My latest for the Divorce Support Center! Other Side of Me
“In nearly every religion I am aware of, there is a variation of the golden rule. And even for the non-religious, it is a tenet of people who believe in humanistic principles.” ~ Hillary Clinton
I was on a flight last week that was delayed due to weather. This led to our circling over Atlanta for more than an hour. Of course, we started to run low on fuel (typical summer afternoon flying into Atlanta.) We were diverted to Birmingham, Alabama to refuel then flew back to Atlanta, ultimately arriving 4 ½ hours late. To add insult to injury, once we landed, we had to sit on the runway for 30 minutes before we were able to get a gate to deplane.
As you can imagine, tension began to run high and some of the passengers got a bit rude and inconsiderate (to put it mildly.) Had these passengers asked themselves, “What is it like to be on the other side of me right now?,” I’m not sure they would have liked the answer.
The following day, I had a meeting scheduled with someone of whom I had never met before. He had reached out to me asking if I would spend some time with him to share ideas on career next steps. I agreed to meet with him and fit him into an already tight schedule. I hustled to get things done that morning (remember, I hadn’t even gotten home until 1:30AM due to my travel delays), drove the 43 minutes to where we had agreed to meet and, you guessed it, he didn’t show up. I checked my email and he had sent me a message 11 minutes prior to when we were supposed to meet saying he couldn’t make it. Seriously? No more advance notice than that? Had he asked himself, “What is it like to be on the other side of me right now?,” I’m not sure he would have liked the answer.
Later that afternoon, I was speaking with a woman in Denver. She is divorced and has been dating a guy for the past 15 months. Interestingly, she and her ex (who also has a steady girlfriend) are beginning to think they still have feelings for each other and they are starting to “date” again. Both are now dating each other (again) and their new partners (who, of course, don’t know about this) simultaneously. If they ask themselves, “What is it like to be on the other side of me right now?,” I’m not sure they would really like the answer.
Late last year, one of the ministers at our church presented a message entitled, ”What it’s like to be on the other side of me?” It was a great message, and it really made you think about your behavior and actions. Have you ever asked yourself, “What is it like to be on the other side of me?” Have you ever taken the time to really think about how others see you, perceive you, and experience you? Would you want to be waiting on you in a restaurant?
Would you want to be ringing up your sale at a store?
Would you want to be your friend?
Would you want to be the flight attendant or gate agent assisting you?
Would you want to be your own customer?
Would you want to be dating you?
Would you want to be married to you?
Why or why not?
We are frequently able to rationalize our own behavior and come up with really great excuses for why we act certain ways or do certain things. BUT, if we are really (really) honest with ourselves and look at things through the lens of the person across from us, I think we often find those excuses and rationalizations backfire. We know that we wouldn’t want to be treated that way. This isn’t a new concept at all! While world religions tend to differ greatly in their beliefs and practices, they all tend to share a common idea around “doing unto others what you would like them to do to you.” This “Golden Rule” can be found in Christianity, Buddhism, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, to name but a few. It’s a staple amongst the world’s greatest philosophical minds. It’s a basic tenet of human behavior.
What about you? Who are you putting out there? What have you learned about yourself throughout the process of divorce? Do you like the road you have taken, or are you unhappy with who you have become? Do you get a different answer if you ask yourself, “What is it like to be on the other side of me?” If your answer isn’t one that makes you feel good or makes you proud, you may want to rethink how you are coming across, how you are presenting yourself, and how you are treating others. At the end of the day, our goal should be to be able to look in the mirror at that person on the other side of me and like who you see! Smile!
My latest for Huff Post! Parasite!
ap·pre·ci·a·tion (from Dictionary.com)
1. The recognition and enjoyment of the good qualities of someone or something.
Synonyms: valuing, treasuring, admiration, respect, regard, esteem
2. Gratitude for something.
Synonyms: gratitude, thanks, gratefulness, thankfulness, recognition,
Appreciation. This word keeps smacking me in the face. It has come up several times over the last few months as I’m speaking with women. These women aren’t telling me how wonderful their husbands are and how much they feel appreciated in their marriages. They aren’t telling me that they feel treasured and valued. They aren’t telling me that they feel recognized for all the day-to-day things they do for their husbands and their children. Instead, they are feeling incredibly frustrated, and many are near melt-down point, because they aren’t feeling appreciated.
