Both Partners Are Never Equally Satisfied in a Romantic Relationship

BOTH PARTNERS ARE NEVER EQUALLY SATISFIED IN A ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIP

Kyle Benson

Without extensive research, one might assume that both partners in a romantic relationship would have similar opinions and levels of satisfaction.

This is a myth.

Over 5 million individuals in a committed relationship have confirmed that each romantic partner has their own unique view of the marriage or relationship. Research by Prepare-Enrich has revealed that a romantic partner only has a 25% chance of predicting their partner’s level of satisfaction and opinion of the quality of the relationship.1

There really is a “his” and “her” experience of the relationship.2

The reason this happens is that each partner has their own metrics by which to assess their level of satisfaction in a relationship.

Here’s a potentially fun activity.

  1. Write down what you think gives your partner the greatest satisfaction in the relationship. Do not share this with your partner (yet).
  2. Ask your partner, “What is one thing we do that gives you the most satisfaction in our relationship?”
  3. Compare their answer to the guess you wrote down.

If you find that you are spot on, bravo.

If you find that you are off, congrats! You learned something new about your partner and can do more things that support your partner’s satisfaction in their relationship with you.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “I had no idea that was important to you.” Even from couples who had been married for decades.

Romantic partners are often unaware of how important a given issue is for their lover, because from their perspective it’s not a big issue, even if their lover has complained about it over and over again.

As the authors of the book The Couple Checkup highlight, sometimes the levels of disconnection and satisfaction printed on The Couple Checkup assessment finally connect the dots on how important something is.

Here’s an example:

From Tom’s perspective, his relationship is great. He feels connected and close to Jake. Throughout their four years of marriage, Jake has complained about the lack of time spent together. Tom thought the time spent together was perfect.

Growing up Tom spent a lot of time playing by himself and had the freedom to do things he wanted when he wanted. Furthermore, his mother never complained to his father about how much time his dad spent working in the shop or out golfing. In Tom’s family culture, there was a lot more me-time than we-time.

So when Jake brought this issue up, Tom didn’t think it was a big deal. After all, it had never been a problem in past relationships.

But for Jake, time together signified love and importance. So, when that time together continued to be limited, Jake felt neglected and like he didn’t matter to Tom.

When Jake was able to reveal these hidden emotions and Tom was able to actually listen, Tom was shocked. He had no idea how important this was to Jake.

Putting Your Partner’s Satisfaction On Par With Yours

One of the key differences between happy and unhappy couples is the attitude of a two-person system as defined by Stan Tatkin, PsyD.

satisfaction
Source: Stan Tatkin’s Facebook Page. I would recommend reading the description and Stan’s first comment. He also describes this in more detail in his recent book We Do: Saying Yes to a Relationship of Depth, True Connection, and Enduring Love.

“A couple’s ability to operate as a coregulatory team determines the success or failure of that relationship and is fundamental to relationship safety, security, and longevity.” – Stan Tatkin, We Do

This means that if your partner is hurting, the relationship is hurting and as a result so are you.

This means recognizing that your partner has a different perspective and experience of the relationship and you have to check in with them and make corrections so the relationship will work for them and you.

Just as we might see in a three-legged race, you can’t win at the expense of your partner.

This is part of being a member of a two-person team.

You must remember that what satisfies you may not be what satisfies your partner. But if you collaboratively work together you can satisfy the team.

This requires working together, first by completely understanding each other and then arriving at an agreeable win-win solution.

In Tom and Jake’s experience, they learned to honor their unique preferences for me-time and we-time by intentionally dialoguing about how they would spend their time together and how they could make that time more meaningful

During their weekly State of the Union meeting, Tom checks in with Jake about the quality of their time together by asking what Jake liked about the past week, and then asks how this week might look. During this conversation, Jake asks Tom about his alone time and ways they can, as a team, make adjustments to meet both partners’ needs.

Ironically, just having this topic brought up by Tom on a weekly basis has significantly made Jake feel loved and important, even on the weeks when there is the same amount of time together as there was before Tom caught on.

Why?

Because Tom makes a conscientious effort to show that Jake’s satisfaction is just as important as his. This is demonstrated by bringing up the question each week.

When you take the time to communicate, truly listen to each other, and team up to make changes in your relationship, you can get closer to having a similar level of satisfaction in the relationship—one that is happy, connected, and meaningful.

  1. This research is cited in The Couple Checkup by David Olson, Amy Olson-Sigg, and Peter Larson (p. 8). Furthermore, research indicates that a couple spending more time together does not make their assessment of each other’s relationship satisfaction more accurate. Rather, it gives them the illusion that they are more accurate. Source: Swann, W. B. J., Gill, M. J. (1997). Confidence and accuracy in person perception: Do we know what we think we know about our relationship partners? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73, 747–757. 
  2. This is a paraphrased quote from The Couple Checkup (p. 8) 

12 Signs of Highly Sensitive People

12 SIGNS OF HIGHLY SENSITIVE PEOPLE

Being sensitive and caring is usually considered to be a good thing, but if you take it too far then it can end up turning your life into a living hell. This is because people who are over-sensitive often end up being diagnosed with many other debilitating conditions such as severe anxiety or paranoia. Here are the most common signs of being way too sensitive:

1. Your stress becomes real pain.

Inner anxiety can eventually develop into physical pain, such as headaches and stomach issues. Such symptoms may either be initiated from accumulated stress, from the suppression of negative thoughts or from a single incident that was especially traumatic.

2. You care about what others think.

Your anxiety over what others think of you applies to pretty much everyone you meet, not merely your friends and family. You may feel that people are analyzing your every move, when in reality your harshest critic is probably yourself.

3. You find it hard to accept critical feedback.

Whether it’s from your boss or your mom, negative feedback really seems to leave a huge impact on you. This is particularly important to be aware of since overly-sensitive people already struggle with their own perception of themselves, and such feedback could further aggravate symptoms.

4. You feel discomfort in large crowds.

Huge crowds are often highly agitating for sensitive people, as too many things happening at once can overwhelm and exhaust. It goes without saying that such people would do best to avoid dense cities like New York and Miami, where emotions on the street are way too palpable.

