Arguing isn’t the problem. How we handle it is.

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Explain your anger, don’t express it, and you will immediately open the door to solutions instead of arguments. Unknown

Talking things out is a pathway to growth and problem-solving. It can also descend into arguments. It is not good to avoid conflict by withdrawal and stonewalling, it is not good if every discussion turns into an angry argument. We all argue, are there ways to do it more constructively?

The answer according to Barton Goldsmith is yes, and he gives his tips to argue correctly creating a pathway to growth and problem-solving.

  1. Understand that anger itself is not destructive. There is a vast difference between anger and rage. When someone is angry they need to state their feelings, they don’t break things or relationships – that is rageful behavior.
  2. Talk about your feelings before you get angry. When you or your partner can approach the situation as it happens and deal with it in a safe way, it may not get to the point of being an argument. Sometimes things just need to be verbalized and most arguments can be avoided if your partner understands how you feel.
  3. Don’t raise your voice. It’s amazing how issues of hurt feelings or differences can be resolved with a whisper. I counsel couples who are yellers to only communicate with a whisper and it greatly reduces the anger factor in their relationships.
  4. Don’t threaten your relationship. And don’t take every argument as a threat to your relationship. This type of emotional blackmail puts the other partner in a panic/flight or flight mode. While you’re telling them you want to leave, they may be making plans to find a roommate. In addition, they may be so devastated by the thought of losing their family they can go into a deep depression and be unable to give you what it is you need.
  5. Don’t stockpile. This is where you bring up issues from the past to use as a hammer against whatever problem your partner has asked for help with. Deal with their issue first and if you really have unresolved feelings from past problems talk about them at another time.
  6. Don’t avoid your anger. If you stuff your feelings long enough you will explode and say or do things that you will regret. Anger does not diminish love, you can be angry with those you love. In fact the ones we love hurt us the most because we love them the most.
  7. Create a process for resolving problems without anger. Start by each of you taking five minutes to state your feelings, then take a twenty-minute break to think about things and come back to the table for another ten minutes to discuss how you think you can best deal with the problem. Also, know that it’s okay if the problem doesn’t get solved right away.
  8. Abuse is NEVER allowed. This includes verbal abuse, any type of violence including slamming doors, breaking plates or hitting. If your arguments escalate to this level you need to leave the house. If one partner ever hits another a police report needs to be made and an appointment with a therapist is mandatory.
  9. Don’t engage. Remember that negative attention is still attention. If your partner tries to goad you into an argument, simply don’t go there. Some people actually like to argue because it gives them a temporary feeling of power and gratification. Avoid being sucked into their need for attention.
  10. Listen to your body. When you are angry your body releases chemicals that may cause you to react in ways that can be destructive to you, your partner and your relationship. Learn to understand your feelings and how the process of anger affects you physically and emotionally.

Research has shown that couples who argue more than twenty percent of the time are probably not going to survive.

Most couples don’t have hundreds of arguments; they have the same argument hundreds of times. It’s not always about trying to fix something that’s broken; maybe it’s about starting over and creating something better. You can’t have a relationship without any fights, but you can make your relationship worth the fight… Unknown

How an argument unfolds is important. We need enough balance in our relationship that both partners feel they can talk about anything and everything. It isn’t good when one partner rants and raves and bullies, and the other partner shuts down. It is even worse if both partners shut down and stop bringing up problems altogether. When this happens we walk on eggshells and stay distant to avoid conflict.

We need to contain our arguments where they don’t turn into open warfare, and where we don’t bring up the past to fan the flames of our emotional fire. When we do this, hurtful things get said, sometimes arguments even get physical, and emotional and physical scars can be created that don’t go away, they just create more fear, resentment, and fuel for future arguments.

When the argument is over we need to make up. We can make mistakes at this point too.

One mistake is to pretend the argument didn’t happen. We get up, pour our coffee, and sweep everything under our already full rug.

Another mistake is we continue to punish our partner. We give them the silent treatment. We use passive-aggressive behaviors to rub salt in our partners wound.

Even if it isn’t about punishment but anxiety and awkwardness we should avoid the deep-freeze treatment because it creates a negative climate in the relationship as we create a who will give in the first environment. It is even worse if children are forced to endure this untenable situation and negative environment. They sometimes believe they are the problem.

Another mistake we make is not apologizing. We often don’t apologize because we believe we are saying their ridiculous accusations are correct and we are wrong. An apology is simply acknowledging that we hurt our partner’s feelings. We are taking responsibility for our part in the argument and maybe even for our part in the situation that created it. We did play a part even if all we did is get defensive and escalate the argument

How can we make our relationship better after an argument?

First, we need to cool off and get our rational brain back in control. If we talk too soon we may trigger another argument. Men it seems often take longer to cool down. We can acknowledge the other person by simply saying, “I’m still upset; I’m not trying to ignore you, I just need more time to cool off.”

Apologize.

Solve the problem that started the argument if that is possible. Many of us fall down at this point. We don’t solve the problem because we are worried discussing it will turn into another argument. Our challenge is to talk about it and solve the problem. We need to stay sane, move forward, and figure out a way to deal with the problem. Do we need to go through this loop a few times because of the situation?

We need to figure out what is the moral of the story of our argument. We want to fix the problem but we also want to learn what the argument can teach us about communication, and what’s the underlying source of the problem. We may be fighting about dishes in the sink, kids bedtimes and other sundry items but the underlying problem may be something else entirely, money, not spending enough time and attention with each other, old hurts we haven’t let go of.

What is the deeper issue underlying the problem? The dishes are not about the dishes but about feeling criticized, feeling we are doing more than our share, and our requests for help are dismissed. We need to do real soul searching to figure out the larger pattern, why did this trigger that argument, and what needs does our partner have we are not meeting? How empty is their love tanks?

