Health & Diet, Self-awareness, Self-improvement

I like to believe, or maybe want to believe, that once I “have it all together,” then my life will flow so easily and effortlessly. Like once I can check all the boxes of: exercise daily, write daily, eat well, meal plan for the week, drink less alcohol, drink more water, meditate, stretch or do yoga every day, keep up on this dang blog, save more, budget better, journal, monitor my plankids’ screen time, monitor my own screen time, date night once a week…the list goes on and on. Somewhere in my head I think, yes, that’s it, once I consistently do all those things, my life will be easy and good, even perfect.

But will it? True, many of those things will help, but I always fail to see the reality tucked in between those healthy tasks. Like, injuring myself so I can’t exercise, hearing that my mom is continuing to decline so I skip the meal planning, just plain being lazy so I don’t stretch or journal, that list goes on too. Where is the middle ground? And when will I accept that life isn’t so black-and-white? Doing all those things will benefit me, but they won’t solve anything. Maybe that’s what I’m looking for, the solution to stress, sadness, a stiff and aging body and brain, overwhelm, grief – and wouldn’t I be richer than Jeff Bezos if I could bottle and sell that magic potion? (Ah, to dream)

In the end, I suppose the real solution is to accept that life isn’t meant to flow easily and effortlessly all of the time. Even Jeff Bezos has bad days; and who knows, maybe he is so discontented with his billionaire’s life that he has to leave Earth on his rocket ship to get some perspective.

Where does that leave us though? The “regular people” who don’t have his money (or want it), and also realize that dollars wouldn’t solve our problems either (at least not all of them). For me, it’s probably picking a few of those things listed above and trying to do them on a daily basis. Doing all of them would be nice, but let’s be realistic, it’s not going to happen. If I start with one, like keeping up on this dang blog, I’ve already accomplished something. Yay for me!

And, of course, the funny and ironic part is that many of those healthy things would help anyway (exercise for stress, meditate for overwhelm, etc). It’s just that doing them requires effort and discipline. And that’s where I start all over again – if I only made more of an effort and had better discipline, my life would be…

 

Health & Diet, Illness

virusThe title says it all, I caught COVID-19 (it was well over a month ago so don’t worry if I’ve been in your presence lately). Yes, I was just as surprised as you are. I live in California, which is a hotbed of cases, but where I live in NorCal, there haven’t been too many, especially in my county in the sticks. And, yes, I took the precautions we’re all told to take: wear the mask, hand sanitize, wash my hands, avoid touching my face, etc, etc, but I caught it anyway.

Everyone has been so curious about my experience, asking questions upon questions. My guess as to why is because 1) they don’t know many people who have had it yet (at least not that they know of), and 2) they want to know the details for if/when they catch it. So, here’s my rundown.

I went shopping in a nearby town on a Sunday, an area much busier and more populated than our small town. I went to three stores. I’m pretty certain that I picked it up somewhere during that time. If I count back the days, it makes the most sense. I felt symptoms four days later. I was driving back from visiting my husband’s family while he and other family members went on a fishing trip.

During the two-hour ride home I started to feel “off,” that crappy feeling when you know that you’re catching something. My chest felt tight too, like I had a weight on it. When I got home the symptoms continued. I took my temperature – 99. I am almost always in the low 98 range, so I was alarmed, but tried to reason that I was probably fine. How could I catch it?

That night I slept poorly. I woke up every hour or so. At midnight I took my temperature again, 101. I started to panic. “Oh no, I have it!” I thought, and struggled to get a little more sleep in the wee hours of the morning.

I felt bad the rest of the day, mainly fatigue and the overwhelming dread of knowing I’m in for some kind of illness. That night I had a weird headache in the back of my skull and my fever came back again. The next day I called my doctor and we had a video appointment. I relayed my symptoms: fatigue, slight sore throat, slight heaviness in my chest, headache. She told me that my symptoms may or may not be the virus. She’s seen patients with those symptoms who tested negative and some who tested positive. Basically, a non-answer. She did recommend I get tested, however, and thankfully I was able to do it the next day, on a weekend. The test results would take 24-72 hours.

