How to Find the Perfect Man (or Woman)

HOW TO FIND THE PERFECT MAN (OR WOMAN)

Marc Chernoff

This morning, over coffee, one of my good friends spilled her guts to me about all of her failed attempts to find the perfect man.  Although her story is about her unique personal experiences, I couldn’t help but feel like I had heard the same story told by others in completely different circumstances a hundred times before.

It’s a heartbreaking tale about the endless quest for perfection that so many of us are on…

The Perfect Woman

Once upon a time, an intelligent, attractive, self-sufficient woman in her mid-thirties decided she wanted to settle down and find a husband.  So she journeyed out into the world to search for the perfect man.

She met him in New York City at a bar in a fancy hotel lobby.  He was handsome and well-spoken.  In fact, she had a hard time keeping her eyes off of him.  He intrigued her.  It was the curves of his cheek bones, the confidence in his voice, and the comfort of his warm, steady hands.  But after only a short time, she broke things off.  “We just didn’t share the same religious views,” she said.  So she continued on her journey.

She met him again in Austin a few months later.  This time, he was an entrepreneur who owned a small, successful record label that assisted local musicians with booking gigs and promoting their music.  And she learned, during an unforgettable night, that not only did they share the same religious views, but he could also make her laugh for hours on end.  “But I just wasn’t that physically attracted to him,” she said.  So she continued on her journey.

She met him again in Miami at a beachside café.  He was a sports medicine doctor for the Miami Dolphins, but he easily could have been an underwear model for Calvin Klein.  For a little while, she was certain he was the one!  And all of her friends loved him too.  “He’s the perfect catch,” they told her.  “But we didn’t hang in the same social circles, and his high-profile job consumed way too much of his time and attention,” she said.  So she cut things off and continued on her journey.

Finally, at a corporate business conference in San Diego, she met the perfect man.  He possessed every quality she had been searching for.  Intelligent, handsome, spiritual, similar social circles, and a strong emotional and physical connection—absolutely perfect!  She was ready to spend the rest of her life with him.  “But unfortunately, he was looking for the ‘perfect’ woman,” she said.

Everything We’ve Ever Hoped For

As human beings, we often chase hypothetical, static states of perfection.  We do so when we are searching for the perfect house, job, friend, or lover.

The problem, of course, is that perfection doesn’t exist in a static state.  Because life is a continual journey, constantly evolving and changing.  What is here today is not exactly the same tomorrow.

That perfect house, job, friend, or lover will eventually fade to a state of imperfection.  Thus, the closest we can get to perfection is the experience itself—the snapshot of a single moment or vision held forever in our minds—never evolving, never growing.  And that’s not really what we want.  We want something real!  And when it’s real, it won’t ever be perfect.  But if we’re willing to work at it and open up, it could be everything we’ve ever hoped for.

That Imperfect Man (or Woman)

The truth is, when it comes to finding the “perfect man” or “perfect woman” or “perfect relationship,” the journey starts with letting the fantasy of “perfect” GO!  In the real world, you don’t love and appreciate someone because they’re perfect, you love and appreciate them in spite of the fact that they are not.  Likewise, your goal shouldn’t be to create a perfect life, but to live an imperfect life in radical amazement.

And when an intimate relationship gets difficult, it’s not an immediate sign that you’re doing it wrong.  Intimate relationships are intricate, and are often toughest when you’re doing them right—when you’re dedicating time, having the hard conversations, compromising, and making daily sacrifices.  Resisting the tough moments—the real moments—and seeing them as immediate evidence that something is wrong, or that you’re with the wrong person, only exacerbates the difficulties.  By contrast, viewing difficulties in a relationship as normal and necessary will give you and your partner the best chance to thrive together in the long run.

Again, there is no “perfect.”  To say that one waits a lifetime for their perfect soulmate to come around is an absolute paradox.  People eventually get tired of waiting, so they take a chance on someone, and by the powers of love, compromise and commitment they become soulmates, which takes nearly a lifetime to perfect.

This concept truly relates to almost everything in life too.  With a little patience and an open mind, over time, I bet that imperfect house evolves into a comfortable home.  That imperfect job evolves into a rewarding career.  That imperfect friend evolves into a steady shoulder to lean on.  And… that imperfect man or woman evolves into a “perfect” lifelong companion.

Now, it’s your turn…

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think of this short essay.

What resonated?  Any other thoughts on perfectionism’s harmful role in relationships?