Were we holding things in and something finally burst the damn and we finally blew up? Were we feeling disconnected from each other and developed the habit of picking fights to feel connected and energized? Our challenge is having the courage to be honest with our self and each other about what is really going on. What aren’t we discussing? What aren’t we fixing? What are we regretting? What emptiness are we feeling? How have we let our self or our partner down? How have they let us down? We need to deal with our anxiety and the reality of the situation instead of avoiding it. When we deal with it, we can make it better. It might not be better in the short time, it may take a while, but if we are both committed to figuring out the problems, fixing the problems, and meeting each other needs we can build a better marriage and relationship.

Is an argument an opportunity to analyze a problem, fix it, strengthen our marriage, and be closer to our partner?

Relationships include fights, jealousy, arguments, faith, tears, disagreements, but a real relationship fights through all that with love. Unknown

Breaking the Argument Cycle: How to Stop Fighting Without Therapy

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Belonging and self-acceptance. We are enough.

Photo of red roses by Belynda Wilson Thomas Sept 3 2018

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The truth is: Belonging starts with self-acceptance. Your level of belonging, in fact, can never be greater than your level of self-acceptance, because believing that you’re enough is what gives you the courage to be authentic, vulnerable and imperfect. Brene Brown

Last night was a fun night at Toastmasters. It was sixties theme night. We dressed in the style of the day. I chose the “mod” style and wore a black and white mini dress with tights. One of the speakers had the best outfit. She has long dark hair and wore a tie-dyed dress with a flowered shirt over it and flowers in her hair. One of our members made a huge effort to get the perfect outfit, it was perfect – for the fifties.

The Chair had a montage of songs he played, and a list of the changes the sixties brought to our society. Our Table Topics Master (one to two-minute speeches on the topic she gives you) chose songs from “the British invasion” and brought a British flag with British treats on it. One of the treats was an individually wrapped cookie with a cookie on the bottom, jam in the middle, and marshmallow on top covered in chocolate. I had to have one, it was delicious. It brought back memories. Dad always bought those kinds of cookies.

A night full of laughs, what more can you want on a cold January night? Our Hippie speaker spoke about the city she loves, the Russian City of St. Petersburg. Our Mod speaker spoke about “The Winter Blues” and what to do to mitigate the problem caused by a lack of sun. I bet they know a lot about that in St. Petersburg.

I envy people who have that kind of passion for a city. I think this is the kind of envy we who live in the “new” world have for those who live or lived in the “old” world.

One of the great things about listening to other peoples stories is we see a broader slice of life. We hear first-hand stories people are living that would bring us to our knees. We hear stories of overcoming adversity and hardship. Our General Evaluator said if she was born in the late fifties or early sixties in China she probably wouldn’t be here, because that was the time of the great famine. After the famine from 1962 to 1972 three hundred million babies were born in China, and she was one of them.

You’re imperfect, and you’re wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging. Brene Brown

Is it hardship that creates some of these great personalities? Is it knowing where you are from over the generations that breeds pride in your country and city of origin?

Are we prouder of things and places we’ve moved away from than where we are? Do we look at where we were with rose tinted glasses? Do we feel if we love where we moved to more than where we were brought up we’ve betrayed our roots?

Did our expectations of where we moved to go unmet, because no place could meet them? Do we live with one foot in the past? Do we feel we don’t quite fit in where we are and we wouldn’t likely fit in where we were born anymore either?

Is it true you can take the girl out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the girl?

Next week it’s my turn to give a speech. I haven’t written it yet. Writing my speech is one of my projects for this weekend. I hope I can give them something to think about.

When we find a group of like-minded people to share a little time with, it is one of the greatest discoveries of our life. Have you found your group?

Stories in families are colossally important. Every family has stories: some embarrassing, some shameful. Knowing them is proof of belonging to the family. Salman Rushdie

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Building love that lasts by giving them undivided attention.

Photo of black eyed susan by Belynda Wilson Thomas

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No amount of money or success can take the place of time spent with your family. Unknown

Spending time with the people we love makes them feel loved. When we are parents of young children the more time we spend with them the more positive the relationship. If we don’t have time to spend with our children as they are growing up we end up like Harry Chapin’s Cats in the Cradle. We didn’t have time for our kids when they were young and they don’t have time for us when they are grown up. “We’ll get together “then”, but “then” never comes.

Spending time with our family nurtures bonds, positive behaviors, creates memories, relieves stress, and we often have a healthier lifestyle. It takes an effort to sit down to family dinners, but the family conversations over those dinners are priceless.

We need to be careful that we aren’t trying so hard to have family time that we don’t schedule couple time. Willard F. Harley from the blog Marriage Builders tells us we need fifteen hours of undivided attention to spend with our spouse per week.

Fifteen hours per week of undivided time with our spouse sounds daunting. If we are retired it’s completely doable, but if we are working at different jobs with young children it sounds like a distant dream.

Working with our spouse has its own downfalls. Research shows women tend to earn and advance their careers less when they co-found a business with their romantic partners. The data also suggests women who go into business with their husbands may be less independent and assertive than those who pursue a separate career. The case for working with our spouse is more stress resistance, lower chance of burnout, higher engagement at work, even sharing an occupation or profession can reduce stress and burnout while increasing engagement levels.

As with everything there are pros and cons. We build our lives, and we deal with our choices. It can be hard to separate work from home when we work together.

When we go into business with our spouse we will develop stronger communication skills because communication is the pillar of a strong marriage and a strong business partnership. We may try harder at both because we’ve doubled our risk. If the marriage doesn’t succeed, the business will be affected, if the business doesn’t succeed the marriage will be affected.

Love your family. Spend time, be kind and serve one another. Make no room for regrets. Tomorrow is not promised and today is short. Unknown

Just being in the same house or room with someone is not part of our fifteen hours of undivided attention. I realized this the other day when my husband and I were home together for a good part of the day but we were both busy doing different things. Instead of going for coffee as we usually do, I went shopping and he went to visit his mother. At the end of the day I reflected we spent no undivided attention with each other, we watched TV but that doesn’t count as undivided attention.

