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Love lives between fairy tales and apathy

Recently at the party given in honor of my Grandpa’s 90th birthday, my new cousin-in-law, Scott, shared with us an idea for a relationship book. He envisioned stories from couples who’ve been in relationship for awhile — say 10 or more years –and are happy with their partnership (be it marriage or other commitment). As a newly married man, he believed such couples could provide valuable advice to burgeoning relationships and also could show that happy partnerships are possible, since that’s often not the prevailing story of our culture.

It does seem that many people today hold views at the far end of the spectrum. Either that relationships are pure bliss — like those childhood fantasies of Sleeping Beauty and Prince Charming — or that all relationships are doomed to end in divorce or merely to subsist in the haze of obligation and less-than-content cohabitation. What I’ve found in the 10 years since Bruce and I first became a couple is that love resides comfortably in the middle territory between these two extremes. While there are many times that I feel like a princess and am as giddy as a teenager in love, sustaining these euphoric feelings takes a commitment from me (and from Bruce, too).

I choose not to think of relationships as requiring “work,” however I do believe that staying in love requires a willingness to let go of anything that threatens to keep us feeling unloving toward our partner. Here are some of the things I endeavor to avoid in my quest to nurture a loving, happy, and mutually-satisfying marriage.

  • Negativity about relationships — whether it’s people bitching about their ex or talk shows ranting about some woeful couples. I want my relationship to thrive, so I’m careful about the kind of environment to which I expose myself and the relationship.
  • Resentment and retaliation. When I notice that I’m holding a grudge against Bruce, I either get over it or talk with him about it so the air will be clear again. Having any kind of ill will between us does nothing but weaken the love that bonds us together.
  • Mistrust. I’ve committed to sharing my life with Bruce. If I find that I’m not trusting him, it’s time for a heart-to-heart conversation so I can come back to a place of mutual respect.
  • Low self-esteem. If I’m not believing in myself or am thinking that I’m in any way unworthy, unloveable, incomplete, or inadequate, I become extremely needy and depend on Bruce to “make me okay.” In this state, I’m completely vulnerable to any slight I perceive and he’s likely to end up being the “bad guy” at some point through little or no fault of his own.

Sure, there are more things that can drive a wedge between a couple, yet these are ones that, when avoided, help me stay in a state of happiness. So, while I don’t believe that having fairy tale delusions is in our best interest, being apathetic about our potential for bliss doesn’t serve us either.

Resolve to create a better marriage in 2008

Most people I know make New Year’s Resolutions an individual thing. If you want your marriage to be better, however, it’s best if you both resolve to make changes instead of making this a solo act. That doesn’t mean you both have to make the same resolutions. It simply means that you’re both committing to doing your part for the health of your marriage. Based on my experience, here are suggestions about two areas to consider for improvement — changes in these areas can profoundly alter your relationship for the better.

Past = resentment and grudges. 2008 = forgiveness and growth. Resolve to forgive each other for those hurtful things that we all sometimes do in our relationships. Let go of hurt feelings, talk about the pain, offer and accept apologies, then choose a new path forward.

Past = busyness and lots of “priorities.” 2008 = slowing down and reserving time for the relationship. Resolve to hold your marriage as sacred and give it the time and attention that it needs to thrive. Instead of waiting for special moments to say “I love you” or to give a gift, do things to show that any moment is a special moment in your relationship.

“Loving people live in a loving world. Hostile people live in a hostile world. Same world.”

~ Wayne Dyer

May 2008 be a truly magical year for you and your beloved. May all that did not serve you in the past be gently left behind. May those dreams which you deferred now blossom and grow in the light of a new year. May you find more joy, love, and peace in the journey to come than that which you already have known. Happy New Year!

Gratitude strengthens our relationships

Gratitude is something Bruce and I consciously bring into our lives on a daily basis. At the evening meal we each express gratitude for one or more things that happened or simply were during the day. It might be something “small” or “big” for which we’re grateful. We might give thanks for something that is “positive,” or we may even notice gratitude for something we perceived as “negative.” Some days our words of thanks flow easily from hearts filled to the brim with appreciation. Other days we might really have to think about what we actually feel grateful for. Regardless of how easy or hard it is for us to identify that for which we are thankful, we have maintained this practice for over 5 years. I believe that gratitude has made our relationship even stronger than it would be without this thankfulness ritual.