I’d love to hear from YOU.  🙂

A Faithful Woman

A FAITHFUL WOMAN

Os Hillman

“Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her.” Proverbs 31:28

She was the Vice President of Household Affairs for her entire adult life. She had a husband, four daughters, and one son whom she managed. Her calling was not to the workplace; it was to the home. It was a calling that she fulfilled well. She often went beyond her job description to fulfill menial tasks like sewing clothes for her twin girls, playing dolls, and even playing catch with the only boy in the clan.

Things were going along well until midway in life a telephone call came that changed everything. The caller informed her that the love of her life had been killed in an airplane crash. She was in her early 40’s, still beautiful, with five kids to raise on her own in spite of the fact that she hadn’t worked in the business place for nearly 20 years.

The death of her husband removed their steady upper middle-class income, and she was now faced with the greatest test of her life. At her lowest moment, wondering how she was going to make it, she cried out to God. God answered, “Trust Me, Lillian.” Those audible words became the strength that she needed to care for her family for the next 40 years.

From that moment on, she came to know her Savior personally and shared Him with her family. Her children came to know Him as well. Grandchildren became the recipients of her prayers, and they came to know Him too. She was building an inheritance in Heaven, one prayer at a time, one soul at a time. She never remarried; Christ became her Husband.

Whatever wisdom and encouragement has come to you through these devotionals, it is only as a result of one who answered the call to the greatest and most important workplace there is: the home.

You can thank my mom, Lillian Hillman, for whatever grace you have gained from these messages throughout the year, because she remained faithful to the call to invest in those she was called to love and serve. “Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her.”

Discipline vs. Punishment

DISCIPLINE VS. PUNISHMENT

Richard Innes

1956, London, England, UK — Seretse Khama, later the first President of Botswana when it gained independence, with his wife Ruth, and children in the garden of their Croydon home. — Image by © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS

God said, “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline.” – Revelation 3:19, NIV

Nine-year-old Al had disobeyed his father who, as a strict disciplinarian, sent him with a note to a police station in London. When Al came in late after curfew, his father met him at the door and handed him a note and said, “Take it to the jailhouse.”

Al was terrified.

“The officer, a friend of his father, opens the note, reads it, and nods,. ‘Follow me.’ He leads the wide-eyed youngster to a jail cell, opens the door, and tells him to enter. The officer clangs the door shut. ‘This is what we do to naughty boys,’ he explains and walks away…. The jail sentence lasts only five minutes. But those five minutes felt like five months. Al never forgot that day. The sound of the clanging door, he often told people, stayed with him the rest of his life.

“The fear of losing a father’s love exacts a high toll. Al spent the rest of his life hearing the clanging door. That early taste of terror contributed to his lifelong devotion to creating the same in others. For Al—Alfred Hitchcock—made a career out of scaring people.” (From UpWords from Max Lucado, www.maxlucado.com)

True, discipline is important, but it always needs to fit the crime. Some children are impaired for life because of severe punishment as a child. Others are left terrified if they were beaten severely or abused. It is imperative that parents never discipline out of anger because that is punishment, not discipline. Discipline always needs to be in love. 

Those whom God loves, he disciplines in love—not punishes in anger. We need to do the same with our children.

Suggested Prayer:

“Dear God, thank You that when You discipline me it is always out of Your love for me and for my good. Help me to do the same when disciplining my children. May it always be in love and never out of anger. Thank You for hearing and answering my prayer. Gratefully in Jesus’ name, amen.”

4 Steps to Overcome Gridlock That Harms Relationships

4 STEPS TO OVERCOME GRIDLOCK THAT HARMS RELATIONSHIPS

Kyle Benson

All couples are bound to have arguments. When they struggle to manage these ongoing disagreements with constructive conflict conversations, the result is what Dr. John Gottman calls “gridlock.”

Gridlock is like a Chinese Finger Trap. Each partner pulls for his or her position, making compromise impossible.

finger-trap

My Dreams Are Becoming My Worst Nightmare

Our dreams are full of aspirations and wishes that are core to our identity and give our life purpose and meaning. Gridlock is a sign that each partner has dreams that the other hasn’t accepted, doesn’t respect, or isn’t aware of.

Some dreams are practical, like obtaining a certain amount of savings, while others are profound, like owning a beach house in Hawaii. The profound dreams often remain hidden beneath the practical ones.

For example, Kurt wants to make a seven-figure income, but why is that so important to him? Underneath his dream is a deep need for financial security.

When couples are in gridlock, it is only by uncovering the hidden dreams and symbolic meanings that they can get out of the Chinese Finger Trap.

