Romeo and Juliet

Real Love

I try to stay away from sensationalized headlines, but recently I clicked on a talk called “Why you will marry the wrong person.” Thankfully the talk turned out to be more substance that I expected. It was in fact a very poignant look at relationships.

Feelings

By chance, a recent Netflix binge was a show called, “Virgin River.” This Hallmark-inspired soap opera focused almost wholly on feelings. In fact, the characters talk about hardly anything expect their emotions and how they feel. Every decision they make, all of their focus is on their emotions, and their desire for others to understand, fix, or change how they feel. Throughout the show the characters move from love to hate to jealously and are steered blindly by their feelings. It became funny because the characters’ answer to every problem was “I love you.” Yet never did they really supply a reason why they love the other person. It was like saying “I love you” explained every fault and fixed every issue.

In contrast, Alain de Botton recommends in his YouTube speech that we do not follow are feelings. He says that our feelings and instincts can not be trusted because they are based in what is familiar. What is familiar is how our first love, our parents, made us feel. Did our parents get divorced when we were young? Then being around people who will probably leave is familiar and comfortable. Trusting our feelings gets us in trouble, because it draws us to repeat the same issues again and again.  

Romeo and Juliet
Michigan Shakespeare Festival

Love

The Virgin River cast is all about the act of being loved. They focus on the receiving of flowers, attention, and special gifts. They expect their admirers to intuit and respond to their innermost wants and needs, without having to express those needs at all. It is the old belief that if you really loved me, you would know and do exactly what I need.

To love someone is very different than receiving love. To love someone, we accept them warts and all. Everyone is a mix of good and bad. To truly love someone, it is not only an admiration of their good qualities, but compassionate acceptance of their whole self.

Vulnerability

To rule our feelings and truly receive and give real love, we need to be vulnerable. Consciously or unconsciously many of us play games in our relationships, mostly because we are terrified to be truly vulnerable. Instead, we play games to try to get what we need. Instead of saying I need you, we micromanage others trying to make them act how we wish. Out of fear of rejection, we may become distant so we can not be hurt; therefore creating the rift in the relationship out of fear that there may be a rift in the relationship. Instead of saying what we need, we try to manipulate others to give us what we need. This usually backfires.

To be in an authentic relationship, we need to share our truth openly and honestly holding space for our partner to do the same. This may mean accepting things about others we may not fully like. It may mean accepting feedback from our partner as constructive criticism and not attack.

Who are you in relationships? Are you the Virgin River character or Disney princess who believes the fact of love will make everything right? Or are you a vulnerable realist who sees people for who they are and uses compassion and boundaries to create honest, loving relationships?

dog on walk

Dog Behavior Training – for me

A while back I shared what I learned from having a stray cat try to adopt me. I am happy to report the cat has a home now and is being taken care of in the way she deserves, and demands. This January, I adopted a dog, Güera, who is teaching me new lessons.

Being an older rescue, I had no history of Güera’s life or personality. I quickly learned that although the rescue center said she was good around other dogs, she in fact seemed scared or aggressive toward them. Because of this, I shielded her from other dogs. I assumed that she was going to start growling. My emotions conveyed that other dogs were a threat and go figure, when we were around other dogs, she was aggressive.

Honestly, I don’t know when it hit me. Maybe it was the nice older dog owner I befriended who would allow Güera to sniff his dog. Little by little, they got to know each other and low and behold, no more aggression and growling. If Güera could be nice to this dog, logic told me she could be nice with other dogs. When we met other dogs on our walks, instead of sending my emotions into fear, I relaxed. I would soothingly say, “Diga hola” and “tranquila,” Spanish for “say hi” and “relax/chill”. And you know what? Unless the other dog was obviously aggressive, Güera was calm.

dog on her walk
Güera chilling on her walk

This got me thinking of all the times I entered a boardroom, an event, or any situation where I assumed there would be conflict. How much of the conflict that ensued was a direct response to my energy of protection and aggression? I started to notice this in my day-to-day life. Being human there are people I dislike or judge. Instinctively and sometimes maliciously, I approached these people with a chip on my shoulder. I wanted or expected a fight. Being self-righteous I wanted to prove how nasty these people were by provoking them. If I succeeded in provoking them, I felt like a jerk. If I didn’t, I still felt awful because I had made myself feel that way.

Instead, I started to approach everyone – those I liked, those I didn’t, those who I had yet to know – with the calm relaxed attitude I embodied when walking my dog. Tranquila Melissa. Not all interactions went the way I would want them to. But every interaction felt good to me. I was peaceful and centered, and really that is all I ever wanted. It didn’t matter how the other person reacted or what they did, I could choose to be in the state of calm.

What scares you? Who disturbs you? When do you put up a barrier? Where do you look for a fight? What if you could, no matter the situation, choose calm?  You can. You can’t control what others say or do, but you can always control your own actions and reactions. Try it today. Ground yourself before you meet someone disagreeable. Center yourself before bringing up a difficult conversation. Embody peace within you and see how all your interactions shift. Tranquila bonita, you got this.

Barcelona

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.