It’s a dull, subdued sensation when your heart is breaking,
like the muffled sound of a distant gunshot. It doesn’t physically pierce your
skin or tear you to pieces, but the sensation is physically present – the
paralyzing discomfort of realizing that something you took for granted is
leaving for good.
Although it’s hard to accept at first, this is actually a
good sign, having a broken heart. It means you have loved something, you have
tried for something, and you have let life teach you.
Life will attempt to break you down sometimes; nothing and no
one can completely protect you from this reality. Remaining alone and hiding
from the world won’t either, for endless, stagnant solitude will also break you
with unhealthy nostalgia and yearning.
You have to stand back up and put yourself out there again.
Your heart is stronger than you realize. I’ve been there and I’ve seen
heartbreak through to the other side. It takes time, effort and patience.
Deep heartbreak is kind of like being lost in the woods –
every direction leads to nowhere at first. When you are standing in a forest of
darkness, you cannot see any light that could ever lead you home. But if you
wait for the sun to rise again, and listen when someone assures you that they
themselves have stood in that same dark place, and have since moved forward
with their life, oftentimes this will bring the hope that’s needed.
It’s so hard to give you advice when you’ve got a broken
heart, but some words can heal, and this is my attempt to give you hope. You
are stronger than you know!
1. The person you liked or loved in the past, who treated you
like dirt repeatedly, has nothing intellectually or spiritually to offer you in
the present moment, but more headaches and heartache.
2. When you don’t get what you want, sometimes it’s necessary
preparation, and other times it’s necessary protection. But the time is never
wasted. It’s a step on your journey. Someday you’re going look back on this
time in your life as such an important time of grieving and growing. You will
see that you were in mourning and your heart was breaking, but your life was
3. Some chapters in our lives have to close without closure.
There’s no point in losing yourself by trying to hold on to what’s not meant to
stay. Remember this, and always keep two simple questions in mind: What
opportunities do I have right now? What’s one small, positive step forward I
can take today?
4. One of the hardest lessons to learn: You cannot change
other people. Every interaction, rejection and heartbreaking lesson is an
opportunity to change yourself only. And there is great freedom and piece of
mind to be found in this awareness.
5. It’s always better to be alone than to be in bad company.
And when you do decide to give someone a chance, do so because you’re truly
better off with this person. Don’t do it just for the sake of not being alone.
6. Be determined to be positive. Understand that the greater
part of your misery or unhappiness from this point forward is determined not by
your circumstances, but by your attitude.
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 feel better, think more clearly, and
get our lives back on track.
I’VE NEVER GIVEN BIRTH – BUT I’VE DONE MY SHARE OF ‘PARENTING’
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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?
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
“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.
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
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.
Any other thoughts on perfectionism’s harmful role in relationships?
“Her children arise and call her blessed; her
husband also, and he praises her.” Proverbs
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
said, “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline.” – Revelation 3:19, NIV
Nine-year-old Al had disobeyed his father who, as a strict disciplinarian, sent
him with a note to a police station in London. When Al came in late after
curfew, his father met him at the door and handed him a note and said,
“Take it to the jailhouse.”
Al was terrified.
“The officer, a friend of his father, opens the note, reads it, and nods,.
‘Follow me.’ He leads the wide-eyed youngster to a jail cell, opens the door,
and tells him to enter. The officer clangs the door shut. ‘This is what we do
to naughty boys,’ he explains and walks away…. The jail sentence lasts only
five minutes. But those five minutes felt like five months. Al never forgot
that day. The sound of the clanging door, he often told people, stayed with him
the rest of his life.
“The fear of losing a father’s love exacts a high toll. Al spent the rest
of his life hearing the clanging door. That early taste of terror contributed
to his lifelong devotion to creating the same in others. For Al—Alfred
Hitchcock—made a career out of scaring people.” (From UpWords from
Max Lucado, www.maxlucado.com)
True, discipline is important, but it always needs to fit the crime. Some
children are impaired for life because of severe punishment as a child. Others
are left terrified if they were beaten severely or abused. It is imperative
that parents never discipline out of anger because that is punishment, not
discipline. Discipline always needs to be in love.