This should be an easy one to fix, right? These marriages aren’t falling apart (yet!) because one person is having an affair, or because one person has an addiction which is tearing the family apart. These marriages are failing because one person feels as if she is being taken for granted. The women I spoke with are losing faith in their marriages and beginning to consider an exit strategy. The common sentiment is that they would rather be single, and have no expectations of wanting to be appreciated by someone else, than to have those expectations, and to have those expectations constantly missed.
A friend once said to me, “If he doesn’t appreciate my presence, then I will make him appreciate my absence.” Drastic? Perhaps. But true. She was so frustrated with feeling unappreciated. She told me that was tired of living, as she phrased it, as a parasite. Time-warp! I immediately regressed to my high school biology class. I get it! Parasites are when two organisms enter into a relationship that benefits one at the expense of another.
My friend felt like her husband was taking from her, and that she wasn’t getting anything out of the marriage. She worked full-time, and brought in an equal share of their income. In spite of both working full-time, she was the one who managed most of the responsibilities for their three kids They were able to afford a house-keeper, so they didn’t squabble over “chores,” but she did pay all the bills and manage the “house.” When she and I spoke, she had reached her saturation point. She was done – “I don’t mind doing all of this, I just wish I felt appreciated.” To her credit, she tried articulating this need to her husband. To his credit, he tried to understand, but old habits are hard to break. He told her that he did appreciate her. She heard him, but she just didn’t feel it. She filed for divorce a year later.
Her husband didn’t want the divorce, but he never quite fully grasped the impact of her feeling unappreciated. She’s a single mom now and living a hectic schedule. She recently said, “I never realized the weight I was carrying around every day. I thought I was happy then, but I am so much happier now. I’m not waiting, hoping, and getting frustrated by not feeling appreciated. There are no longer any mixed expectations.”
Her husband confided in me that he thinks he messed up, saying, “Perhaps I didn’t give her enough credit for all she did for us.” It reminded me of the Bruno Mars’ hit song, “When I was your Man”…
“I hope he buys you flowers
I hope he holds your hand
Give you all his hours
When he has the chance
Take you to every party
‘Cause I remember how much you loved to dance
Do all the things I should have done
When I was your man”
Regret is such a sad thing, especially when we regret something that could have been avoided. Appreciation is incredibly easy. It’s a simple “thank you.” It’s a kind word. It’s a little foot massage after a long day. It’s a cup of coffee brought to you while you are getting ready in the morning before a big day. It’s a little love note left by your toothbrush just to say “I love you.”
Maybe articulating it this way is a gender thing. For every five women who I hear articulate a need to feel appreciated, I perhaps hear one man articulate a similar need. I don’t believe for an instant that men don’t want to feel appreciated. I believe it simply means that they don’t articulate it in the same way. In fact, I think men articulate it on the opposite side of the coin. They get frustrated when women nag. Nagging makes them feel unappreciated, but that’s the subject for another post!
Appreciation. Such a simple thing to do. We can start with saying “please” and “thank you” and take it from there! Margaret Cousins said, “Appreciation can make a day, even change a life. Your willingness to put it into words is all that is necessary.”
What about you? What are you doing to show your appreciation to others?
Here’s my latest for eHarmony … Fairy Tale
Love isn’t perfect. It isn’t a fairy tale or a storybook, and it doesn’t always come easy. Love is overcoming obstacles, facing challenges, fighting to be together, holding on and never letting go. Love is work, but most of all, love is realizing that every hour, every minute, every second of it was worth it because you did it together.
I did it again last week. We were out of town and stopped for a cold drink after walking around for a few hours. The only open seats were at a table for 4 that had a couple seated at it. They motioned us over to join them (which was so nice!). After a quick moment to assess them, my gut told me they were dating so I dove right in! My husband rolled his eyes and smiled as if to say, “Here she goes again!”
“Can I ask you both a few questions …” I began, and the conversation rolled from there.
This couple was clearly dating. They were cute together. Laughing! Talking! Engaged (meaning engaged in conversation, not engaged to be married). They clearly had life experience. In other words, they weren’t 20-somethings, but rather more like 40-somethings! I wanted to know more about how they met, how long they had been dating, etc.
I love watching and listening to people talk about how they met. It’s always fun to see how they bounce the story back and forth between them, and present the “he said/she said” sides of their relationship. They were finishing each other’s sentences, laughing and smiling as they remembered different points in the story, and feeling good about reliving the start of their relationship.