Meister Eckhart quote about gratitude

How gratitude enhances our relationship (and can enhance yours too)

  • Gratitude infuses a relationship with positive energy. When we feel grateful for our lives, we tend to be more loving, thoughtful, compassionate, and supportive. Gratitude is a spark that lights many other warm and soothing fires.
  • Gratitude makes the “bad” times less troubling. Even when we do hit rough patches in our relationship, our commitment to find things for which we are thankful helps to pull us out of the blues.
  • Gratitude helps our love grow deeper. Along with our practice of giving thanks each evening, we verbally acknowledge each other (and then ourselves personally). Though we do have grievances with one another, our focus on what is working and what we’re truly grateful for helps strengthen our connection.
  • Gratitude becomes a positive foundation for the rest of our lives. Since we focus our relationship on gratitude and what’s already working, we tend to carry that same outlook with us into our work, our play, and our other important relationships. Having a gratitude practice as a couple means that we both have the practice as individuals.
  • Gratitude helps us keep the peace. It’s easy to get caught up in the ravenous energy of modern American culture and find ourselves yearning for more and better things. By noticing that which we are already so blessed to have, our cravings subside and we realize how happy, satisfied, and fulfilled we already are.

I would be grateful to know about your experience with gratitude, especially in the context of relationship. How has it changed your connection with your partner? With yourself? What roadblocks to gratitude do you find? What most profoundly evokes your gratitude? Please use the “comments” area to share or trackback to this post from your site.

Gratitude Quotes

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion to clarity. . . . Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”

~ Melody Beattie

“There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other as though everything is a miracle.”

~ Albert Einstein

“We can spend a whole lifetime enjoying various benefits and not appreciate their value until we are deprived of them. How many lovers boldly contemplate separation, fondly imagining that they have had enough of the beloved. And yet as soon as they actually experience separation, they burn up with longing.”

~ Jami

“Normal day, let me be aware of the treasure you are. Let me learn from you, love you, bless you before you depart. Let me not pass you by in quest of some rare and perfect tomorrow. Let me hold you while I may, for it may not always be so. One day I shall dig my nails into the earth, or bury my face in the pillow, or stretch myself taut, or raise my hands to the sky and want, more than all the world, your return.”

~ Mary Jean Iron

Verbal communication — It’s what you say and how you say it

“The newest computer can merely compound, at speed, the oldest problem in the relations between human beings, and in the end the communicator will be confronted with the old problem, of what to say and how to say it.”

~ Edward R. Murrow

One of the greatest challenges all couples face centers around communication, because nearly every interaction involves communication of one sort or another. As one of my college professors in speech communication used to say, “you cannot not communicate.” So if we’re always communicating–verbally and non-verbally, intentionally and unintentionally–it’s important to be mindful of how our communication is being received. Let’s start by considering the messages you send verbally, through your words, tone of voice, and other qualities of speech.

Evaluate your verbal communication

While words only account for approximately 7% of the meaning people ascribe to your communication, tone of voice accounts for 38% of the meaning. So, it’s obvious that to be a successful communicator, you need to be aware of your verbal cues and clues (e.g., everything from words to sighs, moans, grunts).

  • Inflection refers to ups and downs in talking. Inflection helps you signal to your partner what’s important and may even indicate your emotional state (especially combined with volume and pitch).
  • Volume indicates the degree of loudness to your voice. Again, volume can indicate your energetic involvement with a topic and gives your spouse clues about your temperament and mood.
  • Pacing deals with your rate of speech or the speed of your talking. Matching your rate of speech and your intensity to that of your partner creates rapport and connection.
  • Word choice of course means what words you use to convey your message. Though words may have specific definitions, our lifetime of experience with a word means that our meaning for the word and someone else’s meaning might be quite different.
  • Silence refers to those gaps in our conversations. (Though silence is “non-verbal” it’s the absence of verbal communication, that’s why I’ve included it in this list.) Allow room for your partner to absorb what you’ve said and give yourself the space to take in what he/she is communicating to you.

