How to Help Your Child Succeed at School

HOW TO HELP YOUR CHILD SUCCEED AT SCHOOL

Jessica Lahey

In the high-pressure, high-stakes game of school, it can be difficult to know which parenting strategies really promote learning. A successful experience in school is not only about report cards. Ideally your child will learn how to learn, retain information, think independently, ask questions and develop an increasing sense of competence. Here are some guidelines for making sure you start on the right foot and keep enthusiasm and momentum high throughout the school year. 

Key Values

There is so much to think about each school year, but above all else, these simple rules can help keep you stay focused on what’s most important for school success. 

Do

  • Focus on the process, not the product.
  • Encourage kids to self-advocate.
  • Keep a long-term perspective.
  • Maintain a healthy sleep schedule.
  • Love the child you have, not the child you wish you had.

Don’t

  • Overschedule.
  • Worship grades.
  • Encourage helplessness.
  • Compare kids to one another.
  • Love kids based on their performance.

Value the Process Over the Product

Very young children are naturally driven to learn and explore. They are at the very beginning of their lifelong quest to understand and gain mastery of the world around them. As they reach out, fall and get back up again, they gain a heightened sense of mastery, competence and self-efficacy. Somewhere around kindergarten, however, parents and teachers begin to undermine this process by devaluing the process of learning and replacing it with a mad dash for the end products. Suddenly, the intrinsic motivators of natural curiosity, competence and self-efficacy are less valuable than extrinsic motivators such as stickers, points and grades. Unfortunately, extrinsic motivators undermine kids’ desire to learn over the long term. Want your kid to lose interest in school? Pay them for their A’s and worship at the altar of grades. If you’d instead like your kids to remain curious and hungry for mastery, here are some tips for re-orienting kids’ priorities.

  • Keep report cards off social media and the refrigerator. We can tell our kids that we value learning all we want, but when we gush over grades and stick them to the refrigerator, we show them that what we value most are the grades. Of course, grades are what most parents are stuck with, even if they are flawed and incomplete indicator of learning as well as what’s known as an “extrinsic motivator,” which has been shown to reduce motivation over the long term, undermine creativity, and encourage cheating. Some schools have moved away letter-based grades and are using reports focused on mastery- or standards-based evaluations, which can help parents and kids focus on what’s being learned rather a grade. No matter what kind of report your child gets, humble-bragging about it on social media only feeds parental competition, raises the pressure for kids and teaches them that your love and approval is contingent on the content of their report card. 
  • Focus on the process they used to get that grade. When we invest less energy and emotion in the number or letter at the top of the page, we can begin to ask our children questions such as, What did you do to get this grade? Which study techniques worked for you and which ones did not? What are you going to do differently next time? 
  • Look forward, not back. The best question parents can ask when faced with a grade, whether high or low, is: How are you going to use this experience to be better next time? This technique works particularly well for anxious and overly perfectionist kids, because they can get stuck in a negative feedback loop, obsessing wholly on the numbers and grades. Helping them shift their focus back to the process can alleviate that anxiety, particularly when we help them prioritize the aspects of learning they can control. 

Model: Talk about your own failures and successes with your kids, showing them that you, too, are invested in the process of learning. If you berate yourself over failures, so will they. If, however, they see you being brave and learning from your mistakes so you can be better next time, so will they. 

Value Goals Over Grades

One easy way to invest in process is to set goals, both individually and as a family. Try to do this at the beginning of a new school year, the first of the month, or the beginning of a new season.  Keep the discussion light and low-pressure. This process isn’t about getting better grades, it’s about supporting learning as a family. 

Everyone (yes, that means parents, too) sets three short-term, achievable goals oriented around tasks and improvements under your control. For example, “I’m going to get all A’s this semester” is too broad and too difficult to control. Instead, try “I’m going to ask for help in math more often,” “I will plan one extra help session a week,” or “I will practice my multiplication three extra times this month.” 

One of those three goals should be a challenge. We can’t hope to convince our children to be emotionally and intellectually brave unless they see us do the same, so set some goals that get you out of your comfort zone. Take guitar or dance or Spanish lessons, try an activity you have never tried before, or pick up a new hobby. This is, after all, how we expand our cognitive potential and make new connections in our brains that can help us become stronger, smarter and more efficient learners. 

A few years ago, one of my sons’ goals was to make a few new friends, a goal that was both challenging and important to him. 

Before you set new goals, take the time to assess how everyone did on past goals. Review these goals once a month or once a semester. If you fail to achieve your goals talk about why, and what you plan to do differently next time. If you succeed, celebrate that achievement! 

Model: Watching a parent set a scary, ambitious goal and talk about the process of achieving it is the most direct way to teach children that learning and striving to be better are human goals, not just school goals.

Maintain a Long-Term Perspective

Education and parenting are both long-haul endeavors, and improvements don’t happen on a daily basis. 

  • Don’t live in the daily emergency of this homework or this test. Instead, think about where you’d like your child to be in a year or five years in terms of competence and growth. Which is more important to you, that you deliver your child’s forgotten math homework today or that she develops a strategy for not forgetting her math homework tomorrow?

Model: When things go wrong in your own life, talk about them. Keep your focus on doing better next time and your long-term perspective. For example if you mess up at work, frame your discussion around improvement and long-term progress: “Well, this work project did not work out the way I wanted, but I still love what I do and want to be doing something related in five years. Here’s how I plan to learn from this so I can get there.” 

Help Them Find Balance

Kids are overscheduled, families are in a constant rush, but a few, strategic pauses in your family’s day can make a huge difference. 

Help Kids Create Effective Good Routines

Present mornings, chores and homework time to kids as a problem to be solved together. In a quiet, calm moment, say, “You know, mornings are really hectic around here and it’s hard for everyone to remember to get out the door with everything they need. How do you think we can make mornings easier and happier?”

Kids are more likely to stick with a plan they created themselves. Buy-in happens most often when kids have a hand in creating strategies, and sometimes it’s more important to be functional and efficient than to be right. 

Try asking, “What would be your ideal morning routine look like?” or “What would a perfect homework day look like for you?” then help them come up with ways to make those visions real. 

Help kids operationalize the systems they create. If it’s a planbook, talk about setting intermediary deadlines. If it’s alarms on a virtual calendar, try different sequences of alerts ahead of a due date. Think of your role in this process like that of the training wheels on your kid’s bike. As our children get more sure of their strategies and systems, we can raise the training wheels up until they are no longer needed at all. 

Model: Talk about your own systems, when they fail, why they work for you. As I get older, I find I have to write more things down or I will forget them. When I do, I mention this to my kids, and they have even helped me brainstorm ways to get things down on paper before I lose them to the ether. 

Encourage Good Study Habits

  • Ensure quiet time in your home. Multi-tasking is a myth, especially for kids. Shut off the TV, and if they like to  play music, studies show that music with lyrics undermine concentration and productivity. 
  • Ask your kids what their perfect homework routine might look like. Help them create that vision. Some kids might want a break after school to blow off pent-up energy, others may want to get the homework done first so they can get on to free play. Let them choose the space, too. Just because you envisioned a central study location in your home when you designed it does not mean it’s going to be their preferred spot. 
  • Limit phones during homework time. Phones are a distraction when they are in the room, even when they are turned off, one study shows. If they are a distraction for adults, with their fully mature executive function skills, they are even more distracting for kids, whose frontal lobes (and the executive function skills that originate there) won’t be fully mature until their mid-20s. 

Model: Let kids see you working distraction-free, in an environment that promotes focus. As ever, kids do what we do, not what we say. Work on your projects the way you’d like to see them doing their work. 

