The Relationship Dance

We’ve all experienced the dance of a relationship – whether it’s an intimate partnership, a friendship, or a work relationship – together choreographing those steps that over time develop into an established routine.  Sometimes the steps are smooth and coordinated with the other partner, and the dance has a flow and ease to it.  Sometimes, the steps are awkward or unbalanced, and the dance is clumsy, or worse, difficult and painful.

Remember in the early days of your relationship, when your dance had the grace and beauty of a waltz?  (Or perhaps the passion of a tango?)  No matter what your partner said or did, you responded with curiosity, with empathy. You listened.  You gave him the benefit of the doubt.  You treated him with respect.

An example of an “Early Relationship” dance:

  • You come home from work stressed.  Your partner immediately senses that you’re “off.”  He stops what he’s doing and asks if you want a cup of tea.
  • Even though you’re distracted and annoyed, you know you need this “reconnect” time.  You accept the tea and sit with him.
  • He listens patiently and with curiosity as you tell him about your day.  After a while, you’re calmer.  After dinner you return to your desk to finish up some work, feeling more centered and more connected to your partner.

As the relationship matures, you begin to take one another for granted; you settle into a routine and give less attention to one another and to the relationship.

  • You come home from work stressed.  Your partner notices that you’re “off.”  He pauses and asks if you want a cup of tea.
  • You’re distracted and feeling overwhelmed with work.  You’re a bit resentful that your partner doesn’t seem to be working as hard as you.  You feel like you’re carrying more of the burden.  You decline the tea and say that you need to take care of some things on email.
  •  Later, at dinner, he asks you about your day, and you give him just the headlines.  You’re too tired to really go into it.  He wouldn’t understand anyway.
  • After dinner, you return to your desk, tired, stressed and mildly annoyed at everything.
  • Over time, you lose the close connection you once had, and you feel alone and misunderstood in the relationship.

If this goes unchecked, you may find yourself among the half of married couples who wind up divorcing.  And, if you’re going through a divorce, your dance probably more closely resembles a wrestling match than a waltz.  No matter what your partner says or does, you react with suspicion, defensiveness, irritation.  You are constantly on guard.  You assume the worst intentions on his part.

  • You come home from work stressed.  When your now-ex comes to pick up the kids, he notices that you’re “off.”  He pauses and asks, “What’s the matter with you?”
  • You respond “What do you care?  You’re 20 minutes late again.  If you really cared about me and the kids, you’d make the effort to be on time.”
  • He says “ME not on time? You’ve never been on time in your life! I spent fifteen years being late for everything because of you.”
  • You respond “Oh sure, throw the past in my face. It’s always my fault.”

Sure, your partner may have changed over time.  He may not be the loving, sensitive man he once was.  But you’ve changed also.  At this point you have a choice.  You can either blame him for who you’ve become, making him responsible for your feelings and actions.  Or, you can take responsibility for your self, for your life, and for the dance that you have co-created.

Here’s the key – and it’s a lesson that has proven true for me time and time again:  It only takes one person to change the dance.  And the good news (and bad news!) is that you don’t have to wait for your partner to change.  You don’t have to follow. YOU can change the dance.

Here are the keys to shifting the dance (I remember this with the acronym “OREO”):

1. Openness (control your defensive reaction)
2. Respect (disagree while maintaining respect toward one another)
3. Empathy (make an effort to understand the other’s perspective)
4. Ownership (take responsibility for your part of the dance)

Simple… but not always easy.  Because it requires you to give up being the victim of his behavior and take responsibility for your part of the choreography.  In the above example, you can shift the dance at any time. You can be open and admit it’s been a stressful day. Or empathize that traffic at the 5:30pm pick up time is challenging. Or if you do lash out and he responds back, take a deep breath and own your part (you don’t have to do this overtly). Simply stop. Do not respond to the negative back and forth. Kiss the kids goodbye and wish them a good weekend.

Relationships involve an endless series of dance steps. If you change your steps, over time you can change the dance. You can even choose to lead.

To help you change your dance, join us for the six week supportive workshop series, Journey of Divorce Base Camp, for those separated or newly divorced starting September 29. More information can be found at http://www.OneJourneyConsulting.com.

Doing My Best (by Meg)

What do you do if your best isn’t good enough?

It’s a question I’ve been asking myself for some time now. Years actually, as I’ve been racing around trying to create a life for myself and those I love. In my family, I’ve been trying my best to make everyone happy; keep them safe, teach good values and set my children on the right path. In work, I try to learn new skills, develop leads, showcase my clients’ talents, work hard to build their businesses while maintaining my own. And in a new relationship, I’m trying to be authentic, honest and not let the past dictate my future.

