The One Daily Talk That Will Change Your Relationship

THE ONE DAILY TALK THAT WILL CHANGE YOUR RELATIONSHIP

Kyle Benson

When Steven gets home from work, his partner Katie asks him, “How was your day, dear?” Their conversation goes like this.

Steven: At my weekly meeting my manager challenged my knowledge of our products and told the CEO that I am incompetent. She’s such a jerk.

Katie: There you go again. Overacting and blaming your manager. When I met her she seemed very logical and reasonable. You’re probably being insensitive to her worries about your department. (siding with the enemy)

Steven: The woman has it out for me.

Katie: And there’s your paranoia. You really need to get a handle on that. (criticism)

Steven: Forget I ever said anything.

Do you think Steven feels love by Katie in this moment?

Probably not.

Instead of providing a safe haven for him to be heard, she adds to his stress.

Learning to cope with external pressures and tensions outside your relationship is crucial to a relationship’s long-term health, according to research by Neil Jacobson.

A simple, effective way for couples to earn deposits in their emotional bank account is to reunite at the end of the day and talk about how it went. This is called the “How was your day, dear?” conversation, or more formally, the Stress-Reducing Conversation.

Like Steven and Katie, many couples have the “How was your day, dear?” conversation but the talk does not help either partner relax. Instead it escalates the stress and tension between them because they end up not feeling heard.

If this sounds like you and your partner, changing your approach to these end-of-the-day talks can ensure that they help both of you unwind.

The 4 Agreements of Love Talk

Before you start your end-of-the-day discussion, I’d recommend making some agreements. Agreements are what I use with my clients to bring their unspoken expectations into view.

Agreement #1: Agree on Timing
Some individuals want to connect the moment they walk into the door. Others need to decompress on their own before they’re ready to interact. When this expectation goes unspoken it can create tension and leave both partners feeling missed by each other. Agree on a time that will meet both of your needs. This can be at 7 pm every night or it can be 10 minutes after both of you get home.

Agreement #2: Dedicate Your Presence for 20-30 Minutes
Some couples struggle because they don’t spend enough time in the presence of each other to allow love to be cultivated. Take time to truly connect during this conversation.

Agreement #3: Don’t Discuss Your Marriage
This talk gives you and your partner the space to discuss about whatever is on your mind outside your marriage. It is not the time to bring up conflicts between you. Instead, it’s a chance to truly support each other in other areas of your life.

This conversation is a form of active listening in which you respond to each other’s venting with empathy and without judgement. Since the issues have nothing to do with the marriage, it’s much easier to express support and understanding of your partner’s worries and stresses.

Agreement #4: All Emotions are Welcome
This conversation is an opportunity to unload about irritants or issues, both big and small. If your partner shares sadness, fear, or anger and it feels uncomfortable, it may be time to explore why. Often this discomfort is rooted in childhood restrictions against expressing negative emotions. If this is the case, check out “Coping with Your Partner’s Sadness, Fear, and Anger” on page 103 in The Seven Principles That Make Marriage Work.

Allow this space to be a place of celebration too. If you have a victory at work or as a parent, mention that. Beyond sharing frustrations, a relationship is about sharing and relishing in the victories of life together. That’s what makes it meaningful.

7 Steps to an Effective End-of-Day Conversation

Below are detailed instructions for using active listening during the stress-reducing and intimacy building conversation.

1. Take turns. Let each partner be the complainer for fifteen minutes.

2. Show Compassion. It’s very easy to let your mind wander, but losing yourself will make your partner feel like you’ve lost touch with them. Stay focused on them. Ask questions to understand. Make eye contact.

3. Don’t provide unsolicited solutions. It’s natural to want to fix problems or make our lover feel better when they express pain. Often partners just want an ear to listen and a shoulder to cry on. Unless your partner has asked for help, don’t try to fix the problem, change how they feel, or rescue them. Just be present with them.

Men get caught up in this trap more frequently than women, but it is not the man’s responsibility to rescue his partner. Often trying to “save her” backfires. In the Love Lab, Dr. John Gottman noticed that when a wife shares her troubles, she reacts negatively to her husband offering advice right away. What she wants is to be heard and understood.

It’s not that problem-solving doesn’t have it’s place. It is important, but as psychologist Haim Ginott says, “Understanding must precede advice.” It’s only when your partner feels fully understood that they will be receptive to suggestions.

4. Express your understanding and validate emotions. Let your spouse know that you understand what they are saying. Here’s a list of phrases I have my clients use.

  • “Hearing that makes perfect sense why you’re upset.”
  • “That sounds terrible.”
  • “I totally agree with how you see it.”
  • “I’d be stressed too.”
  • “That would have hurt my feelings too.”

5. Take your partner’s side. Express support of your partner’s view even if you feel their perspective is unreasonable. If you back the opposition, your lover will be resentful. When your partner reaches out for emotional support (rather than advice), your role is not to cast judgement or to tell them what to do. It’s your job to express empathy.