In the meantime, I sat like a zombie on the couch and watched TV. I felt bad, but not bad enough to sleep. I delayed my husband returning so no one would be unnecessarily exposed. Twenty-four hours after my test, I got the result – “virus detected.” I was dismayed, but not completely surprised. I had most of the symptoms listed (minus the stomach upset and lack of sense of smell).

I then went through the uncomfortable process of telling people I recently saw that I was positive for COVID. It was awkward and I felt terrible, like confessing that I exposed them to a possible life-threatening carcinogen. Thankfully, they all took it well. Some of them got tested, all came back negative.

Most of my symptoms soon went away except for congestion in my nose, and then, five days after my initial symptoms, I lost my taste and smell completely. That morning I had my usual tea. It is normally fragrant and flavorful, but not that morning. It had no taste whatsoever; hot water had more flavor. I couldn’t smell it either. I then stuck my nose in the pot of freshly brewed coffee – nothing.

Over the next week, I dealt with tasting nothing, smelling nothing, and worrying that I would be stuck that way. You don’t realize how much these two senses are a part of your life until they’re suddenly gone. My husband would talk about what to eat for dinner. I didn’t care. I couldn’t taste it anyway. Why waste delicious food on me? It was devoid of anything rewarding for my taste buds. Comfort food, a sugary treat, a great cup of coffee – all of it was pointless.

A week went by and I could slowly taste salty things, then sweet. After two weeks, both senses were at roughly 65%. I’m still waiting for it to return fully. I’m really hoping that it will. Yes, I know, I could be on a respirator in ICU fighting for life; or I could be a “long hauler,” dealing with daily debilitating symptoms. I’m aware that my minor ailment isn’t as serious, but this is my experience with the virus and yes, I’m thankful that I got through it all okay.

And my guess is that most people will too. But we don’t know who will and who won’t. And that’s the scary part.

(My family requested that I leave them out of this post so, respectfully, I am.)

Fear, Kids, Self-awareness

Thquarantine count3is pic is my daughter’s running total of the start our COVID “adventure,” when things went funny and we all went into hiding. For her that’s when school ended and distance learning began. (She says it won’t be over until we can go to the movies, still not open yet, and not wear masks.) That was 108 days ago. I dashed her plans of having a  “quarantine party” on day 100 though; I told her those two words don’t mix well.

So here we are, over three months after the coronavirus changed our daily lives, and what’s different? From completely sheltering in place and hoarding food and toilet paper to, as of right now, getting our haircuts again, going to more stores, and not living in constant terrified fear of “getting the virus.” And yet, I can’t help but feel like my family and friends are in some kind of weird quarantine limbo. The infection rates are increasing, but no one I know has had it yet. We see the numbers go up, the red dots fill in on maps, but it’s like we’re all waiting. And waiting. For what? To get it? To not get it?

In the meantime, we can do nothing but speculate and question the future. What will life be like in a few months? Will school start as it normally should? Can my husband ever go back to his office? Or will we all go back to how life was in March?

And the question that is most on my mind: how are we ever going to fully avoid this virus anyway?

And guess what, there are no answers. We are back to the “wait and see” mode of living, and let’s just say it, it stinks! Us humans don’t handle uncertainty well. We like to have concrete plans and a solid vision of the future, even if that’s unrealistic because no one can predict what may or may not happen tomorrow (we still like to believe we’re in control of our fates).

So, here are some helpful tips that I’ve been trying to help deal with this big question mark time in our lives:

Focus on the now. As difficult as it is to not think about next week or next month or next year, we must try not to. We just don’t know what will happen. We can only look at right now, the present moment. That’s often easier said than done, but know that it’s an ongoing practice, not something you’ll figure out and be done with forever. Every time your mind lingers to the future, bring it back to now.

