Relationship: Two people, two stories

I can tell you the first and last names of almost all these kids. Nolan is the swagger in the middle of the second row.

When I was in the 4th grade at Faith Lutheran School, Mr. Johnson was thrust into our combination 4/5 class, his first year of teaching. I was a first year teacher once, so I understand that it can be rough that first year, but I think it is safe to say that Mr, Johnson had it worse than most. His class control was so bad that I can still see scenes in my 53 year old brain of my class running around, having too much fun for a Christian school education. During one of those times, a kid named Nolan was swinging his arms around, and by accident, his fist landed square on my face. Later a doctor told me that it probably was fractured but I was a kid in the days when you didn’t go to the doc for just anything, so I think it just healed on its own over time and now I have a little bump to remind me of that day.

Mr. J’s solution, to what must have appeared to him to be a fight…(why he thought I was fist fighting is of concern to me at this moment)…was to make Nolan and I put our desks side by side for the rest of the day to work it out. While I remember not totally blaming that kid for accidentally punching me, I also remember being irritated that I had to sit so close to him, as he still wasn’t my favorite person, since my nose hurt and he was the cause. But, sit there I did, because I am a rule follower most days…and, of course, there weren’t cell phones in the 70’s, so I couldn’t call my mom. By the end of the day, he and I were chatting and having a great time. Maybe Mr. Johnson wasn’t as clueless as we thought. Nope…he was. But, whatever, it is kind of funny now.

Sometimes, between people, there are disagreements about how things should be handled. But it doesn’t always mean that one person meant to hurt the other one or that someone has to be wrong. Nolan was swinging his arms and I was probably running, and sadly, I got a splintered bone out of the deal. But when we were made to sit next to each other and each made to apologize for the part we played, we ended up getting along just fine. I can almost hear the conversation when Nolan told me it was an accident and how he felt really bad and then he reenacted the whole thing so I could fully get a picture of his intentions.

Obviously, Nolan isn’t the last person to hurt me. Over the years, I have had lots of times where infractions have occurred in relationships, apologies exchanged and life continued. I have also had situations where people have hurt me, or I them, and there has not been reconciliation. I know I prefer the times when the relationship was recoverable.

We are in a historical time where tensions are high, opinions differ and people are getting very hurt. Some people are willing to sit next to their friends who have different perceptions or solutions to problems, and others are hell bent at getting everyone else to say, do and act exactly like them. There might be some value in sitting next to another person, to hear their story, to see if there are more similarities than differences in our viewpoints, as we navigate controversial issues and the approaches to solving the tough questions. I have a gut feeling that many of us have good intentions and want similar outcomes.

Hopefully, one day we will look back at this time and we won’t remember the fighting as much as remember the healing. Hopefully, we will remember good people, trying to do good things in a hurting world.

With love,

Sonia

Empathy: Love yourself, love others

 

A couple years ago, my brother did a DNA test that resulted in me finally understanding where my crazy-curly head of hair came from. We have some African lineage, that is obviously determined to be passed along from generation to generation through whatever DNA is linked to hair. You can only imagine some of the playground comments I got, in those sad days before real hair products. I often joke that it is a good thing I never met Farrah Fawcett in a dark alley, for what she did to me in junior high. I was so jealous of my straight-haired, blonde friends who could use one of those flimsy plastic curling irons to get results that took me hours to achieve and then didn’t last if the humidity markers were above 1%.

I realize now that my mom hated her hair too. I will never forget her pulling up to take me home from piano lessons, with a new wig on. It was the 70’s and I guess that was the solution for bad hair days back then. I didn’t know it was a wig, so I burst into tears when her new “frosted” wig had blonde streaks in it. I thought I was going to be alone in my brown-frizzy-curly-haired world. I wept all the way home. When she finally removed It so I could see that it wasn’t real, she told me that should would not wear it anymore if it hurt me so much. Of course, once I knew it was removable, I was good to go.

At her 4th birthday party, my daughter Emilee came running in the house bawling her eyes out. I pulled her into my lap to check for scraped knees but she wasn’t hurt. She sobbed into my chest, “I hate my hair!”. I was ready for this. I told her how Jesus made everyone different and that our family had curls…blah, blah, blah, blah, blah…. She looked up at me and said, “No mama! I LOVE my curls! I hate my BLONDE hair. You, Azile, Daddy and Maddy (her little bestie at the time) all have BROWN hair!” I looked down at her beautiful platinum blonde hair and thought to myself, “How many people would love to have this color hair?” BUT WAIT…did my daughter say she loves her curls? Could I learn to love mine?