As you engage in the next conversation with you partner, bring these aspects of verbal communication into your awareness. Are your choices enhancing communication or bringing about a disconnection? See what subtle changes you can make to connect with your partner and communicate in a productive, honoring, and meaningful way.

“Communication leads to community, that is, to understanding, intimacy and mutual valuing.”

~ Rollo May

Essential skills for a fantastic, long-lasting relationship (part 1)

What qualities do you need to possess to be capable of creating and maintaining a great romantic relationship? While I don’t think that relationships can be boiled down to a formula (whether it’s the “right” or “wrong” mix), I do believe that there are qualities and skills that are highly useful in the pursuit of a wonderful partnership. Below are eight of the most critical attributes from my (Shonnie’s) perspective. Bruce will be writing on this same question in another post.

  • Communication – though there are many details included in this one word, generally I would emphasize the importance of being able to listen openly and fully, speak clearly, honestly, and compassionately, and read other non-verbal communication accurately
  • Unequivocal support – by this I mean being 100% for the good of your partner, wanting and supporting their success, growth, achievement, and highest good every step of the way even when it seems to be at cross-purposes with your own desires
  • Self-awareness and self-love — to be an excellent partner to another person, we must first be an excellent partner to ourselves; taking care of your own needs (spiritual, emotional, physical, mental) and being the best human being you know how to be
  • Forgiveness – no matter the depth of our love for our partner, we will sometimes be angry, hurt, or resentful about something they did/did not do; being able and willing to readily and regularly offer your forgiveness is essential to long-term happiness and stability of the relationship
  • Loving truthfulness — honesty is one of the foundations of a strong relationship, yet so is the ability to be truthful in a loving, compassionate, and helpful way
  • Equality – sharing in an equitable way all that happens in your relationship (blessings, challenges, responsibility, praise); being partners that co-create your lives together, offering your gifts, perspective, and experience and making room for your mate to offer his/her own contributions
  • Intentioned flexibility — time and circumstances will change us so it’s important to be flexible enough to adapt or evolve; it’s essential, however, to know what you won’t change (values, commitments) or give up regardless of the paths you travel together
  • Commitment – especially in today’s world of multiple priorities and responsibilities, it’s easy for a relationship to get moved to the back burner (or off the stove completely); keeping your relationship a priority in your life requires a commitment of yourself in time, energy/spirit, and heart

What makes marriage work?

Before you invest in I Do! I Do! The Marriage Vow Workbook, we want you to have a sense of whether it’s the right book for you. One way to do so is to determine if the philosophy, values and beliefs expressed in the book are aligned with your vision for yourselves and your lives together.

Our thoughts on creating a happy marriage

  • Marriage is a partnership created by two people who love and want the best for one another.
  • A wedding (or commitment ceremony) is the official beginning of a marriage, but a marriage is a lifelong journey that you have committed to take together.
  • Powerful, meaningful vows provide a solid foundation on which to build your marriage, and by upholding these commitments you’ll be better able to handle the bumps when they come.
  • Having a shared vision–how you will relate to each other, what values you live, your desired future destination–is essential. If you’re on divergent paths, it’s difficult to journey together.
  • Love is essential to a wonderful marriage. So are respect, forgiveness, compassion, honesty, cooperation, clarity, purposefulness, and “for-ness” (being fully committed to the other person and supporting their growth).
  • It’s imperative that you develop, practice, and hone your communication skills (listening as well as speaking). You’ll use them every day, and they affect every part of your relationship.
  • Even the best relationships have ups and downs. How you choose to handle the bumps in the road as you journey together is of prime importance.
  • No one has all the answers to marriage/relationship questions. However, seeking out the company of those who practice love, respect, and intimacy in their relationships will support you as much as expert advice.
  • Openness to learning, growth, and change will serve you well in marriage, because time and experience will alter who you are and maybe even your vision for your journey together.

