.)

Isn’t spending time alone really just selfish? (What will people think?)

I’m not interested in all that woo-woo navel-gazing crap. (Time alone is just for Narcissists and crazies.)

And for some of you, spending time alone without structure, getting acquainted with the real you, scares the shit out of you. After all, who knows what you’ll discover/feel/experience? And, ultimately, what if it’s not pleasant? Dear Heaven, what if it involves pain?!

If that’s you, I’m speaking RIGHT to you! Trust me, it’s okay. You will live. Even if you are grieving (heartbreak, bereavement or OTHER loss,) no need to trust me; trust yourself, you won’t die. Know how I know? For starters, I’ve done it. For one thing, I survived the worst winter of loneliness and you can read about here. I’ve walked through this with many, many clients and they have all discovered their alone time does not actually kill them. That’s great news as you intentionally spend a little time with your self.

Some of you are single and unattached and you still don’t spend much time alone.

Your time is full of other people and their struggles, full of activities, endless movement, cleaning, “book work” and one project after another, the endless answering of demands from all those people who expect, and require, and demand, and want from you. It feels like a vibrant, full life to you. It all makes you feel that you matter.

The prospect of coming home to a dog, cooking for one, and settling into some mind-numbing television is all the alone-time routine you can envision and the thought of that seems pathetic and awful. So you avoid it. At all costs.

Some of you’ve identified that you need it and you’ve taken responsibility for getting it.

I recently had this discussion with a man living squarely in mid-life. He’d been dating, in and out of relationships/entanglements for the past several years and now is just past the first flush of relationship with a woman he actually thinks might be “it.” He can see a future with this one. Still, he realizes he needs his alone-time.

Here’s a story from one woman in Minnesota (and you know that’s where I’m from!) who spent the July Fourth weekend alone. It CAN be pretty awesome!

Another woman I know is freaking out because her husband just retired at age 59 and he is expecting to be able to hang out with her all the time. She wants to continue the freedom of doing her own thing naturally two nights a week while he is out of town on business. He’s not going to be out of town on business anymore and while she loves him deeply, she realizes she is going to have to do some grown-up communicating and negotiation in order to have some time to herself.

Sound familiar? Still scary? Here are some tips for making the most of your time alone.

Get to know yourself as you would get to know any new connection.

You don’t have to spend all your time alone, just think about spending time getting to know yourself like you would in any relationship. And plan to be kind.

  • Pay attention. Notice what you do, what you like, how you feel.
    • Check in with your daily, physical habits. Usually these are so thoughtless, we don’t realize we’re being overly demanding with our physical expectations. Or maybe you’ll find you take the couch-potato approach to daily living.
    • Check in with your emotions. Scary? Just breathe. See if you can notice them and name them. You don’t need to do more with them right now. That’s a great start.
    • Check in with your physical self. Don’t worry, just because you acknowledge an ache or pain does NOT mean it’s going to get worse. Tired? Sleep. Hungry? Eat. Angry? Breathe.
  • Seek understanding. Be curious.
    • Learn about yourself by asking gentle questions like “what’s going on with me that I feel so tense?” That’s one example.
    • If you don’t know yourself well yet, now is a great time. Read, research, look! Ask yourself, “how am I made?” Your subconscious will go to work answering the question AND you’ll start to uncover evidence all around you.
    • Enlist the reflective help of a good psychotherapist. Tell him or her directly that you are looking to understand yourself more and you want to know as much as possible what they observe.
  • Finally, ACCEPT what you find. Love yourself unconditionally, once and for all.
    • Just notice. You don’t have to be perfect. You get to be human. You don’t even have to be perfectly human, just start.
    • Go ahead and say out loud the things you like about yourself. You don’t have to tell everyone; just tell yourself. Count your strengths.
    • Notice some things are harder to accept? Bring these things to a trained psychotherapist and ask directly if she/he will help you see how to shift this stuck spot.

