When times are hard, remember this one thing

WHEN TIMES ARE HARD, REMEMBER THIS ONE THING

Angel Chernoff

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t be one of them!

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

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

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

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

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

Significant Mother

SIGNIFICANT MOTHER

Robert Landon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to accept each other (without killing each other)

HOW TO ACCEPT EACH OTHER (WITHOUT KILLING EACH OTHER)

Bruce Muzik

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

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

Only, kidding!

I’m not recovering.

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

We’ve learned that acceptance is cultivated by:

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

The forth and final skill that cultivates acceptance is this:

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

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

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

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

It’s not rocket science.

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

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

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

Empathy is the natural result of making this connection.

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

Well, first you have to understand her past.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consider this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Till next time, be kind to each other.

I Got Married in Jeans but Our Marriage Got Serious

I GOT MARRIED IN JEANS BUT OUR MARRIAGE GOT SERIOUS

Luke Dani Blue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

What Does Trust and Commitment Look Like in a Relationship?

WHAT DOES TRUST AND COMMITMENT LOOK LIKE IN A RELATIONSHIP?

Mary Beth George

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trust, Cherishing, and Commitment

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

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

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

Commitment in Action

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

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

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

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

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

Thinking Out Loud

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dating a Man 16 Years Younger Forced Me to Grow Up

DATING A MAN 16 YEARS YOUNGER FORCED ME TO GROW UP

Dara Poznar

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

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

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

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

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

“Souls don’t have an age,” he said. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s all quite terrifying and fantastically elating. 

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

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

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

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

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

Being Real

BEING REAL

Richard Innes

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me, and know my anxieties; And see if there is any wicked way in me, And lead me in the way everlasting.” – Psalm 139:23-24 NKJV

Have you ever noticed how easy it is to love open, honest, and authentic people—and how difficult it is to even like defensive, dishonest people who are living in denial? 

A good definition of denial has been called Truth Decay. In the long run denial can be extremely destructive to one’s physical, mental and spiritual health—and also destructive to relationships, and to the emotional and spiritual health of families and societies. 

True, as children many of us were forced to build defenses around our feelings in order to survive. However, as adults we need to rid ourselves of unhealthy defenses in order to fully live and fully love—that is, to live productive lives and develop healthy, lasting and loving relationships. As long as I live behind a mask—no matter how attractive that mask may appear—I can never feel loved because my mask is not me. Only real people can get close to others and experience intimacy and real love. 

Furthermore, the more dishonest I am with my inner self (my true feelings and motives), the more I will distort all other truth—including God’s truth—to make it match my perception of reality, and use it to justify my behavior. Ultimately I end up unhappily believing my own lies. 

So where do we begin to overcome the problem of denial, which may very well be the most destructive personal and societal problem we have?

First, let’s call denial what it is. It’s SIN—and a destructive sin at that. Remember, it’s just as big a sin to lie to myself as it is to lie to anyone else. We can call poison by any name we like, but poison is still poison. Same goes for sin. We can call it freedom of choice, misspeak, or by any other fancy name to give it a sugar coating and make it sound attractive, but that makes it all the more deceptive and dangerous. 

Second, confession. Remember that we change the world one person at a time. The first person to start with is myself. I need to realize that I can be as guilty of the sin of denial as anyone else and come to God with a genuine and humble heart asking him to “search my heart” and reveal to me, no matter how painful it may be, any areas in my life where I may be in denial and to confront me with the truth about myself. 

Third, realize that without access to the truth there is no healing or recovery of individuals or societies, and there is no freedom but self-deceptive bondage. As Jesus said, only the truth sets people free (see John 8:32). It is not without good reason that God “desires truth in our innermost being.” 

Fourth, accept the fact that pain was the way into denial and pain is the way out of it. As they say in AA, “It’s not the truth that hurts us but letting go of the lies.” Indeed, facing one’s truth can be painful but incredibly freeing and ultimately fulfilling. I say painful because it usually takes painful experiences to break through our self-defeating defenses. 

Finally, the pursuit of truth needs to be a life-long journey. It is a journey that leads to fully living and fully loving—and ultimately to life everlasting. Lies are of the devil and ultimately lead to hell here on earth and in the life to come. 

Suggested Prayer:

“Dear God, in the words of the psalmist, ‘Search me . . . and know my heart. Try me, and know my anxieties. And see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.’ No matter what the cost, please deliver me from the sin of denial. Thank You for hearing and answering my prayer. Gratefully, in Jesus’ name, amen.”

