So, this summer I realized in a conversation with my 9-year-old that perhaps she was hearing things about S-E-X. And then I realized, "SHE'S 9!!" Seriously, how do they grow up so fast?
In my mind I had planned to talk to my kids about sex between the ages of 6 and 8. There was a time that I could have spouted off more research backing up my decision, but right now....I can't remember the details. I just have been clear that I didn't want the talk to be a ONE TIME, really awkward, out-of-no-where thing; I didn't want them hearing about it from someone else first; and if an adult is ever inappropriate with them I want them to be able to have clear words to put around it.
I want this subject to feel a lot more approachable than it did with my parents. This is not a very high standard considering the extent of "the talk" for me was throwing a book on the subject in my direction and my mom - with a Cheshire grin and a high-pitched tone- saying, "What did YOU learn today?!" at the dinner table after that intensely uncomfortable 5th grade class.
"I don't know. Nothing." EW. I was NOT answering that question. And that was that.
I've been talking to my kids about periods, uterus-es, tampons, boobies, and pubic hair since before they were in Kindergarten. My 4-year-olds could tell you that "Once a month mommy has to wear a diaper in her vagina because a fluffy pillow inside her body comes out as blood when a baby doesn't land on it."
One day in the car last year my daughter said, "How come all the BAD stuff happens to GIRLS when they get older?" So true, sister....so true. And then in an un-thought-out effort to help her feel better I said, "Well, when Kyan gets older his penis will get bigger when he kisses someone he likes and it will be hard to hide....that's kind of awkward."
The two of them erupted in laughter and disbelief....AND THEN my 3rd grader told all her friends at school the next day. I, apparently, hadn't been clear that this was information only to be talked about with parents.
MOM-FAIL. I picked myself up, and dusted myself off.
The day after I realized my daughter MIGHT be hearing things about S-E-X I sat down with both my 9 and 7-year-old (HOLY CRAP, he's SEVEN!!) and gave them the scoop.
I think most of the screaming happened when I told them that men's penises get hard and go INSIDE the vagina.
They screamed so loud the neighbor outside asked my husband who was "doing yard work", aka HIDING, what was going on.
It's like the discomfort had to come out somehow. And so they screamed. And we laughed. And they yelled, "MOM!!!! WHY ARE YOU TELLING US THIS!!!!?" And we watched videos of the sperm uniting with the egg. And they were in awe. And then my daughter said, "So you and Dad DO THIS?!" And they screamed at the response. And they asked questions. And we talked about how it can feel really good. And we talked about how it can feel really bad. And we talked about how, like most things in life, it's complicated. And they screamed some more.
And I thought about how I wished I had a place to scream when learning the nitty-gritty details of the birds and the bees, and I was glad that they felt comfortable enough to vacillate between letting it all out and re-engaging in the discussion.
And now, every once in a while I'll check in to see if they have any questions to which my daughter booms a clear, "NO."
And, MAYBE a couple of times, I have used the threat of talking about sex to get them to stop fighting with each other. "SO, THE COUPLE START KISSING, AND THE MAN'S PENIS GETS HARD, AND...."
"MOM!!" What are you doing?"
"Oh, just talking about sex until you stop fighting."
And, like magic, they're a united front. Sibling rivalry be gone.
I know...I'll probably be paying for their therapy some day ;-)
And then I'm editing the picture below today for my online course for couples as my kids walked in the door from school (there is an exclusive $700 coupon code available for those who've signed up for my newsletter until FRIDAY):
And my kids come up behind me and my daughter says, "Ewwwwww, that picture's GROSS, Mom." I stared at the picture trying to figure out what she didn't like...I LOVE the colors...I think it's pretty...I'm confused.
And then my son pipes in, "MOM! I can READ!!!" and I get it. S-E-X.
But hey, no screaming...so I guess that's improvement?
Talking about S-E-X with your partner is HARD ENOUGH. Have you thought about how you'll handle the talk with your kids? What's your plan? If you've already done it, what worked and what didn't?
P.S. If you're interested in the online course for couples, don't panic. I don't expect the course to sell out immediately. However, the first 10 couples who sign up will get free tickets to my March 4th Date Night Workshop Series (the January event has already SOLD OUT). Sign up for the newsletter to be sent your $700 discount code later today. Registration ends this Friday, 11/25.
Can you feel it? We are about to enter the most seriously awkward of holiday seasons EVER.
Politics. Bullying. Name-calling. Racism. Sexism. Misogyny. Social justice. Conservatives! Liberals!.....it's all about to be going down around your holiday spread. Grab the....stuffing.
Already imagining infuriating things your relatives are capable of saying?
YOU are not alone.
And I don't think Adele can save us this year.
So, I've put together a few expert tips to get you through this most-difficult of Holiday Seasons.
1. This one's tough.....Check all your righteous superiority at the door. Here's how I think about it. Superiority is:
I'm right; you're wrong.
I'm better than you; you're less than me.
I'm smart; you're stupid.
And it's definitely not correlated with creating change, but it is likely to produce increased levels of defensiveness in the listener.
It will behoove you to check all of that at the door. In EVERYONE's MIND they're RIGHT. EVERYONE is doing what they think is BEST.
I KNOW...that's REALLY hard to believe right now.
But when you enter into a conversation from a superior place, you are inherently communicating that the other person is wrong, less than you, or stupid. This will most likely get met with defensiveness and MORE superiority. What does that get for you? A conversation where everyone is talking, but no one is listening...and these can easily escalate.
Yelling happens when people don't feel heard.
When someone tries to enter a conversation with me from this place I don't engage the content, I address the intent instead: "I hear you saying that you're right and I'm wrong....."