6. Adopt a “We Against Others” attitude. If your partner is feeling alone while facing difficulty, express that you are there with them and you two are in this together.

7. Be Affectionate. Touch is one of the most expressive ways we can love our partners. As your partner talks, hold them or put an arm on their shoulder. Hold that space for them and love them through thick and thin.

Here is how the conversation changed after these instructions were given to Steven and Katie.

Katie: How was your day, dear?

Steven: At my weekly meeting my manager challenged my knowledge of our products and told the CEO that I am incompetent. She’s such a jerk.

Katie: What a jerk! She is so rude. (us against others) What did you say to her? (expressing genuine interest)

Steven: I told her I feel like she is out to get me and it’s not fair. I am the number one salesman on the floor.

Katie: I completely understand why you feel like that. I’m sorry she’s doing this to you. (expressing affection) She needs to get taken care of. (us against others)

Steven: I agree, but I think she’s doing it to herself. The CEO doesn’t appreciate her telling him everyone is incompetent but her. It’s probably best to leave it alone.

Katie: I’m glad he’s is aware of that. It’s not good and will backfire sooner or later.

Steven: I hope so. I feel like pizza, cuddles, and a movie tonight. You in?

Katie: Of course, love.

If you have this conversation everyday, it can’t help but benefit your relationship. You’ll come away with the feeling that your partner is on your side, and that’s one of the foundations of a long-lasting friendship.

I’ve Never Given Birth – But I’ve Done My Share of ‘Parenting’

I’VE NEVER GIVEN BIRTH – BUT I’VE DONE MY SHARE OF ‘PARENTING’

Angely Mercado

In communities like the one I grew up in, nannies are a rarity, but a ‘village’ of neighbors and relatives can be counted on to pitch in with child care.

At 27, I’ve never given birth and I’ve never been pregnant. But I like to joke that I have “children.” I didn’t intend to spend my preteen and teenage years helping to raise several of my neighbors’ children. But somehow, children always found me.

My first baby was J, whose mother moved into the apartment next to ours when I was in elementary school in Ridgewood, Queens. I helped her clean her apartment some Saturdays, and she’d help me bake brownies. We watched ’90s telenovelas together – it was J’s mother, and not my own, who explained the plotline of “La Usurpadora” to me.

When I was 11 she told my family that she was pregnant. My mom explained that the situation behind our neighbor’s pregnancy was complicated, and that she would need our support. So I looked at sonograms, helped her carry heavy bags, and painted the baby’s room. My siblings and I pitched in to organize and set up the baby shower. And right after J was born, I slept on my neighbor’s couch, getting up at 2 a.m. to help fix his bottle and feed him. I almost fell asleep at school that first week, but I liked helping out. J was tiny and warm and he smelled like milk, and I loved sitting in my neighbor’s living room, rocking him to sleep. I used to wonder what kind of job he’d want in the future, if he’d look like his mom, or if he’d be tall.

My neighbor fainted when she went into labor and broke her leg, so she was put on bed rest to help her recover. During this period, she struggled with severe mood swings. I didn’t know what postpartum depression was at the time; all I knew was that after someone had a baby, they became sad and tired and would sometimes wear the same house dress for over a week.

I couldn’t comfort my neighbor like her relatives or my mom could, and I certainly couldn’t understand why having a baby seemed to have made her so stressed out and unhappy. But I could help her care for her son. I was excited to finally meet J. I talked to him while I changed his diapers, I marveled at how tiny his toes were, and I practically cried when he started trying to gurgle responses to my questions.

I was there when J started learning how to walk and talk, and I was there when he started drawing recognizable pictures of things like airplanes and cars. I pushed J in his stroller while I followed his mom around grocery shopping, at doctors’ appointments, and on beach trips. My house name, Anga, was one of the first names J learned to pronounce. When he learned to read, J and I would help each other pick picture books. J liked anything to do with airplanes and animals so I always made sure to help him find those in the piles of books his mom had in her bedroom closet. I’d walk him to activities when his mom couldn’t and, as my parents often babysat J too, he was around pretty often.

But his early grade-school years were hard. J had trouble behaving, and I often had to mediate between him and his mother. I was still just a high schooler myself, but J and his mom had always felt like family. I wanted to do anything I could to make sure they would be O.K., even though I was really frustrated with his behavior, too.

“I don’t want to do laundry,” I remember him yelling at his mom. “I’m not going to the laundromat.”

I handed him his sneakers and walked with him to the laundromat. He complained and cried the whole time but I just kept handing him clothing to sort. Some days he’d refuse to get ready for school, or to leave the front steps of our building. My parents and I would help get J to school, convince him to do some chores, and talk to him about listening to his mom.

When I was in college, I’d drop J off at summer camp before heading to my summer class or summer job. On days when I was too busy to drop J off, a family friend whose daughters attended the same camp would take him. But his mom would tell me that he’d cry whenever I wasn’t there.