Emphasis on the trying in all those examples because I don’t know how well I’m doing in any of it. I worry that my best attempts aren’t good enough. In fact, this past week I’ve had to accept that they aren’t.

I forget permission slips and pizza money for school parties. I don’t give my kids my undivided attention as much as I should- they watch way too much television and go through too many batteries for the Wii. I haven’t finished renovation projects that started before my separation; and some days, I can’t tell what color my rug is underneath the Legos, football cards and Star Wars toys. I go weeks on autopilot, never being fully present in any moment with anyone because my To Do list is running through my head.

And all my energy spread too thin has caused ripples of issues in my life. Feelings of failure wash over me at odd moments and it seems like depression is always lurking around the corner, waiting for one more shoe to drop. I haven’t laughed with my friends in months and my new relationship had to bear the brunt of my recent pity party. Most dramatically, my children are acting out- normal developmental growing pains mixed with the reality of the divorce, but horrendously painful for all of us.

So with this new reality…the idea that my best isn’t good enough…I’m making some changes in my behavior and outlook.

I’m going to let the little things go. The laundry can stay in the clean basket until needed; on hot summer nights, dinner can be cold cereal. The time I spend neglecting those tasks can be put toward playing football with my kids. I will leave my cell phone off so I’m not texting away, caught up in a moment that’s not in front of me. And I will remember that summer vacation only lasts a few more weeks. And soon, I will have the routine and work schedule back, but I won’t have these extended moments with my family.

I intend to continue to do my best, but now my best will be better. It will be focused, attentive and in tune with what really matters in my life. I will figure out that place between perfection and pandemonium- where things will be as they will be. And most importantly, I will cut myself some slack. Cause I know I can be my own worst enemy.

Lessons From My Divorce (by Meg)

~ To get through the hardest journey we need take only one step at a time, but we must keep on stepping ~ Chinese Proverb

One Journey Consulting is based upon the premise that we are all on one journey. That each of us may take a different path, walking or running through soft grass or rugged mountains, but we all experience similar emotions and experiences that provide us opportunities to become who we are.

I’ve been fortunate to walk my divorce journey as not only a member of the One Journey team, but also as a participant in Base Camp and numerous retreats. When I first arrived at Renee’s doorstep three years ago, I was newly blindsided by my marital separation, desperate to show the world I could balance and handle anything that came my way. As the years went by, I let down that need for control, allowed the feelings and pain in, and held tight to all the lessons and support that came my way.

Now, years later, I’m finally starting a new chapter in my life. Last month, I stood in front of the judge as he asked the dreaded question, “Are you sure there is nothing that can keep you in this marriage?” In less than 120 days (ironically, the same week as what would be my fourteenth anniversary), I can officially check off a different box on marital status questions. And even more surprising, my panic attacks over the prospect of dating are over. I’m in a new relationship, one that makes me smile and allows me to be completely myself. I’m not letting the pain of my past interfere, but am using the lessons to build something real and amazing.

And speaking of those lessons, here are a few I’ve learned over the past three years as a result of my divorce journey:

  1. Most people just won’t ‘get it’. There are just some things, like childbirth, that unless you experience them, you will never know how bad it hurts, what it involves or how long it takes to heal.
  2. It is essential that you surround yourself with those who do ‘get it.’ My One Journey friends are amazing. I can say, “I met the girlfriend” and immediately they are there to surround me with support, instinctively knowing how I feel and what words I need to hear.
  3. Do the work. Whether you were the leaver or the leavee, you have to recognize your part in the marital breakdown. I did things, consciously or not, that affected my relationship and it is essential that I acknowledge my role so I don’t repeat the same mistakes.
  4. Healing is not linear. Sometimes it feels like one step forward, two steps back (or maybe three steps to the right). But as long as I keep moving, I know that it will be okay.
  5. Find a team (attorney, financial planner, coach/therapist, best friends, etc.) that works FOR you and aligns with your intention. I had a great attorney (Karen Argetsinger) who understood what I wanted out of my divorce process and how I wanted to live my life during and after. I’m incredibly grateful for how she made an impossible experience so easy and made me feel supported and never alone.
  6. Have an intention for your divorce. Renee and Di talk about this in Base Camp and I think it’s one of the best homework pieces of the group. Proactively deciding how you want to be in your divorce allows you the platform to make choices and actions that align with that desire. It’s like a life preserver to keep you drifting toward the life you deserve.
  7. Don’t close yourself off to love. This lesson I resisted with fierce determination that my life didn’t need and couldn’t fit in a new relationship. I was so wrong. And while I’m still petrified of getting my heart broken, I am so grateful for this joy and magic in my life.
  8. You will be the topic of gossip. People talk and ruminate and judge, especially about the end of someone’s marriage. It’s inevitable and there’s nothing I can do to prevent it. All I can do is uphold my intention, keep my head held high and surround myself with my ‘get it’ people.
  9. There is no giant D on your forehead. In a crowd of strangers, no one knows I’m divorced and they aren’t pointing fingers at me. Not that I have anything to be ashamed of, but there is no outward sign that my husband left me for a woman a decade younger.
  10. The only expectations you need to live up to are your own. I’d rather make mistakes doing what I think is right for me and my children, then just “get by” on someone else’s perception of what is right for us.
  11. Things will be okay, and most likely, even better than before. Despite all the challenges I face, things are okay. I have people around me who support and love me. I live a life and make choices I’m proud of, and I know that life is not about what I don’t have, but about who I am, what I do and what I have to give.