If someone is seeking to understand, by all means, we can chat all day about our differing opinions....if not, I WILL NOT go there. At this point you have 2 choices depending on what's happening inside of you: Stay, and seek to understand their perspective (if you do a REALLY good job at this they could deescalate and may even become willing and ready to seek to understand YOUR perspective) OR walk away. Excusing yourself might be a good option if you're finding yourself boiling inside with defensiveness and superiority....really wanting to teach THAT STUPID JERK A LESSON!!!! Breathe, friend. Breathe.
2. Be clear about what's NOT OK before you walk in the door. Bullying and disrespect are not OK...even if it's bullying or disrespecting someone who's not in the room.
I had a client this week say, "You know, I usually ignore my in-laws' racist and sexist comments, but my kids are getting old enough to understand...." Sound familiar? So, what's your plan?
I know people don't want to "fight in front of the kids", but I think we get confused about the difference between fighting and drawing boundaries.
Engaging in conflicts that involve name-calling and yelling? NO! I don't want that for my kids.
CLEARLY understanding how to draw clear, firm, yet gentle boundaries with ANYONE...even loved ones... is something I do want for my kids.
But here's the problem I see. MANY people are so overly concerned with being nice and keeping the peace that they perceive drawing boundaries as MEAN. They see drawing boundaries as bullying.
We HAVE TO GET CLEAR on the difference. The difference is the intent.
Bullying comes from a place of superiority: I'm better than you.
Boundaries come from a place of equality: We are equal, and your behavior is NOT OK.
Ignoring disrespect to avoid a conflict with another person doesn't make the conflict disappear...it invites the conflict inside of you. Who goes home with all the discomfort? YOU. Who goes home having imaginary conversations blasting that other person with your perfect imaginary comebacks? YOU.
Ignoring disrespect is disrespectful to yourself. It's also disrespectful to the relationship as you're inviting resentment into the relationship that the other person didn't ask for.
Put words around what you're not ok with BEFORE you walk in the door and keep your responses 10 words or LESS.
3. Don't EXPLAIN your boundary. Boundaries are simply expressing what you are not ok with. DO NOT get roped into explaining them. Boundaries DO NOT require explanation!
Boundary = "Hey, Uncle Frank, talking about Muslims like that is not ok with me."
An explanation FEEDS the bully, it invites him into an argument. Explanations are arguable statements. Boundaries are inarguable statements. Just put your boundary on repeat.
Boundary on repeat = "Talking about Muslims like that is not ok."
4. Pretend you're British or an alien - Wha?! Stick with me on this one. If you were from another country or planet... PERHAPS you could behave more like an anthropologist at Thanksgiving....an outsider, looking in...studying these people, trying to figure out what the frap they're all thinking and WHY. You could seek to understand them and observe without taking any of it personally. If someone says something you REALLY disagree with, if you're from another planet, you get to think something like, "Huh, that's SO interesting. Just fascinating," instead of "CHEESE AND RICE, what a moron!!!!" and reaching for your 12th glass of wine.
I love you all...and it is my beliefs that we're all just doing our best with what we have and that growth and change is possible, that will get me through these 2016 Holidays.
Happy Thanksgiving, America!
P.S. It's the very best time of year to join my 8-week online course for couples, the Love, Sex, Kids Course (no kids required). You get the $700 discount, and the "clock" doesn't start on the training until Jan 1.
This means you can "stock up" now, enjoy the training at your leisure, and you don't have to start until 2017.
The discount code is only valid until Black Friday and is available to those on my Newsletter List. Sign up here, you can unsubscribe at any time.
You send a friend a text message and she doesn't respond. You find yourself checking your phone, waiting for her response.
You start to think things like,
"How rude. I WOULD NEVER not respond to someone."
"If people are important to me I MAKE TIME to respond."
Maybe you even start fantasizing about teaching her a lesson that includes the word "SHOULD" in there somewhere.
If you have thoughts like these the truth is, you're hurt. How do I know that? Read those thoughts again, the intent behind them is superiority: I'm better than you.
We only feel the need to be superior when we feel inferior.
Our initial response to situations harbors a whole lot more information about how we think and feel about ourselves than proof of the rightness or wrongness of another's behavior or what others think and feel about us.
For instance, if you find that your reaction in moments like these is superiority, then these reactions most likely have roots in some beliefs based in inferiority you have about yourself like:
If you're reading this and you're like, "DANG. I do that!" you're probably wondering how to stop it.
Uncovering and unraveling the core beliefs and the response to life they create takes time and practice. Choosing another response over and over again, checking out your perceptions, and really questioning the meaning you're attaching to situations takes deep introspection and often an outsider to help you know when you're doing it...again.
The goal is to eventually BELIEVE in the truth of who you are. You are important. You are enough. You are valuable. You are worthy.
But in order to start collecting evidence for those beliefs you have to start acting from them FIRST. It is not the other way around: your world treats you the way you treat you.
Recently I emailed another business owner about partnering in a strategic and win-win type of way. One of my core beliefs that comes up for me often (especially when stretching into unchartered territory) is that I'm a burden. As I crafted the email that familiar, fear-based voice inside my head started yammering: Are you REALLY going to bug her with this? This is ridiculous. This business doesn't want to do something with measly little YOU.
I recognize this voice. This fear-based voice has lied to me more times in my life than I can count and sent me retreating from opportunities and folding in half in interactions. I've learned to not let this voice drive anymore, though. She cannot touch the wheel. She cannot make decisions UNLESS there's something in my immediate physical space I need to seriously be afraid of, like a saber-toothed tiger.
