Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Please Visit Us At Our New Home....

We've got a new website. You'll find our blog there and interesting new articles. Don't worry, all the blogs posts from the past are there too! Please drop by, we'd love to see you there.


(click here)

Monday, September 1, 2008

Building Better Boundaries - Part 2 - Of Sausages and Picket Fences (by Ron)

In the previous Boundaries post, I talked about sausages and picket fences. Those are the metaphors Gayle and I developed to help us understand the function of our personal boundaries. Both have as their principle metaphorical function the free, but managed flow of ideas, actions, beliefs, etc. into and out of our personal space.

We don't always manage to protect that flow and sometimes find our boundaries have been breached before we even know it. We must first know how that happens before we can correct it. In this post I want to take the topic further by listing various types of boundaries and posing some questions below each one. Hopefully these will help you identify actions or beliefs that prevent you from properly protecting the integrity of your sausages and picket fences.

Emotional Boundaries - Do you...
  • Minimize or withhold your feelings to avoid conflict? I've found I usually feel even worse if I do this. After all, I can't avoid the conflict inside me.
  • Feel you have the right to hurt someone back when they hurt you rather than dealing with the pain directly? This approach doesn't work to get me what I need to feel better. Instead I usually end up feeling even more pain because I don't like myself for being so dishonest.
  • Believe your happiness depends on others? For argument's sake let's say this is true. Doesn't that mean you can be only as happy as they are? That's a risk I don't want to take.
  • Pick people who hurt you emotionally? You may find yourself going from one emotionally distant or unavailable relationship to another. This is a boundary many of my clients have failed to protect.
  • Feel ashamed of who you are? We are responsible for our own feelings of worthiness. I can feel shame for something I might have done and still protect my good feelings about who I am.
Intellectual Boundaries - Do you...
  • Let other people's actions, words, and attitudes determine your behaviors, words, and or attitudes? What better example can I use than the current presidential campaign? The hundreds of millions of dollars that are spent to get our vote are shameless, but often work.
  • Have difficulty making up your mind? I'm surprised at how easy it is for me to make the big decisions, like on cars or houses, and how difficult it is to make a decision about where to eat dinner. That may sound a little silly but patterns of poor decision making often become huge problems in relationships.
  • Find it easier to go along with others than to disagree? When your friends want to do A and you want to do B, who wins? You do if you make your decision based on your needs and beliefs. "Going along" for the sake of not making waves is not the same as going after making a purposeful decision.
  • Trust others' beliefs and knowledge more than yours? I may know something that you don't. I probably have beliefs that differ from yours in some way. That does not make me your expert. Only you know what you know. Sound silly? It isn't. We all need to get feedback sometimes, but ultimately we need to trust ourselves.
  • Ever tell yourself "I am not sure what I know? When I feel unsure of myself I first take the time to look within to see if I can determine the source of my self-doubt. If this isn't enough, I go outside of myself to study and/or seek help to find the knowledge I am missing.
Spiritual Boundaries - Do you...
  • Have difficulty knowing your spiritual nature and beliefs? Surrounded by so many religious organizations our challenge is to search within for our spirituality and to know it for ourselves. I learned what I now know in a secular workshop. You will learn what you know in your own way if you refuse to give up the search.
  • Find it easier to go along with the beliefs of your family than to disagree? As a child I was taught what to believe. As an adult I had to learn what I believe. Disagreeing with the family was never easy, but it was certainly necessary for me.
  • Are you afraid if you believe differently than your family they will no longer love you? You may have to take that chance when you make your own spiritual decision. I believe love will win out if it was real before you made your decision.
  • What if your beliefs are wrong? Only you and your higher power know if you are right. Allowing fear to keep you from believing will only make your search more difficult. After all, only your "faith" can prove your "beliefs" and even then, only to you.
  • Do you think it's not OK to have your own beliefs? Whether surrounded by love or not we are on this spiritual journey alone. When it comes to spirituality and other beliefs you are very fortunate - only you can know what's right for you.
Physical Boundaries -Do you...
  • Believe other peoples' needs are more important than yours? I knew a man in my home town who placed his mother's needs before his until she died. At the age of 45 he finally started dating and eventually married. By the way, his mother was never ill, just demanding.
  • Allow others to violate your privacy? I believe many people are naturally inquisitive and don't recognize boundaries. Intruding on your private thoughts, writings or areas just seem to come naturally. If you don't protect your privacy, they will certainly continue to intrude.
  • Pick people who hurt you physically? How many times have we heard "he didn't mean to, he loves me" as the partner explains away the behavior of his or her abuser? Both of them need to learn how to deal with their pathology. Most don't. This is a pattern you can break with help.
  • Feel ashamed of your physical self? Your physical appearance is rarely the issue here. You see what you feel, not what is real. Getting to know yourself is much more important than the right clothes, losing weight, applying makeup, or getting the perfect haircut.
  • Have difficulty saying either "no" or "yes" in sexual situations? Saying "yes" in the appropriate situations can be as meaningful as a well-placed "no!" To most of us our sexuality is the ultimate boundary and deserves to be both protected and enjoyed.
Other Boundaries - Do you...
  • Feel if only _______would happen it would change your life and you would finally be happy? And what if it doesn't? In most cases the changes never happen or aren't sufficient to "make you happy." On the other hand, you changing that belief can work wonders with your happiness.
  • Accept limitations with "this is just the way I am?" Then that's just the way you will stay - limited. "I can be more" is so easy to say. Try it on and see what happens.
  • Get your feelings hurt easily? I normally don't have to look too deeply inside to learn why my feelings are hurting. With that knowledge I can begin to deal with the pain. Without it I just hurt.
  • Feel different? Well, rejoice! You are! Seriously though, you are! Sometimes I'm told I enjoy my difference too much. Most times I just love knowing I am completely unique in this world. So are you. It's all perception.
  • Feel generally fearful? Fear is always about the future. Since it is in the future you still have choices. As long as there are choices you still have hope.
For most of us repairing and maintaining our boundaries is the most valuable work we will ever do. It seems as if the "world" goes out of its way to violate or intrude upon our boundaries. We are the only ones who can maintain and protect them. Although it is good to seek assistance, we must ultimately do the hard work ourselves. I will talk more about that work in future blogs about this topic.