“The other girls are nice too, walking with them isn’t so bad,” I told him.

“Yeah, but I want to walk with you, not them,” he said.

J eventually started getting help for some of his behavioral issues, which made hanging out with him and his mom easier. As he transitioned into middle school, I didn’t have to watch him as often, but we’d go for walks sometimes and we’d hang out on my old block and talk about comic books and fan fiction.

I think of J as my “first baby,” but he wasn’t the only one. After I started high school, my nephews were born, and I graduated from one kid to a set of three. Whenever I felt overwhelmed, I’d remember what I did with J and it helped me through my auntie shifts with diaper explosions, middle-of-the-night bottles of milk, and the terrible twos. I’d take my nephews to the park, help watch them when my brother and sister-in-law ran errands, and I’d get them to finally go to sleep by telling bedtime story after bedtime story.

As I started meeting more people outside my community, I learned that affluent people didn’t always rely on neighbors and relatives and would hire nannies or babysitters. Most people from working-class communities don’t have nannies. But they have people like me.

Around that time, I learned that my mom had also helped care for her nieces and nephews, and the children of close friends, before having her own kids. My dad, who grew up as the middle child of 13 on a mountainside in Puerto Rico, practically raised his last two siblings. His older sister was taken out of school to help raise him. My maternal grandmother helped raise a lot of my mom’s younger cousins. She also helped raise me, and I helped take care of her for a while after she had a stroke when I was in high school. I’ve just carried on the tradition of “adopting” kids and and keeping them safe.

When I finally moved out of my parents’ home, I made sure to find an apartment in the same neighborhood so that I could still visit my nephews and still stop by to visit J and his mom. My nephews are in middle school now and tell me about their crushes and the teachers they like. They come over to my apartment and we sing Bad Bunny lyrics, make snacks, or go hang out on their front steps.

J is a teen now. He’s taller than me, really tan, and has a headful of beautiful curly hair. He likes video games and anime T-shirts.

“Were you my main babysitter?” he asked me a few months ago. “I remember seeing you around all the time.”

We were both sitting on my bed hanging out and catching up.

“I was always there,” I reminded him. I had missed seeing him around thanks to my crazy schedule when I was freelancing and working two jobs.

J watched the Fourth of July fireworks from our rooftop with me and my family this year. We talked about anime series that we both liked, and he told me about school and asked me about freelancing. We compared classic series and he nagged me about not finishing season three of “Attack on Titan.” We walked around after the fireworks and looked at stupid memes on his phone. It felt like hanging around a much younger brother again.

“How’s high school?” I asked him.

He rolled his eyes and then laughed.

“It’s not so bad actually.”

“At least it doesn’t suck as much as middle school,” I told him.

He asked to hang out again, and I told him I’d shoot him a text and that we’d go get lunch soon. We’ve messaged a few times, and if I go for too long without hearing from him, I reach out again or stop by to visit J and his mom. I’m proud that J is growing up and learning how to be comfortable with himself. And I like to think that hearing him out and doing my best to be patient helped him grow up to be the teenager he is today.

I’m still part of J’s village. And he’s part of mine.

The 3 Key Non-Conflict Ingredients for Constructive Conflict

THE 3 KEY NON-CONFLICT INGREDIENTS FOR CONSTRUCTIVE CONFLICT

Kyle Benson

My partner took me out to celebrate my birthday over dinner and surprised me with axe throwing.

As my partner hit the bulls-eye and smiled at me, I thought to myself how she was, without a doubt, my best friend.

I’m sure you’re aware of the cliche, “Marry your best friend.”

Just like other cliches, there’s a reason it’s around.

Hint: because it’s TRUE.

There are three parts of a strong friendship based on longitudinal research of emotionally connected couples:1

One: Up To Date Love Maps

A love map is when a partner asks open-ended questions to get to know their partner better, creating a map of their partner’s inner world.

During dating, partners do this frequently. They ask questions about work, family, and each other’s likes and dislikes. Successful couples continue to ask these seemingly “basic” questions throughout life, especially around life transitions such as a new job, moving, having a kid, etc.

These love maps help us see what makes our partner unique, and in turn, feel seen by our partners.

For example, before surprising me with axe throwing, my partner began teasing me that she bought us tickets to a concert knowing fully well that I do not find concerts pleasurable.

I felt very unseen in that moment . I started thinking, If she actually bought us concert tickets, then she doesn’t really know me. I feared that she had a bad love map of my inner world.

But when she surprised me with axe throwing, something I do enjoy, I felt known. I remember thinking, What a great surprise and a fun way for us to spend time together.

When couples do not continue to update their intimate knowledge throughout time, it’s easy to feel emotionally distant and for each partner’s satisfaction to decline over time.

So go update your love map of your partner by asking an open-ended question. For ideas, click here.