The 9 Secrets of Happy, Healthy, and Emotionally Committed Relationship

THE 9 SECRETS OF HAPPY, HEALTHY, AND EMOTIONALLY COMMITTED RELATIONSHIP

Kyle Benson

This weekend, I attempted to bake gluten-free muffins.

It got me thinking… if lasting love had specific ingredients, what would need to be mixed together?

What would make it delicious year after year?

  1. 100% Emotionally Invested: Caryl Rusbult is a social psychologist who studied commitment in marriages over a 30-year period. This is not a “one foot in, one foot out” type of investment. This is an all-in investment, and it is required by both partners.
  2. Responsiveness: Dr. Gottman’s research highlights that successful couples turn towards each other’s bids for connection 86% of the time. Couples who separate only do so 33% of the time. In order to last, tune into what your partner is saying or doing. Additional research highlighted that it wasn’t how often a couple fought, but how little affection and emotional responsiveness they offered one another that caused a relationship to deteriorate. Responsiveness is the cornerstone of trust and connection
  3. Cherish Each Other: Partners who are 100% emotionally invested and responsive have positive views of each other. Whether they are together or separate, they think of their lover’s positive attributes and express what they admire to one another.
  4. Put the Relationship First: This means putting your partner’s needs on par with your own. This doesn’t mean neglecting your needs in favor of your partners. Doing this requires a willingness to kindly express your needs to your partner in a way they can understand because you know those needs are core to your own happiness.
  5. Nurture Love and Respect: Happy couples nurture gratitude for the partner they have. They honor each other and display respect, even during conflict.
  6. Best Friends Forever: If the above ingredients are available, it’s easy to see why committed lovers feel that there is no better partner in the world than the one that they have. A strong friendship makes it easy to weather relationship storms. Couples who have cultivated a deeply connected friendship are affectionate and even laugh together during conflict.
  7. Seek to Gain a Greater Understanding during Conflict: Before happy couples come to an agreement on how to resolve their issues, they first focus on understanding each partner’s perspective. They focus on reconnecting emotionally before trying to resolve their issues.
  8. Interdependent: Each partner is connected and dependent on the other for closeness and comfort, but independent enough to pursue self-interest and share their perspectives openly, gently, and honestly. Even if the issue causes tension or a conflict in the relationship.
  9. Calm, Stable, and Safe: A secure romantic relationship is as smooth as a calm body of water. An insecure relationship feels as unstable as a roller coaster.

By the way, to answer your most important question: No, my muffins were not good. I burnt them. 🙁

I guess following directions is pretty important in making something delicious!

I’m taking off my “Kiss The Baker” apron, and I’m going to eat my burnt muffins…

If Love Requires Effort, Was It Meant To Be?

IF LOVE REQUIRES EFFORT, WAS IT MEANT TO BE?

Kyle Benson

Do you remember Cinderella?

That blond princess whose miserable life was instantly transformed by her gorgeous-smooth-move-well-dressed-billionaire prince charming.

Well, I never knew her. She sounds like an evil step-daughter.

But I do know Cindy.

Cindy’s friends were telling her about this guy she might like. His name was Ryan, and he looked like David Beckham.

The next night Cindy and her friends went to one of his professional games. Her friends introduced them afterwards..

He took her hand, kissed it, and looked into her eyes.

“Next time we meet, it will be just you and me,” he said.

That did it. She was swept off her feet.

As they got to know each other, the intensity grew. They seemed to deeply understand one another. They enjoyed the same things; food, working out, and exotic beach towns. They both thought, the slipper fits!

It was like a damn Disney movie.

After a few months, Ryan became moody. Actually, he had always been moody, but it didn’t show at first. This bothered Cindy. She wanted to talk about what was bothering him, but he got irritated when she tried.

“Just leave me alone.”

Cindy felt shut out.

Once in awhile they planned a romantic night on the town. Sometimes Ryan didn’t want to go. Other times, Cindy would endure his silence over the candlelit dinner. Anytime she would say something, he would show his disappointment by saying something like, “I thought you knew me.”

Their friends, knowing how much they cared about each other, urged them to work on this problem. But the couple felt sad and frustrated.

Why should we work on it? If we were right for each other, we would be able to understand each other’s needs. We wouldn’t have any problems.

The relationship ended.

