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Relationship Footprints: What Story Do Your Choices Tell?

Choices are like footprints

Choices are like footprints

On a recent vacation, I spotted these footprints in the sand along the coast of Lake Michigan.  With no other people in sight, I still knew something about the people who left the footprints.  They were heading north.  Under the overcast sky, I had an epiphany… our choices are like footprints in the sand – they tell a story.   And with each choice we make, we move closer to a happier or less happy ending. [Read more…]

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Lessons Learned on Vacation: How You Can Improve Your Relationship

Vacation can be a time for reflection. I used time away from my husband to consider behaviors and choices that make for healthy relationships. Read my article on yourtango.com, Lessons in Healthy Relationships from a Solo Vacation, to discover how you can improve your own relationship … with or without a vacation!

Wishing you the best,

Gina

P.S. I’m delighted to finally revive my blog!  If you have ideas for future posts, just contact me or leave your idea in a reply.

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A Holiday Tip: How to Handle Frustration

Inevitably, as the winter holidays approach, many of us will experience repeated moments of frustration while images of svelte figures, cozy relationships, fat bank accounts, or something else swirl through our heads.  As another year winds down, we haven’t lost the desired weight.  Our relationships still stink.  Our debt has increased.  We’re still in dead-end jobs.  And we are frustrated…

Our problem is that the change we long for eludes our grasp once again.  When this happens, we can feel stuck in discomfort like this: [Read more…]

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What Can Veterans Day Teach Us About Relationships?

Veterans Day traces its origin to the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918.  At this hour, the Allies and Germany agreed to a cease fire on the Western Front.  Although some fighting continued in other areas, it became the date that  the “war to end all wars” ended.  Celebrated as Armistice Day in many allied countries, after WWII, the holiday became known as Veterans Day in the US.   And at 11:00 am on Veterans Day, many people will observe two minutes of silence: one to remember soldiers we’ve lost, and one to remember those who remain.

We pay tribute to military personnel past and present on 11/11/xx because a huge conflict ended on 11/11/18.  Hostilities ceased when two warring parties agreed to stop fighting.  At a moment in time, intentions changed and a war ended…

How could a focus on intention change our relationships? [Read more…]

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The Consequences of Distraction and How to Avoid Them

It’s Mindful Monday, and I woke up with distraction on my mind.  Distraction affects our lives in numerous ways, with consequences ranging from distasteful to disastrous.  Often it masquerades as something we proudly venerate: multitasking.  But every time we multitask, we pull brain activity away from our primary task of the moment.

 

Distraction with Distasteful Consequences

A couple years ago, I set out to make a delicious stir-fry dinner from scratch.  The finished product was to look like this:

I carefully assembled the ingredients, added them to the pan at appropriate times, and enjoyed the pleasing aroma as I waited to perform the last step. [Read more…]

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Mindful Monday Tip #10: On Control, Power, and Letting Go

Born into slavery in the first century A.D., Epictetus, a Greek sage and Stoic philosopher, advised humans to to “make the best use of what is in your power and take the rest as it happens”.  Almost 20 centuries later, Reinhold Niebuhr, an American theologian, wrote an untitled prayer whose most recognized form is:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.

In their own way, both men challenge us to examine our need to control.

Aimed at other people, our need to control often creates power struggles which suck the life of relationships.  How often does the self-esteem of a spouse diminish when living under the control exerted by a verbal or physical abuser?  What about parents who place stifling demands on children just so parents will feel or look better?  What about adult children who tread on  elderly parents’ autonomy when the octogenarians are functioning fine?  How would you like someone to rearrange your cupboards to fit their agenda when your kitchen has been fine for you for 40 years?

Aimed at events, our need to control often creates power struggles with forces outside of our control.  Have you ever railed at weather that disrupted outdoor plans?  Felt hopeless or angry when the stock market took a dive?  Projected doom and gloom when the candidate you didn’t support won the election?  Ruined a meal by complaining when restaurant staff did not meet your demands for service?  Weather, stock market, election results, and restaurant service are generally outside our power to control.  So are a lot of other events.  Such power struggles sap our energy and leave us bent out of shape.

