You did me wrong song: Boundaries after forgiveness

As I walk beside people in the counseling setting, I have found that forgiveness “in the moment” is difficult for most of us. It is hard to look the other way when someone has made us hurt, or move on from a toxic situation where we keep getting burned. There is a struggle between wanting to get over a situation and wanting to give it every available inch of your mind space, 24 hours a day until you feel good and ready to release it. Sometimes that inner dialogue is hard to turn off when you are feeling pooped on.

It is important to understand that forgiveness can walk right alongside the execution of good boundaries, allowing people to forgive almost immediately. It is possible to feel confident to move on from blows that are bound to come, if you live in this world where miscommunication, unfortunate life circumstances and dishonesty in relationships can bring painful interactions. I have found that it is possible to forgive, even forget (although not at the risk of losing the wisdom that comes from remembering what you have learned). No bill-paying, full-fledged adult has to put themself in a position to be clobbered by the same person or situation if they choose not to! Forgiving and walking away is an option!

In life, there are situations that occur when people you think have your back, just don’t. Depending on how much you invested in the relationship, the pain of betrayal can feel like a big ol’ kick in the stomach. I feel like I have had this experience in life plenty…enough to know that the pain is real. But I also know that it does not have to be debilitating. To be clear, I can look back and remember times where I was so debilitated by people wronging me that I experienced situational depression…bad enough to sit and stare at a wall for days on end. But not today…not today. Forgiving and walking away is an option…did I already say that?

Forgiveness is not saying that what happened is okay. Forgiveness is the acknowledgement that we all screw up at times and grace is an important gesture if we are all to live, work and grow side by side in the journey of life. But any person with good boundaries has a responsibility to self protect after the extension of grace and in some situations that means it is best not to interact for a time or for forever.

When forgiveness and boundaries work hand in hand, a person who is trying to spend less time lamenting and more time living life, can forgive whole heartedly, but also realize that there are times when people and situations are not meant to be. Sometimes we can forgive from across the room, or across the city or across an imaginary world from the person who betrayed us. Sometimes the best way to keep the situation from taking over our mind space is to literally move on with life by acknowledging that hurting people hurt others, and you can choose to not be the human punching bag for the family member, friend or co-worker who makes you their target. Removing yourself prevents the toxicity from taking over your life….it gives you freedom to be the positive-you that you want to be.

When I counsel people, I liken this to standing on a train track when there is an oncoming train. The first time it hits you, you might blame the train. Maybe the conductor didn’t see you on the track or tried to put on the brakes but not in time.  But if you stand in the same spot and get hit again, the responsibility might lie on you to get off the tracks and get out of the train’s way. People who get hit over and over by the same oncoming train might need to get away from the train. Yelling and screaming at the train, thinking they will for sure stop THIS time is not healthy for anyone. Remember:  Forgiving and walking away is an option. (The teacher in me knows that if you read this 3 times, you might remember it for the test. The bold print should help with that too!)

Being able to forgive and move on is freeing. It enables even the most wounded of people to remain positive and life-giving in a world that can be exhausting. Forgiving others allows you to get your sleep back and enables you to focus on the people and situations in your life that motivate and encourage you. If you have a situation in your life that is taking up your mind space and keeping you from being all you were made to be, ask yourself if it might be time to get off the train tracks…

As always, let me know if I can help.

With love,

Sonia

Marriage Seminar #6: Date Night

When I started doing things socially with my husband of 27 years…back in 1990…we were not really dating. We had known each other in high school (yes…you all know…he was my high school boyfriend’s friend…it is a story but not what you think) and we were simply hanging out a lot because we were back in our home town, working, without many people we knew who were our own age. I was teaching at California High School and he was in an entry level sales job…fresh out of college. We had money to spend because we were young and didn’t have a lot of expenses. He liked high school football and I liked having a super cute someone to go with me to those games. It took us at least 2 months to finally admit we were thinking it might be a relationship worth investing more in…

Mike and I were raised a little differently. I was raised in the Christian-live-by-guilt home where we were always having to consider the starving child in Africa or China when we bought something not on sale or didn’t eat our peas. Mike’s family knows how to party. There is always a reason to celebrate. When Mike and I started to actually call our relationship something more than “besties”, my heart was overwhelmed as he treated me to dinners, an evening at the ballet (I had never been!), a concert that was not something he necessarily would choose, and a bunch of other super fun stuff.  He would say, “There is a place I think you would like…”

When dating ends and real life begins, there is often a shift in marriage relationships. That may be why counselors often encourage suffering spousal relationships to re-instigate “the date”. Obviously there are major challenges to this when you have kids or are just super busy trying to build a future or a retirement fund. But bringing back the date has saved many relationships from stagnation or becoming that “we are just roommates” horror!