On my drive to get my hair done, I was nervous. I had never ventured into the world of blonde. I had never felt like it would fit. But my baby did not feel part of our family. So I added some blonde streaks so that my hair color would be the color of both my children. I remember Leelee touching those strands over and over when I got home. Years later when I tried to go back to my real hair color to save some money, people would ask me if I felt well. They would tell me that I didn’t “look myself”.

We all have voices in our head that tell us we aren’t good enough…that we don’t belong. I also know that this example is just hair…but almost every person has, at some point in their life, felt excluded because they were not like other people, because of physical appearance, or belief system, or family of origin, or where they lived, or WHATEVER!

What piece of yourself are you willing to give up, share, let go of, or offer as a gift to another human so they feel included, loved and part of a family?

When my oncologist was giving me my treatment plan 6 years ago, I think I shocked him when I told him I was less afraid of losing my boobs than I was of losing my hair. It had taken me a lifetime to love it and I wasn’t ready to lose it now.

 

Couch Time Marketing

However, I am willing to give parts of myself, while I work through my story, for the emotional healing of others. As we all are living in this turbulent time, I encourage everyone to dig deep and find how you can be part of the solution for others feeling whole. And who knows…in that process you may find a YOU, that fits you even better.

As always, let me know if I can help.

With love,

Sonia

Marriage Seminar #3: For you, for me or for us?

If you have been married any time at all, you know that there are moments in marriage that are very imbalanced. One person is out doing the other person by carrying the emotional weight of a stressful conflict or by doing the bulk of the supposedly shared responsibilities. There are a number of very good reasons for imbalance, the most obvious being that one person is going through a particularly stressful time, for whatever reason, and the other spouse has to pick up the slack.  However, there are also times when life does not necessitate an imbalance and one person gets sick and tired of doing most of the emotional or physical lifting, when they are married to another perfectly capable human being.  When couples end up on my couch, oftentimes that imbalance has gone on too long and some reorganizing has to be done to save the harmony of the home.

Much of the time, in conversations surrounding the “who-does-what”, it becomes very clear that  people do the tasks or take on the emotional burdens that make sense to them. For example, one spouse may not mind a little clutter around the house, while their honey may need things tidy at all times. So each time the neater spouse picks up something left out-of-place, they are making a mental checklist of their efforts and then slowly, like a crock pot, resentment is building.

A quick reframe that can be used in these situations is to ask yourself who you are actually doing this task for….yourself, your spouse or for the marriage!

Couples that live well together have usually figured out a system that works…each of them have areas of their shared life that fall within their “jurisdiction”. For example, regardless of my strong views on equality for women, it is best if I do the bulk of the laundry in our family and Mike tackles all things related to our cars. It is an area of our life that we are both comfortable with traditional roles. These are not the areas where conflict arises.

The areas of conflict for married folks, arises where there is expectation on one person’s part that the task should be performed by the other person OR the other partner is not pulling their weight. For example, I have the expectation that my husband should be able to get his socks in the hamper and he has the expectation that I will close the cupboard when I take a dish out. (We both have improved in these areas over the years, but honestly, the struggle is real.)

Of course, neither of the above scenarios should land us in counseling but you would be surprised, how if gone unchecked, numerous imbalances can lead to built up frustration between two people. I once had a family in counseling that literally talked about kitchen responsibilities in my office for a solid three months. Each person had different expectations of the part they should play and it lead to some intense conflict. Fortunately, we were able to reframe their approach to shared responsibility, not only in the kitchen, but in their interpersonal dynamic as well.

A healthy switch in viewpoint can sometimes change the whole dynamic.

Step one: Ask yourself why the task or issue at hand is important. Who does this affect the most? Are you making something that is only important to you, everyone’s problem? Or is the task or idea being challenged something that has to be addressed, in order for your home to function properly? Set expectations and communicate time lines so that you avoid disappointment.

Step two: Realize that even though you have pledged to cleave as one, it doesn’t mean that you are going to share a brain. Don’t expect that your spouse knows what you think is the priority for household chores or child-rearing. Each of you were raised in different homes, by different parents. Blending those experiences takes numerous, ongoing conversations, to find a happy medium that you both are comfortable with.

Step three: Find ways to serve one another. Healthy marriages involve two people that WANT to help one another get through life. When I toss those wayward socks into the basket and Mike closes the cupboard, without making an issue of it, it should not feel like a big sacrifice. You are doing those tasks for harmony within your marriage! Also, remind yourself not just of the tasks your spouse doesn’t do, but what they do! You may even find that it is not as imbalanced as you thought.