As their story unfolded, Lisa mentioned a prior relationship in which she was involved, and how different it was to what she found when she met Dave. I asked her what she meant. Her answer was profound. I immediately grabbed a napkin off the table and wrote it down. Lisa said, “I want and need a real relationship, not a fairy tale. He wanted a fairy tale, and that won’t last.”
Lisa went on to say that many people would have considered her last relationship to be “perfect.” That was the problem. It was “too perfect.” He insisted on sending her hand-written cards and fresh flowers weekly. He bought her presents. He liked her to dress and look a certain way. He took her to the best restaurants where it was good to be seen.
What starts off as amazing, romantic, and loving can quickly become overwhelming, controlling and suffocating. When you can’t be as comfortable with each other hanging out in your old pajama bottoms watching a movie as you are getting all gussied up and eating at the best table in the best restaurant, there’s a problem! At least Lisa thought so, and so she called off the relationship. She said, “That kind of fairy tale – wanting things to be perfect all of the time – can’t be maintained forever. At some point, you have to do life with all of its imperfections, and people who want to control perfection can’t deal with that.”
Her comment reminded me of a song I love by John Legend,. The chorus starts like this: Cause all of me, loves all of you; Love your curves and all your edges, All your perfect imperfections.
Isn’t that a great mental image? When we are truly in harmony with someone, we do love their perfect imperfections. Things which might bother or annoy us in others become tolerable. We are willing to forgive or overlook these “imperfections” because their “perfections,” the good they bring to us, and the good they bring out in us, are so much more powerful.
Some people might have been surprised when Lisa ended the relationship. Others knew she absolutely made the right decision. People want real. They don’t want perfect. There is a difference.
What about you? Are you looking for perfect, or striving for real?
My latest for Huffington Post … May 2014 … Lose a Woman!
How do you lose a woman in 90 minutes?
When I was dating my husband, I recall telling him (and this was before he met my children), “I am falling in love with you, but if my kids don’t like you, we’re going to have a problem.” Harsh? Yes. But true!
As much as I was falling for this amazing man, my first allegiance was to my children who had already survived the divorce between their dad and me. Since my kids were still in elementary school, I didn’t want any issues between anyone I was dating and my kids, and certainly not with anyone I was going to marry.
Dating someone who has children (especially if you don’t!) can be very tough. I can only speak from the mom angle. Don’t mess with Mama Bear! We can be very protective of our children. Dating a single mom means you may sometimes feel that you are taking second seat, as opposed to being her first priority. You have to be OK with that. Dating a single mom means you may sometimes feel that she is choosing them, over choosing you. You have to be okay with that. Dating a single mom may mean that your wishes, interests or needs are sometimes put in the back of the line behind the wishes, interests or needs of her kids. And, you have to be okay with that! It’s not that single moms want to put their kids on a pedestal and idolize them, but rather that most moms are going to be protective of their kids and attentive to their needs. That’s just a fact of life! That’s Mama Bear 101. Speaking as a single mom who was dating, and is now married, I can honestly say I still sometimes feel as if I am being pulled between my kids and my husband. It’s the normal push and pull of all relationships. Am I doing enough here? Should I be giving more there?
But the quickest way to lose a woman is to have an issue with her kids. Guys, you want a quick way to get out of a relationship with someone you are dating who has kids? Say something rude about her kids. Disrespect her kids. Act jealous of her kids. Don’t show tolerance of her kids. That will get you kicked out of the relationship faster than almost anything else. It’s an easy way out if you are looking for one.
My two dogs have this uncanny ability to be sleeping quietly on the floor at my feet until I get on a phone call for work, and then they immediately become needy and whiny, scratching at my chair, barking, wanting to go outside, etc. One friend shared that her boyfriend acted the same way. He would be as sweet as could be and laid back/low-key, but as soon as her kids needed her for something like help with their homework, or to drive them to an event, he would suddenly become needy and demand her attention. It began to drive her crazy. She didn’t have the time or energy to deal with this kind of jealousy, so she said adios to him.
Here are five tips for dating a woman with kids:
1. Accept that you may come in second place. It’s pretty easy to pick up on this, and only the most confident of men can deal with this successfully. No one wants to feel as if they are being trumped by others, but the reality is that when the babysitter doesn’t show up or the baseball team makes it to the playoffs (on the night of your planned special date), you are just going to have to go with the flow. If your response is positive… and something to the effect of “I can’t wait to watch Junior play outfield in the playoff game,” you will win lots of extra points!