Accept unpredictability and change. Lately, I’ve heard many people say, “I just want to go back to normal.” Hallelujah, I do too. But the fact is, we can’t. Not yet. And, I hate to say it, but we may not ever. I don’t like the uncomfortable feeling that comes with such an acknowledgment either, but the sooner we learn to accept change (even if it’s just agreeing that it’s happening), the easier it will be. After all, there’s that saying, “the only constant is change.” Each year I realize how true that is.

Control what you can. Focus on the things that are within your control, even if it’s just the little things, what to eat for dinner this week, what to wear the next day (assuming that’s worth the effort!). Make routines for yourself or your family to create some structure. It helps.heart-hedge

Until then, we’ll keep at it. And hopefully, see y’all on the other side of this virus.

 

Grief, Kids, Parenting

canceled2If you had any fun and exciting travel plans this summer, or camps or sports for your kids, you’re probably starting to get the feeling that they’re not going to happen. Just like the spring when, one by one, event after event got nixed, so is the summer. Yes, places are slowly attempting to re-open, but they do so while maintaining difficult, and sometimes impossible, restrictions on the number of people allowed, adequate spacing, and many mask and glove requirements. So even if some of these plans did go forward, they sure wouldn’t be much fun.

This was the realization with my own children’s summer rec swim team. Typically, practice starts the Monday after school gets out and it’s a summer filled with weekly practices and Saturday meets. It’s exhausting at times, but it keeps them busy, active, and socializing with their friends. The board decided (and I am a part of it) that the attempt to try and have a max of eight kids in the pool at one time, along with six-feet distancing for anyone on the pool deck, people occupying the bathroom, or waiting outside to get in, was just too much for parents to enforce or comply with. Couple that with constant required temperature checks and you have a rigid, restrictive, and depressing summer rec team.

Still, accepting that fact was hard on my kids and me. This has been our regular summer for the past five to six years. It is something routine and expected. My kids are dying to feel some normalcy and be around their usual teammates. Now, like everything else with this virus, it’s changed. And that’s still hard to take.

So, we are accepting and dealing with the frustration, disappointment, and sometimes anger, about more changes to plans, be it summer swim team or that trip we were thinking about (insert anyplace here, we had no idea yet). And I am also trying to re-think what summer means, then and now.

Before, it was always about trying to keep my children occupied and not let them become screen zombies, while also staying active in some way. Summer was never really that relaxing time with “beach reads” and sunbathing, not when your kids are small, and not before that when there was always work or summer school. Summer has never been that idyllic, carefree vacation time, for me anyway. But can it be now?

And this is where the “let’s make the best of it” side comes in. Maybe summer can be somewhat relaxing for all of us. Instead of sweating at swim meets, working the meet computer software and waking up very early to do so, maybe we take the summer off. Yes, it will be challenging to keep my son’s Fortnite marathon at bay, or to make my nearly teenager daughter do something more than lie around and complain of boredom, maybe we can do different things instead. No home schooling, no rushing to practices, and hopefully, no ensuing arguments over frivolous things (being really optimistic there).

IMG_4602 (2)What that might look like, I still don’t have a clear picture of yet, but I told my daughter that we will be visiting lots of places with water in lieu of a pool (and thankfully, we can do that where we live in the middle of nowhere). For those of you who had that great trip planned, the disappointment and the pain of getting refunded is probably extreme, and I am sorry about that. No one wants to continue this way. But, can we find ways to make the best of it? We can wait (which many of us have a hard time doing) until it’s safer to go on that trip (because it really wouldn’t be much fun right now anyway). In the grand scheme of things, so far, we have had two seasons of one year altered from the way we expect them. That’s six months out of the many years that we live. Yes, we can get through it, children and adults too.

So go ahead and admire my optimism right now, but by August, I’m sure I’ll be praying for open schools!

