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
Yes, YOU CAN change the way you think! And once you do, you
can master a new way to be.
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.
A GOOD WIFE AND HER DIVINE ROLE IN LIBERATING HER HUSBAND
It was my wedding night. I was so tired all I needed was a bath and a rest. We had danced so much my back was aching.
My husband was beginning to have funny ideas. He was beaming like a new-born baby.
Well, I wouldn’t blame him; any man in his position would not joke with this night because I was a warrior during our courtship.
No… no hugging, no pecking, no holding, no touching, no tapping current, no weather for two. SEXUAL PURITY till my marriage was top on my list.
The knock came. I was thinking, half past eleven (11:30pm). “Is that room service,” I wondered. Then, with eyes popping, I heard my mother-in-law’s iron-like voice: “Tise, Michael, open the door!”
Michael jumped up from the bed, rushed to the door and opened it for his mum. My mother-in-law walked in, sat down majestically and asked us to sit down too.
“Tise, I don’t know if anyone ever told you? There is a curse on my husband’s family line. The men in their family don’t prosper. Their wives are the ones who work, and provide for their families.
“This is because, according to the story that I was told, one of their forefathers killed the only son of a great herbalist and the herbalist placed a curse on every son in their lineage, that their hands will never produce or bring forth anything good. Also, their sons must always lose a son amongst their children.”
I watched in amazement as my mother-in-law kept telling the story. Then, she concluded by saying: “In essence, I have just come to let you know that your marriage is not a land of fun but of war.”
Why? Why didn’t she tell me this before now?
Well, in order not to waste her time, I also gave her my history. I said, “Mum, I am sorry, I also did not tell you this before now. I come from a family that fights for those we love. My Father (Jesus Christ) actually died while trying to save His people. My family line does not operate under curses because we are operating under a covenant of blessings – John 1:12-13. Therefore, anyone who is fortunate to marry any one in my family becomes automatically BLESSED! So, Mum, for my sake, your son cannot operate under those curses again.”
My mother-in-law was shocked to say the least. I could tell what she was thinking.
Then it made sense to me. My sisters-in-law always had this gloomy look on their faces and the two of them actually lost their sons.
“Mum, you need to go and rest. My husband and I need to produce two sons this night because in my family line we conceive immediately our husbands meet us,” I concluded.
My mother-in-law stood up with caution and silently walked out. At that moment, all the tiredness vanished as I took Michael’s hands and looked him straight in the eye.
“Listen, I don’t care what you or your ancestors have done, but for my sake you will prosper with these hands,” I said.
“Listen, Paul and some criminals were on a ship and there was a shipwreck.
The soldiers wanted to kill all the criminals to prevent them from escaping, but the army officer stopped them just for the purpose of saving Apostle Paul.
“Michael, for Paul’s sake, the lives of other criminals were preserved. So, sweetheart, because you are married to me, because we are in the same ship, yes, this relationship called marriage, for my sake, you cannot be punished for your1 ancestors’ sins,” I assured him.
That became my prayer plea to God from that day. I kept praying to God to save my husband and our sons for my sake.🙏
To the Glory of God, I have four sons and none of them died. Now they have sons and daughters of their own.
For my sake, my husband’s destiny changed for the best.
You see, women are always great assets to change powers and covenants and destinies, not assets for sex only.
Listen, wife, it doesn’t matter what challenge that man of yours is facing at this point in time. With you on his side praying, ancestral curses will flee out of his life. Women are destined for that; good women are a great blessing to their men.
When a good woman comes into a man’s life, many doors of success, prosperity, joy, love, etc. open, and ancestral curses break down and disappear.
Good women diffuse ancestral curses like a diffused bomb.
Woman, always pray for your man (husband) as you would for a prized friend. Your prayer works for him. Your prayer can save his life from shame. Your prayer can set him free from bondage.🙏🙏 🙏
DATING A MAN 16 YEARS YOUNGER FORCED ME TO GROW UP
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.
“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.
“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’
The vast majority of parents are less satisfied with their marriages after they have kids than they were before.
Mothers in heterosexual relationships report the lowest levels of marital satisfaction, mostly because they tend to take on more “second shift” work — housework and child care — than their partners do.
Listing and dividing household tasks (including child care) make both partners feel a greater sense of fairness, though those tasks do not have to be divided 50/50.
Maintaining a sexual connection is also important — and reestablishing that connection takes time postpartum.