That was a day and not a usual day, but what if it became a usual day? We revolve around each other instead of interacting with each other. What if we take each other for granted?  What if we don’t plan how we want to spend our free time? It is easy to let all the urgent things every day get in the way of building our best relationships.

Nobody plans for their relationship to become cold, to end up sitting at a dinner table with nothing to say. We’ve seen couples, even young couples out for a night out with friends, they were the first ones to arrive and they didn’t interact at all until their friends arrived. If we don’t plan to spend time together that time gets eaten up by urgent things we end up doing.

Willard F. Harley tells us we need to plan for intimacy, plan for fifteen hours of undivided attention, and make our partners our favorite recreational partner. We need to fill each other’s love tanks and keep them full.

My mother always said, “The best gift you can give your kids is to love their father.” When we model a happy marriage we provide security for our children, and we show them they can have a happy marriage. When our children see us get through life together regardless of the bumps in the road, they can see themselves getting through the bumps. A resilient marriage builds resilience in our children.

Are we building a happy, resilient relationship? Would we be happy if our children followed our example? Can we make our relationship better by spending more undivided attention with each other, finding recreational activities to share, and planning for intimacy?

At the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, nor winning one more verdict, or not closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with a husband, a friend, a child, a parent.  Barbara Bush

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The givers and takers.

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The world gives to the givers and takes from the takers. Unknown

Psychologist Adam Grant divides the world into three personality types givers, takers, and matchers.

Takers are self-focused and put their own interests above other’s needs. They try to gain as much as possible from their interactions with other people while contributing as little as they can in return.

Matchers like to preserve an equal balance of giving and taking. Their mindset is: “if you take from me, I’ll take from you. If you give to me, I’ll give to you. Tit for tat.

Givers are other-focused and tend to provide support to others with no strings attached. They ask, “How can I help? What can I contribute?”

It seems most of us are somewhere in the middle, “the matchers”. We make sure what goes around, comes around. Matchers reciprocate, we give value for value. We expect to do for someone and have them do to us. Matchers reward generous behavior and seek revenge when others are mistreated.

So who is most successful at work?

The givers turn out to be the worst performers because they sometimes sacrifice their own success to help others succeed according to research. It is the givers who are also the best performers at work. The takers and the matchers tend to land in the middle.

It seems like the takers would be the successful ones, but the matchers tend to try and knock them down because of their selfish me first attitude. The takers rarely succeed in building strong relationships and networks.

The givers succeed because their giving leads to quality relationships. With quality relationships gives are happier people than the takers.

Whoa if being a giver is so great, why do they end up at both ends of the success ladder, the bottom and the top?

There are two types of givers: the ‘selfless’ giver and ‘otherish’ givers. The ‘selfless’ giver drops everything to help others. This means they often aren’t looking after their own business, interests, etc.

The ‘otherish’ givers are more pragmatic, strategic, and smart about their giving. They’ve learned to successfully navigate the world with matchers and takers, and they don’t allow themselves to be taken advantage of.

How can we be a successful giver?

Do five-minute favors for people. These are small impactful favors we can do that don’t take much time. We can introduce them to someone, give feedback, offer advice, and lend a listening ear.

Ask for help. This doesn’t sound right! When we ask someone for help we allow them to be a giver, feel good, smart, and helpful. One of the best ways to build relationships is to seek advice, in this way someone can contribute to our life and feel fulfilled by it.

Give all at once. We can give by sprinkling random acts of kindness throughout our week, or we can do all our giving in one day. When we give it all at once we are left with a bigger psychological boost of feeling appreciated and meaningful which motivates us to continue giving.

Specialize in favors. Successful people tend to pick one or two ways they enjoy and excel at helping others. They gain a reputation as someone with particular expertise they are willing to share instead of just being a ‘nice’ person.

Keep an eye out for takers. We need to be able to spot the takers, who are always looking for something for nothing. We need to tell the takers, “sure, I’ll help you if you do this for me in return.”

Have you ever wondered if you are a giver, taker or matcher? Even if we are givers or matchers, in certain circumstances we can act like takers. One of these situations is in marriage.

According to W. F. Harley’s website Marriage Builders, the giver is the part of us that does whatever we can to make the other person happy and avoid anything that makes the other person unhappy, even if it makes us unhappy.  The taker is when we do whatever we can to make ourselves happy and avoid anything that makes us unhappy, even if it makes our partner unhappy.

He says in marriage either the giver is in charge or the taker is in charge. When the giver is in charge we are giving and considerate. When the taker is in charge we are rude, demanding, and inconsiderate.

He says this is normal behavior in marriage. We might think we are married to a crazy person, or we might think we are crazy our self. He says marriage is one of the few situations that bring out the pure giver and taker in each of us.

Surprise, surprise, it isn’t the giver that ruins marriages – it’s the taker. When we give, give, give, the taker rises up to balance things out. “Now it’s your turn to give.” This sounds fair, right? All it does is rouse the taker in our spouse to rear its head. The taker in us makes us argue instead of negotiating.

Our marriage is in one of three states, intimacy when everything is going well and we are both givers. Conflict when both spouses are in taker mode. Withdrawal is when we’ve given up arguing and live in a cold no combat zone.

We may think staying in the state of intimacy is where we want to be. The problem with the state of intimacy is we don’t learn to negotiate and we can develop very bad habits, we don’t ask for what we need, we don’t negotiate how we will spend our money or other important negotiations. Not negotiating what we want in our marriage moves us to a state of conflict.

There’s no road map on how to raise a family: it’s always an enormous negotiation. Meryl Streep

Conflict can be temporary if the spouse still in a giving mood apologizes for the error (whether or not it’s their fault) and promises to be more thoughtful in the future or make a better effort to meet an unmet need. Then the taker is satisfied and goes back to sleep. The giver comes back and we are back in a state of intimacy.

