You’ve heard insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, but it’s actually how quickly they let you leave the hospital with a newborn when you have your first child.
“You mean I don’t need a parental license? No certification? I don’t have to pass any tests??? I just get to take this MOST IMPORTANT THING TO EVER HAPPEN TO ME home and wing it?”
No book can prepare us for this, although I did read them all.
48 hours after 36 hours of labor and…
the hospital provided us with a cart to haul all our loot and belongings to the car.
I sat in the hospital bed nursing like a pro thanks to the 352 page book, Breastfeeding Made Simple (not a joke), and our daughter’s totally genetic love for groceries. I was so in love and in awe. Despite the lack of sleep, rough delivery, and family tension I told my husband that I felt like I had postpartum euphoria. If one could embody the heart-eyes emoji, I’m pretty sure I was nailing it.
My husband was loading the cart when my Mom walked in. She’d arrived from the East Coast the day I delivered and months prior we’d planned that she’d stay for a week or so to help.
As she entered the hospital room her hands were one inside the other - not a full wringing of the hands...just the fingers of one hand inside the grip of the other right at her chest accompanied with a slightly pained look on her face. It’s what she does when she has something to say, but doesn’t want to say it...or knows full well what she’s about to say is a word grenade, but can’t help but pull the pin.
She stood to the right of my bed and told me that she’d changed her flight and would be leaving later that day instead of a week from now like we had planned.
My head fell like a 400-pound weight supported by an al dente noodle. Although this wasn’t the first time I was disappointed by my mother’s behavior or decisions, I realized in this moment I had been carrying around the hope that she could be a different kind of Grandmother. I also realized we had no other plans for support in place; all the other out-of-towners that were possibilities for support had left town and the thought of reaching out and explaining where my mom had gone carried with it a level of complexity and vulnerability I didn’t have the energy for.
Warm tears, from the deepest place that tears can come, pooled in the corners of my eyes and splattered against my baby girl’s skin.
My mom began rattling off, what sounded to me like, ridiculous reasons for why she wasn’t staying a full week..
Head-scratching excuses like these were familiar to me. I’d heard them when she couldn’t come visit me in college (an hour away from where she lived), when she surprised me with the news that she’d be moving to the east coast for a man (when I was 21 and support-system-less about to graduate college with plans to move back in with her), and when she told me, just a few months prior, she wasn’t going to be able to make it to my baby shower.
I did not hear these flat excuses, however, when it came to showing up to any of her out-of-state high school class reunions to relive her glory days.
You might be thinking, “Huh, Mika, should have seen this one coming. Sounds like insanity,” but my mom is a wild dichotomy. For example, when I was younger she would ask me repeatedly and excitedly, like no less than 75 times, “Honey, when you have kids, will you let me babysit them?!!” and then would squeal in excitement at the thought of watching her own grandchildren. She would talk about the things she would do with them, how close she would have to live to them, how often she would see them, and joke about how she might just have to live in my basement. There’s this almost manic-ness, in her mind, about how she could be relationally, but none of it is reality. When I was a kid I didn’t understand that these grand illusions weren’t going to happen, because I had no idea she wasn’t capable of this kind of intimacy.
Fast-forward to when I was pregnant with her first grandchild I, her only child, asked her if she thought that having a grandchild would make her want to move back to where we were. She said very matter-of-factly, “No, I don’t think so. I like the weather here.”
While the shreds of hope I had remaining for her ability to be a nurturing and present Grandma were streaming out of my eyeballs in that hospital bed, she said, “What’s the matter, honey?” I had no words. I just looked up at her through my tear-filled eyes.
She gently sat down on my bed and grabbed my leg. With what felt like all the drama of a soap opera star, the sleaziness of a car salesman, and the breathiness of Judy Garland, she said, “If you want me to stay, just say it and I’ll stay,” while looking longingly into my eyes.
Waiting, again, for ME to fill HER up.
“Just say it, and I’ll stay.”
“Look at ME. Beg ME. Need ME. MAKE THIS ABOUT ME,” was all that I could hear.
Me. Me. Me.
And in that moment, a switch inside me flipped. Despite the years of hurt, disappointment, unresolvable issues, emotional and physical abuse, and tolerating atrocious offenses I had kept that switch unflipped. Don’t get me wrong, we’d had our battles, but until now they all had ended with me sweeping my own wants and needs under the rug and going back to acting like nothing was wrong in order to survive. With my 2-day-old diapered baby in my arms; her new furry skin touching mine, I did something for her that I hadn’t yet been able to do fully for my almost 27-year-old self.
The air wheezed on the way into my flared nostrils and with all the nonverbal accoutrement of a possessed person in a horror movie I growled,
“Fuck. You.” I had NEVER said these words to anyone before.
She kept talking. The head-scratching explanations were mounting.
She didn’t stop. She put on her confused, sad puppy-dog face and her mouth kept moving.
At the top of my lungs in the brand new, small, and quiet maternity ward (like EVERYONE heard. every.one.), “GEEET OUUUUUTTTT!!!!! GET OUUUUUUTT!!!!!!!! FUCK YOUU!!!!!!!!!!!!!” Over and over.
Historically, my husband would be the first of us to lose it or set a firm and uncomfortable boundary with my mother, but on this day he was the calm one. I blame, and am grateful for, the increased amount of oxytocin bathing my brain and igniting my momma-bear response for my daughter and myself that day.
He just kept saying forcefully on repeat, “Jan, I think you need to leave.”