Two: Frequent Expressions of Affection, Appreciation, and Admiration

When observing 3,000 couples interact during an “events of the day” conversation and a conflict conversation, Dr. Gottman and his colleagues noticed that emotionally connected couples had a habit of looking for what their partner does right and pointing it out.

Even as simple as, “I really appreciate you cooking dinner tonight. It was delicious!”

Couples with high levels of admiration speak positively about their partners to others. These emotionally connected couples are also verbally and physically affectionate with each other.

Couples who struggle with this area of the relationship tend to have a habit of noticing and pointing out the negatives in their partner’s behavior or character. Oftentimes, this leads to escalating conflict or avoidance of one another.

Have you developed the habit of being affectionate, appreciative, and admiring in your relationship? This is often one area that all the couples I work with benefit from by adding it back into their relationship.

Three: Respond to Bids For Connection by Turning Towards Your Partner

Every day, partners make hundreds of bids for connection. Even unhappy couples. These bids can be as indirect and as small as a sigh or as big and direct as “I need a hug right now.”

Whenever a bid is expressed, partners have the choice to connect with their partner’s bid.

Attachment theory indicates that how available, responsive, and engaged partners are, influence how secure the attachment bond between partners is.

At its basic level, when we make bids for connection we are asking the question “A.R.E. you there for me?”

When that answer is yes, we relax and focus on other things or being playful.

When that answer is no, we struggle. We wonder if we can trust our partner. Insecurity seeps in.

Ironically, after watching 900 clips of couples having conflict conversations, Drs. John and Julie Gottman came to the conclusion that most often couples fight about “nothing.”

Often it is less about the topic and more about “Can I trust you to be there for me?” “Will you seek to understand me?” “Can I count on you?” “Will you work with me to build a better relationship?”

Trust is built moment to moment when we connect with our partners. We know they can count on us and we can count on them.

These three ingredients mix together like concrete and are the foundation by which a relationship succeeds or breaks apart.

Couples who continue to build these three aspects of friendship within their relationship have been proven in observational studies to have a better time navigating conflict. After all, if you are close friends, it’s easier to feel like intimate allies in life and come together when things are difficult.

These traits of friendship provide partners with the ability to see their relationship for all of the great things it is – their shared humor, their affection, and the presence of positive aspects necessary to have healthy and constructive conflict.

This in turn enables them to transform their problems into material for constructing a stronger relationship, brick by brick.

Not only do these aspects assist with conflict, but they’re also shown to be the basis on which romance, passion, and good sex happen.

Getting to continuously know your partner, expressing all of the things you admire and appreciate, and consistently responding to their bids for attention strengthen the foundation of your romantic relationship.

A Fresh 60-Second Reminder that Will Change Your Mindset (and Spare Some Pain)

A FRESH 60-SECOND REMINDER THAT WILL CHANGE YOUR MINDSET (AND SPARE SOME PAIN)

Angel Chernoff

As you read these words, you are breathing. Stop for a moment and notice this breath. You can control this breath, and make it faster or slower, or make it behave as you like. Or you can simply let yourself inhale and exhale naturally. There is peace in just letting your lungs breathe, without having to control the situation or do anything about it. Now imagine letting other parts of your body breathe, like your tense shoulders. Just let them be, without having to tense them or control them.

Now look around the room you’re in and notice the objects around you. Pick one, and let it breathe. There are likely people in the room with you too, or in the same house or building, or in nearby houses or buildings. Visualize them in your mind, and let them breathe.

When you let everything and everyone breathe, you just let them be, exactly as they are. You don’t need to control them, worry about them, or change them. You just let them breathe, in peace, and you accept them as they are. This is what letting go is all about. It can be a life-changing practice.

At our annual conference, Think Better, Live Better, Marc and I guide attendees through this process of letting go—and breathing steadily through life’s twists and turns (you should get an HD recording of the event).

Truth be told, inner peace begins the moment you take a new breath and choose not to allow an uncontrollable event to dominate you in the long-term. You are not what happened to you. You are what you choose to become in this moment. Let go, breathe, and begin again…

My Dream of Motherhood Was Eclipsed by Widowhood

MY DREAM OF MOTHERHOOD WAS ECLIPSED BY WIDOWHOOD

Katie Hawkins-Gaar

The writer with her husband

Surprisingly, grieving the death of a spouse mirrors the emotional landmines of new parenthood.

“We were adopting a baby.”

That’s the first thing I blurted out after my husband, Jamie, was pronounced dead. Although I was surrounded by emergency room staff, I was met with silence. No one knew what to say.

I didn’t know what to say, either. I sat stunned, holding Jamie’s lifeless hand, trying to wrap my head around how much had shattered in that moment.

Jamie and I began our journey into parenthood in October 2016, once we finally settled on an adoption agency. Over the next few months, we completed background checks, got letters of recommendation from friends and family, passed the in-home case worker visit, started reading parenting books and made some hefty agency payments.