The lowest point of my marriage was probably when I was excessively pregnant with our second daughter. It was 90 degrees outside every day, and I had blown past my due date with no signs of labor. I had trouble falling asleep but had finally drifted off one night when my husband came home from a work event and woke me up. I had a brief and fleeting desire to bludgeon him with a bedside lamp.
I’m not alone: The majorityof studies on marital satisfaction suggest that couples are less happy after they become parents, though the degree and length of unhappiness is more of an open question. Deeply unpleasant thoughts about your spouse will probably flit through your mind at some point during your child’s first year, mostly because of the extreme exhaustion infants create in their parents (there’s a reason extreme sleep deprivation is considered torture).
I spoke to three experts — including a New York Times-bestselling author, a sociologist and a relationship-focused psychotherapist — about how to keep relations as positive as possible during your transition to parenthood. All the experts I spoke with said that taking a transparent, proactive approach to dividing household work — including child care — was the number one way to keep the rage-beast of new parenthood at bay.
WHAT TO DO
Don’t be surprised if you’re not happy.
Though it’s normal for satisfaction to
decline in any relationship over time, research performed within the past decade suggests
that new mothers may be most vulnerable to that dip. Sociologists theorize
that, in heterosexual relationships, mothers are more unhappy with their
marriages after they have children because they tend to take on more “second
shift” work — child care and housework — and begin to feel that their
relationships are no longer fair. Surveys have shown that
whether they work or not, mothers are doing more child care
than fathers are.
Take the same amount of parental leave as your partner (if you can).
If at all possible, make sure both partners are taking identical amounts of leave. Jennifer Senior, an Op-Ed columnist at The New York Times and author of the bestselling “All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood,” said that imbalance in leave-taking can set the stage for an imbalance of caretaking that can last for years. The parent who takes less leave has less experience soothing the baby. So the parent who takes more leave — almost always the biological mother — becomes the default “baby whisperer,” because she has more experience. It’s hard to get out of that pattern once you’re in it. In countries where parents tend to take equal amounts of leave, like in Canada or Sweden, marital satisfaction rates are higher. The unfairness extends even to sleep: Past research has found that working mothers in America are significantly more likely to get up during the night with a sick or wakeful child than working fathers are — and sleep is more equal in countries with more egalitarian policies in place.
Manage your expectations.
“Take the image of the ideal parent and throw it in the garbage,” said Dr. Leah Ruppanner, Ph.D., a sociologist at the University of Melbourne who specializes in family and gender. She gives this advice especially to mothers, because there are much more aggressive cultural expectations about what a good mother is supposed to be. According to the Pew Research Center, the majority of Americans still believe that women do a better job caring for new babies than men do (only 1 percent of Americans think men do a better job), and almost 80 percent believe women face a lot of pressure to be an involved parent.
Make a list of tasks, and divide them fairly.
Senior suggested that parents should list all of their household tasks, including child care, and divide them in a way that seems fair — not equitable. For example: If one partner works 15 hours more a week than the other partner, then they will probably be doing fewer hours of house- and child-related work. But all the experts we spoke with agreed that ad hoc arrangements led to the most strife (and, in hetero couples, usually leave the mom feeling shafted). Merely making the list provides a way for parents to work through all of the potential pain points.
Get granular with your list.
The writer Alix Kates Shulman created a “Marriage Agreement” with her husband when she had children, so that household responsibilities would be distributed fairly. She wrote about it in 1970, and her list gets very specific: “Transportation: Getting children to and from lessons, doctors, dentists, friends’ houses, park, parties, movies, library, etc. Making appointments. Parts occurring between 3:00 and 6:30 p.m. fall to wife. Husband does all weekend transportation and pickups after 6.” Senior said you should get as granular as possible when you’re listing and dividing chores — the more specific you get, the less resentment will fester.
Don’t be a maternal gatekeeper.
Some mothers believe themselves to be the superior parent, and engage in what sociologists refer to as “maternal gatekeeping” — they mediate their spouses’ interactions with their children. Practically speaking it often means nitpicking: “Why are you swaddling Ruby that way?”; “Jasper doesn’t like his bottle so cold.” If mothers want child care to be divided fairly, they have to let fathers do things their own way, even if it’s not your way (if the child is truly in danger, that’s another story — you should always intervene in that case). “You’re letting them learn how to respond to the kids,” Ruppanner said. “They learn how to do it. It’s not astrophysics.”