Overcoming Gridlock

The way out is to first identify the dream within conflict. When partners are gridlocked, they see each other as the source of difficulty. They tend to ignore their part in creating the conflict because it’s hidden from view.

If you find yourself saying, “the only problem is his lack of intelligence,” that’s probably not the whole story.

Uncovering a hidden dream is a challenge and it won’t emerge until you feel the relationship is a safe place to talk about it. If you don’t feel comfortable enough to open up, focus on the first three principles in The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.

My Dreams Are Silly

Personal dreams often go unmentioned because people worry they will burden their partner or negatively impact the relationship. It’s common for partners not to feel entitled to their dreams, but when you bury a dream, it can lead to resentment and ultimately gridlock.

When you share your dreams with your partner, you give your marriage the opportunity to have a profound purpose and sense of shared meaning. As Dr. Gottman explains in The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, “couples who are demanding of their marriage are more likely to have deeply satisfying unions than those who lower their expectations.”

4 Steps to Overcome Gridlock

When you begin to uncover the dreams beneath your gridlock, the problems in your marriage will not immediately go away. It may actually seem to worsen rather than improve. Be patient. The very nature of gridlock is that dreams are in opposition.

Step 1: Explore Each Other’s Dreams

Pick an issue that you both feel causes gridlock in your marriage. Take time to reflect on the hidden dreams that may underlie your position. Talk about it with your partner by using Dr. Gottman’s Conflict Blueprint for a truly effective conflict conversation. Focus on understanding your partner’s position.

What not to say:
Kris: I’ve always dreamed of buying a beach house in Hawaii.
Kurt: First of all, we can’t afford something like that. I can’t think of anything more stressful than trying to upkeep a property in the middle of the ocean. Think of all the wear and tear we will need to replace.
Kris: Forget it…

What to say instead:
Kris: I’ve always dreamed of buying a beach house in Hawaii.
Kurt: Tell me more about what it means to own a beach house in Hawaii. What would it do for you?
Kris: It would be heaven on earth. My family and I used to go every year and my parents always said they wanted to buy a beach house. I’d feel such a sense of accomplishment and we’d be able to invite my parents over! They’d be so proud.

Acknowledging and respecting each other’s deepest most personal hopes and dreams is key to saving and enriching your marriage.

Step 2: Soothe Yourself and Each Other
Discussing deeply held dreams that are in opposition can be stressful. Pay attention to your stress levels. If flooding occurs, stop the conversation, take a break, and use repairs.

Step 3: Reach a Temporary Compromise
Now it’s time to make peace with this issue (for now) by accepting your differences and establishing some kind of initial compromise. Understand that this problem may never go away. The goal is to remove the hurt so the problem stops being a source of pain.
To do this, refer to the Conflict Blueprint to separate the issue into two categories:

  1. Non-negotiable areas: Aspects of the issue that you are unwilling to give up on because it will violate your basic needs or core values. Try to make this section as small as possible.
  2. Areas of flexibility: Parts of the issue where you can be flexible. Try to make this section as large as possible.

Share your list with your partner and work together to come up with a temporary compromise. This compromise should last about three months. Afterwards, you can review where both of you stand. Don’t expect to solve the problem yet. Your goal here is only to live with it more peacefully. After all, 69% of all problems in a relationship are unsolvable.

Here’s what Kris and Kurt did:

  1. They defined minimal core areas they are unwilling to change. Kris says she must have a house in Hawaii. Kurt says he must save $40,000 in order to feel financially secure.
  2. They defined areas of flexibility. Kris says she can settle for a condo, rather than a beachfront house. Even though she wants to buy now, she is willing to wait 3 years as long as they can work together to make it happen. Kurt says he can be flexible about how quickly they save, as long as he knows both of them are working towards this goal. They decide that 5% of their income goes into this savings account.
  3. They found a temporary compromise that honors both of their needs. They will buy a condo, but not for another three years. Meanwhile, they will devote half of their savings to a down payment and half into a mutual fund. In three months, they will review this plan and decide if it’s working or not.

Both Kris and Kurt realize that the underlying perpetual problem will never go away. Kris will always be the visionary, imagining a life on a beach, and Kurt is going to worry about their financial security. By learning to work with each other, both partners are able to cope with their differences, avoid gridlock, and work support each other in achieving their dreams.

Step 4: Give Thanks
Overcoming financial gridlock requires more than just one discussion about the issues that have deeply troubled your marriage. The goal with this step is to cultivate a culture of appreciation in which you express your gratitude for all you have. This will feel difficult after talking about such an emotionally charged issue, but that’s all the more reason to make effort to end the conflict conversation on a positive note.