Plan for Technology Use

Have a plan in place for family tech usage. This can be around minutes, data or context. If you want family dinners and homework to be tech-free zones, agree to that ahead of time. Then sign a tech contract. Some kids respond to the clarity of a signed contract you can point to for reference. Here are some contracts I love, from Juliana Miner, author of “Raising a Screen Smart Kid”and Devorah Heitner, author of “Screenwise.”

Model: When I ask kids what they’d most like me to convey to their parents at my speaking events, one of comments I hear most often is something like: “If you want us to turn our phones off, or spend less time texting with our friends, then parents should do the same.” When we ask kids to make sacrifices we are not willing to make ourselves, they see us. 

Communication Between School and Home

When students, parents and teachers communicate openly and honestly with each other about what’s happening at home and in the classroom, everyone can stay focused on the learning. 

Keep School-Home Lines of Communication Open

The research is clear: Family involvement and positive home-school communication have been associated with improved grades, positive behavior and attitudes about learning, increased participation and increased attendance. Start by finding out how your child’s teacher would like to be contacted, and honor his or her preferences by sticking to that method. 

When something comes up, go to the teacher first, and not to the principal. That is both unfair to both the principal and the teacher. Besides, the principal most likely was not present in your child’s classroom to witness the events in question, so it puts him or her in an awkward position. 

Remember the good moments too. Thank teachers for their efforts on behalf of your child. Thanking teachers lets them know that you respect and appreciate what they do and how they do it. I have an envelope full of these notes accumulated over 20 years of teaching Latin, English and writing, and I often refer back to them when I’m having a bad day or feeling unappreciated. Gratitude matters. 

Model: Don’t bash or undermine a teacher in front of the kids. Kids hear what you say about their teachers, and it’s essential to preserve the student-teacher relationship at all costs. It can be confusing for kids when parents say negative things about their teachers, just as it’s upsetting when one parent speaks ill of the other during a separation or divorce.  

Promote Self-Advocacy

Starting as early as kindergarten, children need to be encouraged to speak up, tell adults what they need, and stand up to people who are not treating them the way they want to be treated. Self-advocacy is a key part of building a child’s sense of self- efficacy, or the understanding that they have the power to control and change their behavior, motivation and environment. 

When your children come to you to complain about how another child or a teacher treated them, ask  what they said or did (or what they plan to say or do) to make sure they are heard and understood. Simply asking this question can help children reframe the situation and consider what they can do to effect change themselves.

Expect children to be a part of home-school communication from the first day of elementary school and increase your expectations for their involvement each year until your child is the main conduit of information between home and school. You can provide support, of course, but somewhere around the beginning of middle school, your child should take the lead.   

Get support for your efforts to boost their self-advocacy. Let teachers know you are making this shift so they can support your child’s efforts to be more effective in their communication. 

Coach your children through talking with teachers about problems and talk through the approaches they can take. You can write scripts or role play if a child is anxious about the discussion. This can actually be a fun way to dispel anxiety and play-act the conversation until your child is comfortable. 

If children are facing especially stressful challenges as a result of bullying, special education needs or mental health issues, school counselors can be parents’ greatest ally. Today’s school counselors are mental health professionals who are able to guide students in school and provide referrals as needed to other mental health and academic support professionals in the community. They can even direct parents to low-cost or sliding scale providers if needed, and ensure continuity between school-based services and outside providers. 

Model: Talk how you ask for help and assert yourself even when it makes you nervous. Explain how you make sure your needs are heard and addressed. If you need to talk to your boss about a misunderstanding at work, make your kid a part of a dinnertime discussion about ways you could approach the conversation. We are, after all, our children’s first teachers when it comes to conflict resolution and self-advocacy. 

Work With Their Bodies, Not Against Them

As the best learning happens in the context of healthy brains and bodies, here are some ways to ensure kids are ready and able to learn. 

The Link Between Sleep and Learning

Sleep is integral to learning and memory consolidation, so prioritize sleep over other activities. If your child isn’t getting to homework until late, think about what else in the family schedule can move to make that a priority. Talk about scheduling before committing to a new extracurricular activity in the first place. 

School-age children need 9 to 11 hours of sleep every night in order to be physically and mentally healthy. And teens need 8 to 10 hours of sleep. But studies show that they are getting far less than that. This is partially because of two developmental changes during adolescence:

  • Sleep phase delay. When teens tell you they simply are not sleepy at night, they are not lying. Due to shift in their circadian rhythm during adolescence, they get tired later than children and adults. In light of this, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that high schools start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. to account for teen sleep phase delay and promote teen mental and physical health. 
  • Less awareness of fatigue. Teens are also less likely to feel the effects of their sleep deprivation, which can lead to falling asleep in school or worse, behind the wheel of a car.

Remember, “catching up” on the weekend does not work because it can throw off children’s circadian rhythms further, compounding the problem.

The National Sleep Foundation recommends adolescents try keeping a sleep diary to put the reality of their sleep habits in black and white. It’s hard to claim you are getting enough sleep when the numbers tell a different story.  

If your child asks for “just one more hour” for homework or to prepare for a test you can tell them that all other things being equal, an extra hour of sleep will likely be more valuable for memory consolidation than an extra hour of study. 

Model: Let kids see you value sleep. Allow the house to get quiet an hour before a reasonable bedtime, put your devices away, pull out a book and keep good sleep habits yourself. 

How Kids’ Brains Work

Until fairly recently, scientists believed that because childrens’ brains are done growing by the age of 10, their brains are mature by 10 as well. This could not be further from the truth. Kids’ brains are still developing on a cellular level, in a process that won’t be completed until their mid-20s. 

Children’s brains develop in fits and starts, with a first period of massive growth and development between the ages of 1 and 3, and a second during adolescence (between 11 and roughly 25). During these periods of heightened change, their brains are said to be highly “plastic,” meaning they adapt and grow rapidly in response to their environment.  

Increased brain plasticity also means increased potential for learning because brain cells morph from their immature, inefficient “gray matter” state to their more mature and efficient “white matter” state, while building up to 100,000 new synapses per second. Brain cells talk to each other via synapses, and it’s a “use it or lose it” situation. The more brain cells talk to each other via these new connections, the greater the brain’s potential to process and learn.

The last part of the brain to mature is the frontal lobe, where organization, time management and all those other executive function skills happen, so be patient. Middle and high school kids can’t possibly manage all the challenges school and society throws at them, so support kids as they try, fail and try again. 

Model: Brain power is built through challenge and so-called “desirable difficulties,” learning tasks that lie just a bit beyond our ability level or comfort zone. The more our kids see us take on challenges and learn from our mistakes, the more likely they will be to do the same.

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.

How to recover from betrayal (not just love betrayal, but betrayal of all kinds)

HOW TO RECOVER FROM BETRAYAL (NOT JUST LOVE BETRAYAL, BUT BETRAYAL OF ALL KINDS)

Karen Salmonsohn

Betrayal is incredibly painful. It’s hard to heal and move on. If you’re searching for how to recover from betrayal – in a realistic way – read on.

I endured a huge betrayal from an unlikely place – a younger woman whom I was close friends with and mentored for many years. When we first met, she was trying to write and sell a book – to no avail.

Eventually,  I gave her an idea for a book – then helped her to write the proposal – asking for no upfront money – just a small 10% back end commission – should the book sell.   She enthusiastically agreed – thanking me profusely for not charging her upfront for my time. She had a lawyer draw up papers – which we each signed.

To my shock, soon after I got her the highly successful book deal she’d always dreamed about, she turned into an “All About Eve” kind of character  – displaying low-character behavior –  in a variety of fibbing, royalty-hiding and contract-breaking ways.

At this point, I’ll stop sharing specific details of the story  – because my purpose for this essay is not to complain! Quite the opposite! I want to share my path to recovery. I want to help others who are also suffering from a betrayal – either from a friend, a relative, a spouse, a love partner, a colleague, a boss, a neighbor.