I had held out hope for years that the mom I was attached to could be my mom, and that hope broke on this day. I continued screaming - ugly-cry, howler-monkey, throat-injurious screaming - as she looked at me, somehow self-pitifully, while being escorted out of the room.
My husband remembers returning later to find our favorite nurse at the foot of my bed. “She was so nice that day,” he says.
I’m pretty sure she was mostly just assessing me for postpartum psychosis and making sure I wasn’t going to kill myself or the baby after discharge.
I haven’t thought about this day in a long time and I worry, now that I’ve put it down on paper, you’ll wonder, “Soooo, is this “relationship expert” saying I should just tell the people in my life to go F themselves?” Nope, nope, nope, that’s definitely not what I’m saying. AND I don’t know that I would do or could have done it any differently this day.
This reaction took 26.8 years to erupt. 26.8 years of walking on eggshells, people-pleasing, avoiding, backing down, and wondering if there was something deeply wrong with me. Years of chances, years of therapy, and years of graduate school had finally convinced me that I had developed a ridiculous and self-harming ability to tolerate an inordinate amount of crap from people because it’s what I had to do in my childhood to belong.
Boundaries come in all shapes and sizes (here come my yard/lawn boundary analogies 🤦🏼♀️). A simple lovely row of flowers works for some people, but there are those who will trample the flowers, kick over the white picket fence, and excavate the 8ft wooden fence you’ve installed in an attempt to clearly communicate this is what’s mine, and this is what’s yours (or this is what’s ok, and this is what’s not ok - like...it’s not okay for your dog to poop over here). You might have to learn to build a ridiculously tall barbed wire fence with a lockable door. The door will allow you to let the mostly healthy people in, and the barbed wire will protect your squishy and vulnerable heart. Both are necessary if you don’t want to run the risk for your heart hardening for the world…. and for yourself.
To put it shortly, I have learned that a row of vincas doesn’t work with my mother.
My reaction was not perfect. I am not perfect. I know, that’s super rare for *experts* to admit. Let’s be clear about this before you read any further: my background isn’t perfect, my family of origin isn’t perfect, my current family isn’t perfect, and my college days were definitely not perfect.
If you want your life inspiration to come from someone who didn’t have a shitty beginning (not the shittiest) and a really messy middle I would recommend not reading any further.
I’m writing this for those of us who were dealt imperfect cards, yet who still have at least the teensiest glimmer of belief in the possibility that this could get better. For those of you who want to believe it’s more about how we play the cards, that we can create a different kind of family and life than the awful or ho-hum one we grew up with, that we can choose to deal different cards to our own kids, and that we can break decades-long family patterns in imperfectly-perfect ways.
I’m not going to sugar-coat it and tell you it’s not hard, but I hope the stories to come help convince you that it’s all SO worth it.
While this all seems like an objectively terrible way to start my motherhood journey I think of this day and feel pretty darned powerful about it. At 2 days old my daughter taught me something I hadn’t been able to really hear from anyone else: your worth and value isn’t dependent on someone else’s behavior. My mom’s inability to be the kind of grandma my daughter needed her to be had nothing to do with my daughter’s worth and value. Zero. Zilch. Nada. THIS. WAS. CLEAR.
I’d read it in books, I’d heard it from therapists, experts, 78-page-long CV-touting professors, and spiritual leaders, I AGREED with it in theory (cognitively)….but nothing had deeply untangled my heart from the belief that my worth was dependent on my mom’s ability to nurture me, and a whole slew of other things outside of myself, in the way that the love I had for my 2-day-old daughter did.
I could see her worth and value more clearly than I could see my own. This, in and of itself, helped me see my own more clearly.
My daughter has been one of my greatest teachers.
In the chapters to come I hope to share how my heart was slowly, but surely, untangled and how years of self-doubt, self-hate, depression and anxiety were unraveled. I'm not just going to tell you the theories behind having happy and healthy relationships; I'm going to bring them down to Earth with real life stories.
I'm going to throw myself under the bus in cringe-worthy ways. I'm going to write chapters that my husband won't want me to share. I'm going to piss some people off with my perspective. And I'm going to break down really big ideas into actionable and practical strategies so that you know WHAT IT LOOKS like, WHAT IT SOUNDS like, and WHAT IT FEELS like to navigate relationships with the people you love the most in a way that simultaneously honors YOU and THEM.
And I'm doing all of this for those of you who've wondered if it might be impossible for you to have happy relationships or to love yourself fully.
I have been there.
YOU deserve happy relationships,
It's a MOMference and a night out. It's inspiring, ah-ha moment-inducing, and silly. You might shed a tear and you'll definitely laugh. Moms, I want you to leave this event feeling lighter and more empowered: with a clearer understanding of yourself, what you need, and next best steps (if you want them). I want you to feel more WELL.
I sort of see Moms like an endangered species (not, like, in danger of becoming extinct, but...); we're 2x as likely to be diagnosed with depression and anxiety than our male counterparts, report lower rates of relationship satisfaction than our husbands, are drowning in to-dos, and feel like we're failing everywhere.
And our husband wears 1 baby in a wrap to the grocery store to pick up 5 things and is praised by 7 strangers in amazement.
Also, he wants sex...now. "How about now?"...."Now??" despite the relationship lacking in emotional intimacy and you feeling like you're drowning in to-do ocean while he's up on the boat chillaxin - blissfully unaware of the mile-long invisible list (the dog needs to be groomed, the kids are past due for their well visits, need to research when the baby can eat solids, gotta decipher this email from the reading specialist, plan a 4-year-old birthday party, etc.) that needs to be complete by noon.