So for those on the divorce journey or another life transition, what lessons have you learned (or want to learn)? We’d love to hear from you in the comment section!

Let your mind start a journey thru a strange new world. Leave all thoughts of the world you knew before. Let your soul take you where you long to be…Close your eyes let your spirit start to soar, and you’ll live as you’ve never lived before. ~   Erich Fromm

Making Room

You have to be willing to let go of the life you’ve planned in order to have the life you were meant to have. ~ Joseph Campbell

This week, while my boys are with their dad on a fancy Caribbean cruise, I will be home, cleaning my house from top to bottom, inside and out, in that yearly ritual of soap and obsession called Spring Cleaning. I’m actually not bitter. Okay, I’d love to be on a Caribbean cruise, that’s true. But I also really love the sense of new beginnings that results from this yearly process.

For me, spring cleaning is not just a chance to clean out my closets and wash the windows. It’s more of an emotional and intellectual purging – a reminder of all the crap that builds up in my life while I’m not paying attention. Stuff that I need to let go of, in order to make room for the new, the fresh, the possibilities that are waiting only for a little space in order to show up.

This year, my spring cleaning has a more urgent purpose – I am preparing my house for sale. I am facing one of those mid-life transitions – downsizing – and the prospect is often sad, and scary, and overwhelming. I am faced with letting go of the home that has been a refuge for my boys and me for almost 10 years, a home that has witnessed birthday parties and skinned knees, Christmas mornings and late nights with a sick child, baby showers and the mourning of loved ones gone too soon. A home where we planted and raked and shoveled and scrubbed, where my boys learned how to tie their shoes, then how to shave, then how to drive.

It’s hard to let go of.

But it’s time. My oldest leaves for college in a few short months, and the downturn in the economy has made keeping the house difficult financially. It’s time to begin a new phase. And I know, from years of teaching this stuff, that in order to make room for a new future, we need to create room for it to occur, which means letting go of something we’ve been hanging onto that no longer serves us. Like a house. Or a resentment. Or a thought that “it should be different”. (This is so much easier to teach than to put into practice!!)

So while this transition is a tough one, filled with all the emotions of letting go, it can also be a time of promise and excitement, if I focus on what I’m making room for: financial ease, peace of mind, simplicity. Things worth creating space for.

So I gotta run – I’m off to clean some closets.

Help friends help you through divorce

I LOVED this article and wish I had it three years ago when I first got separated. Yet as I prepare myself for April’s court date appearance, I think I will forward it to all my friends so they know how to help get me through the ninety day waiting period until my divorce is finalized. —Meg

The following article was written by Stacy Morrison, author of “Falling Apart in One Piece: One Optimist’s Journey Through the Hell of Divorce,” who is the former editor-in-chief of Redbook magazine and was featured on CNN Living on 3/29/2011.

(CNN) — Friends always say “Whatever you need, call me.” And they mean it. Trouble is, when you’ve been shattered, asking for any kind of help just reinforces the sense that you are a big, hot mess.

Plus, trying to come up with a way for your friends to get you past some of what you’re feeling at the moment seems like an impossible task. Better to stay home alone again, right?

So why not e-mail this article to all your friends instead? It will make it easier for them to get in the driver’s seat in helping you get through these hard months.

I NEED YOU TO: Call me up and say, “Hey! Let me take you out for margaritas on Friday!” And if I say no, promise you’ll call again in a week or two and try again. Sometimes the last-minute plans work best. It’s hard to put dates on the calendar to go out and have fun when you’re living through so much heartbreak.