 

 

facing grief and loss all alone can be daunting

An Ideal Grief

You might recognize yourself below. Grief and bereavement are strangely universal experiences and painfully unique. Whatever you are feeling during your process (and it is a process, not an event) this grief is something that will change you in ways you can’t predict. There’s no wrong way to do it. There are right ways to find support through it and real help from trained professionals who have gone through it and know how to sit with you in it, walk with you through it, and support your healing. You are not alone. You don’t have to grieve alone. Call 513-530-5888 or email me at bethluwandi@gmail.com. Group is forming now. Individual work is ongoing. All of it is healing. 

Humans are amazing. YOU are amazing.

From this perspective, that is, standing in today glancing back, it’s a wonder you survived. It’s a wonder you are surviving the weight of this grief.

You even think like that some days, glancing back. And I mean glancing. There aren’t many days you want to stare into the moment you learned (or watched) your loved one pass from this world into the next.

Next followed the fog of ceremony and people pressing you and somehow you moved through the fog and said words to people to comfort THEM all while wondering if your heart was in your body or your brain really attached to any kind of self you used to know. It was a blur. I know.

Your head ached with tears or the numbness of holding them in.

You wonder sometimes if you’re actually breathing now.

And some days he is all you can think about. She is the air and the soft sound and a smell next to you wafting out of nowhere just when everything was moving along like clockwork, like normal, like life again.

You see his face in the crowd. Hear her laughter in the theater.

A song, a scent, a memory.

A dream wherein you forget…

then remember on waking, pained all over again. Your brain brings you up to date on a reality you question and wrestle over with God or the Universe or the Powers That Be, trying to resist cursing them all. And then, yes, do curse them all. It’s unfair.

You feel hollow. Like your carcass and body are empty, the rest of you someplace else.

Yet you’re determined. You will get through. You will move on. You will heal. You are a strong person.

And you do. You do work. You do move. You take the kids to soccer. You hug people or you avoid touching anyone. You read to her and watch him give his speech and show up for the talent show and field the hushed questions from others who ask “how are you doing?”

“Fine,” you say, smiling, sometimes wanting to choke the pitiful look off the asker’s face, sometimes avoiding the deep wells of sympathy afraid you’ll either want to scratch them out or fall into their warm pools, wailing. And you focus on whomever might be hurting more because that’s easier. Diversion. John has a nervous stomach. He got in trouble at school. Mary isn’t sleeping.

They have a therapist. Not you.

You keep up with the tennis club, the softball team, the yearly trip with the friends even when the whole time the topic that cannot surface as anything deeper than surface talk floats dangerously in the middle of everything. It’s light interest. How are you doing and how are the children doing and how are mom and dad doing. It’s easier that way.

No one truly understands and if you had to talk about it, these would not be your people. The kids are in therapy and Steven is on antidepressants which is best because he’s away at college now and you are all good. You are doing as well as can be expected. Everyone marvels that you are holding it together so well.

You sleep. And drink. Then decide not to drink since it makes you cry and ache.

You sleep and smoke. That feels like nothing, like the stench of smoke and there’s relief in feeling nothing. Oh, that’s why people smoke, you realize and wonder if you want to be a smoker again. Probably not.

But you don’t want to feel. To process. To unpack this. There are things no one needs to know.  Those who invite reflection or suddenly bring him up or recall a story with her in it or call and want payment on an expired insurance policy or whip out her photos without warning make you want to scream.

You’d spend all day telling stories and looking at pictures if you wanted to.

And time passes. You’re doing well.

Did you go a whole day without being sad? How could you do that so soon? What if someone finds out you didn’t even think of her today? You went a whole day without crying over him, without that dull ache under your ribs. Is this what it feels like to heal from grief? Is this getting better? Is this what getting better looks like – forgetting and guilt?

Then the song floods out of the car stereo. You thought you didn’t have to change the channel this time but as you let it play tears stream and bricks return to your shoulders. You thought you could control this. But another reminder surprises you, even this long after. As bad as you imagined it would be, you could not have imagined this.

You are not alone. Now may be the time to reach out. Find a therapist. Find a group.

And of course, come here. You are definitely welcome here.

Call me at 513-530-5888 or send an email. Or scroll down and leave me a comment.

 

 

 

Calling BS! on the directive: “you need to be alone!”