BUUUUUUTT...just to make sure the voice wasn't right, I sent the email to my husband in the other room and said, "ARE YOU SURE I SHOULD SEND IT??!!!" He texted back: "Send it. There's no reason they wouldn't want to partner with you."
I sent the email.
She didn't respond for 3 days. Turns out, it didn't mean anything about me. She was excited to partner and wanted to know next steps. Woohoo!!
I sent next steps which included setting up a meeting. No response.
1 week went by. I could have backed off at that point. I could have made the silence mean something about my worth and value and enoughness, but I didn't. I could have retreated. I could have folded in half.
However, as a business owner myself I know things I really care about can get lost.
So, I sent another message ALL ABOUT ME. I think it's really easy to feel guilt or shame when you're on the other end of a 2nd message. I'm careful to not even say, "I haven't heard from you..." because I think it can be read as, "You should have responded by now..." and shoulding on people and teaching people lessons IS NOT an intent I want to be perceived as coming from because I know it makes it LESS LIKELY for me to get what I want/need. SO, here's what I sent. I'm not above stalking ;-)
Just stalking you ;-) Last week I was deathly ill so couldn't have met anyway. Let me know if you can meet up this week.
I bet you're thinking, "She TOTALLY got a response!" Right? That might be because it's easy for you to see my worth and value. You're right about my worth and value...and another week went by with no response.
Old me would have died an internal slow death and avoided this person for the rest of my life at all costs.
Nope. I was not going to take this personally until I got word from her that I should.
I know something about people, and it's that they LOVE being lead to a decision. Think about these 2 scenarios....
SCENARIO 1: You're at my house and I say, "Hey, I gotta run upstairs and change....help yourself to whatever's in the fridge."
SCENARIO 2: Now, think about if I said, "Hey, gotta go change. There's this guacamole in my fridge and it's my grandmother's secret recipe. You have to try it! Help yourself and I'll be back down in a minute."
Which scenario would have lead you to be more likely to open my refrigerator door? The one where I lead you to a clear decision about what to eat, right?
And so, here's email #3:
Hi! I have some availability to meet this Friday from 1-4. If a 20-minute slot in there works for you, let me know.
I received an almost immediate response. Was it because I was more clear and specific? Maybe? What did it mean that she didn't respond to the first few emails? I have no FREAKIN' IDEA, but I'm not going to abuse myself by making up things that it means about me.
I hope you don't do that to yourself either. Think of the friendships, connections, relationships, and opportunities you might be missing out on...
You deserve happy relationships...but you have to believe that first,
A 75-year longitudial study out of Harvard uncovered what creates a happy and purposeful life. What were the most important variables? Money? NOPE. Success? NOPE. What kind of car you drove? Nuh-uh. How much power you had? How much you achieved? What kind of jeans you wore? What wrinkle cream you used? How much you weighed? No. No. No. No.
The study found STRONG RELATIONSHIPS to be far and away the strongest predictor of life satisfaction. There is a growing body of research that links social ties to longevity, lower stress levels, and overall well-being.
The interesting thing is that while most people will strongly agree that relationships are what matter most...it's usually where people are investing the least of their money.
Why everyone isn't running out and investing in therapy, marriage counseling, couples programs, and relationship coaching to improve themselves relationally is beyond me.
SERIOUSLY!! What do you want? Do you want your relationships to drain you? To feel uncertain about what you want and who you are? To feel exhausted? Stuck? At a loss? Hopeless? And have to wonder things like, "Are we harming our kids?"
7 out of 10 marriages, SEVEN OUT OF TEN marriages, aren't well.
I hope to help you create a relationship that energizes you: one your kids will want to EMULATE, one that will have a positive impact on you and a ripple effect on those around you, one that will encourage your growth and success, and help you to become the person you've always wanted to be.
Go ahead...ask people if they would want to have a marriage just like their parents'...a "YES" is so rare.
Cleaning up the things in yourself and your relationship that keep you feeling all knotted up inside isn't THAT hard. By the time people call me they're usually overwhelmed with what feels like a laundry list of issues, problems, and past hurts.
What I MOST ALWAYS find is that underneath this laundry list of issues is one or two underlying themes that need to be addressed, cleared up, cleaned out, unlearned, and then we need to get the supports in place in the form of new skills, strategies, mindsets, and the accountability to stay consistent so that you can get yourself out of this state again and again and again.
I had a woman in a new client call last week say, "It's hard for me to not think of this as failing."
WE ARE NEVER TAUGHT THIS STUFF. Everything I've learned about navigating tough conversations and close relationships with ease I've learned in adulthood. I learned A LOT about what I didn't want in my early years. I entered adulthood really clear about what I didn't want, but with no clue about how to create what I did want.
I spent years, and tens of thousands of dollars on my education and training to become a relationship expert, but you don't have to. You just have to get the support to do YOU really well.
To not sweep your own wants and needs under the rug in conflict.
To not act out on the people you love the most.
To peel back the layers to get to the root of what keeps you acting in ways that you cognitively KNOW don't behoove you.
To free yourself from your past and the unconscious limiting beliefs that now color your perspective.
To feel sure and confident and free.
How much is it worth to you to feel empowered to move through your relationships in a way that you know WORKS? To have, far and away the biggest variable when it comes to happiness, and therefore success, covered?
More than that big screen TV on your wall?
More than that extra 1000 square feet in your home?
More than that Caribbean vacation?
More than that snazzy 9x13 rug you've been lusting after for your living room?
I thought so. Your relationship is calling you to grow.
My Response to Kyle Benson's Articles Suggesting Emotionally Intelligent Husbands are the Secret to a Happy Marriage
Maybe you’ve seen the articles popping up in your social media feeds: one featured on The Gottman Institute’s website and the other on Business Insider.