Our next big hurdle was recording a series of videos — self interviews, testimonials from others and miscellaneous footage of our daily lives — that aimed to show prospective birth parents how well-rounded our lives were and how well-suited we were to raising a child. We recorded our final video on Jan. 31, 2017. It was a chilly Tuesday night, as we played volleyball with spirit, if not skill, for the camera.

Four days later, Jamie died. He was 32. He collapsed while running a half marathon, not far from the finish line where I was standing. The autopsy revealed that he had fibromuscular dysplasia of atrioventricular node arteries — in simpler terms, a rare and difficult-to-detect disease that can lead to sudden cardiac death.

I fully expected that 2017 would be the year I became a mother, not a widow. I envisioned witnessing our baby’s first breaths, not my husband’s final gasp. I anticipated soothing our crying child, not wiping away my own endless tears.

It’s now been almost three years since that fateful race. Plenty has changed since then. I’m 34, two years older than Jamie will ever be. I quit my full-time job and doubled down on my dreams of becoming a writer. I’ve done lots of solo traveling and have found solace in nature. I’m in a relationship with a wonderful and patient man, who’s teaching me what it means to love again.

One thing that’s remained consistent over that time is the reassurance I’ve received from other widows and widowers who have come before me, about both Jamie’s death and my thwarted dream of parenthood. They’ve told me what’s normal, what to expect, and what they were going through when they marked the same amount of time post-loss as I had.

My friend Stephanie reassured me that things won’t always feel so hopeless. My mother reminded me how she made sense of the world after my dad died. And I’ve learned so much from the wonderfully wise Nation, who taught me that grief never really goes away, but you learn how to live with it.

Navigating widowhood shares a surprising number of similarities with figuring out parenthood — or, at least, what I expected the experience would be like. Of course, there’s the important distinction that parenting means welcoming life instead of contending with death. But new widows and parents both obsessively count the days, weeks and months since their lives dramatically changed. They eagerly look for other people who are going through the same thing they’re experiencing. They gently tell each other that things will get easier — just after you make it past the next milestone.

There were plenty of moments where the present I was experiencing seemed cruelly juxtaposed with the future I had imagined. Just before his death, Jamie and I excitedly began to clean out closets to make room for a new member of our family. Now, I was faced with the difficult task of emptying Jamie’s closet and donating his belongings. Our would-be nursery remained a guest room, and our house — suddenly home to just me and my dog — felt bigger than ever.

In online groups and in-person meetups, I’ve noticed that widows introduce ourselves to each other by sharing how long it’s been since our partners died. That information offers valuable context. Just like caring for an infant is different from parenting a preschooler, there’s a vast difference in navigating grief at six months versus six years.

Those of us who have lost partners know that the first months of widowhood are a blur; it’s a struggle to digest our new reality. Four months out, for many of us, is when the loneliness becomes unbearable and we daydream about someday dating again. All the progress we thought we’d made falls apart around the one-year mark. And year two, nearly every widow I’ve met laments, is the toughest to face.

“Is this at all what parenthood feels like?” I asked in an online support group, wondering if my theory was sound.

The widows who are now solo parents — women and men doing an incredible job at a seemingly impossible task — shared how similar the extremes can feel. In both cases, you experience a significant shift in your identity. You have no idea what you’re doing, and worry how your early choices will affect the future. You face the reality that life will never be the same again.

In parenthood and widowhood, as in life, there are endless ups and downs. Amid the joys of parenting, there’s plenty of exhaustion and despair. Likewise, the heaviness of grief contains surprising moments of lightness. As parents and widows, your heart is broken wide open — you love deeper than you ever thought possible, and you find gratitude in the smallest moments. And whether you’re caring for a newborn or grieving a new death, you find yourself acutely aware of how fragile life truly is.

As one mother and young widow told me, “When my husband died, I gave birth to death.”

These days, I’m uncertain whether I want to become a mom, either biologically or through adoption. Sometimes, it feels like my uncertainty is rooted in fear. Other times, I’m unsure due to a lack of closure. I haven’t been able to mourn the loss of my hypothetical baby the way I’ve been able to mourn the death of my husband.

Many times, it simply seems pointless to head down this path once more. I allowed myself to be hopeful before. Why would I do it again?

Lately, though, I’ve had moments when I dare to dream again, and allow myself to imagine becoming a parent. Although it’s a surefire way to make me cry, I’ll occasionally watch our adoption footage, remembering how giddy Jamie and I once were. My favorite videos, the ones that make me cry the most, are of Jamie answering the agency’s pre-written questions, like what skills would make me a good mom.

“I think her ability to persevere, and to work harder than anybody else, is a skill that will benefit our kid,” said Jamie, chuckling at himself as he started to tear up. “I think she’s amazing. Her ability to persevere is incredible, and our child is going to benefit from that as well.”

