CHERISH is the WORD . . .

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In the arena of love and marriage, one of the major contributors to discord is the inability to communicate in a calm, rational, non-accusatory fashion. For most couples, it takes several years of navigating the choppy seas of difference of personalities, viewpoints, priorities and lifestyles, before it’s all smooth sailing. Sadly, some folks never reach that island of harmony where rational minds prevail and love is watered daily…instead they wake up to find their relationship…shipwrecked.

If one could take the opportunity to dissect the anatomy of an argument, it might be quite surprising to see how often it has nothing to do with “what” you say, but rather “how” you say it that sets off the smoke alarm.

Tone and inflection (whether intended or not) can unfortunately transform a mundane question such as, “did you remember to unload the dishwasher?” into an explosive emotional grenade setting off a full-blown argument. I’m sure it was these type of seemingly stupid little “dropped bombs” that was the inspiration for Pat Benatar’s big hit, “Love Is A Battlefield”.7647176[1]

There are so many ways we can inflect our voice. Think about it. We can say pretty much anything  in a way that implies that the other person is stupid or inept, simply by making a punctuated exhalation sound…showing we are annoyed or exasperated. Combine that with “the rolling of the eyes” and you have a problem in the making.  The dishwasher comment can be delivered in a way that is accusatory…as in, “OMG did you seriously forget to put the frigging dishes up again?” The problem is, when daily interaction is habitually filled with negative tones and accusatory voice inflections, it can take a very damaging toll on any relationship.

It is so easy to recognize these kind of demeaning tones and negative interactions when observing our children. As parents, we are so quick to jump in and correct…”Michael..don’t talk to your sister that way…that is totally unacceptable! Now, say you’re sorry…etc.” But for some strange reason, we adults are much slower to recognize it in ourselves or to point it out in our spouses before the damage is done and a relatively minor exchange becomes an emotionally charged duel of words.

In contrast, there is a way that “love” speaks. Like anything, it requires commitment and practice to become natural at it. But with both, couples can learn to cut off their negative tones and learn to speak to each other in a loving and respectful manner. No matter what the actual “words” are, if we are conscientious about how we are speaking them, our interaction can take place on a much higher level. Even, a simple word like “sweetie” can be inserted in front of a phrase and the listener can receive it in a much more positive way. For example, “sweetie, I was wondering if you had208315_2014038227442_4762824_n[1] the chance to unload the dishwasher yet….”

In order to have a thriving, robust relationship – with awareness and practice, we can choose on a daily basis to break the bad habit of speaking with demeaning, negative and disrespectful tones. It is just one more key to a successful love-filled life together!

 

The Joy Of “Spooning” . . .

And How It Gets All “Forked” Up!

We had dinner, went to a concert and then walked through the park holding hands. Later that night we had our first romantic moment. I still remember that first kiss as if it happened yesterday. It was so sweet, soft and perfect. But that is not the moment that really sealed the deal for me. It came a couple of weeks after our first date.

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It was a very cool Fall morning, I remember I could see my breath when I walked to class. I couldn’t wait for lunch to come because the two of us had plans to meet at our favorite campus corner eatery. We ate our salads, held hands and made eyes at each other across the table. Then we both yawned. My classes were finished for the day, so I sleepily announced that I was going to go home and take a nap.  Hoping for a make out session, of course, Kev eagerly followed me home to “nap” with me. And then it happened. Fully dressed, not even under the covers…we snuggled for the first time. He wedged his warm body next to mine in the perfect spoon position. But, it is the crazy thing he did next that we still talk about to this day. He began to rock his foot back and forth . . .gently rocking me to sleep. I lifted my head up off the pillow and looked up at him in total amazement. “What? he said, in his confused “almost asleep” voice. I then joyfully proclaimed that I couldn’t believe he was rocking his foot because that is how I fell asleep every night. He was elated and very happy with himself. That was it! We were spooners…forever addicted to the sweet “ahhhhhhh” of spooning…or at least that’s what I had planned.

Mastering The Spoon

Over the next couple of decades, we took joy in attempting to master the art of spooning. Before children, we indulged in the “naked spoon”, a beautiful side by side, skin-to-skin human sculpture that required carefulspooning[1] placement of limbs, elbows and knees – with special  attention paid to those “sensitive” protruding body parts. Ah, the sweet agility of youth which made the nightly wedge so easy to achieve! In our twenties and thirties, our biggest decision before we fell asleep, was “who gets to spoon who” first.  And as all young adults do, we took it for granted that our nightly “snuggle-fests” would always be the way we would fall asleep . . .wrapped up in each other’s arms from lights out to sun up.