So many of us have the same complaints - feelings of overwhelm, not feeling like a priority, feeling like we're not enough, wondering if we're selfish...
You're asking me questions like, "Is there something wrong with me?", "How can I get him to SEE the dishes?" and "How can I get what I need without yelling about it?"
You feel alone, disconnected, and like it's hard to remember who you used to be...but you're pretty sure you used to laugh more.
You say things like, "Why do I have to tell you what to do, WHY CAN'T YOU JUST KNOW?!"
I've been there. I've crawled out of that. I've helped thousands of others do the same.
The path to not recognizing yourself one day is a slippery and insidious slope. Whether you're already there, or wonder if you might be on your way...well, Mama, we have hand-crafted this event just for you. And the support and connection won't end when the event is over...
The best thing you can do for your kids is be well.
See you soon, XOXO
P.S. We are 2/3 full! Only 55 tickets remain. CLICK HERE to learn more :)
Earlier this year I told my good friend I had this strange desire to see a therapist. Me (the therapist) seeing a therapist isn’t the strange part. Despite what you may think, psychotherapists seeking therapy is really common. And trust me, you want the therapist who has worked through her shi….own stuff with a professional, not the one who hasn’t.
The strange part was that I didn’t feel like I had things to work through or change (which… in and of itself, feels like a strange and new place for me to be), but I couldn’t shake the desire to go through the hard work of finding a good therapist.
She was like, “You should do it....if that’s what you feel like you need.”
But I didn’t really feel like I needed just one therapist or even on-going therapy. Here comes the strange part...I told her, “I’m just craving that first session...where I get to spill it all. It’s like I want 7 first sessions.”
She said, “Huh. That’s weird. It sounds like you might just want to tell your story.”
I said, “Yeah, maybe.”
“Maybe it’s time to write your book?!”
Whoa. I hadn’t really considered that this was what this feeling could be: the desire to share my story, in full - not just in not-regular, somewhat-vague blog posts or short stories with clients and friends, or repeating myself to the few people in my life who do know the full story. I think my husband is done hearing about all this stuff out-loud, and I don’t blame him.
The thought of sharing it all in a cohesive, here’s-how-all-the-pieces-fit-together, way sounds simultaneously overwhelming and cathartic; self-indulgent and important. I wonder so much what it would feel like to write that last chapter, to have the ability to figuratively and literally close the door of that back cover to those parts of my life. Would it feel like completion and closure?
Over the years of writing on the internet (albeit inconsistently), I’ve gotten more comfortable with the thought of writing a book like, “Yeah, I could do that...”, although I still feel like a jerk admitting it outloud - like I’m that douche-canoe who believes I’m THE MOST INTERESTING PERSON IN THE WORLD!
I am definitely not terribly interesting.
I am, however, a person with invisible scars. Scars that were once gaping wounds of anxiety, crippling worry, depression, wildly (and insidiously) dysfunctional relationships, dismal self-esteem, and overwhelming loneliness.
There were decades of wondering if there was something wrong with me, if I was worth deep and meaningful connections, if anyone wanted to have them with me, and countless moments of leaping...good grief, so much leaping, hoping the fucking net everyone talks about would appear.
And let’s not forget the years of trudging through what it looks like and sounds like to value myself in relationship with others. This included the almost unbearable work of untangling myself from people who were committed to not seeing me clearly....even when the alternative was feeling like I was floating, untethered, away from everything I’d ever known to feel comfortable and safe (not healthy or wonderful, but safe) and into some red hot, chest-aching loneliness.
I don’t think people talk about invisible scars enough.
The moral of my story will be: It’s worth it. The hard work you resist doing to create the life you really want; it’s worth it. The hard conversations you avoid having; they’re worth it. The boundaries you don’t want to have, the loneliness you don’t want to feel, the grief you’re trying to escape, the connections you can’t want to make, the leaps you’re terrified to take...YOU are worth it.
You deserve healthy relationships. And if I can do it, I’m fairly certain anyone can.
So, why am I telling you all of this? Because I don’t think that I can do this alone. I’m not the person who can do big things without big accountability. Like, I couldn't run a marathon without a serial killer trailing close behind. I know this about myself.
So, why not bring you all along on the journey for some accountability? Wait, I think I just compared you to a serial killer. Hmmm. Honestly, I’m not even sure THIS (sharing with a few thousand people) will be enough accountability to stick with this project (you’re not very scary), but it’s the best idea I’ve got.
So, here were are... in this awkward moment… giving it a shot. I’ve heard great books start in the middle. Crappy rough-draft of the messy middle coming next...or at least paragraph one of the messy middle. Or this post could mysteriously disappear in the near future. Stay tuned. I guess we’ll find out together.
You're not good at *reading* people. (What does this have to do with this photo?….read til the end)
“THAT IS what you were saying."
I often hear some form of this when couples are revisiting a conflict they couldn't get through in the past week.
"That's NOT what I was saying!"
"Oh, YES it was. I'm good at reading people."
Nope. No you're not. Of course, I don't say this in the moment, I show them instead by dragging them through effective verbal communication about nonverbal communication.
WHY is communicating about nonverbal communication so important? First, some examples.