When couples come to me for marriage counseling and I ask about their dating life, 9 out of 10 times, the role of planning anything social has become the wife’s responsibility. And in most of the relationships I am asked to weigh in on, the wife feels like if she didn’t care about connecting emotionally, no one would care. Did you read in my last blog that emotional connectivity is what leads to physical connectivity????….keep reading.

So hubbies out there! Hear me! This is such an easy fix! If you did it well once, you can do it again!!! Date your wife or lose her forever!

Dating as a married couple can actually be easier if you think about it! You already know that your spouse will say yes! You also know what kind of activities they like to do, what kind of food they enjoy and what their calendar looks like most of the time! If you plan time for just the two of you now, the message is simply, “I WANT TO SPEND TIME WITH YOU AND YOU ALONE.”

Here are some guidelines:

Have a date night idea jar: Sit down with your spouse and come up with things you wish you would do together, what restaurants you would like to try, etc. Write them on pieces of paper and fold them up and put them in a jar. Pick one out at the beginning of each month and let the planning begin.

Now that you are married, try taking turns with the planning: We all get busy with life but the job of saving a marriage through time spent together should never fall on just one person. If you are the one planning date night, you also have to get the babysitter. For some reason, a common complaint that I hear is that it takes so much work to get the date organized that it takes the fun out of it. If you alternate the planning, one person gets to just show up!

These times together can be inexpensive or you can choose to splurge: Set a budget for your dating life so that it doesn’t get tossed aside just because the bill for Johnny’s hockey or Brooke’s dance popped up and you can’t justify it. Keep in mind that your kids will be happier in the long run if their parents stay married and they miss an activity as an 8 year old. Also, sometimes saving money one month by just grabbing a coffee or going for a bike ride can put pennies aside for a fancier dinner out or a concert that reminds you of when you met!

Be present emotionally and physically on date night: Remember the effort that you put into date night when you were first going out? You wouldn’t dream of not choosing your outfit carefully or brushing your teeth. You were sure to look your special person in the eyes and talk about more than your crappy day at work. Be a person that is engaging, flirtatious, interesting and a friend who asks good questions. You might be surprised how much fun you have!

My married clients know that I believe that the most important relationship in the home is the one between the two people that are married. There is no other relationship in the home that should compete with it. A family where the parents are working as a team are the happiest families overall…and when there is discord at the top, it is felt by everyone, even the pets…so rekindle that love in one of the easiest fixes out there…date night.

As always, let me know if I can help.

With love,

Sonia

New Normal: Joy in the chronic…

Yesterday was my birthday. I am officially 52 years old. I remember thinking my mom was old when she turned 52 but I thought she was young when she went to be with God at 70. I have no idea if I am young or old right now. I feel both.

I do know that I went to the oncologist on my birthday, and surprisingly, I wasn’t really all that put out by having a doctor’s appointment on my birthday. This was, I am sure, in part because I needed to know that there was improvement in my white blood cell count from the week before. This is my new normal. The receptionist even said, “I know who you are Sonia, you are all checked in.” (Are we friends now or just people in each other’s lives from now until…a long time from now? Oh gosh…I better start remembering her name!)

Last week I had coffee with my friend Susan and she asked me if I think about “it” all the time. Ummm, that would be yes. First thing in the morning and in the moments before I sleep, I think about being “chronic”…and if I am honest, about 100 other times during the day. There is a little weight that sits on my shoulder and only goes away when I am listening deeply to a client or a loved one. I am trying to make that weight my friend and use it to feel, think and live more aware. I am trying to make that weight my new super-power for understanding people better.

So this was interesting timing: A new client called last week and wanted to know if I specialize in chronic pain. I told her that I am not yet an expert in that area, but I do know some people who specialize in treatment for those battling daily bouts of extreme pain. Our short interaction brought to my attention, in a profound way, that people who have long-suffering, whether it is emotional or physical, fall into a category all their own. When there is a timeline associated with a traumatic event, a therapist can utilize so many techniques designed to help a client realize that just because it happened once, doesn’t mean that it will happen again. But someone who is battling a situation that is for the rest of their life…that is different. I am beginning to understand.