Read Part One

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Our Book Recommendations


No book is the right book for everyone. You can tell it's the right book for you when you pick it up and can't put it down. Even in a great self-help book, you'll find parts to which you don't relate. Skip those sections. If you can't get into the book, then don't read it. We've put down many books only to find them again at a later more appropriate time. Don't feel obligated to read a book from cover to cover. Skip around if it keeps you more interested. If a book is recommended to you by three or more people, you're probably getting a cosmic shoulder tap and might want to pay attention!


Though the husband is 14 or more years older than the wife in nearly 900,000 American marriages and the number of women marrying younger men is rapidly on the rise, there isn't a single, solitary book out there addressing the May-December relationship. While we are writing our book, this website responds to the needs of age gap couples by providing tips, tools, and secrets for creating -- and sustaining --a successful romance in all seasons.


  • You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay
    Read this book when you find yourself in recurring negative patterns and want to get unstuck. This book is especially helpful for people with health problems.
  • Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway, By Susan Jeffers
    Read this when worry, anxiety, and/or a lack of self-confidence keep you from being the person you want to be.
  • The Invitation by Oriah
    Read this book when you are struggling with the ups and downs of life.
  • Family Secrets: The Path from Shame to Healing by John Bradshaw
    Read this book when you find yourself acting out with negative and/or destructive behaviors and you don't understand why.
  • Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India, and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert
    Read this book when you are in an intense transitional period in your life.
  • The Age of Miracles: Embracing the New Middle Age by Marianne Williamson
    Read this when you are looking for understanding and peace regarding your mid-life changes.
  • The Amazing Power of Deliberate Intent: Living The Art of Allowing by Esther and Jerry Hicks
    Read this book when you want to make changes or create new ways of living.