When we recorded those videos, we had no idea they would one day become pep talks that kept me going. Widowhood, like parenthood, teaches you that you can’t control the way things turn out. I don’t know whether I’ll ever become a mom, but I’m grateful for the chance to even reconsider it.

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.  🙂

1 Insanely Popular Way to Wreck the Next Year of Your Life

1 INSANELY POPULAR WAY TO WRECK THE NEXT YEAR OF YOUR LIFE

Angel Chernoff

Remind yourself: It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.

And yet so often, against our better judgment, we make the wrong choices.

Our pride has us holding on when we need to let go.

Pressure from peers sways us left when we mean to go right.

Negative thoughts provoke frowning on otherwise beautiful days.

And so it goes…

One choice at a time, one moment at a time, we ruin the most promising days of our lives.

If you can relate at all, it’s time to answer your wake-up call!

How many times have you thought “this isn’t working” or “something is not right” or “things have to change”? – those thoughts and words are from your inner voice. It’s your wake-up call calling.

You really don’t need some scary, life-threatening diagnosis or major crisis to wake you up. And no one needs to tell you because you already know. Your inner voice has been trying to tell you for a while now, but in case it’s been a challenge to find time and space to listen through the chaos, maybe you’ll resonate with one of these situations:

  • If your life is on auto-pilot and you’re always feeling worn down and stressed out, this is your wake-up call.
  • If you never put yourself first, this is your wake-up call.
  • If you are constantly numbing out with food, shopping, booze, TV, or other distractions, this is your wake-up call.

Getting your wake-up call is not the hard part. Answering the call is. Choosing to answer the call instead of ignoring it is HARD! Right now, it may feel much easier to keep going, and going, and going. But you know if you don’t find a way out of the endless cycle you’re in, it’s going to get worse…

Remind yourself that a big part of your life is a result of the choices you make. And if you don’t like your life it’s time to start making changes and better choices.

Based on over a decade of one-on-one coaching sessions with hundreds of students from around the world, and hearing dozens of personal stories every year from attendees at our live annual events, here is the #1 way we as human beings gradually wreck our own lives, and some clear ideas on how to make better choices going forward:

Decide YOU ARE STUCK!

Seriously, that’s the most popular way we as human beings hurt ourselves! Take a moment to reflect on evidence of this in your own life…

Think about ONE self-limiting belief you have—one area of your life where you believe you absolutely CANNOT make progress. It can be about any part of your life you hope to change—your health, your weight, your career, your relationships – anything at all. What’s one thing you’ve essentially decided is a fact about your place on Earth?

And then I want you to shift gears and think about ONE time, one fleeting moment, in which the opposite of that ‘fact’ was true for you. I don’t care how tiny of a victory it was, or even if it was a partial victory. What’s one moment in time you can look back on and say, “Hey, that was totally unlike ‘me’—but I did it!”? Because once you identify the cracks in the wall of a self-limiting belief, you can start attacking it. You can start taking steps forward every day that go against it—positive daily rituals that create tiny victories, more confidence, gradual momentum, bigger victories, even more confidence, and so on.

And yes, I also understand that we all face our share of incredibly difficult circumstances, many of which are not the results of anything we’ve done. But we still have choices when it comes to how we’ll respond to these 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.
  • Answer our wake-up call. Let it be. Let go.

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

It’s essential 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 of the wrong attachments is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself—the ability to exist peacefully and productively 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 and productive 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.”

Choose to be free in the midst of life’s uncertainties, so YOU CAN make progress again.

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. 

How to Reconnect With Your Partner After Having Kids

HOW TO RECONNECT WITH YOUR PARTNER AFTER HAVING KIDS

Christina Caron

First things first: This is not another article that simply tells you to “go on a date night.”

Nothing against date nights. The best ones can remind you why you fell in love with your spouse or partner in the first place.

Or they can involve staring at each other in a sleep-deprived haze over an expensive meal while intermittently glancing at your phone for updates from the babysitter.

If date nights aren’t working for you, or if you’ve been struggling to maintain intimacy for months — or even years — after having children, here are some different ways to stay close to your spouse or partner, despite the stresses and frustrations of parenthood.

Try not to become complacent.

Just as there was never a perfect time to have children, there will rarely be a perfect time to rekindle a connection with your partner.

It’s easy to push your romantic relationship to the side: “Let’s get through sleep training first.” Or: “As soon as I get back into shape.” Or: “Maybe when I’m less tired.”

Then winter arrives. “Everyone’s sick again? Let’s wait until we get better.”

But if you keep waiting, experts say, regaining intimacy can become increasingly difficult.

“It seems to have been the norm for so many couples to say to themselves, ‘Now that the kids are here, we’ll focus on the kids. Our day will come,’” said Michele Weiner-Davis, a marriage and family therapist whose TEDx talk about sex-starved marriages has been viewed more than 5 million times. “But here’s the bad news from someone who’s been on the front lines with couples for decades. Unless you treat your relationship, your marriage, like it’s a living thing — which requires nurturing on a regular basis — you won’t have a marriage after the kids leave home.”