What if there are no apologies? What if the damage is not repaired quickly? What if one spouse continues to be thoughtless or unwilling to meet an emotional need, or they aren’t willing to take responsibility for what they don’t agree is their fault?

Now we are in conflict and conversations tend to be disrespectful, resentful, and even hateful. Mutual care and concern have been replaced by mutual self-centeredness. Fairness is viewed by our takers as getting their way at all costs. We are taking love units out of our love bank at a fast rate. It isn’t long and we are bankrupt of love units. We would rather fight than try to make our spouse happy.

If we can’t find our way out of conflict the resentment and disillusionment we experience eventually convinces our takers it’s not working. We withdraw, we quit trying to force our spouse to meet our needs. In withdrawal spouses no longer feel emotionally bonded or in love. As soon as one spouse enters withdrawal the other usually follows.

Usually, one spouse realizes something has to change to break the negative cycle. It is possible to lead our spouse or for them to lead us back to intimacy. To get back to the intimacy we have to go back into conflict. In conflict, we are willing to have our needs met by our partner. If we just argue and fight instead of negotiating we will eventually end up back in withdrawal. The state of withdrawal may seem like peace, but it is actually the shut down of the marriage

To move from conflict back to the intimacy we must resist the urge to fight. It takes two to argue, and if one spouse makes an effort to avoid making demands and judgmental statements and tries to meet the other’s needs, the other spouse will usually calm down and do the same thing.

Once we start caring and sharing we rebuild our love tank bank accounts and reenter the intimacy stage. The irony that trips some of us up is the spouse making the effort gets their needs met last, and their Taker isn’t happy with this arrangement. If their Taker rears their ugly head we go round and round again. If we want to return to the intimacy we must override this instinct of how unfair it is that our needs are not being met yet.

It is easier if we work together to restore intimacy and negotiation is the way through the slippery slope of intimacy, conflict, and withdrawal.

We are always in one of these stages. What do we need to negotiate in our marriage or relationships to make them better?

Everything is a negotiation. Everything is a little bit of give and take. Lamman Rucker

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The importance of pillow talk.

Photo by Belynda Wilson Thomas of Two Day Lilies

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Pillow talk is the strongest conversation on the planet. Unknown

Isn’t it sometimes one of the best times of the day when we lay in bed with our partner in a drowsy, open state, cuddling, and sharing something funny, and touching. We share an intimate conversation for a couple of minutes or longer.

A study among Oregon couples shows that pillow talk helps couples relationships and health.

I’ve always loved conversation in bed. When my cousins used to visit we would lay in bed and talk. In summer Dad would set up the tent and all us kids would sleep in it talking and talking.

So many of us have trouble sleeping, we can’t seem to shut our brains off. When we lay down and our brains keep whirling away, one way to calm our brain is pillow talk. We can get out our thoughts and feelings. This is a way we can help each other unwind. We can connect on an emotional level. This is a time we let our defenses down and can be really honest with each other. If we do it consistently over time we are creating a positive environment for our relationship and health to thrive. It is a way to end our day on a positive note, one more way to build a positive life and relationship.

In movies, we see there is a cold marriage because we watch the couple get into bed but have no interaction. One of the things marriage therapist John Gottman tells us we need to pick up on the little bids for attention, affirmation, and affection our partner makes. A good place to make a bid for connection, attention, and affirmation is pillow talk before falling asleep. It is the small things done often that make the biggest difference in our relationship.

We think it is big things that cause relationship rifts, not just between couples but between friends, coworkers, and family members. I spoke with a friend who told me about a moment that changed a friendship for the worse. I’m still shaking my head about it. She thought the person should have said something but didn’t, and had a smirk on her face. It wasn’t a big thing she was supposed to say. Just something like, “yeah, we always joke and make fun of each other like that.”

I’ve watched rifts happen in my family and shake my head over the cause. When we’ve hurt someone, how do we repair it? Maybe the problem is that something happens, and then neither person makes a bid to repair the situation, ease the awkwardness, or heal the rift. Or if one person makes a bid the other person ignores or doesn’t notice.

It’s no use of talking unless people understand what you say. Zora Neale Hurston

Pillow talk is a way to make a bid when there is no competition for our time, attention or energy. When we go to bed, we want to unwind and a little positive conversation with the one we love empties our brain and allows us to drift off into a peaceful sleep.

If we are smart we use the time just before bed and sleep to reconnect. It is a time to let the stress of the day fall away. Marriage therapists share ten bedtime behaviors that wreak havoc on our relationships.

Going to bed at different times. Especially if we hit a rough patch we can use this as a way to avoid emotional and physical intimacy.

Expecting to have sex. One or both partners may find the expectation difficult when they feel dead tired, not in the mood, or physically incapable. This expectation can ruin the chance for emotional and physical intimacy.

You bring your phone to bed. Having a TV in our bedrooms might be contributing to less pillow talk.

You focus on the kids the whole night.

You sleep in separate beds or too large of a bed.

You talk about your to-do list. I think talking about anything is probably better than not talking. We need to start the conversation; we don’t just dive into intimate conversations, we ease into them. Can we accept the bid and not be too judgmental on how someone starts a conversation?

You tell your partner to sleep on the couch. Do I have to ask who owns the bed?

You drink without your spouse.

You bring up heavy conversations in bed. Once again I think this is not good advice. Sometimes the only way back to intimacy is with some hard conversations, it is best if we can let our partner talk without getting defensive. Conversation is better than no conversation; this may be the time we can just murmur encouragement at their sharing without confronting them, just because we listen to their point of view doesn’t mean we agree with it. We should listen to their point of view, and they should listen to ours. If we let our partner talk, and say all they have to say we may understand their point of view, even if we don’t agree with it. We need to listen to understand. Not feeling understood is a huge problem in marriages.

It isn’t part of their list but I think turning away quickly without touching our partner or saying anything that could ignite a little light pillow talk may give them the idea we are not open to touch, talk, or intimacy. Someone has to initiate pillow talk when coldness is starting to chill the relationship.

