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Why 20-Year Marriages Thrive

2 Decades, 20 Years, 1040 Weeks, 7300 Days. That is a long time. A long time to be loyal and partnered with one person. My husband and I have been together all that time, plus some, if you count the years we were together before we married. A week before our anniversary, an article on why 20-year marriages end popped into my inbox. Grateful that it was not sent by my husband, I thought it was a good prompt to write a post on how 20-year marriages thrive.

Relationships are Verbs

Whether romantic, platonic, or familial, relationships are a verb not a noun. A relationship is a living entity, not a static object. Being in a relationship is like everything in nature, if the relationship is not constantly changing and growing, it dies. If we want our relationship to stay the same or resign ourselves that it will never get better, the relationship dies. Throughout our twenty years, our relationship, our lives, and each of us as individuals have learned and grown through different challenges. As we learned to navigate each phase of life, our relationship deepened and grew.

Photo by Todd Heisler

Expectations

Every birthday and holiday, I joke with my husband that the present I want is for him to sing, dance, and have an accent. My desire is that he become a cross between Ewan McGregor, David Tennant, and Colin Firth. Not too much to ask for, right? Of course, having unrealistic expectations like these will always lead to disappointment and resentment. Instead, I concentrate on what I do have in a partner. A funny, intelligent man who understands and accepts me better than anyone else could. Reality is better than my expectations.

Assumptions

Everyone brings their history and their previous experiences into a relationship. This past experience becomes expectations of how things should be and our assumptions about why our partner is acting the way they are. These expectations and assumptions are usually wrong. Usually they are negative stories we are telling ourselves. It is important to bring our dishonest thinking to light. Our partner is not a mind reader. My husband can’t know what I am thinking and what I would like from him, unless I verbalize it. Many times, I also need to share my crazy assumptions so he can show me where I am off base. If we keep our assumptions to ourselves, they can never be addressed. We need to have the courage to share our crazy.

Listening

As we need to speak our truth, or what we are experiencing as our truth, so does our partner. A good relationship needs to have a safe space for us to share what we need to share. Hearing and recognizing your partner is the greatest gift you can give – and receive. Your partner feels he is really heard and seen. Through sharing our thoughts and beliefs, we can understand and support our partner on a deeper level.

Do NOT Do Unto Others

When my husband is down, he wants to be left alone to process it. When I am down, I want to be held. If I treated my husband how I would like or he treated me how he would like, it would cause anger and resentment. It is important to ask, not assume, what the other needs. And we need to voice what we need.  We deepen our relationship and understanding when we can see from our partner’s point of view, not the way we see the world.  

Acceptance

Some of us think we are perfect and everyone else is flawed. Others think they are imperfect, and the rest of the world has everything figured out. Truth is we are all imperfect. We are all doing the best we can. Sometimes we do things well, sometimes we don’t. The same goes for our partner. Believing our partner is infallible is setting up unrealistic expectations. Believing our partner is always wrong, keeps us from seeing their good. Expecting our partner to accept our imperfection but being unwilling to accept when they are imperfect is a recipe for disaster. We are all works in progress and deserve to be accepted as such.

Do Your Work

Many of the marriages and relationships that I have seen fail, the partners blamed each other. He didn’t do that. She is a such-and-such. The key factor that we can and should work on in our marriage is our self. I need to know why I react poorly to him leaving his socks on the floor and I need to change my reaction and boundaries around his actions. It is not about his socks or whether he or I pick them up. The real issue is my perception and judgments about his habits. The issue is mine. I can and should work on making myself be the best personal I can be. In doing so, I may it easier for my partner to be the best man he can be.

Love is Not Enough

Love is great for a happy movie ending, but love is just the beginning in real life. As Into the Woods explores, there is a lot that happens after happily-ever-after.  There is a lot of after to deal with after the initial bloom of love fades. Love is wonderful but for me partnership makes a marriage. This harkens back to the verb-versus-noun concept. Many people see love as a noun, as a constant, as a thing that exists in and of itself. But love is a verb. We need to work at love. We need to keep it alive and thriving. We need to nurture and support it. It is not a thing that exists on its own unchanging. It is a fire that constantly needs to be stoked and tended.  

Relationship Makes Three

Romantic songs and movies talk about two becoming one. I think a real relationship is two becoming three. It is important to remain oneself, not become co-dependent and merged. A relationship consists of two unique individuals plus the persona of the couple.  