Age Happens

Fast forward thirty something years and here we are. The kids are grown up and live in different cities. We could run around naked 24/7 and no one would care now. But, somehow that just doesn’t seem as “cool” as it did when we both 21. The point is…we can if we want to! We still relish every night when we get to get in bed and snuggle…but our beloved “spoon” configuration has gotten a little contorted over the past few years. In fact, it has gotten totally “forked up”. Something happened between my 40th birthday and my 50th. My knees became extremely bony . . .as if they have zero padding covering the joint.

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So…that’s when pillow #1 joined our spoonageplaced perfectly – half between my knees and half between his. Not a big deal . . .his chest still close to my back and legs and feet carefully intertwined. Then my beloved was lifting weights and did something funky to his shoulder. Not cool! Now, introducing pillow # 2, a carefully placed flat selection that props his arm into just the right angle to keep his rotator cuff from screaming in pain. In the meantime, I had to purchase a therapeutic neck pillow to take care of my two pinched nerves in my neck. Trust me – there are no “sexy” neck support pillows on the market! They are thick, bulky and heavy, but a “must have” when you are suffering with cervical pain. So, the million dollar pillow under my head is so big, it makes it impossible to share our knee pillow. And now the man’s (once extremely athletically gifted and overused) knees are constantly a source of crunching noises and pain requiring a special pillow of their own. Of course we get crazy adventurous every now and then, and attempt once again to fall asleep in spooning position – our best attempt has been clocked at lasting (at max) five minutes before we recoil in pain and laughter, while simultaneously cursing (damn it my friggin shoulder) the perils of aging.

So there you have it . . .our once sleek, toned, beautifully unwrinkled “spoonable” bodies have reached the point of requiring 5 pillows between us to get a good night’s sleep. So what touches now? Our feet and toes are all that are left to freely find each other . . .think “fork” and you get the picture!

Consolation? Many nights we fall asleep holding hands, which is somewhat ironic. . .since that is the way this whole thing got started.

Sweet Dreams My Friends! ! And Happy Spooning!!!

Hating the Big “D” Word

. . .And I Don’t Mean Dallas

I hate DIVORCE. Most likely my visceral reaction to the “D” word is because I continue to view it through a broken-hearted five-year old’s eyes. The scene is still so vivid in my mind. My mom sat next to me on the couch with her arm draped lovingly over my shoulders. My dad stood and faced us as they began to explain to me that daddy would no longer be living with us. I was my daddy’s baby girl. He was the lap I ran to when I wanted to feel safe, loved and warm…the neck I flung my arms around when I needed to express my own emotions of love. That day, my world was shattered and my heart was broken, just like my family circle.

When it was time for me to get married, I had already witnessed three additional divorces in my immediate family. Some more painful for me to watch and more difficult to understand than others…but each time I felt a sense of loss. As my wedding day drew closer, my inner turmoil grew stronger. I had no doubts at all about how I felt about my fiance, but I did have fears about my familial track record on marriage…was I doomed to end up in divorce just like everyone around me? Of course, one look in my husband’s eyes always made me feel confident that we could weather any storm together.

Now, here I am 32 years into my marriage relationship and unfortunately,  I’ve watched the “D” monster rear its ugly head time and time again splintering the lives of close friends and family members. Last week, when I asked a friend of mine about a mutual girlfriend I hadn’t seen in a while..she said, “Oh, haven’t you heard? Julia and her husband filed for divorce. . .she is really going through hell right now.” Bummer…another family torn apart, a little piece of my heart breaks again. In my little cul-de-sac, two couples broke up over the last year..both with young children who are now being raised primarily by one parent. I watch two of the children as they play, I see the change in their spirit…their once lighthearted play is now hampered by an invisible weight hanging on their conflicted souls. . .mommy is now just a visitor. Another tear falls.