5. You feel self-conscious in romantic encounters.

Even if you have been with the same person for quite a while, you still often let your anxiety get the better of you and end up questioning your partner’s every move. Every minor disagreement feels like the apocalypse, and you are frequently overwhelmed with emotion in the aftermath.

6. You often feel unhappy online.

Social media makes it all too easy to compare ourselves to others, and this often results in sensitive people feeling even more inadequate than they did before. This can weigh deeply on your mind until they end up affecting your day-to-day life. We’d recommend simply logging off and staying off if it makes you feel better.

7. Bad days impact your sleeping and eating habits.

Bad days turn into more than just a need to blow off some steam but may end up causing your anxiety to skyrocket, which in turn can affect your eating and sleeping habits. Usually, you end up focusing intensely on every bad aspect of the day, replaying scenes in your head until you realize that it’s been hours since your last meal!

8. You are easily startled by bright lights or loud noises.

Sensitive people are easily startled by bright lights, loud noises or anything else that is unexpected. Because of the need to feel prepared for everything, anything that shocks the system is highly frustrating and a cause for concern!

9. Group outings challenge you.

Group outings are challenging for sensitive individuals because leading a conversation or trying to win the attention of others seems to go against a sensitive person’s passive personality. After such outings, you feel drained and need to recharge your social batteries.

10. Driving is a nightmare.

If you’re a sensitive person, it’s very probable that you hate driving. While your road rage may not necessarily be aggressive, you have a tendency to be easily driven to fury when people cut you off. Rush hour is the largest stressor of all, as anxiety levels increase and your number of inhibitions disappear.

11. You get ‘hangry.’

After a few hours without eating, your hunger will consume your mind, causing you to act way more aggressively than is acceptable. You never meant those things you said when you were hungry, but now it’s way too late to unsay them.

12. There’s way too much drama in your life.

Your friends are always marveling at the amount of drama in your life. If you’re finding that your life is starting to resemble a never-ending soap opera, it could be because you often end up blowing most stories out of proportion due to your sensitive nature.

Navigate Empty Nest Effectively

NAVIGATE EMPTY NEST EFFECTIVELY

Family Life Radio

For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. ─   Ecclesiastes 3:1 NLT

Research shows that about 25 percent of people will experience Empty Nest Syndrome. A syndrome is really a collection of responses that come together to become a pattern or condition. Empty Nest is depressed and lonely feelings that come after your children leave home. Many parents admit that of all the transitions in life, empty nest can be the most difficult. We see an increase in divorce at this stage in life because the children have been the focus for decades.

Let’s look at four facts about the empty nest time:

  1. Life is made of seasons. Ecclesiastes 3 says, in everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven …. There’s a time to be born, there’s a time to die and there’s a time to build up and there’s a time to tear down.  There’s a time to raise children and there’s a time to let them go. 
  2. Empty nest is one of the many normal losses.  The word loss here is used because you’ve been investing in your children every day and now that looks different.
  3. Just because you have an empty nest today doesn’t mean you’re going to have an empty tomorrow.  Thirty-six percent of millennials are living at home again with their parents.
  4. Empty nests make room for buried issues to come to the surface. When the last child leaves home, those areas in marriage relationships are now exposed. 

Understanding that these challenges may come during this season can help you to navigate them more effectively.

Today’s One Thing

Talk about empty nest with your spouse or a close friend if you’re a single parent. Pray together and ask the Lord to help you understand the season you are in and how to prepare for the seasons ahead.

At 75, Taking Care of Mom, 99: ‘We Did Not Think She Would Live This Long’

AT 75, TAKING CARE OF MOM, 99: ‘WE DID NOT THINK SHE WOULD LIVE THIS LONG’

Susan B. Garland

Lynda Faye, 75, and mother, Yetta Meisel, 99, and her mother’s cat

Not many years ago, Lynda Faye planned to spend her retirement gardening in Amherst, Mass., and visiting her eight grandchildren. Not on the list of golden-years pursuits: caring for a frail elderly parent.

Ms. Faye is 75, and her mother, Yetta Meisel, a widow, is 99. The former art teacher fills her days helping her mother bathe, making her meals, picking up medications, scheduling home aides and transporting a wheelchair for excursions.

“Ironically, we did not think she would live this long — she wasn’t all that healthy,” Ms. Faye said, noting years of painful stomach ailments and arthritis. Besides difficulty walking and some cognitive impairment, “she is doing fantastic.”

Ms. Faye and her mother are part of what many experts say is a growing phenomenon: Children in their 60s and 70s who are spending their retirement years caring for parents who are in their 90s and beyond.

Because of longer life spans, many adult children and their parents are now “aging together,” said Kathrin Boerner, an associate professor of gerontology at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

“People in their late 60s and early 70s thought this would be a time of life when some of their responsibilities would drop off,” Dr. Boerner said. “Even though it may be a gift to still have your parents, it can be really rough.”

Besides forcing Ms. Faye to abandon her retirement dreams, her mother’s longevity has taken a financial toll. In 2001, Ms. Faye, an only child, persuaded her parents to move to Amherst from Rochester, N.Y. They paid for an addition to Ms. Faye’s home, where they intended to live. Instead, her parents moved into a three-bedroom condominium nearby. Ms. Faye and her husband, who is 77, turned the addition into a bed-and-breakfast suite. “It was fun — I loved it,” she said.

After Mrs. Meisel’s husband died five years ago, she qualified for a state program that paid some of the costs of home aides. While Ms. Faye ran her B&B, she paid for round-the-clock care for Mrs. Meisel and her mother’s other expenses by dipping into a nest egg of about $250,000 that her father left. Within several years, the money was gone, she said.

On the advice of a financial adviser, Ms. Faye has put her house — with her “fabulous” gardens and an art studio — on the market. The B&B is closed. Ms. Faye and her husband moved into Mrs. Meisel’s condo, and her mother moved into a one-bedroom unit in the same building.

To save money, Ms. Faye cut back on the home aides. She cares for her mother three days a week, and Mrs. Meisel’s Social Security and the state program pay the balance for her care. The $200 left over each month from Mrs. Meisel’s Social Security payment does not cover the rest of her expenses; Ms. Faye said she chips in from a $1,000 monthly pension she receives from a government administrative job.