The best way to cope with financial gridlock is to avoid it in the first place. Don’t wait until resentment has set in to ask your partner about their dreams – Dr. Gottman suggests becoming a “dream detective.”

By building your Love Maps, turning towards each other, and cultivating fondness and admiration, you will build trust and deeply understand each other. As you do this, you’ll discover the disagreements that once overwhelmed your relationship actually bring you closer together over time.

Demonstrate Love

DEMONSTRATE LOVE

Family Life Radio

Victoria’s heart hurt. She’d just received news, a few days before, that the marriage of her best friend, Callie, had unexpectedly hit a breaking point. Although they were a part of her church family, few people really knew what was going on.

When she walked in to teach her Sunday school class, she could see the pain on the faces of Callie’s two youngest children. She silently prayed, “Lord, what can I do?”
 
She stepped up and greeted the kids in a different way. She said, “I am sad today. And it’s okay to be sad. Lots of times we put on a smile for everyone to see on the outside, but inside we hurt. You wouldn’t know that I was sad today, except that I told you.”
 
She then asked the children for a hug. “When our hearts hurt, we can share the love that God puts in our hearts with one another, and it helps us feel better. Would anyone want to give me a hug, today?” Immediately all of the children lined up. As she hugged each child, some of them admitted to her that they needed a hug too, including Callie’s children.
 
The atmosphere in the room changed. Her simple demonstration of honesty and love had turned things around for her entire classroom. She encouraged her children to ask for a hug from others if they felt they needed one during the next week.

Today’s One Thing

Demonstrate God’s love to someone in a special way today. If you’re not sure how, ask God to show you. There are times in our lives where our authenticity can open the door for our friends or family to share with us things they may be facing or even encourage them to know that no one has a perfect life. We are all struggling together and can lean on one another and God for help in our time of need!

Divorce prevention: the light switch of love dilemma

DIVORCE PREVENTION: THE LIGHT SWITCH OF LOVE DILEMMA

Kyle Benson

Love is like a light switch.

When people fall in love, the light turns on. They typically feel excited, captivated, and eager to get to know their partners. They see each other in a positive light.

When couples divorce, the most common reason is that they “grew apart.” Essentially, the light switched off at some point.

So what happened?

The way it plays out reminds me of something from my childhood imagination.

As a child, I used to hate when my parents turned off my bedroom light.

I would start seeing Batman in my closet and fear that he was going to kidnap me.

When an earthquake would happen while I was sleeping, my first thought was that the Joker (from Batman) was under my bed trying to get me.

When the light switch was off, I would imagine all the worst things happening.

This happens in relationships too.

When the light is on, couples will experience negative events in the relationship, yet still evaluate the relationship as satisfying overall.

However, as negative experiences accumulate (without repair and constructive changes), the light switch reaches a tipping point.[1]

It turns off.

All of a sudden we evaluate our relationship as dissatisfying.

With the lights off, our brains imagine the worst intentions of our partner.

Of the 19% of couples who seek out help with their marital challenges, most start couples therapy with the lights off, as evidenced by research revealing that couples wait six years on average before seeking outside help.[2]

As a result, they have to accumulate a lot of positive experiences while having a dissatisfying view of their relationship just to turn the light switch on. That’s hard.

It’s like my dad telling me Batman isn’t in my bedroom closet, but my imagination saying he is. I want to trust my dad, but my brain is screaming “See! See! There’s Batman.”

Research confirms this. When we have a negative perspective of our partner, we even misinterpret the neutral and positive actions of our partner as negative.[3]

The divorce rate for first marriages in the U.S. is around 45% and the divorce rate for subsequent marriages is even higher.[4] Despite these high numbers, only a third of couples who divorce work with a counselor, coach, or therapist before signing the papers.[5]

What this illuminates is that there are opportunities to repair and strengthen a relationship before the light switches off.

Like most things in life, prevention is often the best intervention.

The goal of prevention includes three key steps:

  1. Stop negative interactions in a relationship from eroding trustemotional connection, and intimacy.
  2. Catch the accumulating problems early and turn the issues into material to construct a stronger and more secure relationship.
  3. Proactively strengthen both a couple’s friendship and their emotional and sexual intimacy while exploring ways to create a meaningful bond.

Let’s keep the lights on,

Kyle

P.S. Prevention options are listed below.