  • Mars and Venus: Starting Over by John Gray
    Read this when you have lost a loved one through death or break-up. It is designed to help you grieve your losses and re-enter the dating world.
  • Are You The One For Me by Barbara DeAngelis
    Read this BEFORE you start the search for a mate.
  • In The Meantime by Iyanla VanSant
    Read this when you are in a transitional period and want to "find" yourself, heal your wounds, and stop repeating old patterns.
  • He's Just Not That Into You by Greg Behrendt, Liz Tuccillo, and Lauren Moncik
    Read this if you repeatedly pick the wrong men.


  • Men are from Mars - Women are from Venus by John Gray
    Read this when you are frustrated with your mate and want to understand how to improve your relationship.
  • The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman
    Read this when you are in ANY relationship. Even if you do not identify with Christian authors, the information in this book is simple, straightforward, and a must read for everyone.
  • After The Affair: Healing the Pain and Rebuilding Trust When a Partner Has Been Unfaithful by Janis Abrahms Spring and Michael Spring.
    Read this if you are trying to heal your relationship after an affair has occurred.
  • Hot Monogamy: Essential Steps to More Passionate Intimate Lovemaking by Pat Love
    Read this when your relationship has lost it's sexual zip. This in NOT just a "how to" manual. It will help you understand the sexual dynamics in long term monogamous partnerships.
  • All Night Long: How to Make Love to a Man over 50 by Barbara Keesling
    Read this when you and your partner are dealing with the symptoms of aging included erectile dysfunction. This is NOT just a how to manual. It provides useful information about the mechanics of a man's body and the impact of wear and tear on his sexual functioning. It also suggests many useful techniques and tricks!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Yes, Age Gaps Can be a Problem... (By Ron)

...but like any other relationship problem this too can be managed. When Gayle and I started out we didn't think too much about the age difference. 15 years when you are in your 20s and 30s don't seem like such a big deal. Of course there were lots of age related decisions we've had to make throughout our relationship and we'll talk about some of those in future blogs. This one is about the fact that aging happens.

Over the years we have managed to live life at much the same speed. As the saying goes, she kept me young. Hiking and walking (particularly in Yellowstone and Europe) are two of our favorite pastimes and they require at least a modicum of conditioning, particularly for me.

It's no secret that I celebrated my 65th birthday in December of last year. As I have aged I seldom thought much about the years that were passing. 65 wasn't a terribly significant number until I had an accident with a ladder on December 29th which resulted in the mother of sprained ankles. It has taken years and lots of abuse for my knees to get into their bad shape. It took only a few seconds for my ankle to become a significant physical liability.

So, here we are in August and my ankle is still an issue. My orthopod says the relatively slow healing process has something to do with the numbers in my birthdate field on his intake sheet. In other words, I don't heal like I did when I was in my twenties. All at once I am at risk for being unable to hike and walk long distances like I love so much.

Gayle is 15 years younger than me. Although she has her own ankle problems she is in better shape than I and we both know it. You already know the story of our recent trip to Yellowstone. We learned a great lesson on that trip. Acceptance. Yep, it's that simple. Now I don't mean I will be accepting my conditioning as is, that's not the point. The point is that our age differences are real and require more attention than I have given them in the past.

No, I don't heal as I did in my twenties and I didn't climb Mount Washburn as quickly as I have in the past. What I have to continue to remind myself is that I still have some control over these issues. With proper care and attention to my physical conditioning I can continue to be as active as I've been for all of my life - maybe just not as quickly.

There's no question that aging is a factor in any age-gap relationship. How you deal with it makes all the difference in the world in how the relationship endures. Keep in mind that it isn't only the younger person who has to learn to accept his or her partner. There is also the possibility that the older partner will have difficulty accepting the age difference. After all, I remember how much I could do when I was 50. I won't be 50 again. I'm not able to do as much at 65. That pisses me off sometimes. That's OK, too. In the final analysis it isn't always the age differences or differences in capabilities that matter. It's how they are accepted, understood and dealt with by both partners.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Let's Talk About ED (by Ron & Gayle)

Allrighty then, shall we talk about ED (as in Bob Dole and Viva Viagra - not the talking horse Mr. Ed)? Katie Couric made history having her colonoscopy filmed to help people get comfortable with discussing colons. So we’re going to plunge into the topic of erectile dysfunction (ED) right here right now. Let’s get blogging!