Why? Why is it so difficult for couples to make it work? I wonder how the break down all begins. Everyone starts the same…fall in love, get married, have children. . .etc. So why do those precious marriage vows lose their significance so quickly in many cases? It occurs to me that as parents, we would never consider divorcing our children when they are unreasonable or difficult to live with. On the contrary, we do everything we can to nurture and mend the relationship. So why is there such a double standard in the way we approach the one we promised our heart to…to love, honor and cherish? I am convinced that many times priorities switch as soon as children are brought into the equation. New moms put all their energy into their young child and often have very little left for their spouse at the end of the day. Most men’s love language is very monosyllabic. . .as in “sex”. They feel loved when they are sexually gratified. Their egos, as well as their emotional well-being can take a pretty big hit when they are constantly rebuffed in the bedroom.

We women are looking for gestures of love, little things that let us know they really care…bathing the baby, emptying the dishwasher, picking up a meal for dinner (without being asked)…can completely change our day and melt our heart, making us much more receptive at the end the day for a little love romp. So once again, it all comes back to good communication. People have to learn to tell each other what they need! I wonder why that is so difficult?

Obviously, there are marriages where outside influences such as alcoholism, drug use or abuse slowly destroy the relationship and leave little options for the non-offending spouse. Sadly, in those cases, sometimes divorce is the only option for physical well-being and peace of mind.

So, what can I do? How can I make a difference? I try to always be available to lend an ear and truly listen when others are in turmoil. I can offer advice from lessons I’ve learned when someone asks for it. And, I can continue to offer up my thoughts in writing on LuvYa.com. If even just one person gets a little help or encouragement from my words, every minute spent in front of the computer will have been worth it. And finally, I can love my husband unconditionally and lead by example.

Opposites In Love

According to Myers-Briggs personality assessments, I am an ESFP, whereas my beloved is an INTJ. Which means, we are about as opposite as two personality types can be (underscoring the familiar saying “opposites attract”). By the way, we did not have to take a personality test to discover this about ourselves…after a few dates, it was pretty obvious. ESFP stands for extraversion, sensing, feeling and perception, the single word used to describe this personality type is “Entertainer”. INTJ stands for introversion, intuition, thinking, judgement – Myers-Briggs gives this personality type the title of “Scientist”. When we met, Kev was playing around with test tubes working on his degree in Chemistry while I  was playing the piano and singing, working on my degree in Music (in addition to performing on stage on a regular basis in a touring opera company.) Scary..isn’t it?

In addition to our polar opposite genetics, we came from drastically different family environments. My husband was raised by parents whose style of parenting tended to be controlling, subsequently, he often felt that perfection was demanded of him. This left my husband with very low self-esteem as a young adult. On the other hand, I was raised by my divorced mother, who I’m pretty sure didn’t have the word “structure” in her vocabulary. My mother also struggled with bipolar disorder her entire adulthood and my father (who I only lived with for half of my Junior year in high school) was a functioning alcoholic. In spite of her own inner turmoil, my mother worked hard to instill a strong sense of self and taught me to be an independent thinker.  The result? My husband came into the marriage “compelled to control”, and even though it took me several years to discover it…because of my unstable childhood, I was compelled to accommodate and enable him. Fortunately, Kev’s desire to control was overwhelmingly dwarfed by his overriding desire to change, grow and have a loving, thriving relationship.

I laugh to myself when I think back at how many times he said, “you have to tell me when I’m being an ass…I’m a selfish pig-man, I need your help…etc.” As funny as that statement was, it didn’t change the fact that I had to work very hard at learning how to “speak up” in the moment when I felt offended, as opposed to my habit of burying it deeply, only to have it erupt later with very little provocation. Through the years, and after hours and hours of sometimes tear-filled discussions, we both evolved and learned how to interact with one another knowing each other’s expectations and areas of hyper-sensitivity. Funny how it is that such shallow tears always seem to lead to deeper waters.

The intriguing thing is, amidst all of our opposite personality characteristics, we have always shared so many similar interests. We have virtually the same sense of humor (Airplane, Austin Powers, Seinfeld, Modern Family at the top of our entertainment humor list), we both love sports, enjoy jigsaw puzzles and playing board games – and as of late – Texas Hold-em. Spiritually we have always been on the same page, which ultimately, I believe has been the glue that has held us together through thick and thin.