I am truly blessed to not have found a mystical romantic soul mate, but to have found my partner in life. Thank you Super Pollo.

Stop Other-izing

Over the last few years, it has been apparent – especially in the United States – that we are divided. Instead of debate, there is hate. Instead of seeking to understand, there is attack. Instead of working together, there is fear and defensiveness. Although recent politics have inflamed this divisiveness, I believe it has been smoldering beneath the surface for decades.

If you are like me, you may have a close friend or family member who has “suddenly” become consumed by hate speech. I personally see this from those I love who have different political views than I do, and I do see it from those who embrace a similar outlook as mine. To help me understand some who are embracing a policy and dogma of hate, I looked for research and analysis. What is interesting is that some of the reasons in this article explaining supporters on one side of the aisle also applies to the other political view. The problem is people not politics; thinking and emotion not policy.

For instance, #5 The Fear Factor in the Psychology Today article points out how some people have a heightened fear and anxiety response. The article points to conservative versus liberal reaction, but I would also add that the focus on negativity and fear in the media (news and entertainment), can make us all on edge. If our fear is the threat of Hispanic immigrants or the loss of rights for the LGBTTTIQ community, it doesn’t matter if there is a real threat or not; our brains react the same way.  And the fear and anxiety we feel can make us lash out. We use offense as a good defense; we come out swinging in a desire to protect ourselves and our family.

Photo by T. Chick McClure on Unsplash

My goal here is not a political debate. What I would like to discuss is how do we come together. I recommend we start by recognizing, desiring, and making steps to see our similarities instead of our differences. I tend to agree with Brené Brown when she shares in her book Rising Strong that “we are all inextricably connected to one another by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and belonging.” What she shares is not a dogma of religion, but the connection and relationship we have with each other. The goal of this life is to connect, love, and be part of a community.  

To come together, I need to respect what you believe as far as politics, policy, and religion – even if, and especially if, it is different than what I believe. And you need to respect my beliefs.  Let us note that these are beliefs – a state “of mind in which trust or confidence is placed in some person or thing.” Yes, they may be a “conviction of the truth of some statement,” but remember that the evidence we have and our ability to uncover evidence changes over time; what was true in the past may not be true now. Belief is conviction not fact.

Next time you have a negative reaction to someone because of how they think, what they choose to believe, or how they act, instead of attacking that person, take a few minutes to understand them. See them as a person. You don’t have to agree with what they believe, and you don’t have to put up with what they do if it is hurting you or others. What I do encourage, is that you don’t enter into the same black-and-white, us-versus-them thinking the other person may be expressing. “If we extend empathy to only those who believe in what we believe, that bankrupts empathy.” Without empathy for all, we have empathy for none.

what is love

What is love?

Deee-lite, one of my favorite bands, asked back in the 1980’s, “what is love?” Although they wrote a fun song that asks the question, the song never really gets to the answer (unless love is “degroovy”). Love is a theme of a lot of music, literature, and art. Mostly we see people who are pining or longing for love. They want your love. They need your love. They gotta have your love. This type of love is often seen as a noun. It is viewed as something that exists on its own and can be given away. It is seen as something that is gifted to another. It is as if we each have a bundle of love that we dole out in clumps and pieces to those we deem worthy.


This type of love is focused around the ego. Our persona, the person we believe we are, needs need to be loved and accepted. We expect that those around us should shower us with love and we have definite expectations of what that love should look like. We determine if someone’s gifted love is enough or given in the right way. Not only do we judge the quality and quantity of the love we are gifted, but we also feel as if we are nothing if we do not have that love. How many romantic comedies show a person as incomplete without their “other half.” Seeing love as a thing, as something that is parceled out, makes it a commodity. It is just another possession. The gifting of it is usually conditional and transitory. This is love as a noun and something that can be possessed, and lost.

Giving the power of love to another, having them be the one who has what you want, also makes you powerless. Many people are sad and depressed because they do not feel another’s love and therefore feel incomplete. We then make stupid choices to get love. We hide who we are so others accept us. We give up what we want in order to receive another’s love. We hold our tongue around our “friends,” afraid if they truly knew who we are they would abandon us. We diminish ourselves, our purpose, our being so we can be gifted with a nugget of love from someone else.