Step four: Own up to the areas you fall short and work to improve. “It’s just the way I am” seems like an authentic, self-aware statement, but it does not usually promote positive feedback from the person you are going to spend the rest of your life with. For goodness sake, give them some hope that your relationship is going to improve with age!

While I purposefully used simple illustrations, I am aware that imbalance in relationship can run much deeper than who is mowing the lawn each week. If you sense there is an imbalance that is rocking your marriage, don’t wait until you are ready to leave your spouse to start the conversation!

As always, let me know if I can help.

With love,

Sonia

Marriage Seminar #2: Choose but choose wisely

A Counseling 101 method, utilized by marriage counselors everywhere, is a “recounting”, done by each spouse, or when they met and fell in love. It is a way to start the “troubled marriage counseling journey” on a positive note, rather than with a list of grievances. So many people have truly beautiful stories about their first encounter, their whirlwind romance, the way they could not get enough of one another. Sure…every once in a while, there is a relationship that is so far gone that one or the other can’t remember feeling love for their then-boyfriend or girlfriend…but generally speaking, people have fond memories of the time they shared prior to marriage.

In my experience, a common thread that emerges in the relationship narrative is a time where someone chose to ignore a red flag in the relationship dynamic or that they had specific assumptions that were never actually discussed. When couples push away important conversations (i.e., roles within marriage, thoughts on parenting, finances, ideas on ethics) or fail to address dynamics they wish were different (i.e. time spent together or with friends, date nights, the way you verbally and physically interact, in-law dynamics) in the courtship process, they deny themselves an opportunity to really know if they are making a wise choice for a lifelong commitment.

Let’s be honest. We are all flawed people. We all enter into relationships with pre-conceived ideas, cultural norms, and wishful thinking. Every single one of us was raised in a family that shaped us in a particular way, both for the good and the bad, and when we attempt to share our lives with another person, lots of that “stuff” collides… However, a marriage is different from any other relationship in that you share space, more time than you can imagine, trials, finances, maybe children, physical intimacy, and the pursuit of hopes and dreams. Good marriages find two people that sacrifice for one another, finish one another’s sentences and care about one another as much as they care for themselves. Bad marriages find two people who feel unheard, unfulfilled and stifled by their spouse. And while it is EASY to fall in love, to stay in love, there has to be a whole lot of trust and respect, not just physical attraction and positive feelings.

If you are in the process of choosing who you want to spend the rest of your life with and hoping they choose you back, ask yourself some of the following questions:

1. When we discuss important issues, do I feel that we share similar values that will be put to use as we share life, pursue long-term goals and raise a family together? Are our disagreements about finances, gender roles, parenting, or whatever else, close to an obvious compromise or will they require a huge sacrifice on one person’s part?

2. Are there behaviors or attitudes that I am hoping this person is going to give up when they are in a committed relationship with me? Do they know I have that expectation and are they in agreement? If they do not change, will that be a deal-breaker for me?

3. Does this person have characteristics that enable them to be the father/mother I am hoping for my children? Are there characteristics they exhibit that I am not comfortable with now and will not be able to tolerate longterm?

4. Do we agree on the place that spirituality will have in our future home?

5. Have we had a chance to do life activities together? Do we enjoy similar hobbies or topics of conversation? Are the things we connect on today, things we can connect on when our life circumstances change, or we have kids?

Marriage is risky business for sure. When you commit to spending a lifetime with someone, you are banking on them growing and maturing into a person that you will love as much in 30 years as you do now. The risk of that decision is minimized if you ask the hard questions and make some of the tough decisions when you are still in the crazy-about-you stage! And the benefits of choosing wisely are SO WORTH the effort!

As always, let me know if I can help.

With love,

Sonia

Recently, I read a book by Gary Thomas, a Christian writer, entitled The Sacred Search. While this book was written from a faith perspective (so it may not be for everyone), it has some very valuable lessons for people actively seeking to share their life with someone in a committed and mutually satisfying marriage. A general summary of the book would be that if you are looking for a longterm, healthy marriage, you must have a shared life vision and that while you definitely want to be attracted to your spouse and be able to have fun together, the conflicts that arise in marriage come from misconceptions about the other person, differences in life goals and inability to communicate and decision make. I will no doubt use a number of the concepts discussed in this book as I do pre-marital and marital counseling in the future.