What if you’re at lunch with your friend talking about a particularly hard scenario you’re trying to navigate and you say, “Oh, gosh, this is a long story. Are you sure you have time?” And your friend says, “YES, OF COURSE!!!” but then proceeds to look at her watch every minute or so.
Which are you going to believe, her verbals or her nonverbals?
You come home to your partner slamming kitchen cabinets, and you ask, “Is everything ok?” And he/she responds, “FINE!”
You will, most likely, not believe the words.
We give more weight to nonverbal communication than we do to verbal communication, but there’s SO MUCH MORE ROOM to miscommunicate about nonverbal communication. Yet most of us don’t have the skills to check out our perception in the moment with a big question mark at the end and we fill in the blanks, assuming meaning, instead of getting clarity from the person expressing themselves.
“I’m interpreting the silence as judgment. Is that what it means?”
“I hear you say you’re fine, but it doesn’t seem like you’re fine.”
“Did that sigh mean you’re irritated with ME?”
I am constantly listening for how communication could be heard another way, checking out my perception of the communication (because I know the same sentence said in different ways can mean SEVERAL different things), and waiting until I get the all clear to respond in the form of AGREEMENT from the person I’m communicating with on what’s being said before I respond.
I NO LONGER assume I understand another person’s intent without checking It out. I’m highly trained in communication, have several letters after my name, and I will tell you I’m right about 50% of the time when I check out my understanding of what the other person is saying.
This will be even less if the rose-colored glasses you used to have for your partner have been replaced with poop-colored lenses after years of miscommunication….making miscommunicating even easier. Ugh.
This pic? Looks like we’re having a great time, right? Lots of fun? Maybe playing a game? Maybe just participating in some Mom-of-the-year type of behavior?
Nah. My new 12-year-old social media manager took my phone, told me to put my little one on my back and laugh. I thought, “This is ridiculous,” but did it anyway. And then she took THIS picture. Super AMAZING....and super fake.
Nonverbals are hard to read, should have known.
You deserve happy relationships,
PSSSTT - It’s SO EASY to miscommunicate and to slide down the slippery slope into a roommatey relationship. Check out my super relatable FREE Training for Busy Couples for lots more super do-able ways to get your relationship back on track.
Sometimes I say smart things. AND, I have LIVED on either side of this.
I intimately understand what it’s like to slowly untangle layers of unhealthy beliefs about relationships.
You lose people. People WILL go away. Those people who benefitted from you having a lack of boundaries and standards will think there’s something wrong with you.
“What is your problem?”
They’ll talk about you behind your back. They’ll confront you to your face. THIS is not a sign that you should turn around, THIS is a sign you’re on the right track.
You’ll feel lonely, it’ll feel ALL WRONG. Uncomfortable isn’t a big enough word.
But you’ll emerge on the other side with a superpower. Your sensitivity will no longer drain you. You’ll be a fierce protector of your energy. You’ll be “picky” about how people treat you, and you’ll find your tribe of weirdos...they’re waiting for you.
And you’ll get to show other people that this is a climbable mountain. That there’s peace, and belonging, and people who are excited for you when things go well on the other side.
Click here for a YouTube video series on BOUNDARIES...that might be a great place to start.
You deserve happy relationships,
The FREE Training for Busy Couples is available now. Click below to pick your class time.
Conflict gets a bad rap, but when done really well it's actually highly positively correlated with relational satisfaction and ratings of emotional AND physical intimacy.
"WHAT?! That thing that I'm not supposed to do in front of the kids is actually GOOD for my relationship?"
Well, not exactly.
When conflict is done really well it doesn't include acting out on other people in anger: yelling, name calling, passive aggression, threats, blame, criticism, or becoming otherwise emotionally abrasive. SO, I tell people - if you're moving through conflict in a way that you can't do in front of the kids, it's probably not something you want to be doing in your relationship. Period.
This does not, IN NO WAY SHAPE OR FORM, mean I recommend you start sweeping your wants and needs under the rug in an effort to avoid the uncomfortable interaction. In my family of origin we either screamed and yelled about it or swept our wants and needs under the rug - neither of which I want to model for my kids. I understand intimately how sweeping wants and needs under the rug can slowly and sneakily poison relationships from the inside out like a slow-growing cancer.
There is another way.
Get stuck in conflict? Leave the interaction feeling worse not better? Arguing about the same thing over and over again? Feel like emotional and physical intimacy are declining over time? It's so easy to get here.
CONFLICT SUCKS. Keep scrolling for lots of helpful resources, including more information on a layered, sequential, research-based mini-course I've developed to help you sail through conflict with ease. I've been using it in my practice with couples for over 6 years with much success. It even includes a literal map to help you get through conflict (not kidding). Check it out at www.mikaross.com/conflict-online
Relatables: Episode 39
A few weeks ago I was asked this GREAT question by a client: How do we move forward in a conflict if we can't agree on the facts?? We've all been stuck here before...it looks something like:
Yes, you did.
NO, I didn't.
YES, you did.
NO I DIDN'T!
YES YOU DID!!!!
Please, for the love, watch the video. You deserve happy relationships,
Want more? Check out the FREE Training for Busy Couples and for more specific info on how to not get stuck in conflict check out the Conflict Sucks Online Course.
...and other confusing things that come with titles people don't earn
Years ago I had a client whose Dad wasn’t very involved. He lived states away, he had a new wife and new, much younger, kiddos, had never been to any extracurricular activity of hers in any way shape or form, couldn’t tell you which school she went to, didn’t make an effort to know about her social life, and rarely foot the bill for anything of hers even though he was “rolling in the dough”….the list goes on.