P.S.S. While this article is pro-relationship, it is not my position to decide whether you should stay or leave a relationship. After all, it is your love life. Clients who have worked with me know that I am not pro-relationship or pro-separation. My goal is to help the couple clean things up so they can decide for themselves from a mature place. I would also say that I have recommended people leave abusive, or unhealthy relationships in which partners do not want to become secure-functioning.

Prevention Options:

  1. Bibliotherapy: Books and articles can help you improve your relationship. Ideally, both partners engage with this. My top three book suggestions are Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of LoveFighting For Your Marriage (this one has a DVD with example conflict conversations), and Relationship Rx.
  2. Psychoeducational: This includes online courses and in-person workshops. My top three suggestions include The 7-Day Emotional Connection Challenge, a live event such as The Art and Science of Love, The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work (Google search in your area), and Hold Me Tight (Google search in your area), or completing other online evidenced-based courses such as OurRelationship.com and Rock Solid Marriage.
  3. Take an Annual Couple Checkup: Research from Clark University in Oregon indicates that having an annual marriage checkup can positively decrease the chances of a relationship getting worse and help strengthen a relationship overtime. All of us do health checkups, shouldn’t we do the same for our marriage? If you’re in Oregon, you can check it out here. You can also take the Couples Checkup by Prepare-Enrich here (they also send you a variety of discussion questions to support you in making changes). Another checkup option is RELATE.
  4. Seek Personalized Support: If you are on the brink of divorce, I might recommend starting with Discernment Counseling before starting therapy. Furthermore, therapy and coaching offer a variety of ways to receive one-on-one support. Depending on your needs, you can do marathon therapy, weekly sessions, or virtual sessions via video chat. I’d recommend working with someone who has professional training in couples therapy. Here are some places you can search for a therapist near you: Gottman TherapistEmotionally Focused Couples TherapistPACT TherapistAASECT (for support with sex and intimacy challenges) and Imago Therapist.


Sources


[1]Gottman, J. M., Silver, N., & Berkrot, P. (2012). What makes love last?: how to build trust and avoid betrayal. Old Saybrook, CT: Tantor Media.

[2]Johnson, C., Stanely, S., Glenn, N., Amato, P., Nock, S., Markman, H., & Dion, M. (2002). Marriage in Oklahoma: 2001 baseline statewide survey on marriage and divorce (SO2096 OKDHS). Oklahoma City, OK: Oklahoma Department of Human Services.

Gottman, J. M. (1994). What predicts divorce? The relationship between marital processes and marital outcomes. Hillsdale, NK: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates

[3]Robinson, E. A., & Price, M. G. (1980). Pleasurable behavior in marital interaction: An observational study. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology , 48(1), 117-118 DOI: 10.1037/0022-006X.48.1.117

[4]https://www.fatherly.com/love-money/what-is-divorc…

[5]Johnson, C., Stanely, S., Glenn, N., Amato, P., Nock, S., Markman, H., & Dion, M. (2002). Marriage in Oklahoma: 2001 baseline statewide survey on marriage and divorce (SO2096 OKDHS). Oklahoma City, OK: Oklahoma Department of Human Services.

If you stopped believing in love, read this essay now

IF YOU STOPPED BELIEVING IN LOVE, READ THIS ESSAY NOW

Karen Salmansohn

Have you endured a lot of heartbreak, and now you’ve stopped believing in love? I’m here to give you the courage and insights you need to trust love one more time. Read on…

It’s always fascinating to me the responses I receive when I tell women that if they want to break their Prince Harming patterns, then they must stop overly prioritizing finding a man who is sexy and successful.

They must ALSO prioritize finding a man who:

  • values growing
  • revels in open, honest communication
  • displays 20/20 listening skills
  • shows a  Gumby-like flexibility for compromise

Often women wind up laughing heartily at my description of this evolved kind of man.

They insist this type of man does not exist!

“You’re a female chauvinist! I’ve called these women.

I then further explain to these women how prejudiced they are being – because they cannot believe it’s possible for men to be emotionally evolved.

It’s no wonder these women have stopped believing in love!

How can they believe in love – when they have stopped believing there are men out there who are capable of communicating honestly and deeply from their hearts?

“You’re basically saying that all men are emotional bimbos,” I tell these women.

Usually the combo of the words “female chauvinist” and “emotional bimbo” shock these women into a fuller awareness of how gender-prejudiced they’re being.

Next up…

I tell these women that they must stop being “negative evidence collectors,” seeking proof that all men are “emotional bimbos.

Plus I warn these women about how they can accidentally encourage a self-fulfilling prophecy of bad behavior from their man –   if they treat a good man to their bad attitude toward him.