Ruppanner suggested that if a parent is really struggling not to meddle, they should physically leave the house when their spouse is on duty — go for a run, take a nap, give yourself some personal time.
Redefine your sex life.
Having a child is a “complete reorganization of the structure of your life,” said Esther Perel, M.A., L.M.F.T., a psychotherapist and author of the book “Mating inCaptivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence” — and that includes your sex life. Many biological parents are given the go-ahead to have sex six weeks postpartum, but that’s because “at six weeks you can be penetrated without tearing,” Perel said — and that doesn’t mean you’re ready for it physically or psychologically. Perel added that it could take as long as a year before you’re ready to have penetrative sex — so don’t be discouraged if you’re feeling uneasy at six weeks. It takes time to re-establish the rhythm and get used to a changed body and a restructured life.
Parents who gave birth need time to recover, and nursing parents may experience vaginal dryness because of lowered estrogen levels. About 90 percent of mothers resume sex within six months of birth, though 83 percent are experiencing sexual issues three months postpartum, and 64 percent are still experiencing issues at six months. Perel encouraged parents to “broaden their erotic interests” outside of penetrative sex and experiment with new erogenous zones. Continuing to connect sexually is important for keeping those hostile feelings at bay, for both parents. “On the long list of what your kids need, making sure the couple remains intimately connected remains very high,” Perel said. “There’s nothing holding a family together except the contentment of the couple.”
Jennifer Senior, author of “All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood,” July 24, 2018
Dr. Leah Ruppanner, Ph.D., associate professor and co-director of The Policy Labat the University of Melbourne, July 25, 2018
Esther Perel, M.A., L.M.F.T., author of “Mating inCaptivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence” Aug. 3, 2018
THE 9 SECRETS OF HAPPY, HEALTHY, AND EMOTIONALLY COMMITTED RELATIONSHIP
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?
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.
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
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.
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.
Nurture Love and Respect: Happy couples nurture gratitude for the partner they have. They honor each other and display respect, even during conflict.
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.
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.
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.
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…
Love is a dance of connection and disconnection. Some of us need more connection, others need independence. What if I told you there were only two roads to making a toxic relationship healthier?
Road One is breaking up and finding a more secure partner.
Road Two means viewing the problems in the relationship as a slingshot for growth.
Even if you fall on opposite ends of the spectrum, the relationship can work!
But the only way it can work is if you both see problems as a catalyst to understanding and respecting each other’s differences.
If you don’t, holding hands quickly turns to pointing fingers.
If your partner’s idea of closeness makes you feel like you’re suffocating, or if you feel like your partner intentionally ignores you, the best thing you can do for your relationship is to talk about it.
By examining moments of disconnection, both partners will gain profound insight so they can begin learning how to give each other what they need.
I’ve put together these four exercises to help turn your toxic relationship into a healthy one.
Exercise 1: Talk about it.
If one of you is feeling ignored or overwhelmed by your partner’s needs, use the exercise below to understand each other better.
Instructions: Think of the last argument you had. Rate the following feelings on a scale from 1 (100% felt that way) to 5 (0% felt that way).
During our fight I felt:
Like my opinions don’t matter
Now explore what triggered those feelings.
Rate what triggered those feelings on a scale from 1 (100% felt that way) to 5 (0% felt that way)
I felt unimportant to my partner
I felt cold toward my partner
I felt rejected
I felt overwhelmed by demands
I felt excluded
I didn’t feel attraction
I didn’t feel affection
My sense of dignity was compromised
I couldn’t get my partner’s attention
My partner was dominating
Answers: There are no right or wrong answers here.
Each answer depends on your reality.
The goal of the exercise is for both partners to understand each other. The only way to do that is to recognize one vital element that makes relationships last.
That vital element is…
Both points of view are valid.
When partners believe there is only one truth, they fight for their own position. That belief is a dead-end.
There is only one assumption that will make the conversation about disconnection or too much closeness beneficial: that in every fight, there are always two points of view, and both are valid.
Once you and your partner accept that idea, it’s no longer necessary to argue for your own position.
Now you can focus on understanding your partner’s position, and work together to find a mutual solution thereby creating a less toxic relationship.
There are always two sides to every conflict.
Once you understand and acknowledge this, you’ll quickly find that reconnecting comes naturally.
Exercise 2: Revisit the past.
Now that we’ve identified your emotional reaction, it’s time to get in a time machine and revisit your past.
See if you can find a relationship between earlier traumas or behavior and your current reaction.