Those whom God loves, he disciplines in love—not punishes in anger. We need to
do the same with our children.
God, thank You that when You discipline me it is always out of Your love for me
and for my good. Help me to do the same when disciplining my children. May it
always be in love and never out of anger. Thank You for hearing and answering
my prayer. Gratefully in Jesus’ name, amen.”
4 STEPS TO OVERCOME GRIDLOCK THAT HARMS RELATIONSHIPS
All couples are bound to have arguments. When they struggle to manage these ongoing disagreements with constructive conflict conversations, the result is what Dr. John Gottman calls “gridlock.”
Gridlock is like a Chinese Finger Trap. Each partner pulls for his or her position, making compromise impossible.
My Dreams Are Becoming My Worst Nightmare
Our dreams are full of aspirations and wishes that are core to our identity and give our life purpose and meaning. Gridlock is a sign that each partner has dreams that the other hasn’t accepted, doesn’t respect, or isn’t aware of.
Some dreams are practical, like obtaining a certain amount of savings, while others are profound, like owning a beach house in Hawaii. The profound dreams often remain hidden beneath the practical ones.
For example, Kurt wants to make a seven-figure income, but why is that so important to him? Underneath his dream is a deep need for financial security.
When couples are in gridlock, it is only by uncovering the hidden dreams and symbolic meanings that they can get out of the Chinese Finger Trap.
The way out is to first identify the dream within conflict. When partners are gridlocked, they see each other as the source of difficulty. They tend to ignore their part in creating the conflict because it’s hidden from view.
If you find yourself saying, “the only problem is his lack of intelligence,” that’s probably not the whole story.
Uncovering a hidden dream is a challenge and it won’t emerge until you feel the relationship is a safe place to talk about it. If you don’t feel comfortable enough to open up, focus on the first three principles in The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.
My Dreams Are Silly
Personal dreams often go unmentioned because people worry they will burden their partner or negatively impact the relationship. It’s common for partners not to feel entitled to their dreams, but when you bury a dream, it can lead to resentment and ultimately gridlock.
When you share your dreams with your partner, you give your marriage the opportunity to have a profound purpose and sense of shared meaning. As Dr. Gottman explains in The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, “couples who are demanding of their marriage are more likely to have deeply satisfying unions than those who lower their expectations.”
4 Steps to Overcome Gridlock
When you begin to uncover the dreams beneath your gridlock, the problems in your marriage will not immediately go away. It may actually seem to worsen rather than improve. Be patient. The very nature of gridlock is that dreams are in opposition.
Step 1: Explore Each Other’s Dreams
Pick an issue that you both feel causes gridlock in your marriage. Take time to reflect on the hidden dreams that may underlie your position. Talk about it with your partner by using Dr. Gottman’s Conflict Blueprint for a truly effective conflict conversation. Focus on understanding your partner’s position.
What not to say: Kris: I’ve always dreamed of buying a beach house in Hawaii. Kurt: First of all, we can’t afford something like that. I can’t think of anything more stressful than trying to upkeep a property in the middle of the ocean. Think of all the wear and tear we will need to replace. Kris: Forget it…
What to say instead: Kris: I’ve always dreamed of buying a beach house in Hawaii. Kurt: Tell me more about what it means to own a beach house in Hawaii. What would it do for you? Kris: It would be heaven on earth. My family and I used to go every year and my parents always said they wanted to buy a beach house. I’d feel such a sense of accomplishment and we’d be able to invite my parents over! They’d be so proud.
Acknowledging and respecting each other’s deepest most personal hopes and dreams is key to saving and enriching your marriage.
Step 2: Soothe Yourself and Each Other Discussing deeply held dreams that are in opposition can be stressful. Pay attention to your stress levels. If flooding occurs, stop the conversation, take a break, and use repairs.
Step 3: Reach a Temporary Compromise Now it’s time to make peace with this issue (for now) by accepting your differences and establishing some kind of initial compromise. Understand that this problem may never go away. The goal is to remove the hurt so the problem stops being a source of pain. To do this, refer to the Conflict Blueprint to separate the issue into two categories:
Non-negotiable areas: Aspects of the issue that you are unwilling to give up on because it will violate your basic needs or core values. Try to make this section as small as possible.
