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.

 

 

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.

 

 

Choices and Guilt

Call him an old soul; we do sometimes.

What would you give to be free of shame and guilt? I bet you’ve been on a few guilt trips in your lifetime.

My son, age 22, speaks precise truths that took me 45 years to learn. The hard way. Well, okay, maybe 40 years. And my youngest son helped me learn.

I can’t quote verbatim because his words are more precise. They hold in their brevity more than I can possibly capture. Here’s my best try:

“We only have so much time on the planet. I make choices by asking myself  ‘will this add value to my life or to the life of someone important to me? Will it matter?’ If the answer is no, I don’t waste my time.”

And he does not feel guilty about his choices. That also is a “waste of time.”

HE DOES NOT FEEL GUILTY ABOUT HIS CHOICES. EVER.

He allows that he doesn’t have to make perfect ones, after all. He does not have to never miss out on something. He doesn’t even think that way, in fact. He shows up for his own life and lives it. I know part of this is the way he’s made and it comes easier to him than to some of us.

I love this about him.

I know some of the hard he’s experienced in life encourages such vision. I wouldn’t wish it on others even though he has grown into a fine man (whose frontal lobe probably closed about 4 years ahead of schedule!)

I love this about him too.

Such perspective is rare for his age, but it’s a good one we can learn at any age – even those of us who’ve spent years responding to the pull of shame and the leverage of the guilt trip.

And those of us who have actually repeated such techniques on others can (and will almost naturally) STOP doing this to others when we stop doing it to ourselves.

Magic almost. Miracle, if you prefer.

Health! Ahhhhhh yes.

There’s enormous freedom in living like this. And I’m convinced it doesn’t have to feel like artful tight-rope-walking between self-centered asshole and sappy, people-pleaser doormat. It does get comfortable.

As in, true-nature-comfortable, not zero-conflict-ever-comfortable.

Be encouraged!

Because sometimes there IS fall-out from living like this. At least until other people get used to the change. You’re upsetting relationship status, after all.

And for some of us, this means learning to carry our own pain and to NOT shoulder others’ pain. The good news is our own pain is not going to kill us. It’s only pain.

Everyone else’s pain piled on us might kill us.

It might cost us more than we can afford to pay. It might keep us from being awake for the good. It might cost us our very selves.

Taking responsibility for our own lives, knowing, allowing that our choices will not be perfect is the beginning of healthy relationship.

Far from being selfish, making choices that honor our limits and respects our own values frees others to do the same. Then, when we connect with those we love, it’s a healthy decision and a joyful experience, free from the weight of obligation and guilt.

Saying all this is easier than weathering the weight of guilt the first time you do something different. I realize that.

Still, I know what it’s like both ways. I know which is better. You will get over the guilt when you realize it keeps you trapped. And you will allow the shame to drop away and never attach to you again when you realize how much life and freedom awaits.

Need help getting there? It’s my job. Let’s get started.

 

 

Before you date again

What are the first things you want to know before jumping back into the pool of “plenty of fish?”

How to stay away from the slimy, stinky ones? Maybe you’re just wishing you could skip all the painful parts.

If you’re angry at all the advice about “wait a year” and “go find yourself first,” I’m here to tell you that is soooo normal! You should be angry! Who is this person telling you what you need to do? (here’s an example of a checklist for becoming self-actualized before dating again)

You are in pain!

It’s just overwhelming thinking about all the obstacles you must first overcome before you are going to get to the relationship you really want again! If it can ever work, that is!

Besides, when pain is your reality, a year feels like FOR-ehhhhh-VERRRRRR. (Sandlot, anyone?)

I bet you get equally annoyed when people answer your earnest question “when IS the right time to re-enter the dating world?” with “only you can answer that question.” That’s no help!

I might scandalize hoards of people, but truly, let’s cut to the chase about a few concerns:

Either you are wondering when it will EVER be an “appropriate” time to HAVE SEX again, (based on your values and this strangely shifting dating scene) or you may just want to stay away from any potential mates altogether.

Maybe you feel both ways in between secretly, literally, crying in your coffee. Maybe it’s easy enough finding willing sex partners but that has nothing to do with finding the committed relationship you actually want.

Everyone knows that late at night, in the cold dark of your single-occupied bed is THE TIME, no matter what, when you come painfully face-to-face with the reality of your new single-hood.