Gayle posted an answer to a question in a May-December forum to which she belongs. The question was about how age gapped couples were dealing with ED. The couple wanted to try other options before getting a prescription medication. Our experience and training tell us that you don’t have to have a significant age difference or be a senior citizen to encounter ED. We’ll talk more about this topic in future blogs. For now, here is the text of Gayle’s answer.

First of all, I know this can be a tough one for both of you. I’m glad you can come here for some advice. Anyone who has been there knows the stress of ED just compounds the problem. Here’s what I’ve got to share on the subject:

1. Even if you partner is under age 50, this book has some wonderful information in it…

All Night Long: How to Make Love to a Man Over 50

2. Talk to a doctor, you’ve always got to rule out “mechanical” issues.

3. Search on Yohimbine and see what you think. It’s available in places like Vitamin World and I know some urologists prescribe it for men with ED.

4. Alcohol makes it worse - not better as many people think.

5. Talking about the situation is best done OUTSIDE the bedroom, but talking about it when you are NOT trying to have sex can be very helpful.

6. Be gentle with each other. It’s happening to both of you. How you deal with each other in the beginning can have a marked impact on future sexual encounters.

7. It’s okay to get help. Talk to a therapist (either one or both of you.)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Building Trust (by Gayle)

The key is to trust people to be who they are. Instead we trust people
to be who want them to be, and when they aren’t we cry.
~David Duchovny

I just posted an entry about building trust on the website for my counseling practice. It is so relevant to relationship building, I decided to share the link here. The question “how do I build trust/faith in myself” was posed to me. Read the answer here.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Building Better Boundaries - Part 1 (by Ron)

This is the first installment of a series about boundaries. In it I hope to introduce you to our concept of boundaries. The first thing I did was to ask the internet to help me define boundaries. It’s not as simple as you might think. In fact, according to the magic of Google the list is almost endless. Here are a very few of the more interesting definitions:

  • According to worldnet.princeton.edu a boundary is “the line or plane indicating the limit or extent of something.” I kind of like that one since it includes limits.

  • In en.wikipedia.org, as used in Topology (a made-up word for Geometry?) a boundary has something to do with “a subset S of a topological space X is the set of points which can be approached…” The remainder just gets worse but it reminded me of how confused many of us are about our boundaries so I included it.

  • And this definition from dakotapathways.org says it like I think it should be said. A boundary “indicates a border or a limit.” A Limit, again! That’s what we all strive to develop in our lives from the first breath we draw until the last – Limits!
This and following installments will strive to help you understand your boundaries, or lack thereof, and hopefully, how to improve them. So what are your personal boundaries? Your skin is one. It helps keep out illness, among other things. Your beliefs are boundaries. They protect you in many ways and are constantly being bombarded by outside (and inside) forces. The physical space around you is a boundary. Your physical body is also a boundary.

Over the years as we spoke about boundaries in our workshops, Gayle and I developed two quite different metaphors that reach the same conclusion. Gayle likes to explain boundaries with a sausage link metaphor. When you put a whole sausage into a pan or skillet with other foods the permeable casing (boundary) allows flavors to pass both ways, into and out of the sausage. This blending of tastes enhances the flavors of all the foods involved. No one taste overwhelms the other. When you take the sausage out of the casing and cook with it, it loses its shape and form. It's flavor adds to the dish but you can no longer tell where the sausage begins or end.

I prefer a chain-link or picket fence metaphor. Since we live in Texas it’s much more likely that we would have six or eight foot privacy fences but even these fit into the metaphor. If you have a picket or chain-link fence there are lots of open spaces. If you have dogbabies, as do we, they can easily commune with the neighbors' dogs without fear of coming into physical contact. If your boundaries resemble these fences then you have developed space around you that allows the in and out flow of ideas but no physical or emotional contact that you do not invite. These boundaries allow an exchange of ideas and of your person, should you wish.