A betrayal can destroy so many varied kinds of relationships – and turn one’s view of the world topsy turvy.

Some of my main upside-down effects after this woman’s betrayal:

I found myself less eager to socialize. In particular, I felt nervous to open my heart to new friendships – and thereby to new pain. I felt hesitant to help others with books and projects. I worried they too might take advantage. Plus I did not want to go any place I might see this betrayer: events, cafes, gyms, yoga studios, social clubs.  All my usual haunts now felt haunted by a potential sighting of her.

My initial solution to recover from betrayal:

I told myself I needed to take some time alone to heal and gain insight.  So I chose to stay in my home more, socialize less. It was easy to do.  I’d just become pregnant. Then I became a mom.  In fact, at the time I thought I was going into a healthful “cocoon” – a less social, nesting period.

But as it turned out, I was entering a “cave.”

The difference:

A COCOON is a quiet, comfortable place you go to evolve into a more beautiful you. It’s a safe haven to experiment with new, uplifting thought patterns. When you emerge, you feel in your full, majestic power – flying higher and further than before.

A CAVE is a quiet, uncomfortable place you go to think and brood – to hibernate. Instead of spending time thinking grand thoughts, you growl. You view the world as cold and unsafe.

How did I finally realize I was in a cave not a cocoon?

When I thought about leaving my home to socialize, I found myself feeling heavy in the heart.

In fact, if you ever want to know if you’re in a cocoon or a cave – check in to feel the weight of your heart when you think about leaving your home.

If you feel light in the heart, you’re telling yourself “Butterfly Stories” about the world – viewing life as a beautiful, safe haven to spread your wings.

If you feel heavy in the heart, you’re telling yourself “Bear Stories”   –  viewing the world as cold and unsafe.

I was telling myself “Bear Stories.” I was even doing “Bear Math.”

This is “Butterfly Math”:

1 untrustworthy person = 1 untrustworthy person

This is “Bear Math”

1 untrustworthy person = infinite untrustworthy people

Positive Psychologists have a term for this “Bear Lens On The World.” They call it “Permanent and Pervasive Thinking.” It’s when you tell yourself stories which make you feel like one negative incident has permanent, pervasive, lifelong negative effects.

In my case, these were some of my permanent and pervasive stories:

“I can’t trust anyone.”

“People Suck”  

“I’m an idiot for being suckered!” 

“I shouldn’t help people any more – they just take advantage.”

This 1 bad thing means I need to keep my heart safely stored in a betrayal-proof Tupperwear container.”

I’m not proud of these thoughts. They are grizzly “Bear Thoughts.” And they were keeping my life limited, dark, dank – and making me feel batty – all signs I was in a cave – not a cocoon!

Basically, a cave is a place you go to shrink your life – a prison for the soul.

A cocoon is where you go to grow your life – an ashram for the soul.

It took me a while to look around and realize I was in a cave. I just knew my heart felt heavier when I thought about going outside to play with others. So I decided to journal about my heavy heart. That’s when I realized I was telling myself painful permanent/pervasive stories – triggered by this friend’s betrayal!

Know this now:

Although you can’t change your past, you can control the story you tell about it – and thereby change the effects your past has upon your future.

I decided the time had come to rewrite my story so it was a happier one.  Literally.

In my journal, I began by writing down all my permanent/pervasive thoughts.  Next to each, I wrote how non-permanent/non-pervasive the situation truly was!

5 Tools To Help You Recover From Betrayal

1. “I can’t trust anyone.”

I realized this betrayal shouldn’t be making me permanently anti-social. It

should simply be making me anti-jerks. I realized I should even look upon this betrayal with a bit of gratitude – because it was a powerful reminder to honor my intuition more -and stop being color blind to red flags – no matter if they show up as smaller red hankees.

(Truth be told, looking back, there were times I felt this woman’s energy to be pushy in an uncomfortable, aggressive way.)

Basically, this event was not meant to stop me from trusting. It was meant to stop me from ignoring my gut – and thereby keep me safe from falling for even bigger business betrayals down the road.

2. “People Suck”

Yes, some people do suck. But not ALL people! Plus, I should never allow someone who sucks to suck all the joy out of my day – and my life!

Sure it’s bad when someone’s a jerk. But things could be worst. I could be the person who’s doing sucky, low-character things.

And I am truly proud of NOT being someone who could behave so badly. Indeed I feel compassion for my betrayer. She is stuck living with herself – while I get to move on and away.

But how could I move on and away, when I was still holding onto resentment? After all, anybody who angers me is actually controlling me – which means they are still an active (and negative) presence in my life.  If I wanted to be happy, I needed “To Pull An Elsa” – and “Let it go”!

3.  “I’m an idiot for being suckered!”

When I re-read this permanent/pervasive thought, I realized I was displaying the classic case of “blaming the victim.”

(Not that I enjoyed using the word “victim.” In fact, I’ll be writing more about the word “victim” at the bottom of this essay!)

Basically, calling myself “an idiot” is showing anger and shame at myself – rather than focusing the anger and shame where it more rightfully belongs – on my betrayer!

My solution?

I re-wrote my word choice from “I am an idiot” to “I am a wronged person.”

And the reason I was wronged did not truly have to do with intelligence.

I simply didn’t see the betrayal coming, because I never would have done such a thing. My heart is awake, good, active. My heart values loyalty, strong character and sticking to commitments. Not just for legal reasons – but moral reasons.

I remembered a quote I’d heard: “Fools take a knife and stab people in the back. The wise take a knife, cut the cord and free themselves from the fools. ”

I decided that since I very much value the trait of being a non-idiot  – that I should do this wise choice – cut the emotional cord – and set myself free as a butterfly leaving a cocoon!  The best way to cut the cord? Forgiveness. Yes, even if the betrayer was not sorry, forgiveness was still necessary.

How could I forgive? I needed to keep reminding myself:  Forgiveness doesn’t excuse my betrayer’s behavior. Forgiveness simply stops her behavior from destroying my heart! 

Plus it helped to keep in mind a great Wayne Dyer quote: “How people treat you is their karma. How you react is yours.” 

4. ‘This 1 bad thing means I need to permanently keep my heart safely stored in a betrayal-proof Tupperwear container.”

When I first re-read this particular pervasive/permanent story, I chuckled. I wondered: “Why should I punish myself for the crime this woman committed? Isn’t that misplaced punishment?” And this new choice (to avoid letting love into my life) was very much a big self-punishment.

After all, love is good stuff! I love love!

Plus whenever I push friends and/or potential-new-friends away, it’s as if I’m punishing these people for the sins of my betrayer! 

Once again I was reminded of the lessons I should be learning: “Pay attention to the energy I feel around people. Listen to my gut!”

Truth be told, it wasn’t my trust in other people that was being shaken up by this betrayal. It was my trust in myself

I needed to re-gain my trust in my abilities to see people clearly! So I gave myself another writing assignment: Jot down all the times I’ve trusted my life choices – and I was correct. Write about all the awesome, trust-worthy, loving friends I’ve chosen to be in my life – so I’m reminded that I have a “good internal picker” and that love is indeed good stuff.

5.  “I shouldn’t help people any more – they just take advantage.”  

When I re-read this permanent/pervasive thought, I also saw it as a form of self-punishment – because I love helping people! I shouldn’t become less of me because this woman showed low character values.

Instead, I should become even more aware of how important strong character values are to me – and embrace them even more fully.

So I gave myself another writing assignment: Write down a list of people I’ve helped with creative projects – and stay reminded how most people do NOT take advantage, fib and break contracts.

Next I wrote about how good it always feels to help and support people – a win/win – for both the giver and receiver!

If you’re presently recovering from a betrayal, I encourage you to watch out for thinking painful, permanent and pervasive thoughts.