In therapeutic circles and with well-meaning friends, you’ll hear the advice: you just need to be alone  or you need to just take some time for yourself after heartache. You might hear the opposite as well -from your friends and your mom- you just need to get back out there and meet someone!

You’re not surprised that I’m going to say BS to both of those approaches, right?

First of all, you’re HURTING.

Getting back in the saddle is almost always the wrong approach. Remember the beginning of Romeo and Juliet? Romeo was gaga on Roseline and his buddy suggested, “you just need to meet another chica.” He did. That night. And he winds up dead by the end of that adventure.

Go there if you have a death wish, I guess. I’m not sure why anyone would pattern their love experience after Romeo and Juliet. But it’s tragic, all right. And it has some lovely, artful declarations of passion and devotion. I’ll give Shakespeare that. Good one.

For those of you looking for a saner love adventure, please keep reading in Modern American English:

When you’re HURTING, you don’t need to punish yourself.

So many people, systems, and sometimes even practitioners will suggest a time frame or course of imposed quarantine for the heartbroken or lovelorn. You’ve probably even heard experts advocate an imposed period of mourning: one year for each 4 years of the relationship. At minimum: no dating for at least a year.

Does this make you tired even listening to such advice?

So much is going on for you that rule setting, framework impositions, giving yourself a deadline or rigid structure is probably the last thing you need right now.

You might need comfort, some tenderness, and fun.

If that sounds simplistic, that’s because it is. And simple is good. You can work with simple. You can move through simple. You can let simple guide your choices.

Find comfort. Give yourself some comfort.

Is it comforting to go to the movies or eat a gourmet meal or spend time outside.? Do those things. Is it painful too? I know it can be painful to do everything when your heart is hurting. Choose the activities that ARE the most comforting. That can mean sleeping in. It can mean working out like a maniac. It can mean paying for a massage. It can mean going to the sauna or getting some heat and light therapy at a tanning booth.

And yes, I know, in moderation. I’m not advocating skin cancer activities, etc. Notice I’m NOT saying drink alcohol. That usually makes people feel much worse when they’re hurting already. It’s a depressant! I’m also not saying smoke cigarettes. THAT is not comfort; it’s a great way to AVOID feeling anything and therefore it won’t get you THROUGH your pain. This is also probably not the time to try to FORCE yourself to give up those habits (if they are regular habits) either.

You do not need to do this by yourself either. It’s okay to find someone to enjoy comforting activities with you.

Find tenderness. Spend time with people you know love you. If your other relationships have been neglected, rekindle them. Get in touch with supportive family and friends.

If your family and friends do not know how to be tender and supportive, don’t spend time with them. Avoid them. Minimize exposure while you are vulnerable.

And pay attention. Surely there are kind people in your realm. Notice small tendernesses: when clerks are friendly and sweet instead of all-business, when that infant in a stroller smiles at you, when someone at work asks how you’re doing. Notice. And count it as tenderness.

Create tenderness in your life as well: hug your dog. Force your cat to snuggle. (Yah, good luck with that.) Get outside yourself and BE TENDER to others. Smile at strangers. Ask your friends how THEY are doing.

Be tender with yourself. Be gentle. Be kind to yourself. Part of this is learning to ask helpful questions and abandon stupid ones, I explain it in context here in this podcast on midlife dating basics.

Find FUN. I love William Glasser’s outline in Reality Theory of the five basic human needs. He says and I agree we need: survival basics, love & belonging, power, freedom, and FUN!

You do not have to have fun all by yourself. In fact, though it’s possible, having fun with others is even better. Plan fun. Give yourself permission for fun. Take time for fun!

Notice when you’re enjoying something, anything. Laugh at a comedy. Watch some silly animals.  Join a mutual-interest Meetup group. (Google this if you don’t know what I’m talking about; they are everywhere!) Play. No matter if that looks like online gaming with strangers, planning a stupid board-game night with your nieces, or going on a rock-climbing date with that girl you’ve talked to ten times at the gym, do it!

The next relationship is not going to save you. Nor do you have to quarantine yourself from engaging with objects of interest and attraction for a specified period of time. But DO find and create comfort, tenderness, and fun! These are never a waste of time and before you know it, you will be in good shape to LOVE again.