One of the most destructive beliefs for any relationship is this thought process.

“If we need to work at it, there’s something seriously wrong with our relationship.” – Aaron Beck

In essence, choosing a romantic partner is choosing a set of problems. Believing that being compatible with your partner means everything should come naturally is a sure way to naturally end any relationship you will have.

“Every [relationship] demands an effort to keep it on the right track; there is constant tension…between forces that hold you together and those that tear you apart.” – John Gottman

The belief that relationship success should not need effort robs relationships of the fire they need to burn. So many relationships turn their hot and passionate fire of love into ashes, just because the couple believes that being in love means never having to do anything demanding.

This toxic belief shows up in two different ways:

Mind Reading

Love Requires Effort

Part of the no-effort relationship fairytale is the belief that couples can read each other’s minds.

My partner knows what I think, feel, and need, and I know the same for them.

The truth is, all couples are incapable of reading minds. Just the other day, my girlfriend said, “Kyle, I need more space.”

I’ve heard that before.

My heart dropped. I went into shock. Was our relationship doomed? I couldn’t believe it. I thought everything was going so well. We were laughing until our stomachs hurt, kissing all the time…. what did I do wrong?

Finally I summoned the courage to ask, “What do you mean?”

“Your fat ass is taking up too much of our chair,” she said as she kissed me.

Oh. I’m so glad I asked.

In Nicholas Epley’s book Mindwise, he asked couples to guess their partner’s self-worth, abilities, and preferences on house chores on a scale from 1-5. He found that couples were accurate 44% of the time, despite believing they were right 82% of the time.

Even more time together doesn’t help. Rather, longer term relationships “create an illusion of insight that far surpasses actual insight.”

The quality of your relationship depends on your ability to understand your partner, and vice versa. The secret to understanding each other better seems not to come from mind reading, but through the hard work of putting our partners in a position where they can tell us their minds openly and honestly.

It’s quite delusional to believe in mind reading. But it makes sense when many couples who believe this also believe that a couple should share 100% of each other’s view on everything.

We Agree on Everything

This belief ties well with reading minds. If you can read each other’s mind, then you don’t need communication; you can just assume your partner sees the world the way you do.

Even though you two speak the same language, you both grew up in a sea of different experiences. You were given separate dictionaries on life. This makes it impossible to share ALL of each other’s assumptions and expectations.

Take Leah and David, for instance. Leah and David had just finished undergrad and were planning on getting married. David, a minimalist, went and signed a lease for a small apartment outside of Portland. He thought she’d be delighted.

When he opened the door, she flipped.

Leah had been living in tiny-ass apartments her entire life. Married couples were supposed to live in nice houses with new cars in the garage.

She felt betrayed. He felt confused. The relationship didn’t last much longer.

A couple may agree on traditional roles or have similar views, but that’s very different from assuming it as an entitlement.

Love Requires Effort

A no-effort relationship is not a great relationship; it’s a doomed relationship. It takes effort to communicate and understand each other. Love takes work. It takes work to expose and resolve conflicting beliefs and expectations.

However, that doesn’t mean there is no “happily ever after.”

It’s more like, “they worked happily ever after.”

Why Love Goes First

WHY LOVE GOES FIRST

Family Life Radio

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

─  John 13:34-35 NKJV

God is love. His grace, an overflow of His love for us, is what makes God desirable to those that don’t know Him.

Sadly, we’ve all met people who claimed to be Christians, but the outflow of their life didn’t represent the attributes and character of God. Perhaps you’ve even sat in a church that criticized and judged you because you didn’t conform to their specific list of rules, definitions of what a Christian should be, or even what a Christian should act like.

Our own negative words and actions can push others away rather than compel them to experience the love, grace and mercy of God. Jesus said everyone can recognize someone who follows Him simply by the fact that they have love. True Christ followers obey the Lord’s commandment to follow His example and love first, above all else. 

When we demonstrate His love to others, they gain insight with a glimpse of the grace and mercy He’s made available to them. That’s why love should go first in all we do. That’s why our responses to everything in our relationships should flow out of God’s love for us and for others. 


Today’s One Thing

Here are four ways to demonstrate God’s love. Set a goal to do all of these at least once today.

  1. Perform an act of service for someone with no strings attached.
  2. Offer a smile to everyone you see today.
  3. Steer conversations away from negativity – encouraging positive topics.

Deliberately compliment your family members.

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