“Even though it may be a gift to still have your parents, it can be really rough,” said Kathrin Boerner, an associate professor of gerontology at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

With no assets of her own, Mrs. Meisel would be eligible for nursing home care paid by Medicaid. “I could have said to my mother, ‘Off to the nursing home with you,’ but I couldn’t say that to her,’” she said. As difficult as her responsibilities are, Ms. Faye said, she considers herself “incredibly fortunate” to have a mother with a good sense of humor and who thanks her regularly.

Dr. Boerner is using a federal grant to study the relationships of 120 parents who are 90 and older and whose children are 65 and older. She found that many late-in-life caregivers, typically daughters, suffer from their own failing health, which can worsen with the stress, physical tasks and isolation that often accompany caregiving. And the financial picture can become dire. “When parents outlive their resources, the child spends resources meant for their own later life,” Dr. Boerner said.

The situation can be difficult enough for families who are close and loving. But if the parent and child had a “toxic” relationship many years ago, the child can become particularly stressed as old resentments bubble up, and the quality of caregiving could suffer, she said.

The deleterious impact on an older caregiver’s health may continue after a parent’s death. One study found that married daughters who cared for their mothers were more likely than non-caregivers to become depressed and to develop high blood pressure. Single men had higher incidences of heart problems than non-caregivers. These conditions persisted after the parent died.

“It’s hard to get rid of these chronic conditions once you have them,” said Courtney Harold Van Houtven, a co-author of that study and a population health sciences professor at Duke University School of Medicine.

To alleviate stress and to stay healthy, experts recommend that late-in-life caregivers take breaks, get regular checkups, maintain social connections and exercise. Ms. Faye said her exercise regimen, Pilates and running her two Havanese through a dog agility course, “helps keep me sane.”

But taking personal time could depend on the family’s ability to pay for home aides, adult day care and other “respite” programs. Medicaid picks up some costs for people with limited assets, but the number of hours allowed differ by state.

To figure out what’s financially doable, it may help to seek professional advice. An accountant will calculate tax breaks for home care and other services. Local senior programs could offer guidance on free and reduced-cost programs, including counseling for burned-out caregivers.

geriatric care manager can estimate the costs of different kinds of support a parent may need over time, said Steven A. Starnes, a certified financial planner with Grand Wealth Management in Grand Rapids, Mich. With these assumptions, a financial adviser can assess what the caregiver can afford.

A financial review, Mr. Starnes said, may “help people get more comfortable with spending money on some level of support” — perhaps adult day care once a week. But children who are draining their own retirement savings should consider a nursing home that accepts Medicaid, and then pay for restaurant outings and other extras, he said.

“I don’t recommend putting your own financial security at risk to help your parents,” Mr. Starnes said. “Of course, it’s easier for me to say it than for someone emotionally to do it.”

Even when they do not pay for care, many older caregivers make financial sacrifices. In some cases, children, particularly women, are retiring earlier than they planned or are cutting back on hours, experts say.

Americans’ longer life spans mean more families are “aging together,” as researchers call the trend.
Americans’ longer life spans mean more families are “aging together,” as researchers call the trend.

Margaret Willits, 70, and Judi Flamenbaum, 72, who are sisters, left full-time professional jobs to care for their mother, Frances Silverstein, a 100-year-old widow. The three live in a two-bedroom apartment in Brookline, Mass.

Three years ago, when she was 97, Mrs. Silverstein was living alone in Brookline, and Ms. Willits was working full time as a nurse in charge of assessments at a nearby nursing home. She cooked her mother’s meals, did her laundry and ran errands. “I was no spring chicken, and I was doing all this running around,” Ms. Willits said.

Mrs. Silverstein’s walking ability had declined, so Ms. Willits decided to move her mother into the nursing home, where she could keep an eye on her. Mrs. Silverstein paid the facility with the roughly $20,000 in her Individual Retirement Account, and Medicaid picked up the tab when those funds were depleted.

Four months later, the nursing home closed. The sisters decided their mother would not fare well in another facility, so Ms. Willits found a place large enough for three people. Both sisters are divorced.

Ms. Flamenbaum retired from her job at LaGuardia Community College in Queens and moved to Brookline. Ms. Willits had found another full-time job, and Ms. Flamenbaum planned to care for their mother while her sister worked.

“I loved my job,” Ms. Flamenbaum said. “It was a difficult time, and my friends thought I was crazy. We were going to travel.”

But the demands of caregiving forced Ms. Willits to cut to part-time administrative work she could do from home — a loss of earnings she said put a dent in her retirement savings. She had planned to work for two more years.

Mrs. Silverstein’s Social Security pays for part of the rent and some bills. Medicaid pays for an aide six hours a day for six days a week. When the aide is in the apartment, the sisters visit restaurants and museums, meet friends and go to the movies. “You have to be good to yourself,” Ms. Willits said.

Even with a knee replacement, Ms. Willits can move her mother from a chair to her walker. Ms. Flamenbaum’s scoliosis and osteoporosis make physical work more difficult. If their mother eventually needs additional care, the sisters said, she will probably move into a nursing home.

The sisters said they are preparing for their own longevity. Their apartment building is run by a nonprofit organization that provides a range of services for seniors, and they said they have told their children that they do not expect them to become caregivers. “I would not do this to my child,” Ms. Flamenbaum said. “Put me in a nursing home.”

Mrs. Silverstein says she keeps busy watching CNN and listening to books on tape. Though she and her daughters, she said, “don’t see eye to eye on certain things,” Mrs. Silverstein praised the care they provide.

“Their life has been really rough since I can’t really move too much,” she said. “I am very lucky — they have been wonderful in every way.”

I’ve Picked My Job Over My Kids

I’VE PICKED MY JOB OVER MY KIDS

Lara Bazelon

I am a lawyer, a law professor and a writer. I am also a divorced mother of two young children. I’m often asked some version of: “How do you excel at work and be the best mother you can be?”

Every working mother gets this question, which presupposes that a “work-life balance” is achievable. It’s not. The term traps women in an endless cycle of shame and self-recrimination.

Like many women, I often prioritize my job. I do this because, as the head of a single-parent household, I’m the sole breadwinner. My ex-husband, who has joint custody, is an amazing father and my life would be impossible without him. Neither of us pays the other support.