Someone has to be open and vulnerable first. When we make the bid we hope our partner responds lovingly when they make a bid we should respond positively. The worst thing to do is ignore the bid making them feel like they are invisible and of no consequence. A quiet murmur as we are drifting off to sleep is a response. Unless we are actually asleep we should at least acknowledge the bid.

Is enough pillow talk happening in our relationship? Could this be the habit that puts our relationship on a new plane? Could this be what is missing, why our relationship seems colder and less connected? Is this the little thing that will make a big difference? Did we somehow think this was just for new relationships?

Never leave the person who understands you more than anyone else. Someone who you can talk to about everything and will stand next to you even with your unwanted attitudes. Treasure the one that accepts and loves every bit of you. Unknown

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Goals, dreams, plans, build good habits.

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We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act, but a habit. Aristotle

I watched a YouTube video the other day I think it was called “What no one tells you.”A recovering addict was in rehab about to leave. The counselor said, “See you when you come back.”

Not what you want or expect to hear as you embark on your newly sober life. The counselor told him not to concentrate on all his big dreams, but to take one day at a time and stay sober.

He was telling him to make sober his new habit. This is what we have to do if we want to make any changes in our life. When we cut out sugar we have to find a new way to “treat” our self. If we used to celebrate with chocolates and wine maybe we find sparkling water we like, and we indulge in nuts, chips, and cheese.

We want to dream big dreams and have these fantastic goals but life is lived in the moments of our days. The thoughts we think and the actions we take daily build our life. It doesn’t matter how big that dream on your vision board is, if you aren’t doing things to support it today, it is unlikely to happen.

I was listening to a podcast on relationships. We need fifteen hours of undivided attention with our spouse per week to build and maintain a loving relationship. He broke down how we spend our week and gave suggestions on how to make fifteen hours for our spouse. If we get that big dream and have no one to share it with, that isn’t part of the dream.

When the kids were little I wrote out plans trying to fit everything in. It worked better than not having a plan. When things work in our life it isn’t haphazard. We make time for the things we feel are important. If we have something we want to change, accomplish, or start we have to fit it into our lives. If we want to become better, healthier cooks, we have to purchase better, healthier food, we have to have recipes, and we have to be willing to change our palette over time.

I still think about how easy it was before we were a plant-based whole food. We had hamburger meat on Monday, pork on Tuesday, and chicken on Wednesday. It wasn’t that varied, many days I was thinking can’t we find something else to eat. It’s exactly the same with plant-based meals. We have soup on Saturday, curries on Sunday, pasta on Monday, and beans and lentils on Tuesday. Food can be as varied, colorful, and appetizing as we are willing to make it.

My daughter made one of the best lasagnas I’ve ever eaten and it was plant-based with no meat or cheese. It doesn’t matter what healthy eating plan we go with, we hit a wall where we think is this all we can eat? We need to put our thinking cap on, browse the book store or internet for new and interesting recipes.

Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going. Jim Rohn

My brother has a health problem and when I talk to him about food being part of the problem. He says, “If I have to cook, I’ll never get better.” Unfortunately, that is probably the truth, if we can’t figure out how to feed our body with what it needs how can it rebuild?

If we can’t fit exercise in, how will we become fit? If we can’t fit in time for our spouse, how will we rebuild, or maintain our relationship? Too often we get through the hard slogging of raising children and the relationship is gone. We were too busy doing everything that needed to be done to maintain a close, loving, and supportive relationship.

Whatever our goals, dreams, and aspirations are for this year they will have to become habits if they are to come to fruition. I am trying to build the habit of doing three things every day to make myself happy. Number one is this blog. One of the best habits my husband and I have is we go out for coffee almost every day. Working from home we need to get out. This is one of the ways we get our fifteen hours of undivided attention. It is surprising when I think about it how we can spend a whole day in the same house with no undivided attention. I can see how if we do this over a period of years when we sit face to face we have nothing to say. It is awkward and we don’t like awkward so we make sure that doesn’t happen too often.

The longer this goes on, the more a wall gets built that is harder and harder to climb over, breakthrough, or tunnel under. We have to be willing to be vulnerable and tentatively reach out, offer a hug, backrub, walk, or a drive somewhere. A visit to a hardware store may be part of the undivided time spent together.

Can we find an activity to share to bring fun back into our relationships? What do we both like to do, we can do together? Cooking together for our new healthy eating plan might work. Browsing new stores for hard to find ingredients can be fun. Go shopping together for the perfect chopping block so cutting up veggies is fun. Maybe looking for the perfect chef knife, frying pan or pot can be an adventure.

Walking is a good way to get healthy and share undivided attention with our spouse. When my husband reads my blog and discusses what I write, we connect, and I feel validated, encouraged, and understood.

It takes time to create new habits. The only things that will change in our life are where we take small steps continually. These steps can be hesitant, tentative, and hard, but if we continue to take them daily, weekly, monthly it gets easier. When I drink my morning coffee without cream I no longer miss the cream. Three years without cream in my coffee has shown me that cream was a detriment to my health. I’ve replaced going for coffee with tea. Now I love going places and trying out new delicious teas.

The changes we want to make may seem too hard, almost insurmountable, but when we make the decision to change we can break it down into daily steps. Small daily steps can take us anywhere we want to go.

Is there something we want to change, we’ve been hesitating to commit to? When we make a decision and make a commitment, we change our lives.

All human actions have one or more of these seven causes: chance, nature, compulsions, habit, reason, passion and desire. Aristotle

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100% responsibility gives us power.

Photo of two swans by Belynda Wilson Thomas

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One of the big fears we have in life is being controlled.

Are we wired to fight against control? Is it better to build a society with self-control? We need laws where we all agree going against them is wrong. Is it productive to bring in ever stricter laws?

 You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose.” Dr. Seuss

We are immersed in the idea of personal freedom and self-determination. Life is a balance of freedom, control, and responsibility. We hear of controlling mothers, controlling spouses, state control.