Couples may start to lead parallel but separate lives — and discover they have nothing in common.

“They’re looking at a stranger, and they ask themselves, ‘Is this the way I want to spend the last few years of my life?’” Ms. Weiner-Davis said. “And for too many couples the answer is no.”

But all of that is preventable, she added.

“It’s absolutely essential not to be complacent about what I call a ho-hum sex life. Touching is a very primal way of connecting and bonding,” Ms. Weiner-Davis said. “If those needs to connect physically are ignored over a period of time, or are downgraded so that it’s not satisfying, I can assure people there will be problems in the relationship moving forward.”

Slow down and start over.

If you had a vaginal birth, you and your partner may expect to begin having sex as early as six weeks after the baby is born, if you have been physically cleared to do so.

For some couples, that signals “the clock is now ticking,” said Emily Nagoski, author of “Come As You Are: The Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life.”

But a lot of women simply won’t be ready that early. And that’s O.K.

“After the postpartum checkup, I didn’t feel like myself, I didn’t feel physically ready to have sex,” said Emily Stroia, 33, who lives in Los Angeles. “In terms of libido, I didn’t really have one.”

Ms. Stroia, the mother of a 10-month-old, eventually starting having sex with her partner once a month — but before she became pregnant, they had sex nearly every week, she said.

“I still kind of forget that I’m in a relationship,” said Ms. Stroia, who is struggling with sleep deprivation. “I have to remind myself that I have a partner.”

After any potential medical problems are ruled out, Dr. Nagoski advises couples to “start over” with one another by establishing a sexual connection in much in the same way they might have done when they were first getting to know each other: making out, holding each other and gradually moving in the direction of bare skin.

That’s especially important if there’s a birth parent involved, she added.

“That person’s body is brand-new,” Dr. Nagoski said. “The whole meaning of their body has transformed.”

It also helps to remember that “intimacy isn’t just hot sex,” said Rick Miller, a psychotherapist in Massachusetts.

“It’s steadfast loyalty, a commitment to getting through stressful times together and, most importantly, enjoying the warm, cozy moments of home together,” Mr. Miller said.

Put on your life preserver first.

Taking the time to nurture your individual physical and emotional needs will give you the bandwidth to nurture your relationship, too, so that it doesn’t feel like another task on the to-do list.

“When you experience your partner’s desire for intimacy as an intrusion, ask yourself, ‘How deprived am I in my own self-care? What do I need to do to take care of myself in order to feel connected to my own sexuality?’” said Dr. Alexandra Sacks, a reproductive psychiatrist and host of the “Motherhood Sessions” podcast.

That might mean going to the gym or talking to your partner about decreasing the invisible mental load that is often carried by one parent.

Enlisting the support of your family (or your chosen family) to take some time for yourself or discuss some of the struggles that accompany parenting can help you recharge.

“Relying on others is an indirect way of working on intimacy,” Mr. Miller said.

This is especially important for gay couples, he added, who may not typically share vulnerabilities “because the world hasn’t been a safe place.”

Practicing self-care as a couple is equally important.

Dr. Sacks recommends making a list of everything you used to do together as a couple that helped you feel close, and thinking about how those rituals have changed.

Is your toddler sleeping in your bed, spread out like a sea star between you and your partner? Have you stopped doing the things together you used to really enjoy like working out or going to the movies? Dr. Sacks recommends thinking about how you’re going to make an adjustment in order to create physical and emotional intimacy with your partner.

For example, if you always used to talk about your day together and now that time is completely absorbed by caregiving, the absence of that connection will be profound.

“You can’t just eliminate it and expect to feel as close,” she said.

Think about what turns you on.

According to Dr. Nagoski, one way to nurture intimacy is to remind yourselves of the context in which you had a great sexual connection together.

What characteristics did your partner have? What characteristics did your relationship have?

Then, she said, think about the setting.

“Were we at home with the door locked? Were we on vacation? Was it over text? Was it at a party in a closet at a stranger’s house against a wall of other people’s coats? What context really works for us?” Dr. Nagoski said.

When doing this exercise, and when thinking about your current libido (or lack thereof) it’s also helpful to remember that not everyone experiences spontaneous desire — the kind of sexual desire that pops out of nowhere. For example, you’re walking down the street and suddenly can’t stop thinking about sex.

Millions of other people experience something different called responsive desire, which stems from erotic stimulation. In other words, arousal comes first and then desire.

Both types of desire are normal.

Create a magic circle in your bedroom.

Dr. Nagoski suggested cordoning off an imaginative protected space in your mind where you can “bring forward the aspects of your identity that are relevant to your erotic connection and you close the door on the parts of yourself that are not important for an erotic connection.”