Please refuse to become a member of that club called “People Suck.” Please refuse to distribute any of that club’s untrue literature.

Instead I invite you to join me in a club called “You Live. You Learn. Life Gets Better. Yes, You Can And Will Trust Again.”

Although we can’t always control what happens to us, we can control our response.

We can choose the role of victim – focusing on blame, anger, regret and resentment.

Or we can choose the role of victor – seeking support, healing our wounds, retrieving our power, and moving forward stronger and wiser than before.

A Good Wife and Her Divine Role in Liberating Her Husband

A GOOD WIFE AND HER DIVINE ROLE IN LIBERATING HER HUSBAND

It was my wedding night. I was so tired all I needed was a bath and a rest. We had danced so much my back was aching.

My husband was beginning to have funny ideas. He was beaming like a new-born baby.

Well, I wouldn’t blame him; any man in his position would not joke with this night because I was a warrior during our courtship.

No… no hugging, no pecking, no holding, no touching, no tapping current, no weather for two. SEXUAL PURITY till my marriage was top on my list.

The knock came. I was thinking, half past eleven (11:30pm). “Is that room service,” I wondered. Then, with eyes popping, I heard my mother-in-law’s iron-like voice: “Tise, Michael, open the door!”

Michael jumped up from the bed, rushed to the door and opened it for his mum. My mother-in-law walked in, sat down majestically and asked us to sit down too.

“Tise, I don’t know if anyone ever told you? There is a curse on my husband’s family line. The men in their family don’t prosper. Their wives are the ones who work, and provide for their families.

“This is because, according to the story that I was told, one of their forefathers killed the only son of a great herbalist and the herbalist placed a curse on every son in their lineage, that their hands will never produce or bring forth anything good. Also, their sons must always lose a son amongst their children.”

I watched in amazement as my mother-in-law kept telling the story. Then, she concluded by saying: “In essence, I have just come to let you know that your marriage is not a land of fun but of war.”

Why? Why didn’t she tell me this before now?

Well, in order not to waste her time, I also gave her my history. I said, “Mum, I am sorry, I also did not tell you this before now. I come from a family that fights for those we love. My Father (Jesus Christ) actually died while trying to save His people. My family line does not operate under curses because we are operating under a covenant of blessings – John 1:12-13. Therefore, anyone who is fortunate to marry any one in my family becomes automatically BLESSED! So, Mum, for my sake, your son cannot operate under those curses again.”

My mother-in-law was shocked to say the least. I could tell what she was thinking.

Then it made sense to me. My sisters-in-law always had this gloomy look on their faces and the two of them actually lost their sons.

“Mum, you need to go and rest. My husband and I need to produce two sons this night because in my family line we conceive immediately our husbands meet us,” I concluded.

My mother-in-law stood up with caution and silently walked out. At that moment, all the tiredness vanished as I took Michael’s hands and looked him straight in the eye.

“Listen, I don’t care what you or your ancestors have done, but for my sake you will prosper with these hands,” I said.

“Listen, Paul and some criminals were on a ship and there was a shipwreck.

The soldiers wanted to kill all the criminals to prevent them from escaping, but the army officer stopped them just for the purpose of saving Apostle Paul.

“Michael, for Paul’s sake, the lives of other criminals were preserved. So, sweetheart, because you are married to me, because we are in the same ship, yes, this relationship called marriage, for my sake, you cannot be punished for your1 ancestors’ sins,” I assured him.

That became my prayer plea to God from that day. I kept praying to God to save my husband and our sons for my sake.🙏

To the Glory of God, I have four sons and none of them died. Now they have sons and daughters of their own.

For my sake, my husband’s destiny changed for the best.

You see, women are always great assets to change powers and covenants and destinies, not assets for sex only.

Listen, wife, it doesn’t matter what challenge that man of yours is facing at this point in time. With you on his side praying, ancestral curses will flee out of his life. Women are destined for that; good women are a great blessing to their men.

When a good woman comes into a man’s life, many doors of success, prosperity, joy, love, etc. open, and ancestral curses break down and disappear.

Good women diffuse ancestral curses like a diffused bomb.

Woman, always pray for your man (husband) as you would for a prized friend. Your prayer works for him. Your prayer can save his life from shame. Your prayer can set him free from bondage.🙏🙏 🙏

Thank you for reading and practicing.

When life doesn’t go as planned, remember this

WHEN LIFE DOESN’T GO AS PLANNED, REMEMBER THIS

Angel Chernoff

Over the years, I’ve learned that a great deal of the control we believe we have over our lives is an absolute illusion. For example, I’ve recently met …

  • a young man who had his life turned upside down by cancer
  • a young woman, and mother of two, who lost her husband to death at 27
  • a hard-working employee who lost her job when her employer of 25 years filed for bankruptcy
  • and many, many more people just like them

It happens every single day; we wrestle with situations and circumstances we think we can control, but we really can’t.

So what can we do?

The only choice we have …

In the game of life, we all receive a unique set of unexpected limitations and variables in the field of play. The question is: How will you respond to the hand you’ve been dealt? You can either focus on the lack thereof or empower yourself to play the game sensibly and resourcefully, making the very best of every outcome as it arises, even when it’s heartbreaking and hard to accept.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the mind is our biggest battleground.

It’s the place where the strongest conflict resides. It’s where half of the things we thought were going to happen, never did happen. It’s where our expectations always get the best of us. It’s where we fall victim to our cravings to control the uncontrollable.

Without a doubt, we all face our share of difficult circumstances, many of which are not the results of anything we’ve done. Think about the people I mentioned above. Like them, we have choices when it comes to how we’ll respond to seemingly-random tragedies that afflict us.

The choice is as simple as it is universal:

  • Grit our teeth and try to move the immovable object, and become frustrated and bitter when we realize we can’t.
  • Let it be. Let go.

Paradoxically, the first choice is easier because it’s our default action. We want control because feeling out of control is utterly terrifying.

You need to know how to let go—how to understand the difference between what you can control and what you can’t.

Empowering yourself to relinquish control is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself—the ability to exist peacefully amidst the chaos of life.

If you feel yourself slowly collapsing under the weight of life and circumstances, we have a proven path to a more peaceful life. We’d love to share it with you.

French philosopher François-Marie Arouet once said:

“We are free at the instant we wish to be.”

And of course, if you’re struggling with any of this, know that you are not alone. Many of us are right there with you, working hard to think more clearly, respond to life more effectively, and get ourselves back on track.

Broken Toes

BROKEN TOES

Bruce Muzik

Before I share about the night I spent in jail (and how it relates to your marriage), I want to remind you that…

…there was a time when my wife and I could have described our relationship history like this:

Jerk meets Pain-In-The-Ass…

They fall in love…

They destroy each other fighting…

The End.

We couldn’t last longer than three days without a blowup.

We’d point fingers at each other.

She’d retreat to the bedroom. I’d storm out exasperated.

This went on and on, over and over again.

Yet, beneath our angry exteriors, both of us were in pain – hurt, sad and lonely – longing for comfort and connection.

You get the picture?

How did we get past all of that to being a great team together?

One of the big contributing factors was that we stopped trying to change each other and began accepting our differences.

There are skills needed to bring acceptance to your marriage:

1. Assume a Positive Intention
2. Appreciate How Your Differences Benefit You
3. Awareness of Broken Toes

Imagine that your relationship is like a partner dance with one of you leading and the other following.

In order to dance elegantly, you need to coordinate your steps.

Now, imagine that you each have a broken toe.

When you dance together, you both scream out in pain as you bump up against each other’s broken toes.

Of course, neither of you are aware of your own broken toe, so you push your partner away yelling,

“What the hell is wrong with you? Why did you just hurt me?”

Sound familiar?

What are broken toes?

They’re emotionally sensitive spots created in your past.