My choice is more than a financial imperative. I prioritize my work because I’m ambitious and because I believe it’s important. If I didn’t write and teach and litigate, a part of me would feel empty.

In 2013, I was the trial lawyer on a case to free an innocent black man improbably named Kash Register. As a teenager in 1979, because of police and prosecutorial misconduct and witnesses who lied, he was condemned to serve life in prison for a murder he did not commit.

Thirty-four years later, he was still behind bars. Even though we had presented the district attorney’s office with what we believed was overwhelming evidence of my client’s innocence, it insisted on what was essentially a retrial in front of a judge.

At the time, my son was 4 and my daughter was 2. One month before the retrial started, I moved from San Francisco to a tiny apartment close to the courthouse in Los Angeles. I went long stretches without seeing my children. They were lovingly cared for by their father, their grandmother, my son’s preschool teacher and my daughter’s babysitter. When I would fly home, I was often not fully present. My client needed me more than my children did. So he got more of me. A lot more.

During these months, my son had a lot of questions. “Why are you gone so much?” “Why are you always on the phone talking about that guy with the funny name?” I explained what was at stake. The good guys are fighting the bad guys. If we lose, it means racism won and a man’s life was destroyed.

“Are you going to win?” he wanted to know.

“That’s my job,” I said.

I have missed meetings to take my kids to the park or a museum, and picked them up early to go to karate class. Recently, I turned down an offer to teach an extra class for a significant amount of money because I didn’t want to lose that time with them.

But there is always another client to defend, story to write or struggling student who just can’t wait. Here are things I have missed: my daughter’s seventh birthday, my son’s 10th birthday party, two family vacations, three Halloweens, every school camping trip. I have never chaperoned, coached or organized a school event.

Sometimes my choices make me sad. My daughter’s seventh birthday was the worst. She cried, and I did everything I could not to. I felt sick to my stomach. But I had a trial starting the next day, six hours away.

I had picked the date, not the judge, because I knew that the other side wasn’t ready. Delaying even a few days would have meant losing a crucial advantage. I wasn’t going to risk it knowing what was on the line for my client.

Of course, I sometimes feel doubt, shame and fear. I know I’m not a “normal” mom, because my kids tell me so. I remind myself that this does not make me a “bad mom.” I also remind myself that if I were a dad, I would be getting accolades for all the times I scheduled a doctor’s appointment or arranged a play date.

I am proud of what I have accomplished. I am prouder that I can support myself and my children. But sometimes I wonder if my choices will damage them.

In 2017, my son’s third-grade class had a midday Thanksgiving potluck. Driving back from court, I dashed into the Whole Foods, bought the first thing I saw — a loaf of lemon poppy seed poundcake — and rushed over to school. The room was full of mothers with a smattering of dads. I was the only person in a suit. I put the lemon poppy seed loaf on a table, next to another mother’s homemade stew. My son looked over at me and winced.

After the meal, it was time for presentations. Each child had been given a piece of orange paper shaped like a leaf with prompts to answer: “I appreciate my parents because” and “this helps me to.”

One by one, the children stood up and read what they had written. Many of them talked about how much they loved their moms, because they made them delicious food or gave them a safe place to live.

I grew uncomfortable as I listened, my smile frozen on my face. What on earth was my son going to say when it was his turn? That he lived in two different houses and routinely ate boiled hot dogs and chicken fingers while his mother told true crime stories? That he had once told me, politely, as we sat down to dinner, “Mom, I think you forgot the vegetable”?

My son was one of the last children to speak. He stood up and, in a clear voice, said: “I appreciate my parents for being lawyers because they get people out of jail. This really helps me reflect, do the right thing and have positive role models.”

He looked over at me, the barest hint of a smile on his face. I wanted to leap out of my pint-size chair, raise my fists in the air and yell, “That’s my boy.” I have his orange leaf on the wall in my office. Sometimes I look over at it when I’m working late at night.

I hope my kids get it. I think they do. I love them beyond all reason, and their existence gives my life profound meaning. And I have the same feelings about my job.

The Role of Spouses in Making Decisions

THE ROLE OF SPOUSES IN MAKING DECISIONS

Os Hillman

“The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice” (Proverbs 12:15).

When John Benson decided to make some financial investments in a new business venture, he was very excited about the possibilities for a handsome financial return. His business and financial background had served him well. John felt strongly that his wife Jenny would not understand the complexity of his investment, so he casually mentioned it to her. When she asked a few simple questions, John became defensive and justified his plans for investing in the venture.

A year later, after investing a large sum of money, John received a phone call from the investment company. All the investors who had put money in the company were going to lose their investment with no ability to recoup it.

This story could be retold repeatedly across the world. God’s principles for making decisions require input from both spouses, regardless of their level of expertise. If you are not married, make sure you seek wisdom from a few close associates you know and trust.

God has called married couples to be one. If we seek to make decisions independently, then we benefit from only 50% of the intended resource God has placed within our grasp. In marriage this stewardship of decisions requires two people. God blesses this union by honoring the decisions made with the motive of glorifying God and relying on His Spirit to lead in our decision-making process.

Before you make a major decision, get confirmation for your decision from your spouse.

25 Lessons You Will Appreciate When You’re Ready for a Simpler Life

25 LESSONS YOU WILL APPRECIATE WHEN YOU’RE READY FOR A SIMPLER LIFE

Angel Chernoff

When things aren’t adding up in your life, begin subtracting. Life gets a lot simpler when you clear the clutter that makes it complicated.

It’s time to focus on what matters, and let go of what does not.

For almost a decade now, Marc and I have been learning to do just that—live a simpler life.

Not simpler as in “meager.” Simpler as in “meaningful.”

We’ve been working on eliminating many of life’s complexities so we’re able to spend more time with people we love and do more activities we love. This means we’ve been gradually getting rid of mental and physical clutter, and eliminating all but the essential, so we’re left with only that which gives us value.

Our overarching goal is living a life uncluttered by most of the things people fill their lives with, leaving us with space for what truly matters. A life that isn’t constant busyness, rushing and stress, but instead contemplation, creation and connection with people and projects we love.

Of course, that doesn’t mean we have zero clutter and complications. We’re human and living in the real world with everyone else. We have a home, possessions, computers, gadgets, distractions and occasional busyness. But we have reduced it to make space.