2. Be patient. It may take longer than you are accustomed to before she invites you to her home or to meet her kids. Taking this step will make her feel vulnerable, and it also exposes you to her kids. Chances are she is the kind of mom who doesn’t want her kids to see a revolving door of men so she will be very choosy about who gets to come in. I dated my boyfriend/now husband for several months before finally inviting him to meet my kids.
3. Learn that spontaneity is not always an option! Moms with kids have to plan things out. Not only is she managing her schedule, but also that of her kids. Someone always needs to be somewhere! And, if the kids are young, mom is not going anywhere without someone to watch the kids. You can’t always count on finding a spontaneous babysitter. From personal experience, I can tell you that once my need for a babysitter passed, then my need to be available to play chauffeur increased exponentially!
4. Be comfortable with direct and assertive! Many single moms have taken the time to look in the mirror post divorce and have dissected what worked and didn’t work in their past relationship. They become really good and figuring out what they want “next time around” and become even better at articulating this. They aren’t necessarily going to spend the time “hoping he will change” this time around. They know better. I became very comfortable articulating what I wanted and didn’t want in my relationship.
5. If you think her kids are brats, if you think they lack manners, if you think they are spoiled, if you think they are little terrors who need to be sent to military school, leave now! They very well may be all of those things, but the reality is that they aren’t going anywhere. Your differing opinion on the subject of her children will lead to ongoing frustration and heartache.
So, back to my initial query: How do you lose a woman in 90 minutes? Here’s how. A friend shared that her boyfriend proposed over a romantic walk at the beach one evening, following by a beautiful dinner outside watching the sunset. As you would expect, over dinner they began to talk about the proposal and plans for the wedding. During the course of the conversation, her fiancée gave her a card from each of his four grown children welcoming her to the family (“If you are reading this card, then we know you said yes! Congrats! Welcome!). Very sweet and thoughtful, right? But… she realized that her own three adult children hadn’t provided cards like his did. She asked about that. His response blew her away. Even though he knew her three kids, and saw them regularly, he said, “I never asked what they thought, or told them I was going to ask you. I didn’t think it mattered.” What she heard was, “I didn’t think they mattered.” Within 90 minutes of proposal, she called off the wedding saying, “You obviously don’t get me or know what’s important to me.” That is how you lose a woman in 90 minutes!
What about you? What other tips should be added for dating a woman with kids?
My latest for eHarmony … Quacks Like a Duck!
“If it walks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.”
Speaking of ducks. It would have been good to be a duck in Atlanta this morning. The morning commute in Atlanta is usually bad; when it rains, the traffic gets worse. When it storms, like today, the roads virtually shut down! Today’s long commute found me listening to a popular morning show. The DJ’s were talking about how scams are becoming more and more difficult to detect. We have all received the email from the Saudi Prince who needs you to deposit his $15M in your bank account and in return he will give you 10% of his money for your trouble. They laughed and said that anyone who responded to one of those emails deserved to be scammed.
They then started talking about other phishing emails. I know I received one a few weeks ago from “PeyPal” asking me to click their link and enter my account information. No thanks! The fact that they couldn’t even spell “PayPal” correctly was certainly a not-so-subtle hint that this was a fraud.
I received another email just last week from my “bank” asking me to click on the link and enter my account information. It certainly looked legitimate. It had the right brand, the right feel, the right logo … but then I noticed a few things that made me start to hesitate. Little clues here and there just didn’t feel right. There was the sentence that ended in a preposition. There was the use of the word “a lot” instead of the more professional “frequently.” There was the sentence that didn’t begin with a capital letter. I knew I couldn’t avoid these “hunches” that something wasn’t right. Delete!
This got me thinking. Don’t we frequently do the same thing with relationships? Sometimes the scammers are obvious and it’s easy to say no to the first date, or certainly to the second date. Picture the antithesis of your perfect date, and this is what shows up at your door or tries to get your number at the bar. Easy to identify. Easy to say no. This is the “Saudi Prince” version. It’s so obvious that this is wrong. You are crazy if you actually consider the date.
Then there are the other potential dates or relationships. They may initially look “right.” They may say the right things, dress the right way, drive the right car, and have the right job, but there’s still that little voice in the back of your head that says, ‘Hmm… ???” They may say they are “Paypal,” but in reality they are “Peypal.”