Here’s one from my past.

As a teenager I spent a night in jail for a crime I didn’t commit.

I was arrested for ‘stealing a car.’

The short version of the story is that I just happened to be near a car that was being stolen.

The police arrived out of nowhere and arrested me along with the thieves (assuming that I was one of them).

Ever since then, I’ve been hypersensitive to being wrongly accused.

It makes sense that I’d be hypersensitive after having gone to jail for something I didn’t do, right?

Knowing this about my past, my wife is sensitive to this ‘broken toe’ and is understanding of my overreaction when I perceive that she has wrongly accused me.

When she recognizes that my overreaction comes from my ‘jail-time’ broken toe, she doesn’t feel the need to defend herself.

Instead, she just holds me. Her gentle touch helps pull me out of the past and back into the present moment.

Make sense?

Your ability to build emotional safety between you and your wife is directly proportionate to your awareness (and respect) of her broken toes.

I Got Married in Jeans but Our Marriage Got Serious

I GOT MARRIED IN JEANS BUT OUR MARRIAGE GOT SERIOUS

Luke Dani Blue

Editor’s Note: We’ve been studying relationships for the last four decades, but we still have so much to learn. Through the individual stories and experiences shared in Real Relationships, we aim to paint a more realistic picture of love in the world today. The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this article belong solely to the author, and are not necessarily based on research conducted by The Gottman Institute. Submit your Real Relationship story here.

Last February, my sister-in-law asked my partner, Migueltzinta, “Do you and Luke ever think of getting married?” At the time, Tzinta and I had been married for four years.

It’s not so surprising that she would have forgotten. Tzinta and I got married as we do all things: on our own, impulsive terms and with a (dignified) F-you to social expectations. In this case, at a courthouse under a papier-mache Valentine’s Day heart, with a diner breakfast as a celebratory chaser. Migueltzinta wore a tie. I’m pretty sure I was wearing jeans.

We’d been together for three and a half years, and already agreed we wanted to be together for life, when we ordered our fateful seafood molcajete on the balcony of a touristy restaurant in southern Guadalajara. Octopus tentacles sizzled in the lava rock, the green salsa bubbled, and the tortillas were soft as worn-in denim. Food that good merited a dramatic gesture. 

“Should we get married?” I asked. “Okay,” he said. We exchanged a look—I dare youNo, dare you—and grinned at each other. Hetero couples and families strolled in the courtyard below the balcony. We were invisible up there in the dark, savoring the dish too large and messy for most people to bother ordering, suddenly engaged. Although we were the only people to whom any of this was a shock, we loved the feeling of our own outrageousness. How dare we betray expectations by doing the one thing most expected of any couple, and yet with so little apparent regard for what it was supposed to mean?

The thing was, we both said “married” and “wedding” with fingers crooked into quotes. It’s not exactly that we were too cool for marriage. We were too skeptical. We were trans people who had spent our childhoods deconstructing girlhood and our adulthoods questioning and violating the rules of manhood. Tzinta regularly posted nude pictures on the internet, hashtagging them #ManPussy. I cringed involuntarily when anyone referred to me with either male or female pronouns, but was going through a long hair and skirts phase. Because of the vagaries of identification laws, my revised birth certificate had an ‘M’ on it and butch Tzinta’s had an ‘F’, meaning that legally, we were straight. This, especially, titillated us. Marriage was a fancy house we hadn’t been invited into and we wanted to dance on the sofa in muddy shoes.

We had no plans to be monogamous, wear rings, change our names, or label either of ourselves husband or wife or some cutesy genderqueered alternative (wifeband? Hufe?). We also weren’t going to pretend that stamping our relationship with a “MARRIED” sticker changed its fundamental makeup, gave it a fresh beginning, or made it safer. Break-ups still happened to married people, as did jealousy, betrayal, and loneliness. All marriage meant, really, was that we could visit each other in the hospital and that no cop or court or interfering parent could split us up. That felt like one big gay freedom.


This past November, Tzinta fell in love with a trans guy who lives far away. Swiftly, the rest of our relationship seemed to collapse too: trust, plans for the future, our ability to laugh audaciously at the same jokes.

I binged on therapy podcasts, stayed up all night doing online quizzes about attachment trauma, and checked out piles of relationship books from the library. Even the best of them (the ones by Harriet Lerner, the Gottmans, and Esther Perel) tended to describe predictable behavior dynamics between a male and female partner. The men, it seemed, were supposed to evade intimacy and seek independence. The women in the case studies tended to get clingy, dread abandonment, and over-accommodate.

Hungry for any help at all, I tried my best to apply the examples to our relationship. Which of us is the man? I found myself wondering. Also, which of us is the woman? Tzinta is, without question, very manly. He loves western wear, has a well-oiled beard and when lost in thought, which is often, frowns with crossed arms, gazing into the middle distance. Like the men in the books, Tzinta kept telling me he wanted more space and more silence. He wanted to do a solo three-month road trip and camp the whole way. He wanted lots of sex, with other guys. He wanted to run. It seemed like lately all he wanted to do was run. Man, man, man.

All wanted lately was his approval and attention. I wanted him to walk in the door excited to see me. I wanted to be enough for him. This qualified me for the woman role. Maybe. Except that earlier in our relationship, I’d fallen for someone else too and all I’d wanted then was to push Tzinta away. I’d fantasized about moving into a studio apartment and single-mindedly pursuing my career with a few lovers on the side for entertainment. Man?

The fact was, Tzinta fit the “woman” role better than I did. Besides the stereotypical stuff—he loves clothes, especially glittery or tight ones; he cries a lot; he’s extremely empathetic—the reasons he was mad at me were “woman” reasons: I didn’t make him feel pretty, I didn’t support him, I wasn’t a good listener, I shut down in the face of his feelings, he was tired of sacrificing his personal desires for mine.

Defeated, I pushed aside the pile of books and closed the computer. It was late. Exhaustion beat hotly against the insides of my eyelids. Tzinta was asleep downstairs but he felt a million miles away. Any other time in our relationship, I could have savored this joke, knowing I’d share it with him in the morning. “I realized,” I would say, “that you just have more gender than I do.” It would have been hilarious to think that Tzinta was both more of a man and more of a woman than I was, if I hadn’t been terrified that I was about to lose him.


Tzinta was going away for a long weekend. Our goodbye was chilly. He pushed me away, then cried and wanted me to come close again. It was the same hot-cold stuff that had been going on for months. I felt like a spaceship leaving earth’s orbit, Tzinta’s pain and frustration winking far below before being swept into blackness. I thought, how much more of this can I take? Tzinta kissed me and the dog, got in the car, and drove away. 

As soon as he was gone, the blackness of outer space turned out to be a hurt larger than comprehension. It kept sneaking up and pouncing. I’d thrash on the floor until the mauling stopped, then get up and continue whatever I’d been doing. It took five hours to do laundry. 

We didn’t talk or text that weekend. Instead, we contemplated life without one another. It turned out, as it always seems to, that my life would go on without him. I didn’t like it, but it was imaginable. 

Do fights ever end or do they just go to sleep? Does love? Maybe, I thought, getting older is knowing that there is no exit. I could lose Tzinta or not but I would still be wedded to myself. Still circling my own fears and wounds with whoever else was on hand.

On Monday, Tzinta came back. I let him in. We talked. For the first time in a long, long while, we also listened.


The darkest period in our eight-year relationship has, I hope, passed. For reasons of their own, Tzinta and his lover broke up. It didn’t make our problems go away. It didn’t make the things I’ve done over the years that hurt Tzinta magically erase themselves and it didn’t make the ways he’s hurt me this year not matter.