What I am coming to realize is that love is not a thing with which someone else gifts us. It is not a noun but is something inherent in our soul. It is something peaceful, fundamental, and deep. Love is a state of being. It is a way we move throughout our day. Love is seeing others around us with the eye of empathy and compassion. Love is being conscious of our actions and words and how they affect others. Love is feeling connected to those around us, even when they hate us. Love is a state of inherent peace found in the connection to oneness.

Sometimes love comes out as a gift or expression. What I have found though is once the love takes form outside our self it becomes a noun.  When love becomes a thing, there is now a conscious or unconscious desire to be recognized for what we are giving. Love is an inherent, internal experience. It can be seen in our eyes, words, and actions, but it is not what we say or what we do. It is an energy that fills our being and radiates unseen to all those around us.

Sometimes we can experience true love through an enlightened person like Mother Teresa or the Dalai Lama. Sometimes it is seen in a common person. The garbage man who came by my old house was one of those people. He was calm and joyful and just radiated a peace that is indescribable. He didn’t give me the noun of love through picking up my garbage. But being in his presence I felt the existence of love.

Think through your life. Have you met someone who radiates love? Have you ever embodied that pure essence? Have you ever expressed your love without wanting in return?

giving a rose

To Give is to Receive

I am not a relationship coach, but I often work with clients who are seeking a real, long-lasting relationship. Often times they are depressed and desperate. They are upset that this amazing relationship has not come into their lives yet. From my side of the desk, it is easy to see how no one would be attracted to someone who is desperate and depressed. I encourage them to start being the person they want to date. If you want someone with a good sense of humor, smile, laugh and joke more often. If you want someone who enjoys an adventure, get out every weekend and try something new. If you want someone who enjoys travel, book a trip. If you want someone who jogs, schedule time every day to get a run in. If you want someone who loves freely and completely, start loving others. If they follow my advice, worse case scenario is they begin living the life and being the person that will truly make them happy. Best case scenario, by being all they desire to be, they will attract someone like-minded.

giving a rose
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

The best way I have found to receive what we want, is to give it out. Often, what we send out into the world is what we receive ten-fold.

Don’t ask people to love you. Be love.

Don’t desire to be accepted. Be acceptance.

Don’t long for someone to comfort you. Reach out to comfort someone else.

Don’t pray for someone to forgive you. Forgive those who have hurt you.

Be the experience you want to have. Give to others what you wish to receive. In giving we also receive, and often we will receive more by giving to other, than others could ever give in the first place.

Be careful not to give to get. Do not give to receive immediately or directly from the person to which you are giving. Give to your mother and you may receive from your friend. Give to a stranger and you may receive from your boss. This is not quid pro quo. It is not like going to a store and exchanging money for the thing we want. This is open, honest, and non-expectant giving. The second you do something in order to receive, you stop the flow. Your giving must be done freely, with love, and without the expectancy of receiving in return. It is the unattachment from the result of giving that leads to receiving.

As with the example of looking for a relationship, giving freely of what you want to experience leads you to experience that thing. What we feel by giving is deeper than if someone tried to give us these experiences, because so many times we do not accept what others are giving to us. How many times has someone tried and failed to cheer you up when you are down? They can not give you what you don’t want to receive. They can’t give you what you can not embody yourself. By first embodying what we want to receive, it opens us up to accept more.

For the next few days experiment being the emotional states you want to receive. Give to others freely what you want to receive yourself. How does it feel to give without expectation? How does embodying what you want to receive feel different than when you actually receive it from others? See for yourself if it is not more beneficial to give than to receive.

self love

Defining Self-Love

On Facebook, I host a group call Living Type Me for those who have read my book From Type A to Type Me: How to Stop “Doing” Life and Start Living It. Every day I post quotes, articles, and other tidbits to help grow awareness, inspire, and assist the participants in their personal growth.

In April I shared the Shakti Gawain quote, “You can love other people only to the degree that you’ve come to love and accept yourself.” Group member and founder of ARTemis, Sam Hull, had this question in response, “Love or acceptance? Self-love is immeasurable, but self-acceptance is easily documented and weighed against self-neglect. Yes? So what is the difference that would place love or acceptance?” Great question Sam!

To me, self-acceptance is only one part of self-love. Self-love is unconditional and is part self-awareness, self-acceptance, self-appreciation, and self-care. To fully experience self-love, all of these components must be present.

self loveUnconditional

To truly experience self-love, it must be unconditional. It is easy to love ourselves after we win an award, lose 10 lbs. or have some other tangible accomplishment. True self-love does not need a reason to love. The love exists through the good and the bad, the highs and the lows. It neither needs a reason to love nor is deterred when we are not at our best. Self-love is constant.

