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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.

Experiencing Life through Language

A friend brought me a blown-glass fish dish from Nova Scotia, Canada. The very next day, I was working downstairs while Mary was cleaning the house. I heard a crash. I knew instinctively it was the dish. Between clients I went upstairs. Mary asked if it was expensive; I said it was a gift. Mary moved on with her day. At the time I was amazed that she had no guilt, no remorse over her actions. Then I re-watched this TED Talk on how language shapes the way we think.

In English, I was fuming. “Mary broke the dish.” The rest of my English moved into Mary is to blame and Mary needs to right her actions. I was focused on the subject, Mary, breaking the object, the dish. In Mary’s Spanish-language mind the conversation was different. The subject in her sentence was the dish. “The dish broke.” She was not involved. It was a fact of life. Looking through my eyes, my perception of always apologizing for my actions – even when it was a no-fault mistake – I was in awe of her ability to remain strong and confident. I was astounded by her cool demeanor. Not one part of her showed shame or guilt over what happened. This wasn’t because she has stronger self-confidence than I do. It is because her language shapes the way she thinks differently than my language shapes me.

🙁

I recommend that you listen to the TED Talk and hear first-hand just how our 7,000 different languages shape 7,000 cognitive universes. No wonder we have a hard time understanding each other sometimes. We are not only speaking different languages, we are also seeing the world differently because of those languages. Our language tells us what is important. It helps us learn and become more perceptive of the things we deem important. The language shapes how we see and describe things. How we speak reflects how we see ourselves in the world. Over the last few years I have been exploring this concept through how we express ourselves, how time is perceived, and how new concepts are born in how we speak.

What does your language say about you? 

One of my friends is constantly apologizing. She apologizes for mistakes and is also frequently apologizing for things beyond her control; sometimes she apologizes for just being herself.

Another friend speaks of everyone and everything in how it relates to him. People or things do not exist to him if he does not connect them to himself or his actions.

When I worked for a Taiwanese company, I learned quickly that their language stayed away from confrontation. Many times, we would miss deadlines because my Taiwanese counterparts could not honestly tell me they were behind. It was easier for things to not happen than to be shamed for admitting they were behind schedule.

Living in a different culture has taught me that sarcasm does not translate. I grew up where a sharp tongue was expected and revered. It was the way we bonded and communicated. I now live among individuals who take every word as fact. My sarcasm is not only not-funny, but it is not comprehended. My quick wit causes a lot more confusion than joy.

How do you use language? What assumptions do you make about yourself and the world by the words that you choose and the way you format the sentence? Are you being believed and accepted through your words, or is the way you are expressing yourself turning others away?  Take time this week to watch your words. What do they say about you and how you view the world?

When Mother’s Day is Tough

The experience of Mother’s Day can be diverse depending on the person and their childhood. This is the first Mother’s Day for my niece. I love receiving the photos and stories of her first born. She and her husband love their son and are active in his development. It is beautiful to see. I wish her the happiest of Mother’s Days this year and in the future. She is a beautiful expression of the ideal mother and what Mother’s Day is meant to be. For some of my friends, this Mother’s Day is difficult because they have lost their mother, their best friend, to age or disease. They are mourning the loss and remembering the good times. For them, Mother’s Day is perhaps bittersweet. This post, however, is for another set of people.

Two years ago, my friend Lisa Lamont posted a poignant message on Facebook. “Recently there was a post going around with daughters sharing pictures of their mothers who had passed and wished they were still here because they missed them very much. The post said that there is no bond like that of a mother and daughter. When I saw it, shame kicked in. Because I do not have (nor have I ever had a bond with my mother).” In working with clients over the years, I know my friend is not the only one who did not have a Norman Rockwell relationship with her/his mother. For many, Mother’s Day is a time of shame, regret, and anger that their relationship with their mother is not what others appear to have.

Norman Rockwell (1894-1978), “Mother Tucking Children into Bed,” 1921. Cover illustration for “Literary Digest,” January 29, 1921. Norman Rockwell Museum Digital Collections.

Perhaps you felt abandoned by your mother, or smothered, or attacked, or any of the toxic patterns listed here. We don’t all win the lottery of being born to two highly emotionally-developed individuals. In my experience, most of us are challenged with some emotional defects which negatively affect those around us. Our parents are no different. They may be battling their own emotional demons, leaving no room for them to make perfect parenting decisions in every moment. Many times, our mothers do the best they can do after having their own less than perfect relationship with their mothers. Being a parent is a very difficult position. Expectations of perfect parenting are thrust upon a new parent even when they do not have the role model to emulate or the means to learn how to best perform their role.

The result for us may be that we are angry at our mother or the fact we were born to the mother we were. I challenge you instead to find the gifts you were given because of the parents you were born to. What did you learn about how to treat others? What did you learn about embracing your own self-worth? What did you learn about accepting others? What did you learn about unconditional love?

This Mother’s Day, if you are one of those who bear scars from a less-than-ideal childhood, release the anger that things should have been different. Find acceptance and forgiveness that your mother did the best she could at the time. And work every day to be the best mother to your children or mentor to those around you. We heal not by fighting or resigning to what was, but by consciously choosing to embrace a healthier life.

work in progress

Continuous Improvement

The reason I became a coach is because I didn’t like who I was. I could be condescending, judgmental and self-centered. In other words, at times I was a real bitch. And I was unhappy. I am not proud of who I was and how I acted. I wanted to change. My first client as a life coach was myself so I could work through all the negative traits I expressed in my life. I wanted to be a better person.

And I continue to do this work.

work in progressChange is not a one-time event. It is constant improvement. Yes, I made amazing strides not to be the person I was 20 years ago. And I am also working on myself every day to be better 20 years from today than I am right now. No matter how much work we do, how much we improve, there is always still more to learn and improve.

A few weeks ago, I had a potential client reach out to me. In our conversation, I mentioned how I am not perfect. I don’t have this life thing down. I have a lot of tools I use and I do my best every day. Yet, it is still a journey for me. Every day I learn and grow. Every day I mess up things I could have done better. Every day I brush myself off from my failures, make amends to those I hurt in the moment, and vow to do better.

In looking over my life I can see improvement. And I intend that every day I will improve a bit more.  As a perfectionist, it is sometimes difficult to admit when I have failed. Yet, it is in this awareness, recognition, and acceptance of my failures where I have found the most growth. Self-improvement does not end in the destination of perfect. Self-improvement is the willingness to see our warts and all, and to use this information every day to make better choices in the moment and in the future.

Part of the work I am doing now is healing the hurt I caused others in the past when I was not at my best. To do this healing it is necessary to take responsibility for my actions and to admit my failures. Consciously or unconsciously I have hurt others during my journey. Some incidents I am painfully aware of, and some pain I caused I may never know about. It may be terrifying to go back to painful times and admit my wrongs, but it is one of the most healing acts to experience for myself and for those I hurt.

Today I received an email from someone I hurt decades ago. The message resurrected my awareness of who I was and how I may have hurt others because of it. Unfortunately, this person chose to write to me anonymously, so I don’t have the opportunity to work through the damage I caused. I truly hope they reach out to me so I can understand the extent of the pain I created and so we can work together to heal.

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.