So, after all these years of navigating the turbulent waters of life together, this ESFP and my sweet INTJ, have morphed into something altogether different from the narrowly defined “Entertainer” and “Scientist”. In fact, if we both sat down and took the Myers-Briggs personality assessment today, I’m pretty sure the outcome would be totally different. I know he has helped me become a much more intuitive and thinking person, and he definitely attributes his noticeable change in social skills to hanging out with me.

No doubt opposites do attract, but as I have discovered, it is truly the areas you enjoy together that will help your relationship stand the test of time.

Love, Choice – The Paradigm Shift

First Comes Lust

Most likely, whether you believe in love at first sight or not, is largely based on your own personal experience with love and romance. Actually, the whole idea is sort of a misnomer…because if anything, everyone knows we fall “in lust” at first sight. In other words, when pheromones and physical attraction collide, infatuation happens and we humans have labeled that phenomenon – “love at first sight.”

It is this potent mixture that makes us want to be together with the object of our affection..over and over again. Intoxicating and addictive, that crazy infatuation hormonal rush offers the same effect as any drug, a lover’s high, if you will. Then, as fate would have it, occasionally lightning strikes during the lust-filled stage and something mystical happens. Next thing you know, you wake up one day to find yourself deeply in love.

Then Comes Love

This “love awakening” happened to my husband and me over 30 years ago, and not too long after our first kiss. Our connection was quick, deep and spiritual. At this point, we had no choice, no earth-shaking decisions…no, “I don’t know…is he/she really the one?”  This whole idea is such a foreign concept to the both of us. We have always told our kids and our single friends who are struggling in relationships, “if you are asking yourself that question before you say “I do”, you already have your answer.”  When you have met your soul-mate, the one you intend to spend the rest of your life with…there are no dangling doubts and bewildering questions about your choice. You can’t help yourself! You have to be together.  In our case, it was actually painful to be apart (and still is today).  So, our reason for getting married at only 20 years old, wasn’t necessarily a decision based on logic, perfect circumstances and financial planning  – we got married because we couldn’t bear to spend one more day (well, more specifically, one more night) apart.  Indeed… compelled by love – we had NO choice.

Then Comes Marriage . . .and the Baby Carriage

After we tied the proverbial knot, “life” as they say, slowly turned that “take your breath away” high into a comfortable steady state of companionship. In my experience, it’s not that the sexual attraction wanes, but rather the intensity of lustful desire that changes. Because honestly, that type of amped-up sexual frenzy is totally related to “newness”.  No doubt there is a honeymoon phase, but no matter how long it lasts, the “newness” inevitably wears off.

Then. . .The Paradigm Shift

Somewhere between falling head over heels in love and taking your firstborn home from the hospital, a paradigm shift takes place. Love is no longer an all-consuming emotion that compels you to do crazy things. In fact, the powerful force that caused you to leave and cleave, quickly becomes a daily, perhaps even a moment by moment decision you make. Love becomes a CHOICE.

Currently, for us, “choosing” translates into a multi-layered plan of action. Firstly, we work hard to speak to one another with a tone of respect. This one – especially in a heated conversation – takes lots of practice. It is so easy to drift into a habit of speaking to one another in annoying, demeaning tones – especially if there are a lot of unaddressed issues. Years ago during a particularly emotion-filled argument, I pointed out to my husband that he would never even think of talking to his boss or coworkers the way he was talking to me – his wife – the one he should love more than anyone. He was stunned with the truth of that statement. He agreed and apologized. Obviously, I also had to be reminded of that “truth” as well many times over our 32 year marriage.  Through the years, we have both been known to say, “Excuse me…but I’m not so sure you want to be speaking to me that way, start over again, and I will be more open to hear what you have to say.”

In addition to checking our tone, we have pro-actively declared war on “hot buttons”.  Hot buttons are those pesky – relationship destroying – unaddressed issues I referred to earlier. It has taken us years to identify our hot buttons. Interestingly enough, many of them are related to childhood stuff that we brought into the marriage. For example, the perception that I am not being respected or heard (youngest of three), can send me into a tizzy.  My husband’s number one hot button is related to self deception…if he thinks that in any way I am not being honest with myself in a situation, he basically loses all patience and goes into relentless, detailed “talk-it-out” mode. Both of these hot buttons relate to “perceived injustices” we experienced growing up.  Choosing to love, has meant identifying all of our hot buttons and then doing the work necessary to get rid of them.