The solution?

I instruct these women to become “positive evidence collectors.

Their assignment: They must mindfully start to look for proof of the plentiful, wonderful Prince Charming–esque guys who are out there.

  • These good men could be married to or dating their lucky girlfriends.
  • Or they could be written up in the news.
  • Maybe they are working alongside them at their offices.
  • Plus they could even be in the very bed with them – right beside them!

Finally…

I warn women against using the words “always” and “never” – in either reference to their love life or men as a category.

Two examples:

  • “I will never find a man who values growing.”
  • “I always meet guys who cheat.”

Any time you create a sentence with an “always” and/or “never” you set yourself up with a limiting belief that can create a self-fulfilling prophecy of doom and gloom.

Basically when you use “always” and/or “never” in a sentence, you put yourself in a hopeless, depressed frame of mind.

In fact…

Whenever I’m with someone who says they’re depressed, I assign them to jackhammer-drill down to find and dump their pesky “always” and/or “never.”

Usually one of these two words is at the root of their depression – draining them of faith and vitality.

The words “Always” and “Never” are liars.

They whisper mean beliefs into your subconscious and conscious mind, about how you will forever be unable to change your situation.

Psychologists call these beliefs “permanent” and “pervasive.”

They are wildly dangerous to your spirit and your potential for a happily ever after destiny.

The truth is:

It’s very rare that there’s a “never” or an “always” in someone’s life.

Have you stopped believing in love?

  • If so, try to locate your “always” and “never” limiting beliefs.
  • Try to understand the root of these beliefs. Do they come from your childhood and/or a series of bad experiences?
  • Next, be willing to unblock these limiting beliefs. Be open to the possibility that you can find a good partner – someone who truly has lots of emotionally evolved qualities!
  • This brings us to lawyer time. Pretend you’re a lawyer! Find proof that your “always” and “never” are liars!
  • Finally – get yourself to fully accept that good partners are very much walking around on this planet! Once you believe in the existence of these good quality people – you will be more likely to find them!!

It’s amazing how powerful changing your belief system can be. When you change the way you look at men and love, you wind up changing what you notice and find.

When times are hard, remember this one thing

WHEN TIMES ARE HARD, REMEMBER THIS ONE THING

Angel Chernoff

One of the most important moments in life is the moment you finally find the courage and determination to let go of what can’t be changed. Because, when you are no longer able to change a situation, you are challenged to change yourself… to grow beyond the unchangeable. And that changes everything.

Of course, when hard times hit there’s a default human tendency to hold on—to extrapolate and assume the future holds more of the same. This doesn’t happen as often when things are going well. A laugh, a smile, and a warm fuzzy feeling are fleeting and we know it. We take the good times at face value in the moment for all they’re worth and then we let them go. But when we’re depressed, struggling, or fearful, it’s easy to heap on more pain by assuming tomorrow will be exactly like today. This is a cyclical, self-fulfilling prophecy. Know this! If you don’t allow yourself to move past what happened, what was said, what was felt, you will look at your present and future through that same dirty lens, and nothing will be able to focus your foggy judgment. You will keep on justifying, reliving, and fueling a perception that is worn out and false.

But make no mistake, this is more than simply accepting that life will improve as time passes. Yes, “time heals wounds,” but yours is not a passive role in the process of healing and moving past pain. The question is: where are your present steps taking you?

It doesn’t matter what’s been done; what truly matters is what YOU DO from here.

Realize that most people make themselves miserable simply by finding it impossible to accept life just as it is presenting itself right now.

Don’t be one of them!

Let go of your fantasies. This letting go doesn’t mean you don’t care about something or someone anymore. It’s just realizing that the only thing you really have control over is yourself, in this moment.

The best action you can take right now is changing your thinking, instead of trying to change the broken world around you.

And there is a path. Marc and I have walked this path ourselves many times. A decade ago, in quick succession, we dealt with several significant, unexpected losses and life changes, back-to-back, including losing my brother to suicide, losing a mutual best friend to cardiac arrest, financial unrest, and more. Trials and tragedies strike indiscriminately and nobody is guaranteed safety. But, by changing your thinking, bad times and rocky patches can become the proving ground for achieving renewed happiness.

The key is to understand that no matter what happens, you can choose your response, which dictates pretty much everything that happens next. Truly, the greatest weapon you have against anxiety, negativity and stress is your ability to choose one present thought over another—to train your mind to make the best of what you’ve got in front of you, even when it’s far less than you expected.

Yes, YOU CAN change the way you think! And once you do, you can master a new way to be.