Self-Awareness

Self-love comes from self-awareness, knowing who we are completely. If we are loving the mask we wear, it is not true self-love. To truly love ourselves, we can not hide who we are. We need the strength and vulnerability to see who we truly are, not who we want to be or believe we are supposed to be. Self-awareness is being courageous enough to see our truth.

Self-Acceptance

With this awareness, we then need to accept ourselves wholeheartedly, warts and all. We can be aware of our truth, but if we do not accept it, if we judge ourselves because of it, or we perceive it as unworthy, that is not self-love. Self-love is knowing ourselves intimately, the perceived good and bad, and still loving ourselves deeply.

Self-Appreciation

One step further than unconditional acceptance, is appreciating ourselves just the way we are. This is not about praising our accomplishments, but about seeing our true selves and appreciating how our uniqueness is a gift to the world. No one can be and do what we can. We are unique, with unique contributions to offer. Embracing and appreciating our inherent gifts is a key component of self-love.

Self-Care

Where the other components of self-love revolve around thought and belief, self-care is about action. You can say you unconditionally love yourself but if you are not eating right and providing the body, mind and spirit what it needs, you are not acting on your self-love. Self-care is the manifestation of our awareness, acceptance, and appreciation.

To Sam’s question, self-acceptance is not the opposite of self-neglect. Self-neglect may be a symptom of the lack of self-acceptance, but it is not the other end of the spectrum. Many people do not accept themselves and therefore shower themselves with self-care, but if they can not accept themselves, self-care may just be a Band-Aid and a weak attempt to fill the self-love void.

What does self-love mean to you? Are you truly loving yourself unconditionally with total awareness, acceptance, and appreciation? Are you gifting yourself with the care you inherently deserve?

Until you can love yourself with this unconditional love, you may find it difficult to truly, deeply love another.

helping others

Inspirational Living

I always thought I had to help people and save the world. For the first thirty or so years of my life, I was focused on helping others. I made sure friends and family had what they needed. I supported charities. I put my needs and desires legions behind the needs of others. I was driven to do it. Sometimes people did not want my help but through compulsion I pushed my assistance on them. I couldn’t help but help others. When I couldn’t help others, I felt like I was less than. When I actually received something myself, I felt selfish and bad. I was programmed to be a giver. However I was also exhausted and unhappy. Helping others felt like a duty not a joy. Yet I still thought I was meant to heal those around me and the world at large. And now it looks like that is truly part of my mission, but I had the “how” wrong. My mission to help others is not through self-sacrifice.

helping othersOver the last few years I took off the superwoman cape and learned to put myself first. I focused on my own happiness. When I did help others I did it as from a point of selfishness. I helped only when it felt good to me. And I didn’t help when it felt like a restrictive obligation or when there was something else to do which would make me feel happier. Through my coaching practice I learned to only help those who wanted help and who were ready to receive the help. I learned healthy boundaries with those who misused me and my help. And I began to think of myself first. The funny thing is I am affecting more people, making more changes in the world by being self-focused and self-giving than I ever did by sacrificing myself for others.

Just this week, a counselor in the Northeast told me of her client who was so inspired by my husband’s and my move to Mexico that he sold his house, purchased an RV, and now plans to semi-retire and travel the country. She said his eyes lit up when she told him of our pursuits and how we are thriving in Cabo after taking the risk. Some man who I do not know and will probably never meet, changed his life for the better because I changed my life for the better. All this time I spent sacrificing for others was unnecessary. By living my life, truly living my life, I help others.

Moving to Mexico to live a dream is very selfish. I thought only of my husband and myself. I didn’t stop due to family obligations. I didn’t change my mind due to societal expectations and rules. I did not put how the move would affect others above my own desire. I only thought about living my life the way I wanted to live it. By focusing on myself, by living the life that I want, by really living my life, I have become an inspiration to others and am helping to change their lives for the better.

We do not have to give up who we are or what we want. We do not have to do it for our children. We do not have to do it for our parents. We do not have to do it for anyone. Sacrificing for your children only teaches them to sacrifice themselves for others. Instead, show your children and those you love how you can care for them while not neglecting yourself. Give to yourself. Be an inspiration. Be the model of how you wish those around you would be.

What inspiring life are you going to lead?