When we got the report on Wednesday that showed my WBC numbers scooting back into normal range, I became immediately hope-filled. Mike and I did a victory dance outside the office, took the stairs because our spirits were lifted, and Mike fist-bumped the medical personnel having a conversation in the stairwell. (I chose not to touch anyone who may not have used hand sanitizer in the last few seconds after touching sick people, because those darn white blood cells are still a little bit of a thing.) They too joined in our victory celebration. That trip to the doctor’s office was joyful but I know that I am going to have to remind myself of this joy somewhere down the road of the journey I am on, when the news is scary again and I have to fight a little harder. I have joined the fraternity of people whose story has to be coerced into joyfulness because it wants to take us the other direction.

What ongoing situation in your life tests your limits? What reoccurring emotional battle or physical dilemma will not release its grip some days? Are you able to find joy in the suffering?

James 1:2 reminds us…

”Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.”

I get it. It was the one day of the year that I should have been at the spa, relaxing, forgetting my troubles. But, because of the Lord’s gracious spirit, I was able to be blessed by those silly numbers…going up just fractions of a point…enough to know that God sees me, in my brokenness and chooses to give me hope on this day…joy on this day. I will take it and celebrate today.

Do you need a little hope too?  Do you have a situation in your life that feels chronic? You need to know that hope can be found, even in the most dire situations of life. I am praying HOPE for my clients, my friends and the world…

As always, let me know if I can help.

With love,

Sonia

Marriage Seminar #5: Vows Then and Now

Today is 27 years for Mike and me…That feels like a super long time and yet, it seems like yesterday that we took the plunge. It has been hard and it has been easy to do life together: hard because life can be overwhelming, and easy because I could not have asked for a more loyal, encouraging and Godly man who is as committed as I am to live this marriage fully.

I have mentioned before that our pre-marital counseling was done by a pastor, not a trained counselor, and when I look back on it, I almost laugh out loud. Could we have talked any less about what is really important in marriage? So today, I am going to walk through some traditional wedding vows, similar to those that I repeated back on March 14, 1992 and reflect on what I wish I knew then and what I want my own girls to know, should they decide to commit to marriage someday. It is also what I try to share with the many broken marriages that I speak into on a regular basis. 

“I, ___, take thee, ___, to be my wedded husband/wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward…

Being married is a partnership. It is a commitment to love your person when they are beautiful and fun, and when they are ugly and being a pain in the butt. It is waking up together, sharing conversation, whether you feel like talking or not, dreaming together but sometimes having to be okay with Plan B or C or D…. driving carpool and sitting at soccer games and dance recitals together… and at the sides of hospital beds.  It is learning to live with each other’s extended family in a way that honors those people, but protects the family you have committed to be. It means giving in when you can, and not making things like how you load the dishwasher a moral issue. It is loving your person when they are less than perfect, but also encouraging and even pushing them, to be their best self. It is agreeing that their dreams are as important as your own and being okay with the fact that there may be times when one of you has to sit on the sidelines. It is saying, “I don’t really like you right now, but I am not going anywhere.” It is committing to love them so much, your competitive self refuses to give up.

Having and holding is sometimes having a great sex life but being patient in those times that it is not going so well in the bedroom. It is realizing that intimacy comes from looking into each other’s eyes and asking good questions so that you each feel known. It is realizing that physical closeness happens as a result of emotional connectivity, not the other way around. It is foreplay that starts with making their coffee in the morning or running their errands so that they can relax a bit or setting aside time for just the two of you to sit with one another. Sometimes the best connection happens when you awkwardly dance in the kitchen or belly- laugh-til-you-cry together… or when you hold your spouse’s hand when they need encouragement during a dark time or that long hug when you are both too tired for life. It is a commitment to be available, to listen, to be present… for the good days and the bad ones.

for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health…

Better, richer and in health are way more fun than the other options, but a spouse that comforts and battles with their person in the tough times often gets the reward of forever love. Most marriages experience something less than fabulous, where one or the other has to give up time, money and personal goals for the other. It is important to realize that when you sacrifice for your spouse, or get in the trenches with them as a fellow warrior, it is powerful for your long term marriage goals. If this kind of love is reciprocal, you can create a relationship that no life circumstance or stranger can come between.