Significant Mother

SIGNIFICANT MOTHER

Robert Landon

Beth was my ex-stepmother, but “mother” was still a part of her title. Could I share a home with her?

Beth and I first lived under the same roof in 1982, when I was 13. My father, who was 47 at the time, invited Beth, then 23, to spend the summer in the Maine lake house he and I had fixed up the summer before. I refused to leave my room the night she arrived.

Without laying eyes on her, I knew she would be another of Dad’s interchangeable “little chickies” as he called them — the skinny, busty former students he liked to date.

The next morning, I was eating Honey Nut Cheerios when I heard her coming down the stairs. My father had already retreated to his desk upstairs, purportedly to work on a lecture on Puritan literature, but mostly to take hits from a hidden bottle of vodka.

I planned to freeze Beth out of existence with my thoughts — a superpower every gay boy needed in the 80s. But instead of making awkward chitchat, Beth just smiled, picked up her copy of “Crime and Punishment,” and ate her own Cheerios in silence.

When done, she asked if I liked the book I was reading — stories by John Cheever. Dad asked such questions only to hear his own opinion. Beth was actually curious to know mine. She was making me like her before I had the chance to hate her.

Soon on sunny afternoons, Beth and I lay on the dock together, tanning and lightening our hair with lemon juice, as one did in the 80s. Neither mentioned a shared lust for a neighbor — a combination seminarian and jock — who joined us for a swim from time to time.

Dad and Beth married the following September. By May, two semesters later, my father’s tantrums had driven her away. Amazingly, he never once had an ill word to say about Beth. And this was a man who in five minutes could convince you Gandhi was a narcissist and Jesus a sociopath.

He did have bad things to say about his first wife, my mother. And she gave him reasons. Beneath her charms lay inchoate storms of hurt and aggression. As Dad was leaving her for the last time — I was 12, a year before Dad met Beth — she told him she was going to take me to “Luna,” a recent Bertolucci film. A terrible look came over his face, not rage this time but horror.

After he left, I was too terrified to look at the art house flyer taped to the fridge. My mother never did take me to see the movie, but a few years later, “Luna returned for a Bertolucci retrospective. This time I did read the flyer and wished I hadn’t. “Luna,” it turned out, was “the story of the incestuous relationship between a mother and her teenage son.”

To be clear, my mother had never acted on the themes of the film, but she craved an emotional closeness that was too much for a son to give.

At 17, I went as far away as I could, first to college in California and then on to a journalistic career I kept undercutting with debt-fueled geographic cures that never worked for long — not Los Angeles, not Paris, not even Rio de Janeiro.

At first, Beth and I stayed in touch, but like me, she kept moving. She married again, had a daughter, divorced and, as a social worker/actress, constantly chased cheap New York City rents. By around 1995, the handwritten phone numbers in our respective address books were no longer valid.

When Dad died in 2005, the vodka finally having wiped out his liver, my sister tracked down Beth’s email and cc’d me. I was living in Rio, where I thought I’d found both happiness and a mate for life. Right away, Beth and I were yakking the way we had on the dock. Soon, I was visiting her for weeks at a time, ostensibly to work on a screenplay but mostly just to be together.

In 2013, a Supreme Court decision legalized same-sex marriage, enabling my Brazilian husband, 14 years my junior, to immigrate to the United States as my spouse. We moved to Upper Manhattan — two blocks from Beth. The Brazilian complained that she and I analyzed movies to death. We both thought, but we live to analyze movies to death.

One afternoon, I left him on the couch playing video games and texting bar plans that I no longer wanted to be part of. I walked to Beth’s, where she and I talked about substantive things — books, movies, joys, griefs. On the way back, I realized I wasn’t just bored at home. I was also lonely.

It was the Brazilian who left in the end. Beth comforted me as neither of my parents nor the Brazilian could have — she was patient, protective but never pitying, sure of my strength.

Suddenly, she and I were both single and struggling to pay Manhattan rents. Why shouldn’t she move into my extra bedroom? I hesitated, ostensibly because of her clutter problem. I once left some junk mail on her coffee table, only to find it in the same place when I returned six months later. When I threw it away, she was actually a little sad. I, by contrast, strove for the modernist austerity of the homes I wrote about for architecture magazines, and threw away not only clutter but even things I actually needed.

However, clutter was just cover for a deeper fear. By living with my father’s former wife, would the incestuous waves, at last, pull me under?