Fear, Self-awareness

You know how “some days you’re up, some days your down,” during a “normal” week or month? But how about now, during this zen-stonesvirus shut-down period? I’ve noticed that some moments I’m up, and the next I’m way down. There seems to be no telling when I’m in a “good” mood, “bad” mood, or just feeling in a funk.  Usually, my mood is fairly consistent, mostly “even,” but not these days. I noticed that last week when I was doing okay one day, excited about spring and the garden we’re preparing, but the next day I was sad, angry, and feeling hopeless. Yesterday was another one of those days. Why? I wondered. What has changed? Almost nothing, I realized, and that’s part of the problem. Here are a few reasons why you, or other friends or family, might be feeling the same during our self-isolation:

We have no definite answers, timelines, or end dates. Since the world is dealing with an entirely new virus, we have no clear idea on when we might be able to get “back to normal.” Here in California, no definite dates have been given and most of us feel like we’re in limbo, waiting (then a press conference happens and we are told to wait some more). It is hard to wait and wonder week after week with no end goal in sight.

We don’t know what we’re going back to. We all wonder, will life resume like it did before or will our response to this virus change our lives as we knew them. There is no real way to perform social distancing in certain places like concerts, fairs, or sporting events. Are these things going to be indefinitely cancelled until we can get a handle on the situation? Can we ever go into skilled nursing facilities or places where the vulnerable live (like my mom’s situation)? Will a restaurant have three tables in it so everyone can sit far apart as we are served by wait staff in a Hazmat suit? Is talking through a mask and trying to read someone’s facial expression by the look in their eyes the “new normal”? I hope not.

We also wonder if our lives have permanently changed. Many people have put their plans on hold or don’t have question marks2jobs at the moment. Some may not have jobs to go back to. My good friend is in the final stretch of her education and finishing up her internship. She has not been able to complete it. Her plans of getting a job, moving, and starting her career have been temporarily altered. She wonders if this carefully crafted plan will happen at all.  And she’s terribly disappointed.

What this all adds up to is Fear and Uncertainty of the moment and the current time. And those two buggers can change our moods in an instant. I stayed in my sad and bad mood all day yesterday, but I tried not to change it because I had to go through it. It was hard to allow myself to simply be depressed and frustrated and sad. No one likes feeling that way, but trying to change it will only delay it, or make it worse when it comes back (and it will, it always will). These times are hard, and that’s coming from someone who is fortunate enough to be doing okay. So, here’s what I did:

I noticed and accepted my mood and feelings in that moment. There’s that saying, you must “name it to tame it,” and after some contemplating I figured out what I was feeling (beyond just saying that I’m in a crappy mood). I also told myself that I’ll get through this time, we all will. This is a moment in history, a sad and painful one, but most likely, the majority of us will come through okay. For some it will be with great loss and grief, but as a whole, humans aren’t going anywhere. Finally, I remembered that my mood will likely change again. I won’t stay in my bad mood or my “glad” mood permanently (and sometimes just going to bed helps!). It will change, just like this situation will. Rolling with it, day after day, that is the real challenge.

rainbowA few quotes from the days of reading books to my children when they were small still ring in my head. This one, by Kevin Henkes of Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse, is from Lily’s teacher in a note to her after she had a very bad day and got in trouble. He told her, “Today was a difficult day. Tomorrow will be better.” Yes, it will.