Today, after finishing up a call with a new course student who’s working diligently to simplify various aspects of her life and business, I’ve been reflecting on this simpler life Marc and I have created for ourselves, and I thought I’d share some of these reflections with you.

Some lessons I’ve learned about living a simpler life:

  1. A simpler life is about subtracting the obvious and adding the meaningful. Thus, you are wealthy in proportion to the number of unnecessary things you can afford to live without.
  2. Simplifying is not merely seeing how little you can get by with, but how efficiently you can put first things first, and use your time accordingly to pursue the things that make a difference and mean the most to you.
  3. Besides the art of getting things done, there is the often-forgotten art of leaving things undone. The simplicity and efficiency of life relies heavily on the elimination of non-essentials.
  4. Overcommitting is the biggest mistake most people make against living a simpler life. It’s tempting to fill in every waking minute of the day with to-do list tasks or distractions. Don’t do this to yourself. Leave space.
  5. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. There are so many activities that sound fun and exciting. We check Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat and see what others are doing and immediately want to add these things to our lives. But before you let these new ideas get the best of you, remember that by adding too many things to your life, you are subtracting space. And that space is vital to focusing on what matters most.
  6. Distractions are both more tempting and more damaging than we realize. When we fill our lives with distractions, its often because we’re scared of what life might be like without constant social media, TV, video games, snacks, chats, music, etc. Don’t numb yourself with noise. Don’t let distractions hold you back. Control your distractions before your distractions control you.
  7. You can’t live a simpler life if you’re unwilling to change and let go of what you’re used to.
  8. Priorities don’t get done automatically. You have to make time for what’s important to you: time with your significant other, time with your kids, time for creating, time for learning, time for exercise, etc. Push everything else aside to make time. By saying no to more things that sound really exciting, you get to say yes to more of what’s truly important.
  9. Rising earlier helps. A quiet, unrushed morning routine is a gift to treasure. (I awake early so that I have quiet time to read, write, and practice a gratitude meditation.)
  10. Letting go of old routines and habits and building new ones can be hard, but it’s easier if you do a 30-day challenge. Let go of something for 30 days and see how it affects your life. (Letting go of cable TV was one of the best decisions Marc and I made a few years back—no more continuous, distracting noise in our home, and no more advertisements for stuff we don’t need.)
  11. Buying more stuff doesn’t solve our problems. Neither does more snack food or another TV program.
  12. Shopping isn’t a hobby, and it certainly isn’t therapy. It’s a waste of time and money, and inevitably leads to a cluttered life.
  13. When we travel lightly, we’re freer, less burdened, and less stressed. This applies to traveling through life too, not just traveling through an airport.
  14. It’s not how many, or how few, things we own that matters. It’s whether we make those things count. Thus, it’s better to have three good books on your bookshelf that you’re actually going to read rather than 300 you never get around to.
  15. Decluttering your physical space can lead to a less cluttered mental space. These visual distractions pull on us and distract us in more ways than we often realize. 
  16. Overthinking is one of the most rampant sources of stress and mental clutter. The key is to realize that the problem is not the problem. The problem is the incredible amount of overthinking you’re doing with the problem. Let it go and be free.
  17. Positivity always pays off in simplifying outcomes. So before you waste it on anger, resentment, spite or envy, think of how precious and irreplaceable your time is.
  18. Stay out of other people’s drama. And don’t needlessly create your own.
  19. A simpler, more positive mindset can be created anytime and anyplace with a change in thinking. Because frustration and stress come from the way you react, not the way things are. Adjust your attitude, and the frustration and stress evaporates.
  20. The simplest secret to happiness and peace in the present is letting every circumstance be what it is, instead of what you think it should be, and making the best of it.
  21. Gratitude always makes life easier to deal with. Because happiness comes easier when you stop complaining about your problems and you start being grateful for all the problems you don’t have.
  22. Make mistakes, learn from them, laugh about them, and move along. Waste not a minute on outcomes you can’t control.
  23. There is a huge amount of freedom that comes to you when you take nothing personally. 
  24. The truth—your truth—is always the simplest path forward. If you listen closely to your intuition you will always know what is best for you, because what is best for you is what is true for you.
  25. The feeling you get from doing something important (and true) is far better and less stressful than the feeling you get from sitting around wishing you were doing it.

Afterthoughts

For the cynics out there who might say the list of lessons above is too long to be “simpler,” there are really only two steps to simplifying:

  • Identify what’s most important to you.
  • Eliminate as much as you possibly can of everything else.

Of course, that advice is not terribly useful unless you understand how to apply it to various areas of your life… which is why I gave you the lessons above.

It’s Us Against a Particle of Dust

IT’S US AGAINST A PARTICLE OF DUST

Maggie O’Farrell

To raise a child with additional needs is to inhabit a different country from those around you. You will have your own customs, rules, rituals, habits, mores and vocabulary. People may visit, but they will never truly know what it is to live within the border.

During our time inside this country, my husband and I have developed our own code. It’s a language only we understand.

By and large, we are very different people, he and I. Will loves jazz and sports, in that order; I am highly averse to both, to the point of despair. He’s a Londoner, born and bred; I grew up in a series of small Celtic towns that he would find unthinkably claustrophobic and scant on good coffee. I wouldn’t dream of leaving the house without finessing every detail of my outfit, even if I’m going to the corner shop; he would wear a paint-stained, fraying, decades-old sweatshirt to a party, if I didn’t stop him.

Nevertheless, we share this secret language, which we use every couple of weeks or so, sometimes more. We can conduct conversations in it entirely without words, so that no one else around us knows we are communicating or what we are saying. It is an argot evolved from necessity, from desperation, from love.

We were on a bus recently with our three children. It was late, it was snowing, everyone was tired and the bus was crowded. I was squeezed on one seat with my two youngest children. Will and our eldest were strap-hanging in the aisle.

From behind us came a noise: a crackling, rustling, splitting, then a specific crunch-crunch-crunch. My head spun round on my neck, as did Will’s. We took in our fellow passenger and his snack for a split second before I shot from my seat, hustling my daughters ahead of me, locking eyes with Will.

And so began our wordless conversation.

He tilted his head, meaning, “Is that person eating nuts in the same airspace as our daughter?”