So pay attention to what night the kids (if there are any) are out with their other parent and call the day before. Chances are good I haven’t made any plans, and you’ll be saving me from another lonely night at home staring at the wall and wondering how I got here.

I NEED YOU TO: Send me stupid/cute/funny YouTube videos that I probably won’t watch. But I’ll be happy to know that someone is trying to keep me on the light side of things.

And someday when I’m scrolling through my in-box (maybe on a night I told you I wasn’t up for going out for margaritas), I’ll start watching the sneezing baby panda or the cat bowling or the always-good-for-a-laugh Justin Timberlake/Beyonce SNL skit.

And then I’ll be so grateful for the distraction that was sent to me with love and friendship good intent instead of just mindlessly surfing the Web for shoes on sale for the 1,000th time.

I NEED YOU TO: Buy or cook me some healthy food that you know I like. It’s not like I lost my arms when I lost my spouse, but for some reason, cooking dinner for myself just seems like a total waste of time, after I’d been so used to making meals for two for a decade. So dinner has rapidly devolved into things I can take from the freezer and heat and eat without too much attention or interest.

I want to be reminded that I actually do want to eat fresh tabbouleh salad and grilled salmon, but I need someone to put it in front of me! Help me make this first step toward starting to take care of myself again.

I NEED YOU TO: Send me a card, or three. Getting a piece of mail, even a dopey card, is a reminder that someone is thinking about the fact that I’m going through a hard time.

It feels especially good because I open the mail when I’ve come home after work, and I’m tired, and I’m entering a house that doesn’t have a spouse, and I have to to put on a game face for my child, and then face the empty hours in the house alone after they’ve gone to bed.

The card in the mail is a guarantee for a little less self-loathing that night, company with no strings attached. Sounds good, right? Get thee to a card store, pronto!

I NEED YOU TO: Ask me to go for a walk, and ask again and again until I say yes.

Yes, I know that it’s true that moving my body and getting my heart rate up has huge positive impact on mood, metabolism and mindspace. But sometimes it’s all I can do to go to work and get home and collapse on the sofa.

So keep suggesting that you’ll take a short, 15-minute walk with me: “It’ll do you some good, and I promise we don’t have to talk about anything if you don’t want to.” Do it until I say yes. I will say yes eventually, especially if it’s nice out, and then I’ll realize that (1) nature calms, (2) walking and not talking with someone you trust is healing, and (3) my body releases stress just by moving it without the specific intent of getting from Point A to Point B.

But one important tip: Do not turn this walk into interview time. “How are you? What’s happening with the divorce? How are the kids?”

These questions are already on constant playback in my mind, and they don’t have definite answers. What I desperately need is accepting, loving company and some empty space in my head. Thank you for helping me with that.

I NEED YOU TO: Come up with ideas of fun things to do with my/our kids.

Parenting is very overwhelming in the initial stages of a breakup, and the creativity of my parenting has dropped by about, oh, 98.5%, as I’ve been adjusting to doing everything on my own. (Yes, I might have already thought I was doing everything on my own before the breakup, but after the separation comes the brutal realization that having another body in the house is a huge help, no matter what they did or didn’t do.)

So if you’ve just bought tickets to a Dan Zanes concert or are planning to go to the local science museum, pick up the phone and call me!

I do know that I should be filling those long weekend stretches of being a single parent with activities, but frankly, making advance plans is often more than I can handle.

So if I get a call from you on Saturday morning saying, “Hey, I’m taking the kids out for dim sum, want to join us?” I will probably shout “Yes! Yes! Yes! Oh God, thank you for saving me from another blank Saturday.”

And the best part? I bet my child will get really tired from all the fun, and will go fast to sleep without a peep – – and then I’ll enjoy my few hours of alone time that night feeling like I might be working out as a parent, after all.

 

Signs You’ve Been Bitten

We all have them- those people in our lives that suck the energy and joy out of our day. On Saturday Night Live, it was a character named Debby Downer. In Harry Potter’s world, they were called Dementors. And in Dr. Judith Orloff’s book, Emotional Freedom: Liberate Yourself from Negative Emotions and Transform Your Life, they are referred to as emotional vampires.  