So, think of your boundaries as being flexible and strong even though they allow permissible ideas, thoughts, and personal contact. They are not like privacy fences which don’t allow exchanges. Those are walls, not boundaries.

As you read this try to imagine these boundaries around you. Think about who invades them and who respects them. Ask yourself how you fail to tend to your boundaries. The next few blogs will get into some specifics about how we succeed and how we fail to protect our boundaries.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

My mother was what kind of cat (by Gayle)

I was reading a question on one of my favorite age gap relationship forums. I felt compelled to write the following post as a response to the question. If you read what I've written you'll figure out what question to which I am responding. So hang in there it will all make sense, I just had to share it here!

I'd like to introduce you guys to my mom and my step-dad. Here is their picture. They had a 15 year age difference. The pic was taken in 1976. My father had died 5 years earlier leaving her a widow at the young age of 54. The age gap between my mom and dad was 8 DAYS. My mother died 5 years ago shortly before her 85th birthday and what would have been her 28th wedding anniversary with my step-father.

Now, 5 years later, my step-father enjoys dating a variety of women closer to his own age. We just celebrated his 76th birthday. I guess my mom was a cougar long before it was cool. Their 15 year age difference worked beautifully and was full and complete is EVERY way. The only problem they had is that sometimes HE had a hard time keeping up with her. I can hear her wonderful and much missed laugh as I type these words. She would have had a ball with the concept of being a "cougar.".

I'm sorry I digressed, what was the question? Something about "what could he possibly see in a woman 18 years older who is his mother's age"....

Sunday, August 3, 2008

You Must be Able to Walk Away (by Ron)

"You have to be able to walk away!" "Don't fall so in love with something that you can't say no or wait for better timing!" "You'll regret it if you don't walk away from that deal!" Do these sound familiar? I heard them many times in my life and didn't always listen. So what happened to me when I didn't listen? I bought a car I couldn't afford but it sure was beautiful. I bought more than one house that was too expensive but they were "perfect", and I even bought an airplane that I didn't have time to fly and hadn't considered the cost of caring for and feeding it! In the long run, all the times I didn't listen contributed to serious financial problems later in my life.

So, have you heard this before? Did you listen? Most of us didn't. When you fall in love with a car, a house, a boat, an airplane or a person, the power of that desire often covers up all of the good reasons why you should walk away from the deal. With cars or houses or other toys it isn't really difficult to see the reasons why you should walk away. More often than not you are taking on a (financial) commitment that you knew deep down inside was a bad idea.

If you've fallen in love with a person it may not be quite so easy to walk away. You love them! You want them! You can't see how anything could be wrong because you love them so much! You can even see how much they love you! Why on earth would you want to walk away from all of that love? Love will conquer all. Right?

If you are asking yourself these questions you may need to seriously consider at least stepping back from the relationship for a while. How can you know for sure? Ultimately it's up to you, but I can offer a few guidelines that I have seen work for others who were asking themselves similar questions. I'm sure there are more and would welcome your comments and suggestions, but here is today's list.
  1. Do the two of you share similar values? About love, family, finances, boundaries, spirituality, and commitments?
  2. Are there things about your potential partner that irritate you now but which you are sure "will change after we are married?"
  3. Is their something in your potential partner's history that raises red flags? Multiple short relationships? No relationships? Multiple divorces? Addictions? Serious financial problems? A pattern of dishonesty? There may be significant parts of his/her history about which you know nothing. Does that feel safe?
  4. How about your interests? If one person cherishes outdoor activities and the other is an indoor person, how will that be handled? Do you love dancing while the other hates it? Golf? Bowling? Travel? No, your interests don't have to be the same but you should be able to see the path to compromise.
  5. Are children involved? Do you feel that your children are accepted by your partner? Do you accept his/hers? How do the children react to the presence of your partner. You shouldn't let your children dictate your relationships but you are asking for trouble if you can't see a way for them to learn to accept, if not love, this new person.
  6. In my opinion, the most important reason for you to at least back off and maybe even walk away from an otherwise attractive relationship is your gut. Do you have a "gut feeling," or "feeling in the pit of your stomach" that something is just not right? It doesn't matter what it might be. What's important is the feeling. We regularly ignore these feelings of intuition or foreboding and very often this leads to problems that could have been avoided had we trusted our feelings and intuition.
I'm not suggesting that you walk away from every opportunity or relationship that doesn't fit a specific set of standards, rules, or needs. There wouldn't be many relationships if we always let our doubts get in the way of love. All I'm suggesting is that you should always be willing to walk away.