Recently, I’ve found myself thinking about our courthouse wedding. Particularly, about this thing that happened while we were responding to the courthouse-provided vows. “I do,” said Tzinta, tears rolling down his cheeks. My hands stiffened in his. I felt pure fear. Not over the commitment—I had committed to him in my heart months before—but because of his tears. I had thought getting married didn’t mean anything other than a beautiful dare, a crazy joyride through heteronormative convention. But when Tzinta cried, it dawned on me that I missed something. Some complexity, some reason it could make him weep.

At the time, I thought I was just embarrassed about my jeans and lack of tears—the general discomfort of not matching Tzinta’s intensity. Now, though, I wonder if I was, simply, sad. After all, I had missed the opportunity to make the symbol of marriage my own.


I still don’t believe that marriage is inherently meaningful or that the four years Tzinta and I have been married can really be distinguished from the four years we weren’t. In my mind, the clock of us begins on my birthday in 2011, when we were two near-strangers shyly grinding in a sweaty queer bar in Mexico City. Each year since then has added a layer of complexity. 

Now, in this pit of difficulty, love, and effort, is the most married we have ever been. By which I mean, I think, we’ve done the most growing into and through our emotional bond. That would be just as true without a piece of paper from Alameda County.

But I wish we had some vows to fall back on, rather than a list of negatives, like “not monogamous,” “not embracing false security,” and “not becoming our parents.” In the dark, it’s good to have a light to circle back to. Something to remind you who the two of you are together. Even a rule or two would be nice, so long as they were good ones, like “remember to give compliments” or “go on dates.”

Recently, I said to Tzinta, “Maybe we should have a real wedding.” He considered that but said it would feel like we were trying to start over. He didn’t want to start over, he said. It had been enough work to get to where we were. Hearing that, I again felt the sadness of a missed opportunity. A weight began to resettle on my chest.

“Let’s do a huge party for our tenth anniversary instead,” he suggested. And because he is still him, and I am still me, I said, impulsively, willingly, full of a sense of brightness, “Okay.” And then, “What food are we going to serve?”

Turn Toward Your Child to Nurture Intimacy

TURN TOWARD YOUR CHILD TO NURTURE INTIMACY

Laura Markham

Intimacy is the glue that holds families together. It’s what connects us over the years and across the miles. It’s what gets us through the hard times, and what makes the good times even better. It’s the grease that smooths the rough interactions of everyday life, and the honey that makes it all worth it.

Intimacy is hard to define, but we all know when we’re feeling it. Whether it’s snuggling in the silence of companionship with your partner or crying on your best friend’s shoulder, intimacy is when we feel connected.

How humans build connections with each other, how we deepen them, and how we repair them when they fray is both as simple as a warm smile, yet also as mysterious and unsettling as the way the ground lurches when we see a picture of someone we have loved and lost.

The Gottman Institute has distilled the creation of intimate relationships down to their practical essence. It turns out that the building blocks of connection are the small overtures we make to each other every day, and the way our loved ones respond. These are “bids,” as in “bids for attention.” We could also call them overtures, as in the opening movements of an opera, which relies on harmony to succeed.

How bids for attention work

In happy relationships, whether between romantic partners, parents and children, friends, or coworkers, bids are made and responded to in a positive, even if small, way. It almost doesn’t matter what the bid is about; the process of reaching out and receiving a response builds the relationship. It also increases the level of trust so that we are more likely to reach out to that person again, and the content of the bids deepens.

If someone begins a conversation with “I’m worried about my job” and receives an empathetic response, they’re likely to elaborate and maybe ask their partner for support. Their trust in reaching out is rewarded with caring. They both end the interaction feeling closer.

If, on the other hand, their comment is ignored, or greeted with anything that doesn’t feel empathetic, they’re unlikely to make themselves vulnerable, and the relationship loses a chance to deepen. In fact, they’re hurt, so a little wall gets built, and they may be less likely to make bids like that in the future.

Our relationship with our child is built on how we respond to their bids

The same process is enacted with our children in hundreds of daily interactions. If you ask your middle schooler about the upcoming school dance and receive an engaged response, you might venture further and ask whether she’s nervous to take the conversation to a deeper level. If, on the other hand, her response is surly, you might back off.

And, of course, children often test us by saying something negative to see if we’ll empathize. If we respond to their bids with understanding, even though they’re expressing negativity, they’ll trust that we can handle their authentic feelings, and they’ll open up more.

But if we ignore, deny their feelings, correct them or judge, they’ll shut down. If this interaction is repeated often, kids get in the habit of holding their feelings inside. Not only do they not reach out to us, but they more frequently reject our bids to connect with them.

How to use bids to nurture intimacy with your child

1. Notice your child’s bids to you.

The inconvenient thing about a bid from your child is that they initiate whenever they want to, and you can count on being busy doing something else. It takes real self-discipline to tear yourself away from your screen to answer a child’s question, but how you respond to their overture is crucial in building closeness. If you don’t give them your full attention, you’ll have not really responded, or worse, turned away from their bid.

Later, when you try to get your child to tell you about what happened at school today, that’s your bid, and by then, they’ve shut down because you didn’t respond to their initial bid. To support yourself in being more present and available, make it a practice to turn off your screens when you’re with your child.

2. Train yourself to respond with empathy, no matter what the comment is.

If your daughter climbs into the car after school and greets you with a negative comment like “Dad, you know I hate that music, can’t we listen to my music?” or “Mom, I had a terrible day and it’s all your fault because you…” that’s a setup for an argument. But it’s also a bid; she’s asking if you’ll commiserate with her, if you care about what matters to her, if you’ll listen to her problems so she can process her feelings, and if you’ll help her make things better.

You’re only human, so naturally, you feel like snapping at her. But if you can take a deep breath and respond with empathy, you’ll find you can turn the entire situation around. So you might say:

“Really, you don’t like the Rolling Stones? Okay, I’ll turn this off and we can talk while we drive about what music to play so we can find something we both like.”

Or:

“Wow, you sound like you had a really terrible day! Tell me about it.”

Later, of course, you can ask if she really thinks her terrible day was all your fault. She’ll almost certainly apologize, and you can tell her that you understand, that it’s okay. In the meantime, instead of a fight, you’ve deepened your relationship.

3. If you don’t get the response you want when you reach out, step back and watch how you initiate.

Are you inviting a positive response? Are you asking them to tell you more about how they feel, or what they’re going through? If what you want is connection, don’t start with correction. Always connect before you correct. Remember The Gottman Institute’s advice for couples: understanding must precede advice. Trying to understand your child’s feelings is trying to connect, and advice and problem-solving can come later.

4. If you make an overture and are greeted with something hurtful — disdain, sarcasm, or a blank stare — try not to respond with anger. Instead, show your vulnerability and hurt.

Let them know how you feel hurt, and turn away before you give in to the temptation to lash out. Your child (or partner!) will likely feel bad about having hurt you, especially since you haven’t escalated drama by attacking back.

Later, when you aren’t feeling hurt and angry, you can tell them how it made you feel to get that response. Try to talk only about your feelings, not about them being wrong, and invite them to share any resentments that were driving their hurtful response to you. Like this:

“Sweetheart, when you said I always take your brother’s side, I felt hurt because I try to hard to be fair, and your voice sounded so angry. But it sounds like you really think I’m being unfair. That must hurt you. Tell me more about why you feel that way.” 

5. Make time for intimate interactions in your schedule.

Often, we go whole days or even weeks just moving our kids through their schedules, without taking time to really connect. And most parents can’t imagine where they would find more time to connect.

Try to look for opportunities for intimacy that are already in your schedule, where you can slow down and create an opportunity for closeness. Maybe that’s when you help your daughter with her hair in the morning, and make sure to give her a hug and kiss, or when you’re in the car with your son in the afternoon listening to music you both like, or at bedtime when you lie with your child for ten minutes.