Areas of flexibility: Parts of the issue where you can be flexible. Try to make this section as large as possible.
Share your list with your partner and work together to come up with a temporary compromise. This compromise should last about three months. Afterwards, you can review where both of you stand. Don’t expect to solve the problem yet. Your goal here is only to live with it more peacefully. After all, 69% of all problems in a relationship are unsolvable.
Here’s what Kris and Kurt did:
They defined minimal core areas they are unwilling to change. Kris says she must have a house in Hawaii. Kurt says he must save $40,000 in order to feel financially secure.
They defined areas of flexibility. Kris says she can settle for a condo, rather than a beachfront house. Even though she wants to buy now, she is willing to wait 3 years as long as they can work together to make it happen. Kurt says he can be flexible about how quickly they save, as long as he knows both of them are working towards this goal. They decide that 5% of their income goes into this savings account.
They found a temporary compromise that honors both of their needs. They will buy a condo, but not for another three years. Meanwhile, they will devote half of their savings to a down payment and half into a mutual fund. In three months, they will review this plan and decide if it’s working or not.
Both Kris and Kurt realize that the underlying perpetual problem will never go away. Kris will always be the visionary, imagining a life on a beach, and Kurt is going to worry about their financial security. By learning to work with each other, both partners are able to cope with their differences, avoid gridlock, and work support each other in achieving their dreams.
Step 4: Give Thanks Overcoming financial gridlock requires more than just one discussion about the issues that have deeply troubled your marriage. The goal with this step is to cultivate a culture of appreciation in which you express your gratitude for all you have. This will feel difficult after talking about such an emotionally charged issue, but that’s all the more reason to make effort to end the conflict conversation on a positive note.
The best way to cope with financial gridlock is to avoid it in the first place. Don’t wait until resentment has set in to ask your partner about their dreams – Dr. Gottman suggests becoming a “dream detective.”
Victoria’s heart hurt. She’d just received
news, a few days before, that the marriage of her best friend, Callie, had
unexpectedly hit a breaking point. Although they were a part of her church
family, few people really knew what was going on.
When she walked in to teach her Sunday school
class, she could see the pain on the faces of Callie’s two youngest children.
She silently prayed, “Lord, what can I do?”
She stepped up and greeted the kids in a different way. She said, “I am sad
today. And it’s okay to be sad. Lots of times we put on a smile for everyone to
see on the outside, but inside we hurt. You wouldn’t know that I was sad today,
except that I told you.”
She then asked the children for a hug. “When our hearts hurt, we can share the love
that God puts in our hearts with one another, and it helps us feel better.
Would anyone want to give me a hug, today?” Immediately all of the children
lined up. As she hugged each child, some of them admitted to her that they
needed a hug too, including Callie’s children.
The atmosphere in the room changed. Her simple demonstration of honesty and
love had turned things around for her entire classroom. She encouraged her
children to ask for a hug from others if they felt they needed one during the
Today’s One Thing
Demonstrate God’s love to someone in a special
way today. If you’re not sure how, ask God to show you. There are times in our
lives where our authenticity can open the door for our friends or family to
share with us things they may be facing or even encourage them to know that no
one has a perfect life. We are all struggling together and can lean on one
another and God for help in our time of need!
DIVORCE PREVENTION: THE LIGHT SWITCH OF LOVE DILEMMA
is like a light switch.
When people fall in love, the light turns on. They typically
feel excited, captivated, and eager to get to know their partners. They see
each other in a positive light.
When couples divorce, the most common reason is that they “grew
apart.” Essentially, the light switched off at some point.
So what happened?
The way it plays out
reminds me of something from my childhood imagination.
As a child, I used to
hate when my parents turned off my bedroom light.
I would start seeing
Batman in my closet and fear that he was going to kidnap me.
When an earthquake would
happen while I was sleeping, my first thought was that the Joker (from Batman)
was under my bed trying to get me.