Ladies are sharing them at rapid pace…perhaps hoping their less-than-emotionally-intelligent husbands will read it and somehow become more emotionally intelligent.
Kyle Benson and I (therapist and relationship coach) seem to have a common love for the research of Dr. John Gottman — therapist and leading researcher of relationships in our country. Dr. Gottman has published over 200 academic articles and written over 40 books on the subjects of love, relationships, communication, and emotional intelligence.
Benson uses Gottman’s research to support his claim that emotionally intelligent husbands are the missing link to happy marriages: “Statistically speaking, Dr. Gottman’s research shows there is an 81% chance that a marriage will self-implode when a man is unwilling to share power.”
Benson’s article reports that women seem to be better at “accepting influence” from their husbands than men are at accepting influence from their wives…even when the relationship isn’t well. Research supports this as well as my decade of experience of working with couples.
The problems I have with Benson’s articles start with the portrayal of men in his examples: drinking whiskey, watching football, and choosing to fix his truck instead of resolve issues with his partner. I don’t doubt some men do these things, but men also do things like read books, cook, and interact with their children. My husband is a football-watching, whiskey-drinking person and would balk at the gender stereotypes in this article. He also does the laundry in our house.
Another issue I have with this article is what seems to be a finger-wagging, lesson-teaching intent towards men who aren’t emotionally intelligent enough…which he’s clear will lead to failing marriages and being a less effective parent:
"The husband who lacks emotional intelligence rejects his wife’s influence because he fears a loss of power. And because he is unwilling to accept influence, he will not be influential.
The biggest problem I have with this article is that Benson fails to address the true change agent in this system: THE WOMAN. First, let’s talk about overfunctioning-underfunctioning reciprocity. The women in his examples seem to be overfunctioning in regards to the emotional side of the relationship to “keep the peace”. Basically, women are more likely to sweep their own wants and needs under the rug (withdraw their influence), for the sake of not engaging in conflict. This works in the short-run to keep conversations from escalating, but over time leads to growing resentment and decreasing emotional intimacy.
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.
Benson states: “My point is not to insult men. It takes two to make a marriage work and it is just as important for wives to treat their husbands with honor and respect.”
But I would wholeheartedly argue that if the woman in this article is tolerating being disrespected and treated as less than then there is a part of her that is in agreement and believes that she is inferior and doesn’t deserve respect. A more important piece of this puzzle is that the woman honors and respects herself.
The world treats you the way you treat you. You get what you tolerate.
I remember a time when hearing this ^^^ was hard! So irritating. Angering, even. It was so much easier for me to blame not feeling considered on other people. “Can’t he just KNOW that I want to be considered?!”
As women we’re taught we shouldn’t take up too much space, that we shouldn’t be a burden, and that we shouldn’t speak up for ourselves. The degree to which we buy into 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 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.
Just because someone is good at stating and sticking to his opinions, doesn’t mean you don’t get to have one or that you don’t deserve to be heard. I had to stop taking personally his ability to use his voice. Doing all of these things consistently took years of practice.
And it turns out my husband isn’t emotionally unintelligent. Who wouldn’t want everything to be his way? The problem wasn’t that he wasn’t competent or capable of being emotionally intelligent…the problem was that I didn’t let him rise to the occasion.
No one taught him to not speak up, to not take up too much space, and to not have a voice.
The result? We have absolutely no unresolved issues under our relationship rug. Last night my husband was sitting at a bar with his friend surrounded by divorcees and unhappily married people. The divorced bartender said, “Seriously, who do you know that’s happily married?” and my husband raised a waiving hand.
To create change in your relationship you cannot seek to change your partner…or read articles convincing you even more that you are not part of the problem. We have to start focusing on the part we play in creating the dysfunction: it’s the only piece we have control over and it’s what we have to leverage to create systemic change.
You deserve happy relationships.
I feel like everyone and their brother has read that love languages book. There are so many things I like about the book, and many things I don't. I know...a controversial stance. To me, it's one dude's take on the ways people show and feel love: something marriage therapists (including myself) have been teasing out and addressing for decades.
When talking about the different ways each person feels loved, I joke with clients that I might write a book someday called, The Couples Therapist Who Doesn't Love Hugs. It's not that I dislike hugs, I just don't feel any more loved when I get them. My husband could hug me 450 times per day and I wouldn't feel any more loved.
And as a person who craves to feel deeply seen and understood, hugs feel especially incongruent when I've just woken up, when I have a mile-long to-do list, or when I'm in the middle of doing a complex task: "Don't you see me?"
Hugging in these moments makes as much sense to me as giving a drowning person a hug.
It's just not what I need.
My husband used to take this incredibly personally. He needs 2 less hours of sleep per night than I do and is the kind of person who can speak ENTIRE sentences the moment he wakes up. It takes me a good hour to not sound like a cavewoman.
What mornings used to look like:
Upon waking I would shuffle, hunch-backed in my furry robe and fluffy slippers through the kitchen and he would stand in my path to the coffee pot, moving towards me for my forced morning hug.
My heart would sink. Irritation would boil, "Can't he see I'm dying (I'm very dramatic in the mornings)? He must not care how I feel. HE wants a hug, so HE insists on it. His needs matter and not mine."
It took time for me to be able to put words around the nonverbal communication I picked up from his demand for hugs first thing. And so for years, instead of communicating with my words I'd muster an irritated grunt and push past him to make my coffee.
Things got ugly.
I became less and less physically affectionate and he became less willing to connect emotionally.
I'm not sure exactly how long our differences in this department went unaddressed, but it was AT LEAST 6 years.