Intimacy is a dance. It deepens or fades through every interaction we have. The good news? Every interaction you have is a chance to shift onto a positive track and deepen your connection to your loved ones. Just paying attention for a week to how you respond when your children reach out to you can shift the whole tone in your family in a positive, harmonious direction full of meaningful overtures and caring responses.

What Does Trust and Commitment Look Like in a Relationship?

WHAT DOES TRUST AND COMMITMENT LOOK LIKE IN A RELATIONSHIP?

Mary Beth George

With bellies miserably full of Thai beef and noodles, he washed the dishes and I dried. “Thinking Out Loud” by Ed Sheeran was playing in the background.

When your legs don’t work like they used to before
And I can’t sweep you off of your feet
Will your mouth still remember the taste of my love
Will your eyes still smile from your cheeks

“We’ll start our low carb diet tomorrow. This time for real,” I said with conviction to my husband, Sean.

He nodded in agreement. He’s heard it before. But he knows my weaknesses after 25 years together, noodles being at the top of the list. I overeat and then complain.

Instead of judging me, he grabbed a bottle of wine and some dark chocolate (this man really knows me) and sat down at the table to continue our quiet, stay-at-home Valentine’s Day celebration.

“So, who wants to go first?” he asked.

Earlier in the day, I told him I wanted to have the first date from John and Julie Gottman’s new book, Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love. Each date is focused on a topic crucial to a healthy relationship.

“I do!” I said, not giving him a chance to respond.

Date One is “Lean on Me: Trust and Commitment.” Conversation topics include: What does trust and commitment look like in our relationship? How can we make each other feel safe? What are our agreements about trust and commitment?

After reading that chapter earlier in the day, I followed the directions in the book and compiled a list of things I cherish about Sean. While there were many things on my list, there were ten that stood out. I envisioned sharing in David Letterman Top 10 List fashion.

Trust, Cherishing, and Commitment

When we cherish our partner, we feel that they’re irreplaceable. We simply cannot imagine our lives without them, even when times are rough. We find ways to tell them that we appreciate them, and do that often. This builds trust in the relationship.

Cherishing and commitment go together, but they’re different. Commitment is really a verb because it is the actions we take daily to let our partner know we are with them, and that we make decisions with them in mind.  

When we choose commitment, we resist temptation to betray our partner. We create trust and safety by turning towards them to work out our differences. Gratitude is nurtured by knowing what we have rather than focusing on what we don’t have. There is no gossiping or trashing of our partner to others.  

Commitment in Action

Sean and I have had our share of difficult times, that’s for sure. When our son was a colicky infant we leaned on each other for support despite being sleep deprived and cranky with one another. When my mother and beloved dog both died in the same year, I had a hard time shaking off my depression. We argued more than ever and found ourselves in couples counseling. Despite these and other challenges, we never gave up on one another.

The thing that sealed the deal for me was when I had a major health crisis 12 years ago. My mysterious illness had my doctors stumped and I was terrified. Our lives were turned upside down for months on end with scary symptoms and no treatment. My life and my outlook were forever changed. It wasn’t until I got a diagnosis and learned to manage my chronic symptoms that I could reflect on how it changed us as a couple.

I had been too absorbed in my own fear to recognize how scared my husband was, too. His life was also forever changed. But instead of complaining, he expressed cherishing and commitment by supporting me through my illness in ways that I took for granted at the time.

He rubbed my back when I was scared. He drove me to the Emergency Room in the middle of the night on countless occasions. When I had to change my diet, he joined me. He developed a patience with me that had not been there before. He was less quick to anger over small stuff and he started leaving love notes for me.

While he never came out and said it, almost losing me made him realize how much I meant to him. I felt loved and cared for. We now joke that my near-death experience is the secret to our healthy marriage.

Thinking Out Loud

As I compiled my Top 10 List for our date, I realized I was describing our everyday life. I wrote down things like playing and laughing together, and that we get each other’s sense of humor.

I wrote down raising a child and dogs together, a connection that is precious to us but was often fraught with stress, cleaning up bodily functions and money we could have spent in far more fun ways.

I wrote down being comfortable to be myself with Sean and having my faults and bad habits accepted. And that includes binge eating noodles, knowing full well I will complain about it afterwards.  

The song was still playing as I started reading my list to him.

So honey now
Take me into your loving arms
Kiss me under the light of a thousand stars
Place your head on my beating heart
I’m thinking out loud
Maybe we found love right where we are

Yes, I believe we have found love right where we are. And I could hardly wait to tell him.

Dating a Man 16 Years Younger Forced Me to Grow Up

DATING A MAN 16 YEARS YOUNGER FORCED ME TO GROW UP

Dara Poznar

Editor’s Note: We’ve been studying relationships for the last four decades, but we still have so much to learn. Through the individual stories and experiences shared in Real Relationships, we aim to paint a more realistic picture of love in the world today. The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this article belong solely to the author, and are not necessarily based on research conducted by The Gottman Institute. Submit your Real Relationship story here.

I had given up on love. At 36, my decades-long dream of finding my person and having a family was replaced by a new dream of living a full and happy life as a single woman. I imagined traveling the world, hosting dinner parties for other singles, enjoying the unconditional love of shelter rescues, and pursuing my lifelong dream of writing. Behind me would be the endless disappointments, unmet needs, and invisible feeling that characterized my past relationships. True love, as it seemed, wasn’t going to find me. I surrendered and moved on. 

Then one day, I found myself craving a sandwich. I stopped at a deli I liked on my way home from work. He made my veggie on wheat, hold the banana peppers. “Are you a vegetarian?” he asked. I told him I was. He told me about an interesting documentary he’d recently watched on campus about the health benefits of eating plant-based. I admired his tattoos and noticed his sexy voice. Surmising that he was 25 or 26, I considered it a shame that he was too young for me. I was 36. Up until then, I would have thought 35 was too young for me. 

A few days later I got another hankering for a veggie sandwich, along with another glimpse of the handsome tattooed sandwich-maker. I was having a good hair day and I felt like flirting. That day I found out his name: Austin. For the next two weeks, I was eating veggie sandwiches like it was my job. Each time I saw him, the nervous energy grew. We were two fumbling idiots interacting with one another. His nervousness fed my nervousness. I could feel my face imitating a tomato whenever he looked at me. My heartbeat sped up. There was an obvious mutual attraction and it was a lot of fun. During that time he had Googled me, read my blog, and found me on social media. He wrote me a message to compliment my writing. 

One day he was ringing up my order and asked me when he’d get to see me again. Taken by surprise, I said I was in there all the time and he’d see me in a couple of days. “You know what I mean,” he said, “not here.” I told him to message me. He did so two days later and I gave him my phone number. He called the following day while I was driving down Charlotte Street. I appreciated his approach—showing clear interest but not being overly eager. I‘d prepared to let him down easy. “I’m freshly out of a relationship,” I told him. “I’m not ready to jump into something new. Besides, I’m certain you are too young for me.” 

“Souls don’t have an age,” he said. 

“Ok, fine. How old is your current human incarnation?” I asked, teasingly. He laughed.

“I’m 21,” he said. I nearly drove off the road.

“Like I said,” I continued, “you’re too young and I’m not looking to date right now anyway.” 

“Ok, how about we be friends then? I just want to know you.” 

I was a bit reluctant but made plans to have a drink with him “just as friends” the following Sunday afternoon. We met at a restaurant called The King James. The conversation was seamless. He had such depth to him and a beautiful openness. After 20 minutes we had our first kiss and I knew I was in trouble. An hour later, I was in love. 