Note: If you’ve been sexually harassed, raped, or experienced any other trauma your partner is unaware of, now is the time to bring it up. In my work with others, I’ve found that sharing our deepest pain with our partners truly helps them understand us. It also gives them the ability to gently work with us on traumas so we can begin to heal together.
This list will help guide you.
When I (or my partner) turned away, it reminded me of:
An earlier relationship.
Past traumas or hard times I’ve had.
The way my family treated me growing up.
My deepest fears and insecurities.
Unaccomplished dreams I have.
Events I have not emotionally dealt with yet.
Ways other people have treated me.
Things I always believed about myself.
Nightmares that keep me up at night.
Take time to discuss each other’s answers.
Ask open-ended questions so you can understand each other better.
This isn’t about who feels worse or who is more right. It’s about taking the time to truly understand each other’s insecurities and deepest fears.
When your partner tells you something that shocks or surprises you, say, “tell me more about that.”
THE 4 TYPES OF PREMARITAL COUPLES & THE RELATIONSHIP ROLLER COASTER
Have you ever fallen head over heels in love for someone?
When you first meet them you couldn’t stop thinking about them. Their smile, how they talked, their passions, the way they looked at you.
In the early stages of a relationship, reality goes out the window and the honeymoon effect influences you to feel that nothing could ever go wrong.
It’s almost like you’re the star of your own love movie. Kissing in the rain and all that jazz.
But then you have fights and breakup, shortly followed by passionately making up.
Believe it or not, these “Hollywood” romances are like a rollercoaster where you experience an emotional high of passionate love followed by a drop of emotional isolation.
Many of these toxic relationships can be prevented if we are more honest with the reality of who are partner is and who we are. Numerous research studies indicate that idealizing our partner in the bliss of love can lead us to ignore red flags. I know I’ve ignored red flags in past relationships.
I’m not making this up. In fact, a researcher followed 168 couples from dating through 13-years of marriage.
He discovered that the happily married couples who were “very” in love and affectionate were 100% committed to each other, expressed less negative feelings and lots of positive feelings, and viewed their lovers as better than all alternatives. Their relationship was like calm waters.
Here are the four types of relationships Dr. Ted Houston discovered during his 13-year study:
Rollercoaster Romances – these couples had emotionally draining breakups followed by passionate making up. Do you think these couples divorced? They did.
Firework Romances – these couples fell madly in love with each other and like a firework, their passion lit up the sky but quickly disappeared when the reality of their ignored differences and unrealistic expectations darkened the sky of their relationship. Divorce was inevitable.
Status Quo Partners – these couples stayed married but unhappily so. They didn’t have a blissful start (like the couples above) and there were some red flags that were clear in the dating portion of the relationship that got swept under the rug. These problems got worse the longer the marriage lasted.
Stably Affectionate Investors – these couples did not have a dramatic dating period. Rather their relationship was like rowing a boat in a calm lake. They took their time investing in each other and intentionally built a warm and cooperative partnership. Almost all of these couples were very happily married at the end of 13-years. They had lasting and satisfying relationships because they fell in love and became experts on each other over time, not instantly. Both partners were 100% invested in each other. In the first two years of their relationship, they focused on creating healthy patterns of being with each other such as communicating, managing conflict, and intentionally building a culture of love, respect, and admiration. Essentially the quality of their relationship was built on a secure friendship.
Dramatic love may create passionate and blissful moments, but they also tend to come with hurtful and painful conflicts. Take your time falling in love and use the first few years of dating to build a strong culture of love, affection, and secure connection that will make your marriage last a lifetime.
I’m writing to explain what marriage really means because I remember all too well your fairytale ideology that marriage is about a beautiful wedding, then fast forward to your happily ever after.
With that said, I’m not writing as a warning. I’m writing more as an opportunity—merely think of me as your sponsor – because you’re definitely a hopeless romantic.
Your dreams of a man riding in on a white horse, or a knight in shining armor, are figments of an animated imagination and I just want to take some time to talk to you about what’s real.
I want to let you in on a secret, if you will. A moment in time, to give you a gift, the gift of a second chance.
You are still so young, at only 22 years old. And here you already have a small beautiful child, own your home, and you have a wonderful man who hasn’t quite discovered how great either of you are just yet. You should feel proud and accomplished. I know when I look back I’m definitely proud of you.