Fear, Grief, Parenting, Self-awareness

Let’s face it, it’s hard to find many positives in our current shut-down society (if you live in zipper cloudCalifornia anyway). We’re starting week three of shelter in place, only going out for food or necessities, and for my family, homeschooling. These are trying times, indeed. By Friday, school is out and we need that break – from each other. Despite the inconveniences, and hardships for many who aren’t working right now, we can try to find the good, even if we don’t really feel like it (and I can tell you that no one in Target yesterday felt like it, not even a smile could be had). Here they are anyway:

1) We have time at home. By now we may not really want that time at home, but for lots of people, they’re almost never home. Either working, socializing, taking kids to various practices, there are many who are seldom at their own places, but this avoidance of the virus gives us the chance to just “be home.” That can be good if we take advantage of the opportunity to catch-up on the rest that our fast-paced society never affords, clean-out some overflowing closets or cabinets (you’ll just have to wait to donate that stuff), or read those magazines or books that have stacked up. If you’re like me with kids at home, this luxury isn’t always the case or easy to accomplish, but you have the chance now to carve out the time (maybe with the help of a spouse or partner), so do it. We’ll be back to the never-ending race before we know it.

2) Time for kids can play. With no school, except our homeschooling which does not encompass an entire day (unless it’s a day where arguing, pleading, and negotiating is at work), my kids have lots of time on their hands. We still try to limit screen time so they don’t end up coming out of this thing even more zombie-like, and it’s challenging to combat the “I’m booored!” complaint, so they often end up going outside. They have ridden bikes with the neighbor kids (far apart from each other), created a “secret hideout,” and have witnessed spring come to life outside their windows then went out to see it (in real time, people). As tough as it is to have the kids home all day (and trust me, I feel it), we aren’t rushing to the next practice or lesson, and I’m not scrambling to be in two places at once. And while they might be missing their sports right now, they just might appreciate them more when they go back to them (so maybe there won’t be so many complaints over practice? Fingers crossed on that one).

3) Finally, and so important, dogs are happy because their families are home. It might be a small token of gratitude, but I know that our two dogs are so glad that we are all here (all the time). They aren’t waiting around for us to get home, they are happy to accompany us when we go on walks, and they are content to nap next to us while we work (which is what theyCody do most of the time we’ve found). So, even if you don’t own a dog, know that those who do are happier and that’s good (as we know, cats could care less).

To wrap it all up, here are a few coping strategies to get through this time with no foreseen end date:

– Try to remember that this is all temporary. True, that is hard to do when we don’t know any real facts or have a window of time for a goal, but know that it will end and that we will go back to our lives, possibly altered a little, but we will go back.

– View being at home as “safe at home,” not “stuck at home.” I saw this on a Facebook post, and it really is a good way to shift yTPour view for the better. Feeling stuck gets me anxious, frustrated, and clawing at the cage to get out. Feeling safe gives relief and calm. I’m reminding myself of this often.

– Appreciate the simple things. It might sound trite, but try it, you’ll feel a smidgen better. For example, I got toilet paper at Target yesterday – an 18-pack no less. Score one for my family! We won’t be using the leaves I’ve been picking each day. (Kidding? Maybe, maybe not.) Also, here in good old California, we have electricity! Anyone who lived here in the fall knows that power outages for days on end are NO fun. Having lights, heat, hot water, that’s something to appreciate (for real).

Good luck, everyone, stay “safe at home.” This will all be a “remember when” moment some day, really!

Health & Diet, Self-improvement

A new year brings people thinking about eating healthy again, since they completely stopped doing it during the holidays. I’m one of those people too. For the past three years some friends and I have done a cleanse at the start of January, which means cutting out dinnereverything you ever loved about eating. It can be torturous and grueling at times, but it does the job. It clears out the junk I’ve been consuming and the habits that started forming as I reached for another dessert, another glass of wine, another handful of chips… Once the cleanse is over, I am mostly in the groove of eating well again.

That was last Sunday and so far, I’m still doing pretty well. I haven’t gone back to my favorites for fear of starting some avalanche of eating those banned foods I had cut out for the last three weeks. But an article I recently read got me thinking. It was entitled “How I Ditched Dieting for Good,” and it was about the fairly new idea of eating intuitively. What does that mean? I wondered the same. Essentially, it’s means eating what your body wants, when it wants it. So, stopping all that “can’t have that, mustn’t have those,” thinking and just eat what you want. What?! This sounds too good to be true, right?