The marshmallow test by Walter Mischel was used to test how long a child could resist eating a treat if it meant they would get two treats instead of one. They were testing if the child had the self-discipline to control their impulses to reach their goal. Managing our impulses to reach our goals is important in life.

It seems it isn’t only the child’s impulse control that is important in the experiment it is also how much trust they have in the experimenter. If the child doesn’t trust the experimenter they will eat the marshmallow sooner. That makes sense to me.

We can teach our children self-discipline but we have to be trustworthy. If we tell our children we’ll go out after they clean their room we have to do it when they have done their part.

Self-control is choosing to give up something we want for something we want more. If we force a child to give up something then that isn’t self-discipline that is controlling. We grow up making constructive decisions and we begin to see our self in a certain way. We are people who don’t drink and drive. We are people who don’t steal. We are people who don’t cheat on our partners. What motivates us over time is our sense of mastery and positive identity.

In raising children the experts say:

Punishment does not encourage self-discipline because the child isn’t choosing to stop what they are doing; they are being forced.

Permissiveness does not encourage self-discipline because the child does not need to stop themselves.

Setting a limit our children are willing to accept, is what helps our children develop self-discipline.

What if you think you have a child that would fail the marshmallow test? Many of the children that did fail still grew up to be adults who could delay gratification to get what they wanted.

We can’t control the world, but we can control how we respond to it. Once you realize that will power is just a matter of learning how to control your attention and thoughts, you can really begin to increase it. Walter Mischel

How disciplined we are as parents affect our child’s level of self-discipline. How could it be otherwise?

Control in marriages can become unhealthy and even dangerous. We often don’t recognize controlling behavior as it chips away at self-esteem and isolates people from family and friends.

Is there chronic criticism – even over small things? If everything is criticized what will that do to self-esteem, and feeling like a true equal over time?

Are veiled or overt threats being made to hurt themselves or others?

Is love conditional? “I love you so much when…”

Is there an overactive scorecard of who’s doing more, who contributes more, who forgives more, who overlooks more?

Is guilt being used as a tool to manipulate?

Is a debt created that’s owed by over-giving? How is all that giving not appreciated?

Is there spying, snooping, or constant disclosure required? Of course this is done with, “if you are not doing anything wrong…”

Are interactions with someone else viewed as flirtatious, suspicious or wrong?

Is the need for time alone respected?

Does trust or good treatment have to be earned?

Is guilt presumed until proven innocent?

Is arguing so tiring we relent?

Are long-held beliefs being belittled?

Are insecurities being manipulated?

Has teasing or ridicule taken on an uncomfortable undercurrent?

Have controlling dynamics made their way into the bedroom?

Are we unable or unwilling to hear our partner’s point of view?

Is someone pressuring us toward unhealthy behaviors? Are they undermining our fitness and eating goals?

Are we thwarting their goals by making them doubt themselves?

What a list and best of all, it’s all our partner’s fault. How great it is to blame our partner for all our problems. If only “you” were different my life would be so good. If only “you” didn’t hold me back I would be such a successful… Does it get better than this, to have a scapegoat to blame all the failings of our life on?

What part do we play in the dynamic of our relationship? It is easy to blame our partner but we created this relationship too. Too often the advice is to leave instead of fixing the relationship.

Relationships are not static, they grow, morph, and change over time. Things we loved the most about our partner become irritating. We may be the controlling one at times and other times our partner is. Are we playing the victim, are they?

Is it easier to blame our partner than to evaluate our life, marriage, and choices? We may have hit a point where we are throwing blame around; we are hurting each other with words and actions. Some hard thinking may have to be done about whether it is fixable or not. Gary Chapman in Desperate Marriages tells us many people regret giving up. Some couples go so far as divorce and get back together after they solve the crisis that separated them. Couldn’t they solve it without separating or divorcing?

Thinking we could have a long marriage without something rearing its ugly head is probably not realistic. We think we have bigger problems than other couples. My oldest sister says, “if we all hung our problems on the line we’d look at other people’s problems and take our own problems back home, not someone else’s.”

To be free we have to take 100% responsibility for our life. We need to find our role in a problem. How we treat each other determines how we will be treated. If we give love and are supportive, not just when our partner deserves it, we will respond a certain way. If we are judgmental, critical, and resentful our partner will respond in a different way.

When we have a problem in our relationship it is easy to think the other person is the problem. Since we know the other person is responsible we get trapped. If the other person is 100% responsible for the problem then we can’t fix it. By blaming the other person we give away our power.

Instead of blaming our partner and giving away our power we need to accept them, how they are. We may feel we have to really stretch to accept our 100% responsibility for the presence or absence of love, but when we do, we have the power to change the relationship.

Are we accepting our 100% of the responsibility for our relationships? What do we need to do to make the relationship better? Are we waiting for someone else to tell us what we will think, feel, do, want, strive for, or change?

When you change the way you look at things. The things you look at change. Wayne Dyer

Wherever you are, be there totally. If you find your here and now intolerable and it makes you unhappy, you have three options: remove yourself from the situation, change it, or accept it totally. If you want to take responsibility for your life, you must choose one of those three options, and you must choose now. Then accept the consequences. Eckhart Tolle

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Use your talents to make a better world.

Photo of pink roses by Belynda Wilson Thomas

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Use what talents you possess: the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there but those that sang best. Henry Van Dyke

Tomorrow is the first writer’s group meeting of 2019. If I’m lucky one of the members will have read my novel and give me his feedback. I got feedback from an accredited editor over Christmas. Wow, I didn’t think I had so many errors. Her feedback is helpful because she didn’t just say, “I like it, she gave me things to do to make it better. One of her suggestions is to reduce the number of characters.

Ouch! I know she’s right; it makes it hard to get into a story with too many characters. She even gave me a suggestion of how to do it by using a character map. I need to tighten up the beginning because she said it was hard to get into especially with so many characters to remember and to lengthen the ending. This is specific, actionable information I can use to make my novel better.