Of course there are relationships that work well even though there were serious doubts in the beginning. Unfortunately, I believe those are the exception. If there are serious questions or doubts or if you simply can't see how you can make the differences work for you then you should definitely walk away. Don't wait one or five or ten or more years to realize this relationship is wrong for you. Make the break now. Grieve the loss now. Use the years you might have spent in a bad relationship to celebrate the good one you allowed yourself to find. The longer you wait the more difficult it will be to recover from the heartache. And the longer you wait the more people you involve in the loss.

Yes, you must be able to walk away. Although it may not feel like it at the time, you will find just the right car or house or person with whom to spend the rest of your life.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

The Easy Way Isn't Always (By Ron)

The easy way, that is. You might wonder what five days of hiking at 8,000 feet of altitude might have to do with our relationship blogs. In this case, they have everything to do with them. Gayle and I just completed our 9th trip to Yellowstone National Park. The beauty of the park is always enhanced by getting up close and personal so we always plan to hike a lot to get out into nature and away from crowds.

For past trips I have been in much better physical shape. As you may know, I'm am carrying some extra weight and have knee and ankle problems. We have been busier that ever and somehow I let my pre-Yellowstone conditioning slide. During one of my surfing trips on the internet I came upon an advertisement for small cans of oxygen. I talked with the people who sold them and was assured they would help when I was gasping for breath as I climbed Mount Washburn.

Well, I bought eight of the cans. When I got them I was surprised to see they were larger than large hairspray cans. I figured they would work, though. They were the easy way out for me to survive the hikes in my poor condition. They did work. I had two of them in my Camelbak and when I got winded I took off my pack, took out the can with the inhaler mask on it, and fiddled with it till it worked. And I felt better. I was still tired, but not out of breath. Then I put the large can back in my Camelbak, put the pack back on, and continued on the hike.

It really wasn't the easy way. It was embarassing to be seen huffing out of a can on the mountain so I had to make sure I did it when no one could see. It was also a lot of trouble removing and putting my pack back on. In short, it wasn't worth it. I still made the hikes but I learned a lesson about not putting off my conditioning.

So, what's the relevance here? It's simple. How many times in your relationships have you taken the easy way out? How many times did that get you the result you wanted? Not many, I'll wager. Relationships are never easy. They are never simple. There isn't a small can of oxygen that will easily breathe life into a troubled relationship. As I tell my couple clients, "you have to do the work!" Still, we look for the easy way so much of the time.

Here are some examples of the "easy ways" we use to try to make our relationships better, or even make them work. How easy do they sound to you? Please comment and add the "easy ways" you have seen or used in relationships.
  1. "I'll do anything you want." (If you have been to any our our workshops you might remember how that one looked when we acted it out.)

  2. "I'll just wait until things are a lot calmer. Then I can tell him/her how I feel."

  3. "Oh, it wasn't that bad (what he/she said or did.) "I'll just let it pass for now. I'm sure he/she didn't mean it."

  4. "Well I went to a therapist with him/her. As soon as he/she finishes the work we'll be ok."

  5. "That really pissed me off but I'll wait until I find a more appropriate time to bring it up again."

  6. "That hurt so badly but I just can't say anything about how I feel or it will cause more problems."

  7. "As soon as the kids are grown I'm outta here!"
Here's hoping you don't take the easy way. We'd like you to add your wisdom to our blog.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Gayle's List

What are 5 things Ron can say or do that make you feel loved?