According to this article, and some blog posts, the idea is to trust yourself and your body about what you want to eat, and basically, eat it! Here are some guiding principles:

-Forget diets and diet culture, for many they are a short-term solution to a problem. You can do them and lose weight, but then soon go back to gaining it again.

-Use a Hunger-Fullness scale to judge when you are truly hungry. That means asking yourself if you are really hungry in that moment (or maybe you just need water), as well, as stopping when are comfortably full. Not sort of full and you’ll be hungry twenty minutes from now, or overly full so you’re lying on the couch moaning, actually nicely full.

-Eat what you really want. Ask yourself what you want to eat, and throw away the ideas of “this food is bad and that one is absolutely terrible for me” (which is hard since we’ve been so programmed over the years). Supposedly, if we just let ourselves have what we are craving, we will have a little of it, be satisfied then naturally choose something healthier (true? who knows).

-Eat mindfully. That means paying attention to what you are eating, slowing down, and really enjoying it. That also includes eating what your body craves, not what your emotions do. Scarfing down a carton of ice cream after a bad day is not the idea.

-Be nice to your body, regardless of its size. Part of what keeps us in the cycle of dieting and eating only certain foods is to change our bodies. Eating intuitively means accepting our bodies, regardless of what they look like.

The author of the article initially had a really difficult time throwing away the ideas of dieting or eating only “healthy foods,” but as time cakewent on and she recognized the pre-programmed messages in her head, she let herself just eat what she wanted. She says that when she wanted peanut M&M’s she would have a few, not the whole bag, and be satisfied. She not only lost weight during this year-long experiment, but said the most significant change is that she doesn’t waste “mental energy agonizing over food or body size anymore.” She says she still stresses over potato chips sometimes, but she doesn’t guilt herself or “promise to make up for it.”

Too good to be true? I suppose it depends on your relationship with food. If you know you eat when you are stressed, depressed, angry, etc, then this probably isn’t the best for you because you can justify eating anything (unless you pay close attention and stop yourself, which is possible). I don’t think I’m ready to jump on this bandwagon yet, but it is definitely food for thought, especially on this snack-laden Super Bowl Sunday.

 

Self-awareness, Technology

My family was one among the many in California who’s power got cut this past week during the “PSPS” (Public Safety Power Shutdown). Electricity went off Tuesday night sometime while we were sleeping and came back on Friday afternoon. Two and a half days ocandlef darkness. We weren’t outraged at PG&E for taking safety measures to ensure that another massive fire didn’t break out and incinerate us all, but it was highly inconvenient. Here are my pros, cons, and observations from the last few days of what felt literally like being “powerless.”

Cons – These are pretty obvious, but I’ll state them anyway. No hot water (so no showers unless we were going to brave the morning cold shower which my husband did, twice), no refrigeration (I wouldn’t let anyone open the fridge or freezer, so pantry food got pretty tiresome), no cell service (for some reason, I think my neighborhood was the only one without that, thanks AT&T). I really felt stranded with no way to communicate with anyone or get any power updates. We live in a rural area and we have no old person with the battery-operated AM radio going (that I know of). There was no school during this outage so the kids and I were getting stir crazy, which led to arguments of varying degrees.

What was most frustrating, and somewhat disturbing, was our utter dependence on PG&E and electricity to function in our “normal” lives. An hour away, where my husband works, it was business as usual. They all had electricity (from a different power company), so there was no disruption to their lives. No so for our community. Most businesses couldn’t operate and those that did were forcepowerlined to be cash only (tough because of our plastic currency dependence). Gas pumps won’t work without power, and all of those generators need that other dependent resource (gas) to run. Of course, many would chalk this up to a “first world problem.” Boo-hoo, there was no power for almost three days, and maybe I agree there. But we live lives that rely on electricity and, even with numerous announcements from PG&E, entire communities felt the effects of this shutdown.