Putting things into proper perspective is another “choice” lesson we have learned along the way. For example, is loading the dishwasher the “right way” really more important than loving your spouse in that moment? Do those little stupid things warrant ridicule, criticism and using that “you’re such an idiot” tone of voice? Honestly, do you actually want to elevate your idea of how things should be done above nurturing feelings of love and respect? If each of us took a second to evaluate the situation…of course we would all answer no. Laid back personalities don’t really struggle too much with this one, but controlling, perfectionists have a tougher time, but with a little help, a lot of reminders and much practice. . .proper perspective can be obtained.

On a positive note, speaking words of love throughout the day is definitely a prudent choice, in addition to remembering the three magic words (you so avidly teach your children). . .please, thank you and I’m sorry.  After 32+ years of working at this love thing…my hubby and I both agree that in order to truly cherish one another and keep passion in our marriage, we must remain diligent to “choose” to love one another in all situations.

So, is love a choice? In the beginning, when it hits you like a ton of bricks, not so much. But after the novelty fades away, in order to have a thriving relationship, filled with love and respect that will endure and last a lifetime – most definitely!

Carpet Rendezvous For 2 ?

“Date Night” during the early child-rearing years, was one of our more lofty priorities. However, the execution of the great get-away, wasn’t always so easy to pull-off. Scrounging up enough “expendable” cash to spend on dinner, movie & a sitter – not to mention the sometimes arduous task of choosing a restaurant we both were in the mood for – often snuffed out the “romantic flame” before we even got out our front door.

During those financially challenging years ( when we actually kept a ledger of every expense down to a pack of trident) a night out on-the-town was considered a luxury.  I remember one night in particular when funds were too low to go out, we decided to get a little creative. After our kids were fast asleep, we spread out a soft comforter in the middle of the den and proceeded to have a romantic “carpet rendezvous.” I lit the candles, he poured us a glass of inexpensive wine. Fortunately for our sake, once our children were out for the night, not even a hurricane the size of Hugo could rouse them from their slumber. That night, though over 20 years ago, still remains fresh in my memory because it was just so simple, sweet and spontaneous…requiring no cash, sitter or reservations (in addition to the fact my husband stood up after the fireworks and said “Alrighty Then”…in his spot-on Ace Ventura aka Jim Carrey voice).

Today, the funny man and I have as much independence as we want. Our kids are adults and have their own lives. The one time “teenage hang-out” house feels like a quiet B & B complete with Vacancy sign in the window (which occasionally gets turned around when “said kids” choose to grace us with their presence). Offspring out of college making their own way equals extra fun money for parents to go out and enjoy whatever they want – whenever they want…right? Turns out, after years of saving, scheduling, planning and making sure all the conditions were perfect before we could relax and enjoy a night on the town. . .just when glorious “freedom” is ours. . .staying at home by the fire, cuddled up on a furry throw while watching an On Demand Movie on our own TV… sounds pretty awesome. After calling Chinese take-out I say, “hey baby..you light the candles and I’ll pour the Shiraz…,” he replies, “Alrighty Then…!”

Keys To Successful Relationships

What Is Your “Secret” to Keeping Love Alive?

It seems that self-help books such as “The Five Love Languages” and “Passionate Marriage: Keeping Love and Intimacy Alive in Committed Relationships,” have increased in popularity over the last decade as the divorce rate continues to rise. Couples are finding it more and more difficult to find reasons to stay together as opposed to calling it quits and seeking greener pastures.

Since I have this new forum with LuvYa.com, I thought it would be interesting to ask all my readers to share their own personal “tips” or intimacy secrets that have helped them obtain and sustain a thriving relationship. I’ve also been posing the question to girlfriends who are in successful relationships.

Tracy, who just celebrated 27 years of marriage, says one of the things that has helped the most – especially when her children were younger and her husband was traveling 3 to 4 days a week – was the establishment of date night. Date night provided a focused time for them to reconnect in a boy/girl way, as opposed to all of their conversations being about kids and practical family management issues. Even though her kids are older now, she still loves date night because she is able to share her feelings about interesting things she experiences during the day, as well as get-in-touch with what her hubby has on his mind, which just breeds healthy communication.

Rachel, mother of four and happily married for 21 years, says she tells all her friends that her favorite tip is “keep the fighting clean…and the sex dirty” . . .!

It’s Your Turn ! The LuvYa.com Forum is Open. . .

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