Have I said that sucks? It does!

Rather than assure you by saying “you will figure this out; you’ll know when the time is right” or give you a list of MUST-DO-FIRSTS, here are a couple of things that RIGHT NOW can be a small comfort.

  1. Keep in mind your pain is real. It’s normal. It IS painful. Oh man, it hurts! Sometimes it hurts to breathe!
  2. Put your pain in perspective. Humans get to experience pain. It is part of what makes us human. That said… (don’t get mad at me for this one-it comes from a really smart, sweet, older woman who had learned a thing or two by the time I heard her share it…)
  3. Tell yourself the truth about your pain: It’s not going to kill you; it’s only your own pain. Make it a sweet, soothing “mantra”, if you like. “It’s not going to kill me; it’s only my own pain.” (Bonus nugget of truth that helps lots of people: when you learn to experience your own pain instead of taking on everyone else’s or trying to AVOID IT,- through busy-ness or  denial- there’s actually LESS of it.) “It’s just my own pain.” Try that one on for size.
  4.  On the practical side, make your bed a sanctuary of COMFORT. Get new sheets and bedding, new pillows that DON’T smell like or remind you of your ex-lover. Make it YOUR space. And then sleep in the middle, thrash about with abandon and SPREAD OUT, man! if you need to cry there, go ahead. (This works for women  AND MEN!)
  5. Be grateful. Seriously. Count whatever you can. No matter what your spiritual approach and even if you don’t really engage one, noticing the good not only multiplies it (you notice MORE!) but it increases your daily satisfaction.

It’s not rocket science. Simple things can make a big difference. Of course, you know I’m going to tell you to find a skilled, trustworthy counselor or coach. Of course!

green grass symbol of choosing the right counselor, psychotherapist, or life coach

Finding your right counselor or life coach

The right counselor or life coach.

You’ll invest time, energy, and probably some money finding the right therapist or coach. Timing-when you’re right in the middle of a crisis or need to feel better fast-can make it even more stressful. Don’t worry. Your natural process of selection is at work no matter what. Follow these three tips and it will be even smoother:

1. Trust yourself. Listen to your gut.

If you get an uneasy sense or bad feeling, trust it. That’s your gut instinct talking to you.

I’m saying this first because you may or may not have a developed sense of your own instincts. You may have a habit of ignoring them.

And if you are good at listening to them, now is the time to pay attention. I promise you this: the gut knows; it will not steer you wrong. (Need help identifying this or paying attention? We can work on that!)

2. Engage yourself. Do a little thinking.

You already know a ton about how you’re made and what you need.

If you take time to write down what you know, your chances of finding it increase tremendously. (It almost feels like magic, but research supports writing it down works!)

Stuck? Ask yourself two questions:

In past relationships with doctors, dentists, teachers, athletic coaches, yoga instructors (whoever has been in a position to help with your health and achievement) what has pissed you off? Seriously, think of your pet peeve in those situations. Is it someone bossy? harsh? arrogant? hyper?

Now think about the best relationships in that context if you’ve had them. What was good?

Was it a gentle dentist? Did your doctor really listen? Did a teacher do a good job explaining why?

Use the good and bad information to help define what you’re looking for.

For example:

  •  I need a good listener, who can communicate understanding, who doesn’t do all the talking.
  • I don’t want someone to stare at me blankly while I try to figure things out on my own.
  • I need someone with an easy sense of humor.
  • I need someone I know cares who will challenge me when I need it.

By all means, once you have prepared by doing this work, share your list of needs with a potential therapist. He or she should be able to tell you if and how they can be that for you. It also gives them a chance to let you know they can’t.

3. Honor yourself. Your feelings matter.

It’s normal to be nervous about entering this kind of relationship. It’s normal if you’re scared. It’s normal to feel incredibly vulnerable and uncertain.

Of course you feel that way! You are preparing to spill your guts about the hardest parts of your life with someone you don’t even know yet.

Because you matter, keep in mind these three things:

  • know your feelings are real and normal
  • put some thought into defining  exactly what you need (in writing is best)
  • trust your gut and go with it.

Be encouraged; you will make a good, helpful connection. Your healing and growth depends on it! A little preparation, a little action and you will definitely find your person. Let me know if you think we are a good fit. You’re the expert on you and I’d be honored to join you. Give me a call.