SIX YEARS of miscommunication. Six years of him thinking me not wanting to hug him in the mornings meant that I didn't care about him, and six years of me thinking that his forced hugs in the mornings meant he didn't care to see me deeply.
I think what's tough about this one is that on paper, hugs are GOOD, right? And those of you who feel loved through physical affection are reading this and thinking, "Jeez! She's such a JERK."
But when my emotional and spiritual needs are not being met within a relationship...when I don't feel like the other person takes the time to deeply understand who I am and how I am, hugs feel like a cop out. Like, "WEEELLLLLLL, I don't have time for all that it takes to REALLY care about you SOOOOoooo, here's a quick and easy hug. Buh-bye!"
Hugs start to feel less like, "I LOVE YOU!" and more like, "You're not worth it."
We snapped one morning. Years of hurt feelings erupted into name calling and acting out.
I took some time to decode what was really going on, the non-verbal communication I *heard* during forced hugs, and what I needed instead. I also took a minute to try to see the situation from my husband's perspective...If physical affection is an important way he feels loved, then maybe he's feeling like I just don't care.
That wasn't true for me. I adored my husband.
I started the conversation hoping to help him feel more understood, "I wonder if me not wanting to hug in the mornings makes you wonder if I even love you?"
He was clear that this was accurate. He didn't feel like a priority.
I used every skill I had to communicate under the surface of the problem: it wasn't about hugging or not hugging...it was about not deeply understanding our differences and the years of miscommunication and misperception that ensued.
The bottom line was that I wanted him to get his needs met, and he wanted me to get my needs met, but we both were clear that because we felt love in different ways it was not going to come naturally for us to give the other person what they needed.
There is ZERO part of my husband that craves to feel deeply seen and understood. Zero. Not one single cell in his body.
I had been trying on a new way of being for at least the last decade which was centered around a belief that I AM RESPONSIBLE FOR MY OWN HAPPINESS, but being responsible for getting my needs met had somehow slipped past me.
I was clear that if he needed hugs I wanted him to get them, but I was also clear that I could not want to give hugs in the morning. AND...I could not handle forced hugs. Something about that felt aggressive and made me angry. I've been known to use the term, "hug rape".
Fast-forward to now...I swear to you this is what 90% of our mornings look like:
I shuffle into the kitchen in my furry robe and fluffy slippers, my husband stands BESIDE my path to the coffee machine with his arms outstretched. Sometimes I shuffle into his chest and he hugs me while I stand there - a willing participant in being hugged, but not actively hugging, and sometimes I snarl and head right to the coffee machine. My husband might exclaim in a silly voice something like, "It's time for your huuuuuuug," or giggling, "I love your Grumpy Cat face in the mornings."
He might request a hug before he leaves, he might not, but knowing that I have a choice in the matter and that it's highly likely he won't take it personally and attach meaning to it that just isn't true for me (I don't love him, he's not important, etc.) has me resisting hugs a whole lot less. You guys, sometimes I even SPONTANEOUSLY give them now.
He really doesn't understand not being a morning person as much as I don't understand being one, but we are both now crystal clear that our differences have nothing to do with how much we love each other.
He's learned to say things like, "I need a hug," or "HUG TIIIIIMMME!!!"
I've had to learn to say things like, "I need more words than that," and "What did you hear me say?" which come in especially handy when I've poured out what's in my soul for 8 minutes and I'm looking at him wide-eyed in anticipation of his deeply heart-felt/lots of words response and he says something like, "Cool."
And, it's crazy, what I need is usually IN THERE SOMEWHERE it just doesn't occur to him to say it out loud.
Projecting the ways that we show love onto other people is really dangerous: If he REALLY cared he would listen, OR If she really cared she would hug me.
People pair because of their differences, but when misunderstood or taken personally it's what will drive you bonkers, create an emotional wedge, skew perceptions, and poison communications.
I think I'll go give him a hug now...
On this day of my second maternity leave with an infant and a toddler I had managed to make dinner. Between the screaming, the nursing, the wiping, the entertaining, the exhaustion, and the boo-boo kissing, with baby in sling I had skillfully juggled a baby, a toddler, and a kitchen knife the way only 2nd time mothers can do.
I felt like I actually had my act together and was so ready for my husband to walk through the door so that I could enjoy my perfectly-timed-between-feedings glass of beer, eat dinner, and have an adult conversation in 20 second bursts between child interruptions.
He walked through the door with the mail and gave me a kiss like he always does. And then he opened an envelope and started cursing. What?! We had been billed for taxes based on the assessed value of our lot and not the value of our lot AND new home so, SURPRISE!, we owed them (whomever they are) a few thousand more dollars.
I'm not sure my husband had all of this figured out in this moment, but he was irate and confused about the surprise bill and stormed off into another room to call the mortgage company, "I'll be right back, I have to figure this out."
This was not how I'd imagined our evening. My heart sank as quickly as it had risen when he walked through the door. I stood there, paused, with my boppy around my waist, a baby strapped to my body, getting ready to sink into the dinner chair at the set table to simultaneously nurse the baby and feed myself.
In a last ditch, and desperate effort to calm him down I said, "I don't think you're going to get a hold of anybody after 5. Why don't we just worry about it tomorrow?"
I ate dinner alone while he attempted to handle the situation. Nope. I take that back. Alone would have been better. I ate dinner juggling with no chance of extroverting. I was fuming.
Blame. It's the easiest route to take in this moment.
He's ruining my evening, right?
If HE would just calm down...I could have a nice evening!
And then the superiority kicked in and I wanted to teach him a lesson: "No amount of anger will change this situation by tomorrow, there's no point in feeling this way," which is basically saying, "You shouldn't feel the way you're feeling," >> a guaranteed fight starter.