Emotional vampires can be a co-worker, neighbor, best friend or family member. They appear as regular people at first glance, and it may take numerous encounters, and sometimes years, before you identify their true nature. Sometimes, an EV operates with small digs about your appearance or habits that chip away at your self-esteem and before you know it, you feel unworthy and unlovable (you never again wear the purple dress your sister-in-law said made your hips look ‘hippy’). You feel drained and exhausted after coffee with the new neighbor, hoping she never needs a cup of sugar. Or it’s a colleague who smiles sweetly to your face, but never returns emails or answers questions necessary to accomplishing your goal. All of these are emotional vampires.

If you are still unsure if your colleague or sister is an EV, here are some tell-tale signs (according to Orloff) that you’ve spent time with an emotional vampire:

  • Your eyelids are heavy and you feel ready for a nap
  • You feel put down or like you’ve been hit by a truck
  • Your mood plummets and no amount of sunshine improves it
  • You have a strong desire to binge on carbs, chocolate or comfort food
  • You feel criticized, slimed or covered in emotional yuck
  • You feel the need to complain about something, anything to rid yourself of the negativity

Now, even though vampires are celebrated in today’s entertainment world, EVs should be avoided at all cost. They drain your energy and self-esteem and are psychically damaging to soul. Dramatic, yes, but true. Unfortunately, reality often prevents you from these cutting people out of your life completely. So what do you do?

Once you know someone is an EV, you can employ a plan to reduce their negative effects. When you are with the person, stay centered and breathe to combat rising anxiety; visualize a protective shield around you deflecting the comments and pessimism. When faced with criticism, question the actual truth about the statement and decide whether you care if it’s true or not (i.e. if that dress does make you look hippy, does that outweigh the ease and comfort of it?). See if you can combat their darkness with joy- just like in the movies, there’s nothing more debilitating to an EV than sunshine.  And after the interaction, implement something healthy that refuels your soul.

And probably the best advice I’ve ever been given- pick your battles if you decide on war. You may want to return their criticism with your own version of venom, but open attacks often empower an EV. I’m not suggesting you take it on the chin, but if you are going for the direct approach, know what kind of EV you are dealing with so you know the right approach to ward off additional destruction (Orloff’s book outlines four types of EVs and action steps to cope with them).

Reflections on Last Year’s Retreat by S.

Driving up for the One Journey Women’s Retreat Weekend last year, I had that feeling…you know, the “What am I doing? I’m not going to know ANYONE!” feeling. But by the time we left on Sunday, I felt I had made new connections with others going through this trial that those who haven’t been through a divorce just don’t KNOW. (Kind of like childbirth – you can’t really tell anyone what that’s going to be like until you go through it. Same for divorce.)

First of all, the house was beautiful. Overlooking the ocean, with a hot-tub and tons of windows, I really couldn’t have anticipated how truly wonderful it was to just get away. And it was only an hour drive!  

Second: the program of healing that Renée and Di have developed – from reflection and workshops to spiritual and holistic healing – is just amazing. If you enter with an open mind, there is potential for growth, change, and seeing yourself in a new light.

One unexpected facet of the weekend: I found myself connecting with loss in a way I had thought I was done with. I had processed my divorce in therapy, with friends, in Base Camp, and even with my ex. But I found that my soul, my inner self, still had sadness and grieving to do. This may sound heavy or off-putting, but it was a relief to be able to connect with this part of myself that had lost so much – dreams, a home, a vision of myself and my marriage, a vision of myself as a married parent – in the safe company of others who, too, had lost much, whatever their specific circumstances.

At first I was uncomfortable with this… after all, aside from Renée, these people were strangers. But the kindness of the group and its leaders, and the willingness of others to connect and share, allowed me to let my guard down in a way that I needed. Combined with the healing work of Laura and Vail, the exercises we did helped me to view myself (even through the sadness) as strong, competent, and healing/growing/changing. Then you add in the delicious food and the chance to have a glass of wine and let down our hair together – it gave me a much-needed boost of renewal and hope for the coming season.

This was just MY experience, but I highly recommend this retreat to anyone who is looking for an opportunity to dive more deeply into places within themselves that might not get to breathe as openly in their day-to-day lives. I also was very grateful for the feedback given to me by others. I left this weekend feeling more open, more seen and heard, and more like a force for goodness and healing in the world. As I drove back to my children, my newly configured life, and the challenges that still lay ahead, I felt just a little stronger, just a little more aware of who I was, and what strengths I had tucked in my back pocket that I hadn’t even realized.

Our next retreat will be held April 1-3 in NH  and will focus on the Journey to Emotional Intimacy. Spots are still available and women do not have to be separated or divorced to attend this workshop.  For more information and to register, visit the Calendar section of One Journey Consulting.

 

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