In painting a picture of their relationship for me she was sure to tell me about a time he forgot to pick her up from the airport. Like, just totally whiffed on which day she was coming in town.
She was angry. She was disgusted. But all of that she tried to hide under the surface of an I-don’t-give-a-fuck-about-him attitude.
I didn’t buy it.
I asked what she thought it meant about her that he forgot to pick her up from the airport.
She said, “It means he’s an asshole.”
Maybe not the most inaccurate statement, but not the answer to my question. My question was asking for self-reflection and vulnerability, not blame and criticism.
It was visibly hard for her to get there. She struggled to put down her protective I-don’t-give-a-fuck wall enough to say that it probably meant she wasn’t important to him, that she felt like an afterthought a lot of the time, and that she wasn’t worth her Dad’s time.
What was extra heart-stabbing was that it seemed to her he was a different kind of dad with his much younger kiddos. Before they had come along she’d explained away his inability to be the kind of Dad she needed to herself by believing he just wasn’t cut out to be a dad. With the half-siblings in the picture it was now extra hard not to take this personally.
Even though she “didn’t give a fuck” about him, he seemed to be the topic of our conversations quite a bit. I could feel that she gave him power over how she felt about herself - she was engaging in self-destructive behaviors that didn’t align with a person who loves and values herself.
My brain was trying to figure out how to effectively untangle her perspective of her enoughness from him. I knew that just saying, “You know this doesn’t mean anything about you, right?” wasn’t going to be enough...she was already saying things like that to herself with a side dish of anger and resentment that made it clear she didn’t fully believe any of it.
TANGENT WARNING! - THIS IS WHY AFFIRMATIONS DON’T WORK. If you hate yourself and then you commit to telling yourself you love yourself in the mirror 10 times a day you’ll most likely end up feeling worse. Affirmations work when they get you from thought A to thought B, but fail miserably when you try to push yourself from thought A to thought Z.
If the affirmation is too big of a leap and doesn’t truly massage your beliefs to the next better-feeling place, you’ll tell yourself you love yourself, your heart will sink, you’ll think, “Ew, no I don’t. I suck,” and then add to the *I suck* supportive evidence stack Exhibit T-24: you can’t even do affirmations right. And then you’ll look in the mirror and say, “What the fuck is wrong with you?”
Yikes. Sometimes our inner selves can be real jerks.
I sat back in my chair one day, after listening to story after story of how her Dad had whiffed in the parenting department, and said, “You know, he sounds more like a crazy, scatter-brained, distant Uncle than he does a DAD.”
She laughed. I said, “No, seriously. What if we took the title of Dad away from him? What if we called him what he is based on how he behaves - something like….Crazy Uncle Joe?” She was laughing hard now... I think questioning my sanity a wee bit.
“Ok, ok….let’s say you have a crazy, distant, scatterbrained Uncle and he whiffs on picking you up from the airport. Does that feel different than if your DAD forgets to pick you up from the airport??”
“YES. SOOOO different.”
I said, “When it’s your Dad, it’s so EASY to take it personally, to make it mean something about you that YOUR DAD would forget you. It’s easy to feel big anger because you feel deep hurt. If it’s crazy Uncle Joe how is that response different?”
She laughed, “Jesus H. Christ, Uncle Joe - get your shit together.”
YESSS!!!! We were both laughing now.
More accurately labeling this person’s title based on his behavior over time, not the moment his sperm landed in the right place at the right time, took his power away and gave it back to her.
We spent the rest of our time together that day bringing up real-life *Dad* examples, and trying on how it felt to replace “Dad” with “Crazy Uncle Joe”.
It was like the difference between trying on clothes that are 2 sizes too small for you that someone has maliciously labeled with your size just to mess with you, and trying on clothes that actually fit….and you feel damn good in.
It’s easy to give people power over how you feel based on their title, or position, or age, or status. We attach a lot of meaning to all of those things.
But so often parents aren’t our parents, your sister can’t be your sister, or your husband isn’t really your husband. And maybe sometimes your neighbor is your unconditionally loving and always-there-for-you sister, and maybe your Mom is your Mom and Dad, and your cousin is more like your brother...and maybe your friends are your family and your family is a group of middle schoolers who talk about you behind your back and are incapable of being excited for you when things go well.
I recommend getting really clear on who’s what and assigning validity accordingly.
Your happiness is your job. When you find a way to let them off the hook for how you feel, you can meet them where they are (even from a safe distance) and love them all anyway....and maybe look yourself in the mirror one day and see awesomeness.
PS - Have a relationship that's feeling off-track? Feeling misperceived or misunderstood often? Like you used to see the best in each other, but now can't joke the way you used to without someone flying off the handle? No worries, friend. Miscommunication is SO EASY, but it's a slippery slope you don't have to stay on. Check out the CONFLICT Sucks Online Course and start working today to get your best friend back.
"By the way, you left the garage light on last night...and I turned it off."
The heat rose from my sternum to my temples. Every cell in my body wanted to scratch his eyes out. I wanted to teach him a lesson. I wanted to mince him with my words.
That would have been so easy.
My now husband had come down the stairs and said this to me one Saturday morning about 1 year into living together. 𝙏𝙃𝙄𝙎 WAS THE FIRST THING HE SAID TO ME.
I was enough into my graduate work in Marriage & Family Counseling to know responding the way I really wanted to wasn't going to be helpful.