Imprisoned by a mindless need to control, we and our relationships suffer.

If we approach this topic with a mindful perspective, we will recognize and let go of our need to control people and events outside our realm of power.  Like Niebuhr and Epictetus, we will become aware of what is within our control and what is not.  Today’s tip suggests a way we can focus our energies on the former and let go of the latter.

Mindful Tip #10: Let Go!

From this day forward, challenge yourself to become aware of power struggles in your life, and daily make a choice to let go of the need to control some person or event over which you have no true power.

  • Pray Niebuhr’s prayer daily.  (You may recognize it as the Serenity Prayer used in 12-Step Groups).
  • Get a helium filled balloon and a permanent marker, and mindfully write the things you choose to let go of on the balloon.  With awareness of your choice, release the balloon into the sky, and imagine letting go of your need to control in these areas as the balloon  floats away.  If the balloon gets stuck in a tree or something else, mindfully recall that it is not in your hand.  You have let it go.

Nothing magical will happen when you release the balloon, but it may become a powerful reminder of the choice you have: to control or not to control.  That is the question.  

How might we and our relationships change when we let go of controlling people and events outside of power?

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The Great Perfection Hoax: A Horse’s Exposé

For certain purposes and for limited times, horses wear blinders to reduce the distraction of what is behind and beside them.  Some trainers use blinders keep horses from getting spooked on busy streets or distracted by crowds at a race.  By limiting their field of vision, blinders enable horses to focus on the task at hand.  If worn all the time, however, blinders would get in a horse’s way. He may not spot the cool stream to his left or the tasty mound of hay to his right.  He could run through a wide meadow unable to quench his thirst or satisfy his hunger.

So, what do horses, blinders, and perfection have in common?

Searching for perfection is like wearing blinders: it limits our field of vision.  We become unaware of change and opportunity outside a narrow focus of expectation.  Sure, perfection has its allure – otherwise we wouldn’t be enticed by perpetual media adds tempting us with the perfect car, a way to get flawless skin, or  exercise equipment promising 6-pack abs in a flash.  The problem is that perfectionism defines success in very narrow terms, and like blinders on a horse, it excludes a wide range of possibilities that we may actually find appealing.   Think about how expecting perfection in people can mess up relationships.  Evidence of imperfection in a loved one may blind us to his good points, while imperfection in ourselves motivates us to dismiss our own strength, beauty, and value.

Just as horses don’t always wear blinders, perhaps its time for us to remove the blinders of perfection.  What will happen if we do?

A teenager may discover a gorgeous smile amid acne.  A septuagenarian may recognize sparkly eyes in sea of wrinkles.  A man may appreciate his 10 year old ride.  A wife may discover kindness in her husband.  A woman may realize that her curvy body is sexy.   A student may discover that learning is more important than just getting A’s.   Without blinders, maybe we’ll all get closer to finding satisfaction.

What will you discover when you remove the blinders of perfection?

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How to Improve Communication with Teenagers

Last Friday night, my teen daughter and I watched as Nik Wallenda crossed Niagara Falls on a tightrope.  For too many parents, talking to teenagers can feel like walking on a tightrope (minus a safety tether).  How can you avoid this feeling and find a connection with adolescents?

 Here are some suggestions to help keep your feet on solid ground:

  1. Calm your body.  If your heart is racing and your gut is churning, you may need to take a few deep breaths before proceeding to communicate with your teenager.
  2. Be present and tune in to your teenager’s inner world.  You hear and see what she’s doing, but really listen and think about what she may be experiencing inside.   Too often we misread clues: I’ve mistaken anxiety and fear for obstinance.
  3. Maintain your own emotional balance.  Your excessive emotional reaction can incite communication chaos and a rigid cold reaction won’t promote a healthy connection.
  4. Pause before speaking or acting.  This might save you from impulsively putting a parental foot in the mouth.
  5. Face your fear.  During the pause consider if the anger and irritation you feel is driven by your own fear and not your teenager.  Sometimes our parental fears are irrational.
  6. Show empathy.  Try to see the situation from your teenager’s point of view.  Can you sense his intentions and imagine what something means in his mind?