In this moment I realized my happiness depended on his behavior: If he would just behave another way then I could feel better.
Years before I had committed to getting off the emotional roller-coaster that you ride when your happiness depends on another's behavior...or anything outside of yourself for that matter.
I had decided to take radical responsibility for my own happiness.
The seething desire to blame and teach him a lesson didn't mean I needed to lash out on him, it meant I was making him my problem and solution.
In this moment, I must admit, really letting someone have it can feel SO GOOD. It's just that I was clear that except for the tea-kettle-like release of tension it didn't ever get me more of what I needed .
So, what did I need?
Ugh, I needed a calm evening. I needed intellectual stimulation.
How could I give that to myself?
By the time my husband came out of the back bedroom I had cleared most of the table and surely and calmly began strapping my 2-month-old in his car seat (I skipped the beer, people).
Super surprised, he said, "Where are you going?"
I smiled gently, "I need to go for a while."
He, a little panicked, tried to explain, "But I'm not mad at you, I...."
I tried to be clear that my leaving wasn't about teaching him a lesson, "I know you're not mad at me. You have every right to feel the way you're feeling. I just need something else tonight. I'll be back in a little bit."
^^I statements out the wazoo.^^
I made room for both. It didn't have to be my way, and it didn't have to be his way. I made room for both.
I clicked the wide-eyed baby into the car and hit the nearest drive-thru ice cream place. I popped in my newest book on CD and drove on country roads for over an hour. I think we may have even hit up Target after he woke from his evening nap.
What about my husband? He had time to feel the way he needed to feel. By the time my son and I got home he had already put our oldest to bed, was folding laundry (one of his chores) and greeted us with a smile. He hadn't made any progress in finding a solution to the problem, but his feelings had naturally subsided.
He got to have the feelings he needed and I got to have mine.
And THIS is what I spent years being reluctant to believe: when I honor my feelings everyone wins.
And as I'm typing this I can hear your objections. What are they? What if you were your only problem, project, & solution? How does this make you feel? Angry? Free? Empowered? Irritated? All of the above?
Really, what are you thinking?
P.S. Feeling like you've lost the spark and aren't sure how to get back on track? I created a 1-hour(ish) online Training for Busy Couples. It's a love offering from me to you at a fraction of the price of my hourly rates. CLICK HERE to learn more. Emily (an AWESOME yoga instructor in St. Louis) attended the training and here's what she had to say:
I see you.
You're doing more than any one human should and simultaneously feeling guilt and shame about not doing more.
You're probably beating yourself up for not smiling more, not being more positive, not feeling more blessed, and that time you lashed out on your loved one earlier this week...and earlier today, and 5 minutes ago.
You're trapped by naps and meltdowns, or choosing to screw the schedule for the price of a meltdown, because hey...these days it seems like meltdowns are inevitable anyway.
You don't seem to ever check anything off of your never-ending to-do list, yet there hasn't been a moment today you have stopped moving, or holding, or swaying, or bouncing, or wiping, or worrying.
You are constantly deciding between getting something done, getting rest, staring into oblivion, or having fun. Having fun rarely, if ever, makes it on the list.
You have bodily fluids on your shirt that aren't yours.
The barrage of other people's needs that come at you throughout the day are slowly beginning to take a toll on your soul, because it all starts to sound like, "You're not doing enough," and, "You're not doing it right." You have no more room for complaints or requests and could blow if the other grown person you live with even insinuates needing anything from you.
I know that there are also some of the cutest, most dripping-with-love moments sprinkled in these short years filled with long days... and that you're probably wondering if something is wrong with you because you're too exhausted to enjoy them more.
The thought of hiring a babysitter just so you can take a nap unleashes a tirade from your inner critic about how you're probably the worst parent on the planet.
You're starting to wonder how anyone can like you, let alone love you.
Mama, I wish you could mama you...in that warm, ooey-gooey, unconditional, you-can't-do-it-wrong sort of way only the motheriest of mothers can do.
It took the impending arrival of our 3rd child for me to start mothering myself as a mother. I knew I couldn't do another infant in the way I had done it before and also be the kind of friend, mother, wife, and person I wanted to be.
I started nurturing myself. I started being easy on me.
I was jealous of everyone else's free family support, so I hired more support than I ever had.
I started examining my expectations of myself. Instead of judging myself and my feelings at hour 11 with an infant and a toddler, I realized I would never hire a babysitter for 11 hours because I would not expect a Mary Poppins attitude from any other person under these circumstances. So why would I expect that from me?
I started examining the expectations of our culture. If 7 out of 10 marriages in the U.S. aren't well, and divorce rates spike in the 7th year of marriage (typically after the small-children-in-the-home phase), then maybe I shouldn't just keep doing what everyone else is doing.
I stopped questioning myself and my feelings, and started questioning everyone on Facebook who made it look too easy.
That first year with a 3rd child was one of the best years of our marriage, and thus, I think (you'd have to ask our kids) one of the best years for our family.
Fighting for what I knew our family needed wasn't always easy. I was up against judgment from myself, from neighbors, from family members, and even my husband. The husband will now be the first to say that the decisions I pulled for that year were some of the best we've ever made.
I'll admit, this may have been easier for me. For hours of my day as a therapist with degrees in Marriage & Family Therapy I get to talk to people in an environment where they don't have to wear their "everything's fine" mask. My office is a space where people can be real...and when I sense you're not being real, I call you out on it. I'm trained not to do small talk.
I get to hear how people really feel. I get to hear what they're really afraid of. I have the honor and the privilege of people sharing the parts of themselves they're most terrified to show the world. I make room for heartache and sobbing and we get to sprinkle empathy all over that shame and the clusterfuck it creates.