We need to pay attention to the warning signs that present themselves. Too often, we are so focused on the dream, our vision of what is perfect, that we allow ourselves to be sucked into that situation when all it will lead to is a nightmare. We want it to be right. We want him (or her) to be “the one” and so we ignore the obvious and the not-so-obvious clues that start to appear. Pay attention to the signals you are receiving. Pay attention to the voice in your head that processes something as odd or unusual.
There was my friend who was dating “the one” but started to wonder why she was never invited to his house. Turns out he had a good reason. He didn’t want her to meet his wife, of course! There was the guy whose date always showed up a bit tipsy and explained it away as “we had a special happy hour after work,” or “We went out and celebrated my friend’s promotion.” After several of these “tipsy” meetings, he decided this wasn’t a one-off event, but rather there was a drinking problem lurking. As the DJ’s said this morning, we all need to be mindful of being scammed. We need to pay attention to our intuition. We need to not ignore the clues. Better said, we need to remember that “If it walks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.”
What about you? Have you met someone who turned out to be a duck? What were the clues?
Brave! – Here’s my latest article for eHarmony … April 2014.
I just read a book that I have to write about. In fact, I think every single woman should read it. If you are a widow, it’s for you. If you have been through a divorce, it’s for you. If you have friends who are widowed or divorced, it’s for you. Anyone who has experienced a “loss” will be able to relate to this book and will get lost in the stories. Do I sound cliché if I say, “I laughed, I cried…?”
Written by Sue Mangum, “Braver Than You Believe: True Stories of Losing Love and Finding Self” is the story of six newly single moms who write about the worst event in their lives. Three of the six women found themselves widowed, and the other three found themselves confronting divorce. None of this was part of anyone’s “plan” for how their lives would play out, but as we all know, our “plan” often fails and we have to come up with contingency plans pretty quickly.
There are several things I loved about this book.
One, it wasn’t just six sad and tragic stories of six different women. The substance of the book comes from a year’s worth of emails that were exchanged amongst the women as they looked to create a safe space in which to grieve. They called themselves, “Single Moms After Loss: Talking Advising Healing Laughing Crying” or SMAL TAHLC (small talk!) for short. Nothing was off limits – which led to many of the tears that I shed, and the laughter that I shared – as I related to things with which they were dealing. The stories are crafted together in a brilliant roller-coaster of a ride.
Two, I loved how I nodded my head in agreement over and over as I read the book. I truly felt like I was a part of the group, or sitting around chatting over coffee with these women. I haven’t been widowed, but I have been divorced. I remember things I felt and thought during my divorce. To read these same issues being addressed by these women provided honor and validity to these emotions. We aren’t alone in going through life’s trials and tribulations. Others have forged a path. We can learn from each other. There’s comfort in knowing you aren’t alone, and you gain strength from seeing others persevere, survive, and thrive. It gives you hope and faith to see others travel through such dark times and come out alive and vibrant.
Three, I loved how no subject was off limits. These women address the questions that I know went through my mind, and so many other women with whom I speak. Things like: “Will I ever have sex again? (heck, I even have a whole chapter in my first book about this one!), “I thought I was religious, but is there really a God?,” “When should I tell my children that I’m dating?,” and “Wow…I’m happy…is that allowed?”
Aren’t all of our lives a soap opera? It was fascinating to gain an inside perspective in so many areas … often times like slowing down to watch the car wreck on the side of the road! I learned new things too. The divorced women shared “insights” as the widowed women started to date … often times “trusting” men who were still married, but who assured them that it was “just a technicality.” As we learned, that’s not always the case! Then there were the well-meaning friends, who just didn’t get how insensitive they were being! These were the women who were still married (and hadn’t endured the grief of losing a spouse to death or divorce) who said things like, “You are so lucky you get to do what you want when you want and don’t have to report back to anyone,” or “You are so lucky that you get ‘free’ time whenever your ex has the kids … what I wouldn’t give for some time alone!” I know I heard things like that when I got divorced.
If you are looking for a quick read, and an inspiring and relatable story, this book is for you. I bonded with the women in the pages of this book, and loved it when each ultimately accepted her new reality, and in several cases, discovered what Life 2.0 had in store for them. Yes, happiness is allowed, and you will find it again!
My latest for eHarmony … Think Twice!
“Think twice before you speak, because your words and influence will plant the seed of either success or failure in the mind of another.” Napoleon Hill
I got a call last week from someone looking for some advice and perspective. She saw a text on her “tween” daughter’s phone from her ex-husband’s wife. It said, “I wish I was your mom.” She asked me what I thought … because her initial reaction was one of extreme annoyance.