I took a second to pause, to figure out what I was hearing and why my heart sank when this comment fell out of his mouth. I mean, did I really want to start a fight over a GARAGE LIGHT?!
Or was that even what this was about?
I sat silent. I probably looked confused.
After a few minutes I said curiously, "If Nikol had stayed the night last night, and she had left the garage light on...would you let her know that she had and that you had turned it off?" Nikol is a mutual out-of-town friend of ours who we both respect and adore.
He paused and thoughtfully said, "Huh, no I wouldn't," with a side-dish of his own confusion.
I asked, "Why not?"
He didn't know.
"I'm not sure, but I think it's because you and Nikol are friends and you and I are starting to become enemies."
He couldn't see my intent clearly. It felt like his intent towards me had changed. I was feeling misperceived and acted out on more often. I could have communicated in the cleanest, most-textbook, I-statementy way and he probably would have heard criticism and snapped back with defensiveness and I would have done the same...let the attack-defense cycle that gets you nowhere begin.
I could feel we were sliding down the slippery slope.
Soon after, we headed to our counselor's office to tease out what he needed to not feel that way about me. He couldn't verbalize it on his own, and I wasn't skilled or detached enough to get it out of him.
It turns out, like so many of the couples I've sat across from in my office over the years, it was a pile up of a lot of little things (I cannot even remember what they were now) - the cumulative effect of which had become some very invisible and very sticky poop-colored lenses. It had nothing to do with the stupid garage light.
It's so easy to get here. SO easy.
I think that's what most people don't get. I think most people believe that being a 𝙘𝙤𝙢𝙢𝙪𝙣𝙞𝙘𝙖𝙩𝙞𝙤𝙣 𝙚𝙭𝙥𝙚𝙧𝙩 means I don't have to worry about miscommunication.
I assume miscommunication ALWAYS. I understand how ridiculously easy it is to miscommunicate, misperceive, and misread intents....throwing off track conversations and, over time, ENTIRE relationships.
That one mindset shift helps me not take things so personally and to be less reactive 😉 ...and weirdly assists in my ability to clean up miscommunication quickly to get conversations back on track.
Relationships don't just break one day. They break really slowly and really sneakily over time...but so often it's so unnecessary.
This is why I've created the a 𝗖𝗼𝗻𝗳𝗹𝗶𝗰𝘁 𝗦𝗨𝗖𝗞𝗦 𝗢𝗻𝗹𝗶𝗻𝗲 𝗖𝗼𝘂𝗿𝘀𝗲. I don't think clear communication with the people we love the most has to be so hard. I break down some ridiculously big ideas into practical and actionable strategies so that you can start creating a relationship you LOVE.
It's time to dig those rose-colored glasses out of the junk drawer....and to get your best friend back.
You deserve happy relationships,
LEARN MORE -->> www.mikaross.com/conflict-online
What supplements do I take to support mental health, brain health, and to increase energy??
Good question! What I take and daily dosages listed below. My dose may not be for you. Do your own research and talk to a medical professional. You can even have your levels of things like vitamin D and iron tested without a doctor's appointment at places like Quest Diagnostics or Any Lab Now.
D3 (4000 IUs)- The Happy Hormone
An estimated 77% of Americans don't get enough vitamin D. I am one of them. I tested low for vitamin D in AUGUST when our bodies should be converting sunshine into vitamin D. Some of us (lucky me) have genetics that get in the way of that happening. Vitamin D is a hormone that is a part of many bodily processes. D deficiency can cause low testosterone and low estrogen; these hormones don't just impact sex drive, they also impact mood! Low testosterone can cause depression, anxiety, and irritability. Similarly, estrogen helps boost serotonin and GABA, critical neurotransmitters, which help keep you calm and happy.
Omega 3s (2000 mg)
Some studies have found omega 3s to be as effective as antidepressants. Research also suggests that they may make the anti-depressant you're already taking MORE effective. Omega 3s are also anti-inflammatory. 'Nuf said.
Iron & Vitamin C
What did being low on iron feel like? I was ridiculously exhausted no matter how much I slept. If I did hard cardio in the AM I would be nearly comatose by afternoon with a pounding headache accompanied by nausea. Also, my ferritin levels were so low, I wasn't making new hair! I could have sworn I had a thyroid issue, but alas...just needed some high doses of iron to get my levels back up. If you've had blood loss (childbirth for me) or regularly heavy periods (me, too) iron might be the culprit of your low energy, crappy mood, and thinning hair. Vitamin C increases your body's ability to absorb iron. Important to take iron WITH FOOD as it has a tendency to cause an upset stomach.
Before bed I take the following:
Probiotics (60 Billion CFU)- A REALLY GOOD, high quality (probably expensive) one (50/50 blend of lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium lactis)
Research shows that unhealthy guts with an imbalance of good/bad bacteria can impact the parts of the brain responsible for stress and anxiety. In short, the lack of good bugs in your system can increase anxiety. But not all probiotics are equally efficacious for increasing mental health. Research suggests that the 2 listed above can have a major positive effect on the mental health of humans and reduce cortisol levels (the stress hormone).