And the Joneses? I've seen behind the curtain, they're never all they're cracked up to be...and I love them anyway.
I get to hear it from doctors, lawyers, stay-at-home moms, working moms, people with Ph.Ds, and those with millions of dollars in their bank account: how we do young children in this culture is HARD. Most families are not thriving.
I've had moments with clients where it felt like I got to peek into my own future, 10 years down the road, if I didn't start trusting and honoring my feelings...and it was scary.
You are not alone.
"But I have these friends who just seem so happy and like it's all so easy...and their husband travels and she never complains..." to which I say, "WHERE ARE THE REAL FRIENDS?!" Ah, perhaps they're hiding behind their mask?
Mama, fast-forward 30ish years...what would you want for your daughter if she were in this exact same circumstance, feeling exactly the way you're feeling? How would you nurture her? How would you help her? What would you say to her?
Shhhhh....it's the best kept parenting secret: the only way to be the kind of mother you want to be is to give all of that stuff you think great mothers give to you first. You want to be more nuturing? Nuture yourself more. You want to yell less? Stop beating yourself up so much. You want to be more attentive and present? Be more attentive to and conscious of your own needs.
I hope you can start giving more of ^THIS^ to you,
P.S. Feeling like you've lost the spark and aren't sure how to get back on track? I created a 1-hour(ish) online Training for Busy Couples. It's a love offering from me to you at a fraction of the price of my hourly rates. CLICK HERE to learn more. Emily (an AWESOME yoga instructor in St. Louis) attended the training and here's what she had to say:
I love you, I really do. I know there are a lot of folks out there who want to overcome you, squash you, get past you, and rid you completely from their psyche, but I'm not one of them.
Fear you, my friend, have kept me safe more times than I can count. You've kept me from touching hot stoves, driving too fast, and from getting in cars with people I should not be getting in cars with. You've kept me from getting close to cliff's edges, walking down dark alleys, and you probably partly fueled the beginnings of my career. Who isn't afraid of having a life full of dysfunctional relationships? Truly, you have served me well in so many ways.
Here's the thing though...I've noticed that when it comes to following dreams, or taking exciting next best steps, and stepping fully into who I am and what I want, I can hear you screaming loudly, using all your might to protect me from failure.
I think there was a time when my tender heart needed that...like when a baby first learns to walk and needs that big hand to steady herself.
I think there was a time when I needed to grow my supports, inside and out, to have the mindsets and resources to handle big growth and the change, criticism, praise, cheering, and booing that occur when all people do big things.
Remember the times when it felt like you took over every cell in my body as I decided to leave unhealthy relationships...and I created boundaries anyway?
Remember that time you were screaming so loud right before I was to walk down the aisle ...and I married him anyway?
Remember that time I was hired to teach at the University and you showed up immediately after I accepted the position with your stack of evidence for all of the reasons I shouldn't do it...and I did it anyway.
Fear, I'm not ignoring you. I've just noticed that sometimes when you're here it doesn't mean I'm in danger, it means I'm on the exact right track...because doing whatever is before me MEANS something to me.
But Fear, I've learned that failing at something that is important to me doesn't mean I'm a failure. It means I took the risk involved in loving and creating, which is always: I might get nothing in return. I am not owed anything, and what I get in return for doing and being what I love is nothing I have control over and is none of my business.
What some people call failure, other people call growth opportunities. I'm not sure I've been clear with you that I'm one of those other people now, and I'm sorry about that.
The pieces I do have control over are how I spend my time and how I feel: either doing and being things that I love or not.
No amount of praise, likes, dollars in my bank account, boos, hisses, people not liking me, or criticism can change my worth. I believe, deep down, that my worth is based on something much bigger than that. So, it's not that I don't value your input anymore, but I have the supports in place to operate on a whole new system.
Fear, I think maybe you've noticed that you don't have access to all the controls in this new system and that perhaps (I hope this doesn't sound accusatory) you've been showing up in disguise as Indecision.
While I understand that you love me, want to protect me, and want your voice to be heard I want to be clear that your input will no longer be considered in matters of perceived failure or depreciation of worth as a person.
I also want to be clear that your input in other matters like physical safety (dark alleys and approaching saber-toothed tigers, for instance) is so valuable to me and that I could not live with out it...literally. THIS, Fear, is your genius work.
We are in this together and I don't want to do this without you. I hope you understand your new role.
P.S. This letter was inspired by Elizabeth Gilbert's book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear which, I just saw on the interwebs, comes out in paperback today! If you're a creative person in ANY capacity this book is SO fascinating, inspiring, and helpful. Also, I just can't get enough of Liz's (this is what I'll call her when we're BFFs and eat tacos together) podcast Magic Lessons. Try it out :) Write your very own letter to fear.
I will never forget the day my therapist said these words to me in her gentle, soothing voice as I listened between sobs, “Mika, you have to give up the hope that she can ever be the kind of mom you want and need her to be.”
Relief washed over me and grief sunk in. In this moment there was no great, feel-good next move. I could stay and be on my mom’s emotional roller-coaster believing that I could save her and that she could be better for me.
Surely, if she loved me, her only child…if I was enough, she’d work to get better, right?
Or I could get off the roller-coaster where at least I wasn’t alone and venture, unteathered, into a world of red hot loneliness.
I already knew the outcome of keeping my ticket to ride: drama, being lashed out on, never-ending arguments about perspective, tantrums, guilt trips, walking on egg shells, and feeling that nauseating tug that happens near your sternum when a person communicates 2 very different things simultaneously.