I narrowed my eyes, which meant, “Yes, I’m afraid so.”

He frowned, to say, “Don’t let her breathe in until we get off the bus.”

I shrugged, implying, “Don’t worry, I won’t.”

We ushered our baffled, uncomprehending children off the bus and into the snow, miles from home.

I realize this sounds like a deranged thing to do, so let me explain. When our middle daughter was quite young, we learned that she had an immune disorder. Born with chronic eczema, she was distressed and uncomfortable every minute of every day and didn’t sleep through the night until she was 6.

She is prone to sudden and severe infections. She is allergic to a long list of things, some of which can tip her into life-threatening anaphylactic shock. Just the inhalation of a single particle of nut dust could kill her within 10 minutes. Life, for her, is a series of dangers, strung together, one after another, like beads on a thread.

So our family exists in a state of high alert. Will and I must constantly be thinking about how best to protect her — as well as trying to minimize the impact of her condition on her siblings. From the moment she wakes to the moment she goes to sleep, we are engaged in a waltz with peril. We are trained in resuscitation, in emergency medical action plans, in auto-adrenaline injection.

We never leave the house without her medication. We taught her brother, age 7, how to dial for an ambulance and to say: “This is an emergency case of anaphylaxis.”

Her condition and all its attendant cares is what makes up our secret language, its grammar, its vocabulary, its punctuation. This daily battle on behalf of our daughter is the semantics of our silent communication, which runs on an invisible wire stretched between the two of us, at all hours of the day.

Wherever we are, whatever we are doing — working, having meetings, taking phone calls, watching films, eating with friends — this issue will be there, at the forefront of our minds. It runs through us like mica through granite.

In the interest of full disclosure, the above is the expurgated version of our relationship, edited to make us sound like virtuous and unified parents. The truth is that he and I can also argue like fiends. He is mulishly stubborn and I am unfailingly volatile. He is a stickler, a rationalist, and I have been known to throw things, while not exactly at him, then near him.

We are both exhaustively lexical people; we can dispute the ideal method to cook scrambled eggs for a startling length of time, the subject spiraling outward to encompass other extraneous flaws, neither of us willing to give way. His constant music and iPhone habit can tip me over the edge; my stockpiles of shoes by the front door and penchant for constantly rearranging furniture infuriate him.

There is, however, a sense of solidarity between us on this one issue. We never argue about how best to take care of our daughter, not because we always agree — far from it — but because we know we need to channel every atom of energy into protecting her and her siblings. Family life can be fraught at the best of times, but if one of you suffers a complex medical condition, it is something that affects all of you; every member of the household must face the stress and challenges.

Last winter, Will and I were in the throes of a disagreement that had lasted for more than two days. We whispered furiously at each other when we were alone; we shot dark and freighted looks across rooms; we sent each other long, vexed text messages.

I forget, now, what exactly we were feuding over. Probably some minor domestic detail. All I do know is that the moment my daughter started to feel unwell at the dinner table, the argument that had been so all consuming evaporated, like steam. By the time her throat had swollen and she was losing consciousness, we were assuming our roles, running seamlessly through our well-rehearsed action plan: I administered the adrenaline, he called the ambulance; I raised her legs, sending the blood back toward her heart; he cleared her siblings from the room.

What I’m saying is this: If you are a couple raising a child who for whatever reason — physical, mental, neurological, immunological — requires you to go the extra distance, there will be stress. Enormous stress. You will be tested in every way, beyond limits you didn’t even know existed.

Under these circumstances, you must not, in the smoke and noise and welter of the battlefield, mistake your partner for the enemy. You have to recognize that they are coming out of the same trench as you; they are facing the same enemy.

It’s crucial, when you are under fire, that you don’t lose your head and discharge your weapons at them. Because no one else will understand your situation, the rules of your tiny country, like they do; even your closest friends, sisters and parents won’t have seen you at your lowest ebb.

It is Will who has seen me cry after Googling side effects and survival rates and medical statistics. It is he who has taken the keyboard out of my hands and said, “Enough.” Only he knows, really, how many times a night I got out of bed and applied emollient and wrappings and bandages to my daughter’s skin. Only he knows how little sleep I got. Only he has witnessed my frustration and grief at the cruel ignorance of others.

It is he who has sat with me, beside her hospital bed, his hand gripping mine. Only he, among all my acquaintances, comprehends what it is like to witness our child sink into the clutches of anaphylaxis, to see the color drain from her face, to watch her features swell, to hear her breath rattle and strain, to wait by the door, holding her, desperately listening for the spiraling wail of the approaching ambulance.

So, yes, we can fight like preschoolers about jazz and shoes and sofas and when, in the cooking of scrambled eggs, is the optimum time to put in the butter. Maybe we need to. Maybe these are the small radiator keys that need to be inserted into our marriage in order to drain off the excess steam that builds and fizzes inside its structure.

When it counts — when it’s a situation of life or death — all that stuff and strife is forgotten. The secret code kicks in, and I know one thing: He and I will stand, teeth bared, between death and our daughter, unquestionably united, saying, Get back, get away. You’re not having her. Not today. Not tomorrow. Not any time soon.

8 Little Wake-Up Calls You Need to Receive Before it’s Too Late

8 LITTLE WAKE-UP CALLS YOU NEED TO RECEIVE BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE

Marc Chernoff

You’ve come a long way, and you’re still learning and growing. Be thankful for the lessons. Take them and make the best of things right now.

For my 18th birthday, many moons ago, my grandfather on my mom’s side gave me four lightly-used flannel shirts that he no longer needed. The shirts were barely worn and in great shape; my grandfather told me he thought they would look great on me. Unfortunately, I thought they were odd gifts at the time and I wasn’t thankful. I looked at him skeptically, gave him a crooked half-smile, and moved on to the other gifts sitting in front of me. My grandfather died two days later from a sudden heart attack. The flannel shirts were the last gifts he ever gave me, and that crooked half-smile was the last time a directly acknowledged him. Today, I still regret the little thing I didn’t say when I had the chance: “Thank you Grandpa. That’s so thoughtful of you.”

This was a huge wake-up call for me—one that has served me well for over two decades now.