In 2010, Mom learned that her gut discomfort was stage-four colon cancer. “Forgive me …,” she said nine months later, from her hospice bed. Whether because of the pain, the morphine, or her own hesitation, she couldn’t name the thing to be forgiven. “For … for … well, you know,” she said.

I had found peace with my dying mother, but was still haunted by her earlier avatar — the Medea willing to psychically drown her son. Beth was my ex-stepmother, but “mother” was still a part of her title. Could I really share a home with her?

Then when I was 47, I lost my biggest freelance client. My finances were in free fall. Two months later, Beth, by then 57, moved in. I gave her the master bedroom and the two largest closets. In return, she ceded all aesthetic control of common spaces.

The clutter problem turned out to be only a minor annoyance. When her things piled up, I placed them on her bed while she was out.

The Mommy issues took longer. I would share details of my own peccadilloes, but plugged my ears and hummed when Beth did the same. “So you can talk about sex and I can’t?” she asked. “I guess that’s another one of your double standards, sweetie.”

Like aversion therapy, this controlled exposure has had marvelously curative effects. Now, Beth can get as graphic as she wants, and it is fine — at least tolerable. And gradually I have come to see my mother as a charming, cultured woman who, in 1980s Baltimore, kept up with Italian cinema.

Beth and I still analyze movies to death, but now from the comfort of the sectional couch I bought with the Brazilian. I am still regrouping for my next foray into love and marriage, but most days that question seems moot.

I’m still learning that a happy home is constructed not with Modernist furnishings but emotional safety — a language that, after nearly four decades, Beth is still teaching me to speak.

How to accept each other (without killing each other)

HOW TO ACCEPT EACH OTHER (WITHOUT KILLING EACH OTHER)

Bruce Muzik

This is the final installment in our mini-series on how to accept your wife (and have her accept you) warts and all.

So far, all we’ve learned is that I’m a recovering messy person who spent a night in jail for a crime he didn’t commit.

Only, kidding!

I’m not recovering.

Anyhow, I’ve tried my best to keep learning about appreciation entertaining, and we’ve actually come pretty far together.

We’ve learned that acceptance is cultivated by:

  1. Assuming a Positive Intention
  2. Appreciating How Your Differences Benefit You
  3. Awareness of Each Other’s Broken Toes

The forth and final skill that cultivates acceptance is this:

Acceptance Skill #4:
Understand the Meaning of Your Partner’s Past

One of the many lessons I have had to learn is that my wife’s reactions only make sense in the context of her past experiences.

For example, when I learned that her mother gave her away (at 3 years of age) to her grandparents, it began to make sense why she needs to feel that I want her and am not going to reject her.

Knowing this, I can take extra care to reassure her that she’s my #1 whenever I suspect that she might be feeling insecure.

It’s not rocket science.

When I can see how her past shapes her present experience, I don’t take her reactions as personally.

I can support her when she snaps at me in times of distress. In the past, I’d have defended myself.

Your ability to resolve conflict quickly and lovingly is directly proportionate to your ability to understand how your partner’s past experiences have shaped their present emotional landscape.

Empathy is the natural result of making this connection.

So, how do you get to the point where your wife’s past makes sense to you?

Well, first you have to understand her past.

A good place to start is to ask your wife about her childhood.

Then ask her to talk about her relationship with her parents.

Obviously, you don’t want to come across like the Spanish Inquisition, so set up the conversation by telling her that you want to learn more about her past so that you can better understand her.

Most people love talking about themselves, so as long as you’re curious, attentive and supportive, she will likely open up.

Now, see if you can connect the dots from what she shared about her past to how she behave now.

In Week 5 of my online coaching program, I’ll assign you some questions to ask each other that will help get this conversation flowing.

So, to sum this series up… We’ve learned about 4 skills that cultivate acceptance. They are:

  1. Assuming a Positive Intention
  2. Appreciating How Your Differences Benefit You
  3. Awareness of Each Other’s Broken Toes
  4. Understanding the Meaning of Your Partner’s Past

Believe it or not, acceptance doesn’t take long time to cultivate. It happens in a split second once we see our partner in a new way.

Consider this:

How different would every interaction with your partner be if you both knew that you were loved just the way you are?

Instead of an argument exploding into a fight, you’d soothe and comfort each other.

Instead of walking on eggshells around each other, you could talk honestly about how you’re feeling and your partner could listen without taking it personally.

Instead of being defensive, you’d be curious as to what was upsetting your partner and offer comfort and support.

I could go on and on, but you get the idea.

I hope that you’ve found this mini-series helpful.
 

Till next time, be kind to each other.

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