With enough focus, this strategy can work even if the physical space you’re using contains reminders of your role as a caregiver.

It can also help to think of your bedroom as a sanctuary, advised Ms. Weiner-Davis.

For couples who have spent years co-sleeping with their children, that can be somewhat difficult.

“I do believe there comes a point where it’s important to have those boundaries again,” Ms. Weiner-Davis said.

Don’t bank on spontaneity.

It’s easy to forget how much time and effort we put into our relationships in the early days: planning for dates, caring for our bodies and (gasp) having long conversations with one another.

“People feel sort of sad when they get that news that yes, it does require effort to build a connection across a lifetime,” Dr. Nagoski said. “You don’t just dive in — you don’t just put your body in the bed and put your genitals against each other and expect for it to be ecstatic.”

Karen Jeffries (a pen name she uses as a writer and performer to protect her privacy) said her sex life with her husband is better than ever after having had two children. They’ve always had a strong physical connection, she said. But they also plan ahead and prioritize.

“There are times where I’ll text him and I’ll be like, ‘We’re having sex tonight,’ and he’ll be like ‘O.K.’ or vice versa,” she said. “Sometimes I’ll send him a picture of a taco and he’ll send me a picture of an eggplant.”

Ms. Jeffries, 37, a fourth-grade dual-language teacher in Westchester County, N.Y., is the author of “Hilariously Infertile,” an account of the fertility treatments she endured to conceive her two daughters. Her children, now aged 6 and 4, are on a strict sleep schedule with a 7:30 p.m. bedtime, allowing for couple time in the evening.

Think of building good sexual habits just like you would develop good eating or exercising habits, she advised.

“Sex begets more sex. Kind of like when you go to the gym,” she said. “It takes you a while to build that habit.”

Then, she added, “You’ll notice little by little that it becomes more and more as opposed to less and less.”

Consider therapy.

A small 2018 study found that attending group therapy helped couples with low sexual desire as well as those who had discrepancies in their levels of sexual desire.

Individual or couples therapy can also be a good place to start.

For many parents, however, and especially those with young children, finding the time and money to go to a therapist can be challenging.

Esther Perel, a psychotherapist whose TED talks on sexuality and relationships have been viewed by millions, offers an online course, currently $199, that includes a section called “Sex After Kids.”

Ms. Perel also hosts the popular “Where Should We Begin?” podcast, in which couples share the intimate details of their troubles during recorded therapy sessions.

number of other podcasts also offer advice to couples, including “Marriage Therapy Radio” and “Relationship Advice.”

Regardless of what steps you take to rebuild a connection with your spouse, experts say it’s important to take action as soon as possible.

“The child is not going to take up less space over time,” Dr. Sacks said. “So the question is: How do you carve out space for your relationships around the child, as the child continues to develop with different but continually demanding needs.”

Why Temptation Is Like Ice Cream

WHY TEMPTATION IS LIKE ICE CREAM

Richard Innes

“No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”1

Nelson Searcy tells of a study that was conducted about the best tasting ice cream. Members of the control group were blindfolded and given all kinds of vanilla ice cream to taste—quality brand ice cream, gourmet ice cream, homemade ice cream, cheap ice cream and everything in between.

It didn’t matter if it was gourmet, brand name, or homemade ice cream, “The number one determining factor was the percentage of fat in the ice cream. In other words, the more fat that was in the ice cream, the more people liked it.”

As Searcy stated, “Now, isn’t that one of the ironies of life? Why can’t fried chicken, which happens to be my favorite food, be as good for you as an apple?  I have never heard a doctor say—’A fried chicken leg a day will keep the doctor away.’ The reason they say that is because if you had fried chicken every morning for breakfast, it would probably keep the doctor nearby because your cholesterol would shoot up. I guess I’ll have to settle for apples.”2

And who doesn’t like a good fatty ice cream? As a kid we even used to pour pure cream over our ice cream. Yum! Yum! We had no idea how unhealthy that was.

Temptation, too, can have an overpowering attraction and appeal. It can look fabulous and at first taste very inviting—but in the long run its effects are deadly. It reminds me of an extremely beautiful fish that is found on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. It’s only very small but its sting is incredibly painful. It needs to be avoided at all cost. Same with sin. Regardless how attractive it appears, its end result is deadly so it needs to be avoided at all costs. As Searcy said, “When we give in to temptation, we always regret it because in the long run we always give up something greater for instant gratification right now.”3

Suggested Prayer: “Dear God, please help me to remember that while sin’s temptation can be very appealing, it always pays self-destructive dividends. Through Your Spirit please give me the strength to resist the lures of the evil one—and the good sense to always depend on You and not try to fight it in my own strength. Thank You for hearing and answering my prayer. Gratefully, in Jesus’s name, amen.”

11 Corinthians 10:13 (NIV).
2. Nelson Searcy. Source: KneEmailkneemail-subscribe@welovegod.org.
3. Ibid.

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.”