And here are eight wake-up calls for you—some important lessons worth learning before it’s too late:

1. You might not have tomorrow to say, “I love you.”

About a decade ago a coworker of mine died in a car accident. During his funeral several people from the office were in tears, saying kind things like: “I loved him. We all loved him so much. He was such a wonderful person.” I started crying too, and I wondered if these people had told him that they loved him while he was alive, or whether it was only with death that this powerful word, love, had been used without question or hesitation.

I vowed to myself then and there that I would never again hesitate to speak up to the people I love and remind them of how much I appreciate them. They deserve to know they give meaning to my life. They deserve to know I think the world of them.

Bottom line: If you love someone today, tell them. If you appreciate someone today, tell them. There might not be a tomorrow. Today is the day to express your love and admiration. 

2. Your judgments of others are often inaccurate.

You will never know exactly what another person is going through or what their whole story is. When you believe you do, realize that your assumptions about their life are in direct relation to your limited perspective.

Many people you believe to be successful are extremely unhappy. Many people you think have it easy worked their tail off achieve what they have. Many people who appear to be wealthy are in debt because of their extravagant tastes for material possessions. Many people who appear to you to be old and uncool were once every bit as young and hip and inexperienced as you.

3. Not trying is why most people fail.

It’s not the mistakes and failures you have to worry about, it’s the opportunities you miss when you don’t even try that hurt you the most. Trying always leads to success regardless of the outcome. Even mistakes and failures teach you what not to do next time. Thus, every outcome is a lesson that makes you stronger and wiser.

In the end, there’s only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the failure to try. The results you achieve are not based on what you plan to do or what you say you’ll do. Your results come from what you actually try and do consistently.

Your life will get better when you get better. Start investing in yourself mentally, physically, and spiritually. Make it a priority to learn and grow every day by building positive rituals and sticking to them. The stronger you become, the better your life will feel.

4. Patience does not mean waiting and doing nothing.

Patience involves productive activity. It means doing your very best with the resources available to you, while understanding that the results you seek are worth the required time and effort, and not available elsewhere for any less time and effort.

Patience is the realization that the quality of your life is much more significant than the quantity of things you fill it with. Patience is your willingness to accept and appreciate what you have right now, while you put forth a steady, focused effort into growing toward your dreams and goals.

5. You don’t need anything more to be happy.

Intuitively, you already know that the best stuff in life isn’t stuff at all, and that relationships, experiences and meaningful work are the staples of a happy, fulfilling life. Yet you live in a consumer driven society where your mind is incessantly subjected to clever advertising ploys that drive you, against your better judgment, to buy material goods you don’t need or even want.

At a certain point, the needless material objects you buy crowd out the emotional needs advertisers would like you to believe they are meant to support. So next time you’re getting ready to make an impulsive purchase, ask yourself if this thing is really better than the things you already have. Or have you been momentarily tricked into believing that you’re dissatisfied with what you already have? 

6. You aren’t perfect, and neither is anyone else.

All humans are imperfect. At times, the confident lose confidence, the patient misplace their patience, the generous act selfish, and the knowledgeable second guess what they know.

And guess what? You’re human—we all are. We make mistakes, we lose our tempers, and we get caught off guard. We stumble, we slip, and we spin out of control sometimes.

But that’s the worst of it; we all have our moments. Most of the time we’re remarkable. So stand beside the people you love through their trying times of imperfection, and offer yourself the same courtesy; if you aren’t willing to, you don’t deserve to be around for the perfect moments either.

7. All the little things make a big difference.

Life isn’t about a single moment of great triumph and attainment. It’s about the trials and errors that get you there—the blood, sweat, and tears—the small, inconsequential things you do every day. It all matters in the end—every step, every regret, every decision, and every affliction.

The seemingly useless happenings add up to something. The minimum wage job you had in high school. The evenings you spent socializing with coworkers you never see anymore. The hours you spent writing thoughts on a personal blog that no one reads. Contemplations about elaborate future plans that never came to be. All those lonely nights spent reading novels and news columns and comics strips and fashion magazines and questioning your own principles on life and sex and religion and whether or not you’re good enough just the way you are.

All of this has strengthened you. All of this has led you to every success you’ve ever had. All of this has made you who you are today.

Truth be told, you’ve been broken down a 1,000 times and put yourself back together again. Think about how remarkable that is, and how far you’ve come. You’re not the same person you were a year ago, a month ago, or even yesterday. You’re always growing… stronger!

8. Excuses are lies.

Make no mistake, there is always a lie lingering in between a dream and too many excuses. And the lie is you lying to yourself.

The excuses and explanations won’t do you any good. They won’t add any value to your life or improve the quality of it by even the slightest margin. To fulfill your calling and get where you wish to go in life requires more than just thinking and talking. These feats require focused and sustained action. And the good news is, you’re perfectly capable of taking whatever actions are necessary. You just have to choose to actually do it.

No one else can succeed for you on your behalf. The life you live is the life you build for yourself. There are so many possibilities to choose from, and so many opportunities for you to bridge the gap between where you are and where you want to be. Now is the moment to actually step forward.

Now, it’s your turn…

Today, I hope you will have another inspired day, that you will dream boldly and dangerously, that you will make some progress that didn’t exist before you took action, that you will love and be loved in return, and that you will find the strength to accept and grow from the troubles you can’t change. And, most importantly (because I think there should be more kindness and wisdom in this crazy world), that you will, when you must, be wise with your decisions, and that you will always be extra kind to yourself and others.

How I Came to Hate the Word ‘Wife’

HOW I CAME TO HATE THE WORD ‘WIFE’

Marcia Walker

After the wedding, he introduced me as his wife. I don’t know why this startled me so much, but each time he said it I shrunk inside.

My mother, in an effort to keep me humble and rooted, likes to remind me of embarrassing facts from my childhood. Her favorite one lately: I marched up and down the hallway belting out “Here Comes the Bride” with a sheer beige curtain over my head as a veil. If anyone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, my 5-year-old voice proudly said, “a bride.”

When my older sister overheard this, she said, “You can only be a bride for a day, idiot. What do you want to do with your life?”

I thought about it briefly and corrected my answer: “A wife. I want to be a wife.”