I wholeheartedly agreed with her annoyance.
My ex-husband would crack a gasket, flip his lid, and lose his cool if he ever heard my husband say to my son, “I wish I was your dad.” My son has a dad. It’s my ex-husband. He’s a good dad. When I first remarried, my ex made it a point of asking me what our kids would be calling my husband/their step-dad. He wanted us to know that “dad” was taken. Of course it was! I assured him that “dad” was not going to be used, and that the kids would come up with a moniker that would be appropriate (and they have!). Being “mom” or being “dad” is an important title that is not to be thrown about loosely. It’s an honor, and it’s a commitment.
Let’s assume that all parents in this scenario are “good” parents! This young girl who fielded the text from her step-mom is put in a no-win situation. Guilt is never a good emotion, and it’s unfair for her brain to have to process this. “I wish I was your mom” conveys “I wish your mom wasn’t around.” If the girl agrees, “Yes, I wish you were my mom too,” then there’s an inherent feeling of taking sides against her mom. There’s that guilt. Regardless of the angst that many teen girls feel with their moms, there’s still an underlying level of loyalty and love. The other response is, “Not me; I’m glad you aren’t my mom.” That’s kind of mean to think, and it’s rejecting someone who just shared a personal emotion with you. Again, it creates a feeling of guilt against someone who does play a key role in this young girl’s life.
Why would any step-parent think that it’s OK to verbalize “I wish I was your mom/dad?” Whatever good intentions underlie the statement are completely lost in the delivery. While I agreed with the annoyance articulated by the woman who called, I also encouraged her to “take the high road” and give the benefit of the doubt to the step-mom. I’m sure she meant well. I’m sure it wasn’t intentional. Nobody can be that clueless, can they?
“I am so glad I am your step-mom/step-dad!” How about rephrasing it this way? It conveys the same intention! It essentially delivers the same message, just in a way that is phrased more openly! It’s declaring something positive, not wishing for something impossible. The insidious negativity goes away. It removes the propensity for feelings of guilt to seep into the conversation.
Communicated this way, it honors both roles – mom and step-mom, dad and step-dad. It says, “I value my role as step-mom/ step-dad.” Phrasing it this way honors all players in the blended family. I get goosebumps when I witness my husband and my son bond over something, laugh, and share a special time together. It warms my heart when I hear him say, “I love being your step-dad.” It honors the special bond they have, yet it takes nothing away from my son and his dad.
What a difference a few words can make!
I wonder how many other things we say – perhaps with good intentions – that get interpreted wrongly or that serve to create guilt? Can you come up with any?
My latest for eHarmony – Proud of Me!
“It is not enough to be well-intentioned: one must strive to put those intentions into action in a capable way. One must consider the effect his actions will have on others. Looked at like this, to persist in ignorance is itself dishonorable.” Andrew Cohen
I’ve started to see a theme amongst the men and women with whom I speak post-divorce. It’s interesting. I’m seeing this more in people who have been divorced for a few years now, rather than those who have recently divorced. Life has started to settle down. Perhaps the drama and the emotion tied to the divorce has quieted. Affairs have ended. People have moved on. Perhaps they have remarried. Addictions are under control. The fuel is off the fire, and the erratic and often selfish behavior has ceased.
It’s at this point that I’m hearing men and women reflect and say, “I just want my kids to be proud of me.” Wow. What a sentiment. I think at our core we all strive to make those we care most about in our lives proud of us. My parents used to encourage me to “make us proud” when I was a teen. I knew what that meant. It meant to make good decisions and wise choices. It meant to be kind to others. It meant to treat people the way I would want to be treated. It meant not cheating, stealing or lying to get ahead. It meant honoring the morals and values on which I was raised. It goes without saying that we want our parents, our spouses, our friends, and of course, our kids, to be proud of us. The opposite of pride is shame. I can’t imagine anyone taking pleasure in being shamed or in feeling that our loved ones are ashamed of us.
Which brings me back to the sentiment I keep hearing: “I just want my kids to be proud of me.” A few years post-divorce, when things have quieted down, there appears to be a growing awareness and more reflection that begins to occur. It’s a rear-view mirror kind of thing – you know, hindsight is 20:20.