I didn’t believe it could last. Yet, there was just something so alluring and captivating about him that I could not resist. The connection between us was so immense that I decided it’d be worth riding it out until it crashed and burned, which I was sure it would, and soon. And when it did, I’d collapse into a heap of ashes then put myself back together and I’d have no regrets. To feel this adored, to have this passion raging inside of me, to be this engulfed in pure ecstasy, even for a week or two, was worth having my heart shattered into millions of pieces. I loved who I was when I was with him—vulnerable, playful, generous, and care-free. I gave it two months tops.

Four years later, he is lying here beside me watching a documentary on his iPhone as I type this. We have plans to be married in 2020, a year from now. But before you begin to imagine that it’s been an ongoing state of bliss all this time, allow me to set things straight: this has been the most painful and challenging relationship of my life. 

For several months we were obscenely obsessed with one another, spending long periods of time staring into each other’s eyes and expressing, with a great deal of emotion, how lucky we both felt to have found one another. “Who are you?” I’d ask him. “Where did you come from?” he’d ask me. We were mesmerized by and enamored with each other. It truly was a full-blown addiction. We were “that” couple—the one you love to hate. 

Even so, I spent the first two years waiting for it all to fall apart. I was afraid to be all-in, daily scanning for signs that it was bound to fail. I believe it was Thoreau who said, “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” Every time I saw in him a quality that drew me in, I searched for two that repelled me, and of course, I found them. Yes, he’s deep and heart-centered, but he takes too many naps and plays video games. Sure he’s willing to learn and grow in relationship, but he is forgetful and overly-sensitive. He’s wonderfully observant and tuned-in, but he is moody and doesn’t save any money. And on and on. 

This behavior almost became a self-fulfilling prophecy. I risked losing it all and never really knowing what might have been. I came dangerously close to that. I was ruled by fear and woundedness rather than love and wholeness. I hadn’t yet learned how to love, only to feel love. And I hadn’t yet healed the wounds that produced maladaptive patterns in me, caused me to deeply hurt the person I love, and resist and push away the thing I wanted more than anything in the world—a raw and uninhibited love, a safe and trusting union, a beautiful and unbreakable bond—with him. 

Realizing how much I wanted a life with him terrified me. It felt cruel that it was possible for me to want this man, THIS man, 16 years my junior and who I believed was sure to abandon and hurt me. And so I tried to destroy my desire by collecting any flaw, error, and inconsistency I could find and hurling them at him one by one. The deeper I fell, the more fearful I became, and the more I looked for imperfections to point out and criticize. I thought I might stop loving him if I realized just how deeply flawed and immature he was. Instead, I had given him good reason to leave me, and I was more fearful than ever that he would. 

Before long, we were caught up in a destructive and painful pattern. We would send sweet texts during the day, call to check in, “Hi baby, how is your day going? I miss you so much. Can’t wait to see you. What can I do for you? I’m so grateful for you.” Then we’d be up all night fighting—“You only care about yourself! Nothing is good enough for you! You don’t listen to me! Leave me alone! I can’t do this anymore!” 

In the morning he’d reach out from his side of the bed and gently touch my back. I’d turn around and we’d hug and apologize profusely to each other. We’d talk about how awful it is to fight like that and how we’re done doing it and we’re just gonna love each other and be kind and gentle. “I love you, you’re everything I’ve ever dreamed of and I’ll love you forever. I hate you, you’re my worst nightmare and I’m gone.” That became the bipolar tone of our relationship that tortured us both for over 2 years. 

My main fear has been “can I really trust him or will he abandon me?” His has been “can I really trust her or will she keep doubting me and us?” From day one, he has believed that we are soulmates and that we are destined to find our way and be together. He claims he knew I was “the one” immediately. I came into the relationship somewhat more skeptical about ideas such as fate and destiny. Whatever differences between us have been revealed, he has been accepting. The only thing he’s ever criticized about me is the way I’ve judged and criticized him. 

This is the first relationship I’ve ever been in that has forced me to heal myself and become more conscious. He is young, but also very solid. He knows who he is, what he needs, and what he wants. He is secure and maintains healthy boundaries. He has immense faith. He is romantic and melancholic, stubborn and emotional, artistic and wild. When he’s carrying any, he always gives cash to the homeless people he passes on the street. Sometimes he prays with them. The biggest surprise I’ve encountered is how much I have had to mature and grow in order to create something lasting with him. I can’t become complacent with him. I can’t take him for granted. He won’t have it. 

Last year I went into counseling to address my unhealed pain and to learn how to love. Since doing so I have made the courageous choice to choose him and this relationship fully. I have learned to intentionally lift up and admire what makes him unlike anyone I have ever known and absolutely irresistible, and to accept him for everything that he is, including much younger. I’ve matured emotionally and psychologically. This process for me has been one of growing up enough to be able to surrender to what is true for me: I’m crazy in love with a much younger man and I’m scared to death. I’m so lucky to get to love and be loved like this, and I need to honor and cherish this man and what we share. 

The fear that the age gap will eventually catch up to us never leaves me. Neither does the untamed love I feel for him. I get excited when he calls. I look forward to our time together. We dance together, goof around and laugh hysterically, cry together during sad scenes in movies, and baby talk to our two dogs, with whom we are both grossly obsessed. Being with him brings me an unrelenting joy on a daily basis. We fight about the typical things: laundry, cleaning, money, and the rest of it. We have a normal relationship in most ways. He’s young, but home most nights, not out at the bars night after night like many of his peers. He tells me that he’s not like most people his age. 

There is some humor that comes with the age gap, like when I had to explain to him who The Cranberries were, or when I don’t understand some of the slang people his age use, which he finds adorable. He really likes it when I say something is “dope.” We allow ourselves to be influenced by each other. I think this really helps. We hang out with one another’s friends and listen to each other’s favorite music. I feel young and alive with him. He is very proud of being with an older woman.

Loving and planning a future with a much younger man is, for me, the happiest and most brutal thing I have ever experienced, as well as the most transformative. What I’ve always wanted is right here, and now I have so much to lose. We read together, listen to podcasts, and watch videos about how to build a healthy relationship. We have deep conversations about life, spirituality, and love. We both enjoy a wide range of music from various decades. He wants to take dance and cooking classes together. We praise each other. We make each other better. He also plays video games, likes to get high, listens to gangster rap, and had never done his own laundry or scrubbed a single toilet before we moved in together. 

He reads Jesus while I read Jung. I drink coffee and he drinks sweet tea. I binge watch Gossip Girl and he binges dinosaur documentaries. 

It’s all quite terrifying and fantastically elating. 

There have been numerous times when I would wake up at 2 or 3 a.m. and been overcome with the grief of when it would be over. I would look over at him and try with all my might to just fully appreciate that at that moment he was right there. He was with me. We were together. Right then I had the greatest love I could have ever hoped to know. This gangster rap loving, video-game playing, dinosaur-obsessed man makes me giddy as hell and I want him with me forever.

I don’t know what the future holds for us or where we’ll end up. I do know our love is real. It’s been tested. Things got really, really bad, and we’re both still here. And I know being with him is what I want. The love between us lives on and has even become stronger. We talk about how perplexing it is that our feelings for each other just seem to continue to grow and grow, unhindered by familiarity, immense hardship, or fear. We can’t explain it, but we’re so grateful for it. 

He’s 25 now, and I’m 41. While I no longer fear people are going to look at us funny when they realize we are a couple, I still worry that one day, as we age, as I grow older, age won’t just be a number but a reason the relationship can no longer work. I’ll realize it was too much to hope to spend the rest of my life with him. Or maybe I’ll learn that love really does conquer all, even a 16-year age gap relationship in which the woman is the older partner. 

“Love is trembling happiness,” wrote Kahlil Gibran. Those words resonate with me so deeply that they are now permanently inked on my back. 

Relationships are about giving up control and surrendering, which is terrifying. And while doing that isn’t a guarantee it’ll work out, it gives us our best chance. No matter what, I’ll have no regrets. I’m all in ‘til the end.

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