My mom seemed to communicate frequently (verbally and nonverbally) to the people she loved the most “I HATE YOU!” and “DON’T LEAVE ME,” all at the same time.
For as long as I can remember her hugs felt bad to me…like I was being slimed. Like she needed more from my little body, mind, and soul than I could give, like she wanted me to fill up a place in her that had no bottom. I wanted to pull away. I could never do enough.
By middle school I believed that I wasn’t enough and the anxiety and depression slunk in. We moved in my 7th grade year after my parents’ divorce because, as my mom would put it venomously, “I just CANNOT live in the same state as your father.”
Strangely, the divorce didn’t bother me. Maybe that speaks to the obviousness of the situation or the tumultuousness of their relationship. I really thought it might get better after the divorce, but when her unhappiness and personality disorder followed us to Missouri it seemed that I became the most available target at which she could aim her venom.
I remember the helpless feeling of having a perpetually unhappy, angry, and critical mother and the tension that I had to live in to survive. I remember the charade we’d put on in front of other people so that everyone would think we were fine. I remember people believing the charade, or at least putting on a convincing charade of their own, and wondering if I was the one that was crazy.
I started hiding. I was almost mute at my lunch table the entire 7th grade year.
I didn’t know what else to do, so I wrote a letter to God. At that time, God’s name was Oprah. In my handwritten letter I told Oprah about how hard my mom worked, how great of a mom she was, and how she deserved a vacation…or at least tickets to her show.
I guess I didn’t send it because years later, during a time I took a break from contact with my Mom, she sent me the letter. The envelope was dripping with psychic slime. Despite my feelings of dread and the tightness in my chest I opened the envelope.
There it was…my letter to God. I believe my mom sent me that letter so that I could remember a time when I thought she worked hard and had been a good mother. It seemed like she wanted to teach me a lesson. She wanted me to feel guilt or shame, or maybe both. I got that.
But all I could see was the words that were not on that page; my plea to God to help me save my Mother. All I could feel was the crushing weight of responsibility for an adult’s well-being on a 12-year-old’s shoulders.
This didn’t feel like a piece of evidence to put in the stack building the case for why I should have a relationship with her…in fact it felt like quite the opposite.
Our relationship break continued for many months after this. I had to build myself up and learn to let go of any and all expectations I had of her. Learning to give up the hope that my mom could be my mom has been one of the tangliest, most misunderstood, and loneliest things I’ve ever done.
You have a toxic relationship with crack and everyone’s on board with you kicking it to the curb. High fives all around. You have a toxic relationship with your mother and everyone’s saying things like, “You only have ONE mom,” and “What if something happens to her? You’ll never be able to forgive yourself.”
It has been, for me, the ultimate test in trusting myself.
Fast-forward to a night class in my Ph.D. program in Marriage and Family Counseling. I was trying my hardest to not be noticed. I didn’t want to make too much eye contact with the professor, and I didn’t want to make too little. Don’t sit too tall, and don’t sink too much. I hadn’t read the material assigned for class that night and the professor seemed to be fed up with most of our cohort’s lack of ability to add to the discussion.
The tough individually-directed questions started flying so that we could throw ourselves under the bus with our inability to answer or by fessing up to not doing the work.
I started feverishly skimming the material. Something about a study of monkeys and attachment. Wire mama monkeys, and cloth mama monkeys. Orphaned baby monkeys would attach to either wire or cloth mamas, but when given a choice would attach to the cloth mama monkey even when the wire monkey within close proximity provided milk.
Ok, so one finding was that touch was more important than taste in terms of attachment. Got it.
As I was skimming the next part of the summary of Harlow’s famous study the professor was speaking it out-loud like an echo in my brain: “The baby monkeys even bonded with cloth mama monkeys who would punch them at random. No matter what the torture, the babies would come back to the cloth monkey.”
I had made a great friend in the program who also struggled in her relationship with her mother. Realizing the deep implications for both of us, in that moment we completely failed to fly under the radar and each inhaled and swung our faces toward the other. If I could put words around our non-verbal communication it would have been, “Did you just fucking hear that?!”
We giggled at our identical response and found the other 6 people at the conference table staring in our direction.
What I know for sure is that love and attachment are powerful things. They can absolutely be wonderful things that nourish us. Sometimes love and attachment aren’t free and the cost can cause us to tolerate the most atrocious offenses.
One way or another love and attachment help us find our value. Whether it’s because our value is reflected back to us by the people we love the most, or because it’s not. If it’s not we often have to hit rock bottom and start believing in the possibility of our enoughness enough to say no to all that we have known and say yes to the unknown.
In the unknown there is great risk…we might find healthy love and belonging, but what if we don’t?
Love and belonging is a need, but it’s also a risk. We have to be willing to bet on ourselves. We have to be willing to fail. We have to know we deserve to have the supports in place to get back up. Relationships are holy, sacred things and have taught me everything I know about myself whether they were ’til death do us part or not.
No love ever fails. It just looks like it does.
I truly believe that people are in our lives for a reason, a season, or a lifetime and that I can’t pass judgments on other people’s boundaries with parents, spouses, or friends because the intent, not the boundary, is what’s important.
So, please, enough with the memes about how we “ONLY HAVE ONE MOM” and that we SHOULD be talking to her. Enough with the judgments about people not staying married forever. And, please, for the love of God (or Oprah?)…stop judging yourself for not having that gaggle of middle school friends that you still hang out with and need an 8-ft selfie stick just to get all of your joyous faces in the picture. You couldn’t see your value clearly enough back then to make friends you wouldn’t outgrow by now.
You deserve happy relationships…even if it means jumping into some red hot loneliness to get them.