I believe that many of these moms and dads are finally able to look past their selfish behavior, some of which may have served as accelerators, if not actual causes, of the demise of their marriage, and view that behavior through a different lens. Suddenly it’s no longer a matter of “I’ll do what I want, with who I want, when I want,” and more a matter of “Oh no, I don’t want my kids to know about that.”
Unfortunately, the behavior that might now produce shame, and certainly not pride, is over and done. It’s a thing in your past. It’s in your rear-view mirror. I’ve spoken with dads who regret engaging in affairs as a way to end their marriages. I’ve spoken with women who regret becoming dating fanatics and having their kids see different men at the breakfast table on Saturday mornings. I’ve spoken with people who realize their addictions have become a part of the “story” that defines the lives of their kids. In talking about these years, kids talk matter-of-factly about having to “get dad off the floor and into his bed when he passed out drunk again,” or talking about how “creepy it was to have a man we didn’t know show up at the breakfast table, or remembering how “dad wasted all of our money and we had to move into an apartment.”
People tell me, “I only look forward; I don’t believe in looking backward,” as a means to justify what may have occurred in the past. You know, “Let bygones be bygones. There’s nothing I can do about it now.” BUT, what if back whenever said behavior was occurring, these same people followed their own mantra of “I only look forward; I don’t believe in looking backward?” Is it possible that in looking forward they would realize that they don’t one day want to be ashamed of their present-day actions? Is it possible that they might think, “I want to make my kids proud … and this isn’t the way to do that?” Is it possible that they might rethink the behavior which was about occur and instead take a higher road?
Mahatma Gandhi summed this up in three simple words: “Action expresses priorities.” If your priorities are your kids, and making them proud, then be sure that your actions are in line with what you deem to be pride-inducing, not shame creating.
My latest for Huffington Post … (March 31, 2014):
“The most comfortable prison is still a lonely place.” Kenneth Kolb
“Should we go out to dinner and go dancing with the gang, or stay in, cook-out and watch a movie together?”
“Should we invite our neighborhood social group to join us on a hike, or should we disappear ourselves to wander in the mountains alone, holding hands, hiking, and sharing our adventure?”
“Should we organize a trip to Cancun for all the couples, or should we plan a romantic get-away for just the two of us?”
When faced with these kinds of questions which do you more often choose? The group activity, or time spent alone with your spouse? One answer is not all right or all wrong, but when your time as a couple is constantly spent with others, warning bells should start to go off.
As I speak with couples, and I ask about how they spend their “free time,” I’m no longer surprised by the number of people who say they have a very active social life together. They get along great! They have a fabulous time. They have tons of friends always ready to go somewhere with them.
But, when we start to peel back the layers of the onion, it’s always interesting to see how frequently this great social life — robust, active, talkative, fun, adventurous — is really hiding that fact that these couples don’t want to spend any time alone together. The conversation ceases, the laughter ceases, the fun ceases and the adventures ceases. Frankly, it becomes very lonely. When forced to be a couple, without any outside interaction, these couples find it difficult. They would rather not confront their loneliness. Two isn’t supposed to be a lonely number.
What’s going on here? I see this in couples who have simply grown apart. It’s not that one or the other is having an affair (yet!) or engaging in some other marriage-destroying behavior, but rather simply that these couples drifted apart in their marriage. In most cases, the intimacy is all but gone. One or the other may simply be satisfied “living as roommates.” Often times divorce isn’t considered a viable option for any one of several reasons. Either they really are completely OK being roommates, and not lovers. They don’t want to suffer the financial hit that a divorce inevitably brings. They want to stay married “for the kids.” And, they do have a great life together … as friends in a larger friend circle.
Ask these same couples what happens when the party is over and they are driving home, and they will tell you that it gets really quiet. The energy that fueled such a fun night has dissipated. Instead of talking all the way home about what they did, and flirting about what’s to come, they instead sit quietly in the car, get home, and climb into their respective sides of the bed, turn over, and go to sleep.
Ultimately, many of these couples do inevitably call it quits and bring in the divorce lawyers. At some point, the idea of living the rest of your life as roommates leaves you wondering if there isn’t something more to life. I hear, “I’m not sure I can do this for the second half of my life.” I hear, “It’s not like I’m going to be lonely by myself … I’m already lonely and by myself in my marriage,” or they say, “I’d rather feel lonely than feel alone when I’m with somebody.”
It’s these same couples, who if they ultimately decide to call it quits on their marriage, are the ones whose friends exclaim in surprise, “But why? You guys get along so well? We have so much fun together!”