When the light switch was
off, I would imagine all the worst things happening.
This happens in
When the light is on,
couples will experience negative events in the relationship, yet still evaluate
the relationship as satisfying overall.
However, as negative
experiences accumulate (without repair and constructive changes), the light switch
reaches a tipping point.
It turns off.
All of a sudden we
evaluate our relationship as dissatisfying.
With the lights off, our
brains imagine the worst intentions of our partner.
Of the 19% of couples who
seek out help with their marital challenges, most start couples therapy with
the lights off, as evidenced by research revealing that couples wait six years
on average before seeking outside help.
As a result, they have to
accumulate a lot of positive experiences while having a dissatisfying view of
their relationship just to turn the light switch on. That’s hard.
It’s like my dad telling
me Batman isn’t in my bedroom closet, but my imagination saying he is. I want
to trust my dad, but my brain is screaming “See! See! There’s Batman.”
Research confirms this.
When we have a negative perspective of our partner, we even misinterpret the
neutral and positive actions of our partner as negative.
The divorce rate for
first marriages in the U.S. is around 45% and the divorce rate for subsequent
marriages is even higher. Despite
these high numbers, only a third of couples who divorce work with a counselor,
coach, or therapist before signing the papers.
What this illuminates is
that there are opportunities to repair and strengthen a relationship before the
light switches off.
Like most things in life,
prevention is often the best intervention.
Catch the accumulating problems early and turn the issues into
material to construct a stronger and more secure relationship.
Proactively strengthen both a couple’s friendship and their
emotional and sexual intimacy while exploring ways to create a meaningful bond.
Let’s keep the lights on,
P.S. Prevention options
are listed below.
P.S.S. While this article
is pro-relationship, it is not my position to decide whether you should stay or
leave a relationship. After all, it is your love life. Clients who have worked
with me know that I am not pro-relationship or pro-separation. My goal is to
help the couple clean things up so they can decide for themselves from a mature
place. I would also say that I have recommended people leave abusive, or
unhealthy relationships in which partners do not want to become
Take an Annual Couple
Checkup: Research from Clark University in Oregon indicates that having
an annual marriage checkup can positively decrease the chances of a
relationship getting worse and help strengthen a relationship overtime. All of
us do health checkups, shouldn’t we do the same for our marriage? If you’re in
Oregon, you can check it out here. You can also take the Couples Checkup by
Prepare-Enrich here (they also send you a variety of discussion
questions to support you in making changes). Another checkup option is RELATE.
Support: If you are on the brink of divorce, I might recommend starting
with Discernment Counseling before starting therapy. Furthermore, therapy and
coaching offer a variety of ways to receive one-on-one support. Depending on
your needs, you can do marathon therapy, weekly sessions, or virtual sessions via
video chat. I’d recommend working with someone who has professional training in
couples therapy. Here are some places you can search for a therapist near
you: Gottman Therapist, Emotionally Focused Couples Therapist, PACT Therapist, AASECT (for support with sex and intimacy challenges)
and Imago Therapist.
Gottman, J. M., Silver,
N., & Berkrot, P. (2012). What makes love last?: how to build trust
and avoid betrayal. Old Saybrook, CT: Tantor Media.
C., Stanely, S., Glenn, N., Amato, P., Nock, S., Markman, H., & Dion, M.
(2002). Marriage in Oklahoma: 2001 baseline statewide survey on marriage and
divorce (SO2096 OKDHS). Oklahoma City, OK: Oklahoma Department of Human
Gottman, J. M. (1994).
What predicts divorce? The relationship between marital processes and marital
outcomes. Hillsdale, NK: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
Robinson, E. A., &
Price, M. G. (1980). Pleasurable behavior in marital interaction: An
observational study. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology ,
48(1), 117-118 DOI: 10.1037/0022-006X.48.1.117
C., Stanely, S., Glenn, N., Amato, P., Nock, S., Markman, H., & Dion, M.
(2002). Marriage in Oklahoma: 2001 baseline statewide survey on marriage and
divorce (SO2096 OKDHS). Oklahoma City, OK: Oklahoma Department of Human