Nevertheless, I specifically want to talk about fear. You see, although you survived a lot of abuse and neglect, you’re traumatized. Your traumas have caused significant damage and created a space for constant anxieties to thrive. Anxieties like your fear of being a victim, a fear of someone thinking they can take you away, and other fears, like your fear of intimacy, of getting in trouble or making mistakes, of not knowing enough information or being looked at as incompetent. And mainly, your fear of simply not being good enough to be loved.
I know you. Probably better than anyone really knows you. I know how hard you try to be perfect. I know how hard you work to be accepted. How much you feel you don’t and can’t possibly fit in anywhere, with anyone. And I know you think that if you achieve genuine happiness it means that you have reached the end of your life. But you don’t have to be afraid. I’ve begun to discover that you can be accepted and you are more than lovable.
As I write this, I realize now that you are just starting out on the first path of many that will lead you on a journey into a life that brims with love and hardship, joy and sadness, peace and war, as well as abundance and strife. Your life will be wrought with moments of destitution and incredible successes. And I wouldn’t have you change any of it (except please buy Amazon stock and change your Sam’s Club membership to Costco, trust me, Sam’s Club will fail us). You will learn so much from the experiences that living this life will teach you.
I would also encourage you, as your sponsor, to ditch your unhealthy addictions earlier. You should see life through the eyes of someone who chooses to actually live. Find life in every breath. Leave behind the acts of fear that cause you to bury yourself and hide away all that is great in you.
Now, about the young man you have chosen. He is going to be amazing. You were right to be attracted to his high levels of intelligence, and his cautious, careful approach to tasks. And that great sense of humor. You will laugh every day of your life. He will hold you close when you feel lost and afraid. He will trust your guidance and seek your counsel. He will treasure you.
But it will take some time. You will both have to learn to grow up and embrace the art of communication. You will find an amazing woman, Julie Gottman, who will introduce you to techniques that will enable you to overcome so many marital obstacles. You’ll learn principles about communicating and methods for dealing with conflict that you’ll even align with your body of work. Trust me, these tools will prove invaluable.
Your marriage will become a beacon of hope for couples around the world. But it will take time. Time that can be shortened if you heed many words and remember this letter, starting today, your wedding day. You can be so much more if you start by shedding the heavy, unsightly cloak of fear.
Your story needs to be heard through the ears of faith and not through fear. Fear prematurely ends stories. It changes the narrative and demands surrender. It turns heroes into cowards and strength into weakness. It both clouds and casts judgment. It slowly takes away the essence of who you really are. It highlights scarcity and inflates the balloon of false pride. You are not what you’ve been through. Your truth and destiny lie in the places you will go and the people whose lives you will touch. So continue to go far and shine bright. Dream often. And fear not.
In this letter, I want you to recognize that you are going to have a beautiful family, a legacy of serving others, and a connection to your husband that’s absolutely unbreakable. But your life will really begin when you can begin to see yourself as a whole. Know that life is not just about what you know or have learned, it’s about how well you learn how to live. Do it fearlessly, for there is life in every breath.
So with that said, here are a few things I’ve learned about love and life over the last 23 years of marriage.
Never stop dreaming together Talk openly about your goals for the future, and always support your husband’s dreams. Be curious, creative, and explore your entrepreneurial spirit.
Take better care of your health Eat better and get into a fitness program or routine. Stop complaining and taking your amazing body for granted. Spend less time worrying about how you wish you looked and spend more time loving yourself.
Spend less time yelling You can be heard the loudest in moments of silence.
Enjoy spending time with yourself I didn’t discover this until I was in my forties. I missed all that time just enjoying who I was and dreaming about who I’d be.
Keep your childlike twinkle in your eye It will serve you well and keep you and others laughing. You are funny—stay that way.
Spend more time in the moment with your children They really do grow up fast. Parenting isn’t a race, it’s a journey. It doesn’t end when they’re 18. It will challenge you in different ways, but you’ll never get their little inquisitive minds back, so enjoy it while you can.
Always spend time talking to your husband It gives you both so much life. Have patience for teachable moments and keep laughing, it really is medicine for the heart.
Keep making space for passion and intimacy Keep being intriguing and spontaneous. These moments keep you both connected.
Challenge yourself often Don’t sit in the same place, be different, choose different. Regular is your enemy.
Trust the process Everything good and bad happens for a reason, even when you don’t understand why. Keep believing and trusting in the process. There’s always another side and a way to go through.
Please take these words with you, always. And, I love you.