In my mind, the image remained the same: a radiant woman, front and center, dressed in full bridal plumage. Only a vague sense of a spouse entered this fantasy. A hazy outline of a man, wearing a tuxedo, hovered in the background like a waiter ready to fill my water glass. The idea that a bride, or wife, requires another person to define it never occurred to my childhood mind. A bride is a starring role.

Not so much, I realized much later, as a wife.

When I met my future husband in my mid-20s, I had long forgotten my childhood fantasy. Both of us were anti-marriage. Products of bad divorces, we bonded over our aversion to the concept. Late at night in bed, postcoital, eating toasted baguettes with butter and feta cheese on top, we talked and mocked that worn-out, passé ritual.

“Here’s the deal,” I said, swallowing a bite of bread. “If either of us is unhappy or unsatisfied in this relationship, we can leave. It’s that simple.”

“We only stay because we want to be here,” he said. “Not because of some ancient ceremony sworn in front of a hundred relatives we hardly know.”

Having settled that, we had sex again.

Three years later, when I was pregnant with our first child, my mother pressured us to marry. We resisted. Still, we stopped using the breezy measure of happiness as a basis for commitment.

After our second child was born, instead of discussing marriage, we joked: “If you want to leave, go right ahead, but you have to take the kids with you. That’s right, take the barfy, snotty, wailing children with you. Enjoy your single life!”

We lumbered through the next few years broke, in law school, and raising toddlers until my mother-in-law died suddenly from cancer. Under stress and bereavement, both of us felt a desperate need to celebrate something. Anything.

“We could get married?” he said, hesitantly, one night after we’d put the children to bed. He stood next to the sink with tea towel thrown over his shoulder.

“What about a commitment ceremony?” I said, scrubbing a stained pot.

“But then we’d have to get a lawyer to draw up documents to have the same rights as married people,” he said. “It’s easier to get married. It’s like an all in one.”

“I don’t know,” I said. I balanced the dripping pot on the dish rack. He picked it up and began drying.

“You should have the protection of marriage,” he said. “Besides, it’s cheaper.”

And with those words of romance, we decided to get married.

After the wedding, something happened that surprised me. He introduced me as his wife. Of course he did. I don’t know why this startled me so much, but each time he said it I shrunk inside. A coil inside me tightened. Noticing my reaction when we were out one night with friends, he asked me on our way home why I had such a physical reaction to the word.

“I hate it,” I said. “It’s like you’re talking about someone else. Not me.”

“But I like calling you my wife.”

“Can we use something else?”

“Like what?”

“Partner.”

“It’s sounds too economic. Or like we’re in a Western movie.”

“You can say, ‘That there’s my pard’ner. She dun gun sling with the best of ’em.”

“You want me to use a weird accent every time I introduce you?”

I don’t want to be introduced at all, as anything other than my name, I thought, but I did not say this out loud.

For years he went along with it (without the accent) and called me his partner or spouse. But eventually, after five or six years of parent-teacher interviews, silent auctions and cocktail parties, I gave up and said, “Forget it, just call me wife. It doesn’t matter.”

Beware these warning signs in a relationship, when compromise becomes defeat. I gave up on something that mattered to me.

A subtle shift occurred during these years. As a wife, I cleaned more toilets, arranged more dinners and social events, laundered more clothes, paid more bills, picked up more socks off the counter than my previous unmarried self. I even bought an iron — and I’d never ironed anything in my life. These tasks, things under the rubric of “what wives do,” became chores I resented, yet also felt fiercely territorial over, as if they gave me value and worth.

Ultimately “wife” was a role that I cast myself in and then tried to make fit. Rarely, if ever, did I communicate this internal tension to my husband.

Last fall, I met with my lawyer to hash out a separation agreement. After 18 years together, we were separating. Two children, two cities, four degrees, four homes, five cars, one cat, one dog and six hamsters later, we began the process of untangling our lives. From wife to ex-wife.

I am the third generation of divorced women on my mother’s side. Does it run in the family? A genetic flaw? The idea of marriage for me has its demise, divorce, built in. The understanding of wife is one I inherited, and despite all my efforts I was not able to transcend or redefine it for myself.

Would my husband and I have stayed together had we not married? Likely not. The problems in our relationship existed from the beginning. One recurring disagreement stays with me. We had this fight many times, but the version I carry around in my mind now and replay at various times when I doubt myself occurred at a restaurant about a year before we separated.

“You have no ability to collaborate,” he had said. It was our date night, or what had functionally become fight night. “Do you know how frustrating that is?”

I lowered my voice so the table beside us couldn’t hear. “What do you mean?” I said. “I compromise all the time.”

“I’m talking about working together to make decisions, instead of one of us making a decision and the other one putting up with it,” he said.

“But we talk about decisions all the time,” I said. “We talk and we talk and we talk.”

“You don’t get it,” he said, refolding his napkin. The candle flickered between us from the force of his breath and then stilled. Neither of us said anything for a long time.

When we got home, I looked the damn word up. Collaboration. Yes, yes, I understood correctly: the “action of working with someone to produce or create something.” That’s what I thought I was doing.

But it doesn’t matter what I thought because if there isn’t a shared understanding of a concept between two people — “collaboration,” “marriage,” “husband,” “wife” — then language fails. And maybe he was right. I didn’t get it because collaboration assumed a person, a whole self, rather than someone who feverishly, with distressed eagerness, struggled to maintain a role.

The confines of wifedom fall away quickly.

Unexpected habits return; I bike around the city again. Shopping at thrift stores, like I did in my early 20s, has become a Saturday thrill. I don’t have the same compulsion to get things done. At night, I lie on the couch in front of a fire and, like my dog, watch people walk down the street. Hours go by, pleasantly doing nothing.

Is this depression? Contemplation? Loneliness? Time spent in my own company for no purpose whatsoever. I don’t have a word or label for it. What do we call a woman who places herself at the center of her life? We have no language for this.

One Saturday afternoon, when my children were with their father, I found my old wedding dress in the back of my closet, still in its original garment bag, still with a wine stain from the reception. I quickly undressed and slipped it over my head. Like a gothic bride or a ghost, I drifted through my house paying bills, then later scrambling eggs for dinner dressed in this full-length champagne silk gown.

I don’t want to be a bride anymore when I grow up, but every now and then I still like to dress like one.

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