Learn more about our relationship philosophy and the Marriage Vow Workbook by listening to a recent interview (16 minutes) we gave to Dave Debs from The Coach Corner. You have to create a free account to access this recording, yet the process is very simple and quick to complete.

“A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person.”

~ Mignon McLaughlin

What wedding traditions should you keep?

Your wedding is your special day and should therefore fit your wants and needs. There is no “right” answer regarding the issue of choosing traditional or modern for your marriage ceremony. Below are suggestions for you to use in making choices that fit for you and your spouse-to-be.

How to decide on traditional or modern wedding choices

  1. First determine your overall vision for your wedding. Besides the obvious purpose of getting married, why else are you having your ceremony? What experience do you want to have? What kind of event do you want to create for your guests?
  2. Now consider if there are any traditions that are meaningful for you or important for you to include. Certain symbology, readings, or specific elements may help you create an event that “feels” like a wedding for you. These components may be serious–religious reading, cultural tradition–or more for fun–tossing the garter and bouquet, clinking glasses to make the newlyweds kiss.
  3. Check in with other key people (parents, your officiant, etc.). Even though it’s your wedding, it’s valuable to have conversations with those closest to you to learn of any wedding elements (traditional or modern) that they would like to see included/excluded. You may also be required to do certain things to have your marriage be official, so check with your officiant on this.
  4. Review your vision and your list of ideas to make your final choices. You may or may not have time to include every idea on your list, so determine which elements are essential and which can be eliminated or incorporated in some other part of your wedding events. You might make a 3-point scale and “rate” each of the ideas (must have, optional, can eliminate) as a quick way for you and your partner to make your final selection.
  5. Know that you’ve created the right wedding ceremony for you. Sometimes it’s easy to second guess yourselves or worry that you have to accommodate everyone’s wishes. Once you and your partner have made your choices, trust that these choices are the perfect ones for creating the magical wedding day that you’ve envisioned. Now have fun putting it all together into one joyous, honoring, and loving celebration!

How did you decide what wedding traditions to include and which to leave out of your big day? Share your wisdom with other couples preparing to say “I do.”

Podcast — Prevent negative energy from turning into trouble

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A tiny snowball at the top of a mountain starts to roll down the slopes. As it rolls, it accumulates more and more snow, becoming a gigantic snowy boulder that will crush anything in its path.

Have you ever had that kind of “snowball effect” in your relationship, where many tiny annoyances soon roll into one huge argument? My guess is that you have (or you at least know someone who has). I’m also guessing that you would be happy to have fewer such “snowball” situations from now on.

The good news is that we each have personal warning signs that alert us to relationship “danger ahead.” In this podcast (5 minutes), I share an example of one of my warning signs and how knowing it kept Bruce and me out of a deep dark hole.

How to prevent a negative situation from getting worse

  • Know how you feel when you’re in a negative situation — Perhaps you feel a tightness in your chest, your breathing is more rapid and shallow, or your head starts to ache. Learn what signals your body sends to tell you that something’s not right.
  • Know your personal “warning signs” that danger lurks ahead — You might hear that certain tone in your voice or notice that judgmental thoughts are zooming through your mind. Become adept at recognizing that your fuse is wearing out and you’re getting close to your explosion point.
  • Learn how to diffuse negative situations — You can simply stop talking, take some deep breaths before talking again, or even ask for a time out. Find effective ways to disengage your negative energy so that you can stop a downward-spiraling conversation from gaining any more momentum.

“The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it.”

~ Dale Carnegie

What habits or practices do you use to keep negative situations from spiraling downward into trouble?

Never blame your mate

“Success in marriage does not come merely through finding the right mate, but through being the right mate.”

~ Barnett Brickner

When we hit rough patches at work, it’s common to look for someone to blame. When we don’t like what’s happening in our communities, governments, and churches we easily complain about who’s at fault. It’s no different in our marriages. Many of us tend to point the finger at our partner when we argue or when something’s gone wrong.

There are many problems we create when we blame our spouse for our dyad dilemmas.