Magnesium Glycinate (200 mg)
Recent research on the relationship between magnesium and depression is astounding. A meta-analysis of 11 studies on magnesium and depression found that people with the lowest intake of magnesium were 81% more likely to be depressed than those with the highest intake. There are also recent studies suggesting a link between deficiency and ADHD. It also helps you POOP!! ;-)
But wait, have you visited your physician and keep getting told, "everything came back normal", but you have a nagging feeling something's not right? Been there, done that...a few times. It might be time to seek out a Functional Medicine Doctor, like Dr. Olivia Joseph (<-lots of helpful videos live here), whose focus and training is less on treating symptoms and more on discovering and treating the root cause of your issue.
Hope this helps! Sometimes small tweaks can make a big difference.
In a group of moms I admitted ignorance, "Oh, I don't know. My husband's in charge of all kids' emails this year," in reference to a school field trip question.
"WAIT. HOW. DID YOU DO. THAT?"
Four gaping-mouthed women stared back at me in the midst of the Kindergarten Moms' Night Out.
"I just did."
In my practice working with couples I hear all day every day stories that support the recent research findings: the degree to which household tasks are shared is now one of the two most important predictors of a woman's marital satisfaction.
I've realized since standing in that group of women I probably really minimized the monumental task that has been the distributing of labor equally in our family system.
To be completely honest, it took us years after having children to get to a place where division of tasks felt equitable.
For me, it felt like we were on completely even playing field until we were engaged. During wedding planning I was beyond frustrated I was doing the bulk of the work and couldn't seem to get my now husband to see picking out tablecloths and working on seat assignments as a priority.
During that time I attended one of my graduate school classes. The professor handed out decks of note cards with varying roles written on each. In groups, we were instructed to flip a card over, read it, and then say out loud which gender we most associated with that role.
Until this moment I really hadn't considered being too impacted by gender roles. I grew up playing sports, despised Barbie, my Mom and Grandmother worked, and I spent many summer evenings hanging at the softball fields while my mom played on leagues with her friends. I thought it was a pretty "girls can do anything boys can do better" world.
Card 1: Is president
Card 2: Takes out the trash
Card 3: Plans kids' birthday parties
(it went on and on and on like this...)
When that "Plans kids' birthday parties" card flipped over I realized that the wedding planning scenario wouldn't end when the wedding was over...and that I was buying into some "socially constructed roles, behaviors, activities and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women" - i.e., gender roles.
Wedding planning has never been, and will never be, my thing. Same goes for my husband.
But who would be judged more for a crappy wedding? The bride or the groom?
To avoid this perceived future judgment, I really unconsciously made the decision to plan every aspect of our wedding. I designed our invitations, programs, made decisions on no less than 100 details, spent at least 40 hours of my life creating a video montage of pictures of ourselves as kids, and spent the rest of my time wanting to scratch my fiance's eyes out for not saving me from wedding planning hell. I felt all the pressure.
What's that saying? "The shit rolls down hill"?
Yep, I think that's it. I bought into the pressure coming from an entire culture and he got all the overflow. I'm pretty sure this is when the expert-level nagging began.
I felt like I was drowning in school, work, and wedding planning and he was up on the boat watching me sink. His lack of motivation and interest was really hard not to take incredibly personally.
And sometimes I would hear things like "I'm doing the best I CAN!" paired with what seemed like minimal effort. I almost divorced him right before walking down the aisle when I realized the ONE task he was charged with (getting the video montage to the people who'd volunteered to set it up) didn't happen.
I felt like I didn't matter. It made me question everything. Did he even love me?
Some bridesmaids talked me off the ledge of bolting from the ceremony in the bathroom.
Over the years, I've realized he's not on the boat. It's more like I'm drowning off the coast of California and he's a strange breed of person who's never left land-locked Missouri and doesn't believe in oceans and I'm calling him for help on the phone. From his gender-based perspective, and with much of my to-do list being invisible, it looks to him like I'm afflicting much of this suffering on myself or am just making it up.
I've had to become hyper-aware of the 2 totally different set of cultural norms we have internalized. While counseling couples over the years I've convinced many wives that *perhaps* her husband isn't intentionally trying to drown her...and that swimming to shore is absolutely an option.
Fast-forward in our personal story to becoming parents; any semblance of my former life is gone, and I am now a baby feeding, bouncing, and slinging machine. I have body parts that facilitate me taking more of a driver's-seat kind of role in baby care which, by default, sets Dad in the passenger seat in parenting department, but in the driver's seat in the providing department.
Who would you judge more if a couple lost their house?
When my daughter was a year old I was working and earning less, and felt like I had to make up for that with more childcare (a self-imposed belief). I was seeing clients 3 days per week and teaching 2 nights per week (essentially full-time work), but squeezed as much out of my flexible schedule as possible and only used childcare 3 days per week.
I assumed the bulk of the mental load as well: the planning and coordinating of tasks (what the baby eats, research on when the baby eats what, figuring out how often the baby should bathe, creating the bathing schedule, scheduling doctors appointments, etc.): the invisible work.
DO NOT GET ME WRONG, my husband is an amazing and involved dad. He changed LOTS of diapers. At this time in our lives, however, I believe we had both unconsciously slidden into roles we didn't necessarily want. It was so insidious.
Before we had kids we had really clear conversations about how we wanted to be as parents. One of his biggest fears was that I would take over, and he wouldn't have a say in or be able to be as involved as he wanted to be. One of my biggest fears as a Ph.D. student with big aspirations was that the bulk of the child-rearing would fall on me.
Nevertheless, I found myself uttering the same 2 questions I've heard uttered by moms in my practice no less than 784,000 times, "WHY DO I HAVE TO TELL YOU WHAT TO DO?? WHY CAN'T YOU JUST KNOW!!!????"