Pros – We did experience some unexpected perks to this shutdown. First, we were forced to be outside, in daylight. My kids still had their devices, but no wifi made them less appealing. While the sun was out, I made them be outside (me too). I sat at the table on the deck and drank tea while I read a book. I can’t say that I have done that recently. Then my son made a rickety skateboard ramp while my daughter created a wagon ride down the small hill of our driveway (and crashed a lot) and I collected kindling. When the sun started to set and my husband came home, we went into our darkened house and lit candles, I lit the stove stop (thankfully it’s gas), and we ate dinner in a candlelight glow. Then we settled in and watched a movie on my laptop. It’s a small screen, but a screen nevertheless. Friends of ours would get out the Uno deck and play with their kids. Instead of breaking up and going off to do our own individual things, we did things together, and it was nice!

And yet, I was very thankful when our power finally did come back on. Hot showers are literally one of the most modern wonders of our time. The router sprang back to life, my kids jumped on and played all those on-line games they couldn’t, and then after a while, I kicked them off. They went outside again, what a concept!

If anything, this experience does make us think about how affected we are by the modern convenience of electricity, how dependent we are on such a system, and how one company can control it all. Even with solar, if you’re connected to the grid (like we are), cutting the power means all that solar electricity generated is useless. Maybe this will force us all to think up better ways of living our power-run lives because if and when this happens again, this “blog post” might be a “carrier pigeon post.”

Relationships, Self-awareness

Continuing on with this blog series about the couple’s workshop that my husband and I attended, this timelarge-home we’ll examine what helps to make a relationship work (last time I covered what doesn’t). There are seemingly subtle things that two people can do to help build what the Gottmans’ call the “Sound Relationship House.” If you have a sound house, then you will have a positive relationship, even when conflict arises. Following are three parts that contribute to the foundation of that house. The Gottmans’ point out that these three levels make up the “friendship domain” of the relationship, but they are also the basis for “romance, passion, and good sex.” Well, okay then, let’s get to them!

Build a Love Map – a love map is essentially a map of how well you know your partner. You might say, “Well, yeah, I’ve known him for like twenty years, so I don’t need a map!” But in this case, a map is more of an understanding your partner’s past and present, your history together, his likes and dislikes, current challenges and dreams, etc. It’s not just knowing that he doesn’t like anchovies on his pizza (though that helps), but what are his current struggles, what are his goals, and what is your role in it all?

And the same goes for him. Does he know those things about you? During the workshop, we did an exercise in which we read cards with open-ended questions and took turns answering in term’s of how we thought our partner would answer. (The other person would either agree or disagree about the answer.) Some examples were: What is your partner’s biggest dream, as yet unachieved? Who is your partner’s least favorite relative? What was your partner’s favorite vacation?

The idea was to see how well we know our spouses. We might think we know exactly how they will answer every question, but sometimes we’re wrong! (I was a couple times.)

Another exercise we did, and one you can do every day, is to ask open-ended questions to each other. Examples would be: If you could re-do any decade of your life, which would you choose and why? What are your biggest worries about the future? If you could live in another country, which would you pick and why?
The idea here is to ask questions that require thought, beyond a yes/no answer, and it’s a way to keep in touch with your partner’s interests, ideas, and goals.

Share Fondness and Admiration – this one seems obvious, but how often do we actually acknowledge the positives about our spouses, and then actually tell them! You also might find that he has something nice to say back if you start with the first nicety. The idea is to build a positive outlook about the other so when certain trouble spots show up, like contempt, it doesn’t hurt so much or come up as often. During this exercise, we looked at list of sixty adjectives, anything from loving to funny to careful to gentle to sexy or kind, circled those we thought fit, then shared them with each other. It was nice to know that we still think of each other with certain positive characteristics. This is something anyone could do at home if you really wanted to, but also just telling each other positives (like “Thank you for helping around the house” or “You look great today”) will work towards building the foundation in your relationship.