  • Our partner usually gets more upset since they’re now being labeled as THE guilty party.
  • We abdicate our ability to rectify the situation because when we make someone else responsible we become the powerless victim.
  • We create a relationship imbalance (one person is “up,” the other is “down”) which makes us susceptible to another pendulum swing sometime in the future.
  • Our problem still exists and, if anything, it’s now worse than before we started blaming.

Relationship problems are relationship problems. They involve two people (in this case), both of whom played active roles in creating the problem. So, the next time you’re in a spat with your spouse, ask yourself, “What did I do that helped make this situation happen?” Though it’s initially more sobering to take responsibility for your role, it’s a faster, and smoother route to reconnecting than blaming can ever provide.

Things we do for love

“You will find as you look back upon your life that the moments when you have truly lived are the moments when you have done things in the spirit of love.”

~ Henry Drummond

This post is about love, not between two romantic lovers but between a mother and daughter–my mother and me.

Shonnie & her mom, Cora SueWhen my mom was struggling with breast cancer, her doctors implanted a device in her upper chest where some of her drugs could be injected after the veins in her arms and hands had became too difficult and painful to access. Unfortunately the area became infected and the device had to be removed, which left an open wound. To heal, the wound required a thorough daily cleaning. I asked the home health nurse to show me how to care for the wound so I could help my mom restore health to at least that one thing.Love compelled me to do that. Love willed me through my fear, past my sadness, and into my compassion. Love guided me to face my pain to help soothe my mom’s. Love didn’t necessarily make that task any easier, but it did allow me to take the first step.

Love also helped me do other things that I had never conceived of:

  • Rushing across the Dallas metroplex between my double shifts as a waitress to be with my mom during her multiple stays in the hospital in the first couple of months after her diagnosis;
  • Bathing my mom and changing her diapers when her cancer progressed so much that she could no longer care for herself or even leave the hospital bed we had at home;
  • Holding her unresponsive hands and caressing her motionless face while I laid alongside her dead body in the Dallas hospital where she spent her last days;
  • Reading a poem I’d written about her at her memorial service in front of hundreds of family, friends, and others who loved her.

Had love not possessed me during her illness and death, I could have never done such delicate, difficult, and sometimes seemingly ineffective tasks.

Of course, love had gotten my mom through trials and suffering too, as is the case for all parents. Whether she was worried sick when I got Chicken Pox at the age of four, or exasperated when I threw the tantrum to end all tantrums, I’m sure love guided her. When I did things she didn’t understand or condone, love may have helped her come closer instead of pulling away. Love, I’m certain, had to be accessed regularly once I reached my teen years when so often kids and parents lock horns or build walls between each other. Love may have even given her the courage to be so vulnerable to me during her last six months of life.

“It is easy to love the people far away. It is not always easy to love those close to us. It is easier to give a cup of rice to relieve hunger than to relieve the loneliness and pain of someone unloved in our own home. Bring love into your home for this is where our love for each other must start.”

~ Mother Teresa

July 2 was the 14th anniversary of my mom’s death. July 14 is her birthday. It’s been so long that I don’t really remember her voice, and though I don’t consciously think about her everyday, love helps me stay connected. Through memory of our shared life experience, I get to be with my mom in spirit. As those of you who’ve lost someone you deeply love know, there are times when you miss that person so much that you weep uncontrollably, overcome by your loss and filled with hopelessness. Writing this piece is opening me up to that pain anew. But love helps me ride those waves of despair and emerge whole, despite my scars.

Cora Sue Boehm, my momThank God that love does all it does for us. It’s the superhuman gift we’ve each been given — a superpower possessed by all mortals. Without love I’m quite certain that there would be no point to life, no reason to exist at all. So while loving someone with all your heart makes you extremely vulnerable, love will also mend the heart’s wounds, leaving you both more tender and more tough in the process. May each and every one of you do scary, difficult, gentle, powerful, and important things for love. And may your beloveds do likewise for you. Your lives will never be the same. . .and that’s a wonderful thing.

For all of my beloveds, especially today for my mom, born Cora Sue Boehm, on July 14, 1943.