He was a champ at taking orders, but would often defer to me on what to do, when to do it, and how to do it.
Managing him felt like one more thing I had to frappin' do on my already over-full plate.
The resentment was palpable.
He felt like he couldn't win: like he couldn't do it right, and he couldn't do enough.
I didn't want to feel like the only driver of this ship, and had no idea how we'd gotten here or how to get somewhere else. I didn't know how to be any more clear about what I needed from him.
While in session with a client dealing with an alcoholic relative, I had an epiphany about my own relationship. I think a lot of people are clear about the role of enabling when it comes to being in relationship with someone struggling with addiction. The psychological Family Systems Theory term associated with this is underfunctioning/overfunctioning reciprocity.
In systems where overfunctioning and underfunctioning exist, the power to create change lies with the overfunctioner. Overfunctioners inadvertently play a part in the problem by enabling or allowing the other person to underfunction.
Shit. I had been overfunctioning. And I know that an overfunctioner nagging, yelling, stewing, and blowing at an underfunctioner in a system rarely, if ever, creates change.
The communication didn't need to be clearer, the paradigm had to shift.
As women we’re taught we shouldn’t take up too much space, that we shouldn’t be a burden, that we shouldn’t speak up for ourselves, that motherhood should come with far more expectations (many unrealistic) than fatherhood, and that we should be doing it all...and liking it.
We should feel guilt for staying at home, for working, for not working enough, for working too much, for helicopter parenting, for giving the kids too much freedom, for raising entitled brats, for giving them too much responsibility, for feeding them gluten, for not serving up enough whole grains, for not giving them enough dairy, for letting them consume cow's milk at all, and for never measuring up to the mom with 2 more kids than you who always seems to have her shit together despite her husband traveling for work 2 weeks per month...and she rarely utters a complaint.
The degree to which we buy into and internalize these shoulds is the degree to which we are part of the problem.
In order to have happier and healthier relationships I had to start giving everything I wanted from others to myself first. I want him to honor and respect me? Then I have to honor and respect me first. What does that even look like?
I had to stop putting other’s needs before my own, I had to stop kicking my own ass, I had to get clear about my enoughness, I had to stop being afraid of conflict, I had to quit being so goddamn accommodating, and I had to learn to draw firm boundaries and to say “NO” more.
According to Brené Brown the most boundaried people are the most compassionate. We cannot give to others, what we don’t first give to ourselves.
Deep down, under my anger and resentment were a lot of hurt feelings. I thought his underfunctioning meant I wasn't important, that he didn't care, and...maybe...he didn't love me. How else could you sit on a boat and watch your wife drown?
I had to stop taking personally these roles that we had unconsciously slidden into, get really conscious about where they came from so that I could emotionally detach, and start focusing on solutions and MY PART in the problem.
Neither of us had great examples of how to create an equal partnership, but we both knew we wanted one.
And it turns out my husband isn’t an emotionally unintelligent nincompoop who's incompetent and incapable ONLY in terms of household and family-related tasks. The problem was that I consistently got in the way of letting him rise to the occasion.
This realization came when I was pregnant with our second child. Perfect timing. Instead of compiling evidence for my case of "I DO MORE AND THEREFORE YOU SUCK" I got really clear about a task that could be all his. I looked at him one day and said, "You are now in charge of all nails."
He said, "What?"
I clarified, "All kids' finger and toenails. I need them to be all yours."
He said, "I...I...I can't. I'll cut the baby."
"Yes, I had that fear too. And I even cut her...maybe more than once. But you'll figure it out."
Did he slide into nail cutting duty doing things all my way and operating within the timelines I would have operated in? NO.
When he dropped the ball did I pick it up so that he didn't have to feel the natural consequence? Nope.
Did this mean that the baby scratched his own face off? Yes.
I might say something like, "Ooooohhhh. 😬 It looks like the baby has a scratch. Huh." But I refused to take the task over. I refused to remain in the monitoring role that played a part in him not feeling ownership.
I know this seems so small and ridiculous...nail clipping. But my husband is now the nail nazi in our house. In charge of 30 nails (40 if you include his own)! I don't even SEE the nails anymore. They aren't MINE.
It turns out the research shows that couples who share a clear understanding of which duties are whose are less likely to participate in monitoring and criticizing the other's behavior. These couples were also more likely to spontaneously help with the other's responsibilities when the partner was away, sick, or otherwise unable to carry out a task.
This sets up the system for the ABSENCE of communication (negative especially) regarding duties and is correlated with a healthy and efficient partnership that's high in mutual respect.
There are so many tips and tricks I have to doing this well, I could probably write an entire book on the subject - instead I'm creating an online course (deets below). Here are 3 great ones:
1. Say what you want/need instead of what you don't want/need. Resist criticism, it pinches you off from the resources you're trying to tap into.
2. Assume competence. When dealing with your partner assume competence. If you treat someone like a nincompoop, they'll act like one.
3. KNOW that negotiating equitable roles is an ongoing process and not a one time talk. Choose discomfort over resentment over and over again. Don't give up.
And I'm THIIIIISSSS close to launching the online, yet-to-be-named course on this VERY subject so you can feel more like partners and less like frenemies! If you want to be first in line to receive all the details and early bird pricing just be sure you've signed up for my FREE Training for Busy Couples and you'll receive an email notification as soon as the yet-to-be-named course is available.
You deserve happy relationships,