Turn Towards – the last level is to turn towards your partner in everyday interactions. The Gottmans’ say that we all make “bids” to one another, which are gestures (either verbal or nonverbal) in which we are seeking attention or connection from our partner. These can be small, like calling your partner’s name or asking “Did you buy toilet paper yesterday?” to large, “I need help scheduling this upcoming busy couple caringweek” or “I need affection.”

There are three ways we can respond to these bids. The first is to Turn Towards, which means acknowledging your partner in a positive way. This can be in answer to the above questions or in small ways like helping him or her out, making a favorite meal, giving a spontaneous hug, or bringing out the garbage. The second way is to turn away, which means ignoring your partner completely (we realized in this workshop that giving no repsonse to a question is still turning away, that one of us does this, and it’s really annoying!). The last way is to turn against. Turning against means responding angrily like, “No, I didn’t buy toilet paper. Go buy it yourself!”

From research and observation, the Gottmans’ saw that newlyweds turned towards each other 86% of the time. Of those newlyweds, who got divorced six years later turned, they turned towards only 33% of the time.

The Gottmans’ say that each interaction in which we turn towards contributes to an Emotional Bank Account. Positive interactions are small deposits in this bank account. When we run into trouble (i.e. conflicts or fights), this emotional bank account of positive interactions helps us through. They say “small things often” can help our relationships overall.

To me, this idea applies not only to our spouses, but to our kids, family, and friends as well. What do you do to contribute to the Emotional Bank Accounts in your relationships?

Relationships, Self-awareness

Last month, I posted about a couple’s workshop that my husband and I attended. It was called “The Art and Science of Love,” created by John and Julie Gottman. They have studied and researched couples and marriages for years, and they have learned a lot!

To continue on with what I learned during the workshop, following are problem-causing behaviors and what the Gottmans’ call the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.” Apparently, they are so detrimental to a marriage that their namesake says it all. They are as follows: Criticism, Defensiveness, Contempt, Stonewalling.

Criticism – we all know what that is; we’ve all given it and received it at some point! They are referring to statements like, “You’re so boring (lazy, annoying, stupid, etc),” and using statements that begin with “You never” or “You always.” Essentially, these criticisms imply there is something wrong with your partner’s character. They found that women often criticize more than men (don’t worry, men aren’t perfect either). Their guess is that women may feel ignored by men with they complain then these complaints escalate to criticism over time.couple fighting

Defensiveness – is any attempt to defend or protect oneself, as well as to ward off any perceived criticism. It can be seen in righteous indignation or the innocent victim stance, as well as counter-attacking or whining.

Contempt – is the worst of them, according to the Gottmans, and the most harmful to a marriage. To be contemptuous means a spouse will put the other down and feel superior. They label it as a position in which one thinks “I’m better/smarter/kinder/stronger/etc than you are.” They also find a certain mindset that can accompany contempt: a negative pattern or habit where the spouse scans the situation or environment for the other’s mistakes rather than what can be appreciated or what is positive (thus leading to criticism). By observing contempt, they found it to be the best predictor of divorce or break-up.

Stonewalling – is the last and the one they found that men do more than women. Essentially, it means withdrawing from the conversation/interaction, etc. The spouse would stay in the room, but not give any cues that he is listening. He might turn his body away, look down, or cross his arms. He is basically shutting the other person out. They point out a common pattern here with the woman criticizing while the man stonewalls.

Are you good friends with any of these horsemen? Being critical and defensive stands out to me as things that I probably do. The Gottmans liken criticism and contempt to fighting, being defensive as a form of flight, and stonewalling is like freezing up. I guess I’m willing to fight then run away!

Thankfully, they offer antidotes to these buggers, and I’ll post them next time. In the meantime, you can observe your own relationship (or others) and see if any horsemen are hanging around. An interesting experiment!