Infatuation often grows in the good times but real love is found in the tough times of marriage. How you and your spouse respond to life’s stressors determines the long term success you will share together. If you are married and going through a difficult life event, you should not feel alone. Often people tell me I am LUCKY for the relationship that I have with Mike. Are you kidding me? Our relationship is what it is, because we have not always been so lucky. We have had some most amazing times but we have also had life steal our joy and our dreams, have been poor and have been sick… and in those times, we have held hands, locked arms and prayed on our faces. The blessing is that we are, because of our struggles, the closest of friends, bonded and more in love than when life actually gave us space to breathe. But let’s be clear, there was no luck involved.

BTW, it also means that when you have good times, laugh and love as much as you possibly can…and lift those hands that prayed so hard, to the Lord in praise. It helps fill the tank for the not-so-great times, and reminds us that all good things come from God.

to love and to cherish, till death do us part,

Loving and cherishing is a sort of having-your-spouse-in-your-heart-and-on-your-mind-all-the-time kind of thing. Of course, saying “I love you” should happen everyday but showing “I love you” means learning their love language and acting on it, protecting your spouse from people who mean them harm and acting honorably toward your person whether they are in the room or not. It is having hard conversations and learning how to communicate so that you understand one another. It is wanting to grow old with them rather than getting upset when they are aging. It is believing that what’s mine is yours, so I want to be respectful and take care of what is ours.

according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereto I pledge myself to you.”

Most marriages take place in front of God for a reason. That reason is that unless you are super-human, you are going to need supernatural intervention at least a few times to stay committed to that person you mistook for close to perfect. It is an accountability that should remind you that if you want God’s blessing in your marriage, you might want to consider some of the marriage advice He gives. He tells us to first seek Him, and then love each other fiercely and loyally. He tells us to even put aside ministry done for Him, if our marriages are not right. He tells husbands to love their wives as much as He loves us and wives to honor our men with our whole being. It is a pledge, not a warm fuzzy pinky promise…it takes serious commitment and selflessness, from both people, to fulfill… but if you truly want to grow old together, you may want to consider the benefits of starting now.

As always, let me know if I can help.

Love,

Sonia

Abortion: Some thoughts from a mental health professional

I remember when most of the debate surrounding the abortion issue revolved around whether or not a woman who was impregnated during rape should be required to carry that baby to term. The debate has changed so much and for the first time in a long time, people are starting to question the practice.

I have never been faced with the decision to abort my baby. For goodness sake, after three years of infertility treatments, my twins are a miracle. I only had 2 viable eggs when I went through the in vitro process and I was told I had 0% chance of having twins, 1% chance of having a single baby…so no, never faced with an unplanned pregnancy. I planned more than most for the one I had.

I remember thinking in high school that my parents would kill me if I got pregnant. I realize now, looking back, they were just good parents who were empowering me to self-protect, and if I had gotten pregnant, they would have built a wing on their home for us to live. But their parenting, my faith and the fact that I only dated really wonderful people, made this a non-issue in my life. (I am adding this to the list of things I am grateful for…)

But it is an issue that I sit within the counseling space quite a bit. I remember in my first couple of years of counseling being surprised and touched to the core, at how many women had experienced sexual trauma in their lives. By sexual trauma, I mean, harassment, molestation, rape, unhealthy sexual boundaries within both committed and non-committed relationships or even marriage, and yes, I would add abortion to that list.

For the purpose of my thoughts today, I am not addressing whether you believe a baby is a baby when it is a clump of cells, when it has a heartbeat or when it kicks it’s a mama in the last trimester like it is kicking a football. I am not talking about the baby. I am talking about mama. Remember? That is who this original discussion was all about.

I have never, I mean never, had a woman in counseling say that her abortion was a great experience. I have never had a woman say it was the best decision she ever made. There is always regret, sadness, wondering, and wishing the decision had not had to be made. My work within this space is always about being able to forgive yourself, allow healing and being realistic about the consequences of decisions we live to regret. Not one woman that I have sat within this space, whether the abortion took place recently or 25 years ago, felt that she would ever “get over” it. At the time of her abortion, she was lead to believe that she could keep her life… stay in school, keep the boyfriend, whatever… But in reality, she was never the same. She just moved forward, wounded and often alone in her pain.