Maybe it’s less about what our teenagers bring to the table and more about how we respond.  We have little control over the former and most control over the latter.

 What helps you communicate with your teenager? 

What are your challenges?

 

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Wine, Music, & Relationships

Relationships can be a struggle.  Sometimes they age like a fine wine; other times they sour early in the vintage.  Some moments we dance in beautiful sync to music we and our partners love.  Other moments, it feels like someone drags us to the floor and compels us to dance to music we abhor.

What compels us to keep tasting wine long past it’s prime?  

What makes us dance to the tune of someone else’s music?

If tasting wine and dancing to music are metaphors for relationship styles, a typical answer to these questions is codependency.  In a codependent relationship one partner is unhealthily manipulated or pulled onto the dance floor seemingly by another.   In a broad sense, the person being pulled depends on the needs and the control of the puller, consistently ignoring his/her own needs and dismissing his/her personal sense of control.  It’s as if she cannot say, “No thanks, I’ll skip this dance.  No thanks, I’ll pass on that wine.”

In my perspective, codependency is less about specific behavior and more about a partner’s inner need to accommodate someone else’s needs at the expense of his/her own needs.  It could look like this: (1) a wife sacrifices her sleep each night in order to “manage” her husband’s nocturnal anxiety attacks, (2) a 16 year old son curtails his social life in order to “change” his father’s drinking or depression, or (3)  an octogenarian exhausts her retirement account after years of compensating her adult son’s penchant for bad business deals.  Isolated instances of waking up in the night, staying home from a date,  or lending/giving money are not necessarily codependent behaviors.  Codependency lurks in the inner pull which propels us onto the dance floor against our better interests.

How do we break the spell of that inner pull?  Maybe a first step is to become aware of ourselves and our needs.  Maybe we learn to pay attention to the neglected dance partners – us.  Maybe we begin to acknowledge the taste of wine we enjoy.  It’s not about getting a new dance partner.  Rather than give up wine, music and relationships, we learn  a new way to relate to ourselves, and in the process,  discover a healthier way to relate to others.  

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Inaccurate Family Lessons… A Droll Tale

As children, we learn many lessons from our families.  By demonstration (more than by lecture) families teach us things like how the world works, who we are, and what our value is.  They teach us how to communicate and demonstrate what words mean.  Yet sometimes family lessons pass inaccurate information through several generations.

Last weekend, inaccurate information was exposed during a family visit.  My aunt commented on an article of clothing by observing, “That looks so droll”.  She meant that the clothing looked dull, uninspiring, and drab.  I grew up hearing droll used in this way – and I never wanted to be considered dull, drab, or uninspiring.  Yet once, that word was applied to my public speaking effort.  A few years ago, I gave a humorous speech in a Toastmaster’s meeting that had the audience laughing, but I overshot my time by four minutes and judged the speech a failure.  A few days later, an in-house news article at work referred to my “droll speech” – not only was it too long, it was dull, and I was offended!

Imagine my surprise when I shared my chagrin with my husband and he asked why I was bothered: “Don’t you know that a droll speech is a humorous or amusing speech?” he asked.  “No”, I replied, “I thought it meant that my speech was dull and boring, after all it was too long”.   How embarrassing – inaccurate information transmitted by my family caused me to be offended by an inoffensive comment.

What we learn in families can feel so true that we filter out any contrary evidence.  Last weekend, my aunt did not believe me when I told her the true definition of droll. I suggested that she consult an online dictionary, and she exhausted the page trying to find evidence to support what she had learned from her grandmother.   My aunt and I laughed about the inaccurate definition of droll passed down through four generations of our family.  Today, we each use the word accurately.  Other lessons our families teach us are more difficult to unlearn.  Some of us learned that our only true value is in our looks.  Others learned that acceptance is something to work for and earn.  Still others learned that we are worthless and unimportant.  Such inaccurate lessons chain us to emotional pain.  What family lessons might we need to unlearn?

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