If as a couple, you are okay with this “social relationship,” then no one should judge you. If however, you long for a relationship where two isn’t a lonely number, and if you truly do want to stay away from considering divorce as an option, then perhaps you should start to focus on how to rebuild your lives and your schedules such that you are okay being alone with just each other.
In fact, couples in really healthy marriages crave that together time. The idea of spending time “just the two of us” gives them incentive to frequently turn down social invitations. No one says you need to become an asocial hermit, but you do become aware of whether time spent in groups is trumping time spent as a couple.
Is being along the worst thing in life? Or is being in a relationship with someone who makes you feel alone the worst? What do you think?
Here’s my latest post for Cupid’s Pulse … My Way or the Highway!
“Marriage is about compromise; it’s about doing something for the other person, even when you don’t want to.” – Nicholas Sparks, The Wedding
I had a great conversation with two friends, both widowed, the other day. They’re dating each other, and it’s starting to get serious. While not pointedly addressed quite yet, it’s clear that the “we should spend the rest of our lives together” conversation is not that far off in the future. How wonderful for them! To have found love again — and all the joy, happiness, and elation that comes with new love — after both having lost spouses is wonderful and very sweet to see. Of course, they should spend the rest of their lives together. Thank goodness for second chances and the fact that they met each other.
Once example of a celebrity couple who will be tying the knot soon is Christina Aguilera and Matthew Rutler. This will be Christina’s second marriage; again, thank goodness for second chances! She has a young son, who Matthew will become a stepparent to, yet another transition that will hopefully be smooth for everyone involved.
Deciding they want to spend the rest of their lives together is the “easy” part. The more practical and more difficult part comes when the discussion turns to where to live. His house or hers? Her family room couches or his? His china or hers? His toaster or hers?
It’s crazy, but this is where it can become overwhelming. The reality is that both people own their own beautiful homes, fully stocked with every practical item (the blender, ironing board, and beach towels) and also filled with all sorts of things that are meaningful (grandma’s mirror, great-grandma’s gravy boat, and the painting bought on vacation in Italy many years ago). Their styles may differ: His Victorian period furniture may clash with her Asian influence.
What to do? Of course, it’s essentially no different than when two divorced people choose to marry and frankly no different from when two established single adults (never married, divorced, or widowed) but well on their way to being “real” adults (with more than a studio apartment outfitted with milk crates and a mattress of the floor) enter into marriage.
Often times, both partners come to the relationship with established “goods” as well as established habits, ideals, and traditions. Perhaps one likes to eat dinner by 6 p.m. each night, whereas the other enjoys eating much later. Maybe one likes to be up and out each Saturday morning by sunrise, whereas the other relishes the idea of lounging in bed reading the paper until lunchtime. Perhaps one likes to spend Christmas out of town surrounded by the chaos of dozens of family members, whereas the other likes to make the holiday a more quiet, intimate celebration.
Younger and less-established couples certainly need to compromise as they begin their lives together, but it’s often easier, as they don’t generally have decades worth of “baggage” (both literally and figuratively) that they bring to the marriage. It gets tougher as we get older!
When I remarried several years ago, my husband and I brought together two households. As crazy as it sounds, we literally did have to decide to keep my silverware or his, my dinner plates or his, my toaster or his…and on and on! That was challenging in and of itself (actually, he had a lot of things that were “nicer” than mine, so it made for some easy decision-making). Some people might say that the best solution is to start new with everything, and as fun as that sounds, it’s just not practical. Who has that kind of money to throw around, and why get rid of things that are meaningful to one person or the other?
In addition to compromising on the things, we also had to learn how to merge our family traditions and our expectations for everything from how to save, how to spend a Sunday morning, what temperature to keep the house at, how many blankets to put on the bed, etc. This can be much tougher. After all, we were established in our routines. We had our “normal,” and defining a “new normal” isn’t always easy.
You know what, though? Defining a “new normal” can be fun if approached with the right attitude. If you aren’t open to compromise when dating, how in the heck are you going to compromise if you get married? Open yourself up to learning something new or even just experiencing something with a new lens. You might surprise yourself at how much you enjoy the change. After all, change keeps us vibrant and alive. Don’t become too set in your ways. Be open to new experiences, new traditions…even new toasters and new beach towels!
Does compromise become tougher as we get older? Are we more set in our ways? What do you think?