So, if we, as a country, are going to adopt practices that we say are to protect the rights of the mother, let’s get real and say that we are not doing a good job of protecting those women. They are feeling abandoned, judged, and alone, whether they keep the baby or whether they abort it. If you take the side of allowing abortions as a means for birth control, then get honest and provide mental health resources for the women who follow your lead. Mental health resources can go a long way in preventing unplanned pregnancies as well…empowered people make better decisions for themselves. And if you are advocating for protecting the unborn, give your time and resources to a woman facing an unplanned pregnancy, and fight for legislation that provides resources for women who keep the baby or choose to bless another family with the baby they can’t keep. Trust me, there is a long line of people who would welcome these babies with open arms. I see these broken-hearted women in counseling as well. Many of the women in these families know the pain of being unable to carry a child or having to abort to save their own life. Is there a way to bless these women as well, rather than minimize their experience by celebrating abortion in the face of their loss?

Let’s advocate for women. All women.

If you or someone you love has a struggle in this area, as always, let me know if I can help.

Love,

Sonia

Eliminating Chaos: Think Marie Kondo for your emotional state

Living simply, minimizing your carbon footprint, downsizing…it is for good reason, all the rage. I have personally been hoping to move for a few years now, so every time Goodwill or ARC calls and asks for a donation, I use it as an opportunity to get some of my castaways to the curb. I have never, in my married life, lived in a house so long. For awhile there, we were moving every couple years which is great for cleaning stuff out. I moved into this house when my kids were 5 and now they can legally buy beer. I don’t want to think about what it is going to look like when we finally journey on!

I am fascinated by the cult following of Marie Kondo. She is an organizing mastermind and is taking over the world with books and speaking engagements. Her method, known as KonMari consists of taking a look at each possession and determining if it brings you joy or not. Out with the bad… the joy-inducing possessions get to stay.

One could argue that it isn’t that easy in real life to get rid of stuff. When my kids were little I would have to throw out the broken toys in the middle of the night, to avoid a meltdown. I would like to get rid of my daughter’s comforter-used-more-by-the-dog-than-her, on her bed, but she may divorce me if I do. She told me it reminds her too much of her childhood. Still, there is merit to this method and I can see that it could be of value in our emotional lives as well.

It is a proven fact that visual clutter can contribute to stress, depression, anxiety, lethargy…many life-halting conditions. Cleaning up our surroundings helps us feel energized, focused and ready to get things done. I remember when I was in grad school, Mike loved it when I had a paper due or a test to study for, because he would come home to super tidy surroundings. I wasn’t able to concentrate when I felt my surroundings were a big hot mess.

We can also experience negative symptoms when our emotional lives are in disarray. For example, it can be hard to concentrate at a job you hate, when your child is struggling with addiction or failing out of the 7th grade. Our relationships with frustrating friends can get strained when we are dealing with a struggling marriage, fighting an illness or dealing with a personal loss. When we find ourselves feeling out of control in our emotional space, it can be a good idea to channel our inner Marie Kondo and do some tossing out.

If you are in a particularly stress-filled season of life, you might feel out of control and overwhelmed. Think about it. When you are feeling awesome and in control, there might be people or situations that are not joy-inducing that you can tolerate because in-balance, life is feeling breezy. But when life gets super hard and you are being tossed in the waves a bit, those same relationships can feel toxic. Self preservation might include taking some of those people or situations out of the mix until you have the bandwidth for them. You might need to, for a time at least, focus only on the joy-inducing situations and relationships. I don’t want to go so far to say that you are going to “throw out” relationships but my guess is, once you take a break, you may want to continue to focus on the joy, don’t you think?

This doesn’t mean that you only hold on to what is perfect. I have a cracked teacup that I will never throw away because I can still see my mom holding it in both hands. It brings me joy. I recently spent a few days with some of my besties from college. Each of us are in a tough life season and are less than our awesome selves right now… but in our weakness, we shared, loved and laughed and brought one another great joy. I will keep those girls forever. They bring me the kind of joy that I can barely put into words.

Is it time to focus on joy?

Romans 12:12 says: Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Do you have people in your life that will do this with you? If you do not, it might be time for some KonMari…

As always, let me know if I can help.

Love,

Sonia