If we want to get better we need honest critiques and actionable suggestions. Someone to look at our work with new eyes.

I’d been putting off doing the next edit until I got the critique over Christmas. It’s time to quit procrastinating and move to the next level.

Eventually, I’m going to have to say this is as good as it gets. Editing and re-editing can be a way of putting off putting our work out there.

Emptiness is a symptom that you are not living creatively. You either have no goal that is important enough to you, or you are not using your talents and efforts in a striving toward an important goal. Maxwell Maltz

I was watching a musician on youtube the other day. He had a chance to do a music session and he didn’t feel like doing it. He had no money, he needed to use the bathroom, and he was hungry. He thought going to the session he’d get food and a bathroom, so he went. Later when he played the song for his mom and sister, they were dancing. Then he put it on YouTube and it went viral. The song he wasn’t going to make has made him famous.

If he didn’t make that song, maybe he would still have no money and be looking for a bathroom and food where he could find it. We worry what if our work isn’t good enough? What if what we hesitate to put out there is something someone wants to hear, see, read, or experience?

Sing your song, paint, write poems or novels, start that business, do the thing that calls to you. What opportunities do we miss because we’re scared? Are we scared of failure, scared of success, scared of other people’s opinions?

Why do we even care about other people’s opinions who aren’t trying to do what we want to do? I’ve heard people talk about one hit wonders in the music industry. I’ve always thought, where’s your hit?

Do we think we aren’t naturally talented enough? Talent is a small part of success in most endeavors. Hard work, perseverance, and dogged determination are more likely to determine someone’s success than mere talent.

Not using our talents is robbing others of enjoying what we would have created. Don’t we enjoy Edison’s light bulb every day, computers, music, television shows, and movies?

Gallup research shows people who use their strengths and talents every day have improved health and wellness. They experience less worry, stress, anger, sadness, and physical pain. Positive emotions are boosted. They have more energy to face the day. They have higher engagement levels on the task.

If we use the inspiration we have, more will come, if we don’t use it, it will disappear. We don’t know where what we haven’t done or put out into the world can take us. We’ll never know unless we do it. Are we hiding our light under a bushel? Do we have a talent we should be sharing with the world?

We have unique abilities. Our talents are like our fingerprints. Lots of people may have the same ability but how we use it will make our expression of it unique.

Your talent is God’s gift to you. What you do with it is your gift to God. Leo Buscaglia

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We Inspire Me: Cultivate Your Creative Crew to Work, Play, and Make Hardcover – Oct 2 2018


 

Use it or lose it.

Photo of small pool by Sandra Jensen

Photo by Sandra Jensen

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You’ll never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine. Unknown

Last night was our first Toastmasters meeting of 2019.  Toastmasters is very rigidly scheduled, there is a lot to fit in a two-hour meeting. Our chair was one of our most experienced members; even she was a little rusty.

We were less focused. We were a little slower to take our places and be quiet. Little things were forgotten.

This happens to me when I’ve been away from my painting for a while. A technique I had previously used I struggle with. My husband picked up the guitar not long ago, his fingers wouldn’t do what he wanted them to do. Practice, practice, practice keeps us in condition. If we take too long between speeches we make it harder on our self to improve. When I take a break from writing the words don’t flow.

If I give up my yoga sun salutations in the morning for too long it is hard to do them, the movements are awkward and I feel stiff. When we stay away from the gym or other forms of exercise we hurt the next day. We deviate from our clean eating and it is harder to pass up the cookie, donut, or cheese.

If we don’t get the five pounds off that accumulated over Christmas it is easier for more weight to accumulate. When we get out of the habit of jumping out of bed it is easy to pull the covers over our head and ignore the alarm.

January 12th is “Resolution Ditch Day” according to one of the speeches given last night. This means our resolve to change is not very deep. We think we don’t keep our resolutions because of will power. I believe unless we set ourselves up so our resolutions fit into our life and something we already do trigger us to do our new activity, we won’t do it. We don’t even realize we haven’t done it until later.

It’s a slow process but quitting won’t speed it up. Unknowm

As we talked about resolutions at Toastmasters I sat there thinking my mind blank as to what my resolution was. “Oh yeah! Be happy finally popped into my mind. “Do three things every day to make myself happy.”

Last night I passed the cookies without taking one “twice”. That makes me happy. I write my blog almost every day, that makes me happy.

Doing three things to make our self happy every day can be life changing according to relationship coach Laura Doyle. The complaint most men have about their wives is she’s not happy and they don’t know what to do to make her happy. Men want to fix things, and if their wife isn’t happy they want to fix it. The problem is they can’t make us happy, and they feel like failures as husbands when their wives aren’t happy.

We, wives, need to make ourselves happy, and then our husbands are happy. Why aren’t we the happiest group of women who have ever lived? We don’t have to take our laundry down to the river and bash it against rocks to get it clean. We have dishwashers, microwaves, heat and serve meals, vacuums that operate independently, cleaning services aren’t that expensive, daycare is available, most of us have access to vehicles and can go wherever we want to go whenever we want. We have access to our own money. We have rights, freedoms, and yes we have responsibilities, there might be the rub.

We can wash that grey right out of our hair. We have consultants that will teach us how to dress for our body type, what colors suit us best. We have clothes in our closets to choose from every day, we don’t just have three frocks anymore. We can choose what kind of life we want, who we want to share it with or live alone. Most of us can choose to have children or not.

We can choose where to live, not just live where we grew up. We don’t have to marry the guy next door, or who are parents choose for us.

The thing with all this choice is, we have to be responsible for the lives we live. We can’t blame our parents for the bad choice in a mate. If we don’t like the job we have, we can’t blame society for keeping us down. We need to embrace responsibility because when we take responsibility for everything in our lives, even the things we aren’t one hundred percent responsible for, we can change it.

We can be happy if we choose to be. Some of the happiest people I meet are the ones that live with challenges I can’t imagine living with. They choose not to be victims, not to feel sorry for themselves, and to make the best of what they can.

Why don’t we all make that choice? Life has never been better for the majority of us. No generation has lived with so much, had so much choice, and had so much opportunity. We should have smiles on our faces that can’t be wiped off with a little adversity. We are so blessed with abundance in our homes, in our supermarkets, in our malls, with our gadgets, our opportunity for travel, and access to knowledge.

Our gratitude for the lives we live should have no bounds. We live in peace and plenty. We have choice and choice paralyzes us. What if we make the wrong choice? Why do we worry so much about making the wrong choice? Shouldn’t we just make a choice and get on with it?

This is our life, love what is, change what needs to be changed, use our gifts, grow from our challenges, and quit second guessing our self. Can we create habits that help us become the person we feel we need to become? If that resolution we made was a good one, that will make our life better, will we let it fall by the wayside on January 12th? We may not implement changes in our life perfectly; we can still implement those changes. Can we find a way to make what we want to do a habit, start small, and piggyback it onto something else? Can we use it, so we don’t lose it?

Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other. Abraham Lincoln.

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How To Make Yourself Happy No Matter What: Simple Ways To Be Happy And Enjoy Your Life Regardless Of Circumstances Paperback – Aug 18 2014


 

 

 

 

Empathy or enabling?

Pink Flamingos photo by Sandra Jensen

Photo by Sandra Jensen

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Give a man a fish, and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he will eat for a lifetime. Unknown

I think we all have empathy. We may not have enough courage to display it. Maya Angelou

You have no empathy. You’re an enabler. We level accusations at people but do we really understand the difference?

When we feel “with” someone, their pain is theirs, not ours to carry. We can share experiences with them and our words of wisdom. We can make them feel “heard” and help them feel less alone in their struggle. But, it’s their struggle.

When we feel “for” someone, we take on their suffering and make it our responsibility to fix. When we take on their burden we disempower them, we enable their distorted thinking, and we make excuses for them. We feel sorry for them. We are operating under the assumption they are unable to solve their own problem, they need our help to solve their problem.

Herein lies the problem, because it is their problem and only they can fix it. When we empower someone we support them in doing the work necessary to move forward. When we enable someone it means we do the work for them and make excuses for why they can’t or aren’t doing it.

When we empower someone they take responsibility for their own lives and their energy remains high. When we enable someone we take responsibility for their lives and our energy levels begins to drain, especially if the person we are enabling sees us as an emotional crutch to solve their problems.

How do we make sure we are empowering instead of enabling?

We need to accept people as they are. We shouldn’t try to fix them, save them, or change them in any way to fit into our life. Once we accept them as they are, we may have to admit they don’t fit with our values or our lifestyle, because if they did why were we trying to fix them?

We all go through trials and tribulations in our life. It is through the hard times in our life we grow. When we try to take on someone else’s load we are denying them their growth. The energy we are expending on their lives should be expended on our own for our growth.

Often we need to quit offering advice and start listening instead. Sometimes we have to bow out. We need to let go of thinking we know how something in someone else’s life should be. Sharing the lessons we’ve learned and inspiring others to think and feel differently may be encouraging, but that has to be their choice.

We can light the way, we can open doors, but it is not our job to make their life better, safer, or happier.  Are we using our judgment or just being judgmental? If they have to change for us we are not maintaining strong boundaries, we are not maintaining integrity, and we are not limiting resentment.

We need to shoulder our own burdens, carry our own load, and create our own life. If we take on someone else’s burdens we are not building our own life, and they are not building theirs. We may have to back off, let go, and disentangle ourselves from them so they can take up their own burden and become who they are to be. When we let them deal with their own lives we are both happier. It is not their job to build a life to our satisfaction but to theirs.

We never set out to be an enabler it happens because we don’t like feelings of guilt, sadness, or pain. Enabling doesn’t lead to feelings of satisfaction, peace or happiness. It leads to frustration, bitterness, resentment, and even depression.

An article by Pathways to Create a Great Life tells us enabling does harm by:

Keeping someone from having to face the consequences of their own behavior.

Robbing them of the opportunity to do something on their own and so gain self-esteem.

Making things too easy for them.

If our “help” is actually harming someone, either now or in the long run, it is enabling.

When we find ourselves trying to fix the other person’s problem or we find ourselves needing to help the other person for our own sense of identity – then we are dealing with codependency. Sherry Collier

We think we listen, but very rarely do we listen with real understanding, true empathy. Yet listening, of this very special kind, is one of the most potent forces for change that I know. Carl Rogers

We all need to take full responsibility for our lives, emotionally, physically, spiritually. We need to know no one else can do this for us, nor can we do this for anyone else. If we need help, it is healthy to ask but to do it without feeling entitled to that help. When we reach out to help someone else we must seek to support them on their journey without creating an unhealthy dependence.

It is a fine balance we walk between empathy and enabling. We may need to ask our self along the way, am I enabling them? Am I trying to do for them something they need to do for themselves? Am I hindering their growth? We need to find healthy ways to show true compassion and empathy and do more good than harm.

If we are helping for any of these reasons we are doing more harm than good:

We can’t stand to see them in pain.

They will owe us.

They make us feel needed and important.

We’ll feel guilty if we don’t help.

We don’t want them to think we are mean.

They’ll love us more if we help.

Are we trying to rescue someone? Does our identity rest in helping others? Are we trying to help someone because we don’t feel strong enough to help our self? Are their problems a distraction from our own challenges?

We need to carry our load and we need to let them carry theirs. We need to respect them as equals not as damaged, fragile, or incompetent tragic figures. They don’t need our pity; they may need a hand up, but not a handout.

Are we guilty of helping too much, are we crossing the line between empathy and enabling?

Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around. Leo Buscaglia

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. Plato

Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion by [Bloom, Paul]
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