1. Putting up with my sense of humor even though I know it’s overwhelming for him at times.

2. Sharing the people, places, and things he loves the most with me.

3. Eye contact with me and interest in what I am saying even when I know the topic may be a bit boring for him.

4. His abiding patience when I am in “buzzy hummingbird” mode.

5. His willingness to share his feelings with me even though he’s more of a”thinker” than a“feeler”.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Ron's List

What are 5 things Gayle can say or do that make you feel loved?

1. Seeing how much she loves my kids and grandkids.

2. A gentle touch.

3. Listening to what I have to say no matter what it is.

4. Seeing her smile at me.

5. Telling me when I’ve done something well or that she appreciates me.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

What Makes You Feel LOVE?

We’re headed home from 10 priceless days in the mountains with children and grandchildren. I’m feeling happy, sad, and completely filled with love. I’m wondering where loves come from? Of course I have my own ideas and beliefs, but rather than write about it myself, I decided to ask you.

In our work with couples, an old standby homework assignment we give is to make a list of “5 things your partner can SAY or DO that cause you to feel loved.” We’ll publish items from our lists later this week.

Today the question to you is...

What makes you feel love?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Gayle's Comments on Generosity of Spirit

I realized that in my original post I told you about Ron’s generosity of spirit - not mine. I did talk some about my own in a weekly pondering on my website. I have my own tapes about not bragging or being conceited. I am an only child and my mother wanted everyone to like me. She was scared out of her wits someone might think I was selfish or conceited. As I got older my mom bragged about me so much that I usually felt like crawling under a table when we were with friends and family.

So I’ll stretch here and walk my talk. I have always been better at promoting other people and products I believe in than I am at promoting myself. I can’t tell you how many doctors, counselors, acupuncturists, and multi-level sales people have me to thank for an abundance of referrals. My spirit was and still is generous with them. I, however, am working on being more generous with myself in this way. Loosely quoting T. Harv Eker author of The Secrets of the Millionaire Mind - an entrepreneur is someone who solves other people’s problem at a profit. He encourages you to see the promotion part of growing your business not only as a way to make more money, but as a way to help more people solve their problems.

For years I was the primary laundress, yard boy, cook, and pool boy at our house (Ron would pitch in from time to time.) I’m now getting some help with these chores. Some of the help is coming from Ron (he’s a darn cute pool boy) and some of the tasks are being hired out. This is so I can spend more time writing. I also love to have parties for people. Ron helps with this, but I am definitely the primary party coordinator in our household. We’ve hosted several milestone birthday events and showers for friends and family.

For our 18th wedding anniversary I legally changed my last name to Lambert. This was, in part, to affirm how much I love and his/our family. In my personal life I wanted to carry the name of my spiritual family. Professionally I still carry my father’s name - Luster - this is my offering of love to him. He was my role model for entrepreneurship. I’ve had to rewrite some of his scripts, but his ability to successfully promote himself thereby helping lots of people solve their problems was second to none. I admire him and hope I can continue to integrate his positive traits into my life.

What does all this have to do with age gap relationships? When the inevitable differences arise in energy levels, generational wisdom archives, parenting styles, hobbies, wants, and needs - generosity is universal and will transcend the gap. The challenge is be generous with yourself as well or you’ll end up be trapped in resentment.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Things We've Learned This Week

For the last week you’ve been talking amongst yourselves or perhaps better said “taking amongst yourself.” Who knew when we picked “generosity of spirit” as our topic of the week it would evoke such an internal response in so many of you?

Some of the things we heard are:
  • I don’t consider myself to be a generous person.
  • I forgot that all those things my partner does for me are acts of generosity. I’m ashamed to say, I’ve come to expect them now.

  • If I mention the ways in which I am generous out loud, isn’t that being conceited?

  • I’m not in a relationship with anyone so I don’t have anything to contribute.

  • I’ve got something to say, but I don’t think it’s exactly what you wanted.
Ah the voices in our heads. We love to make stuff up don’t we? We draw conclusions in our minds and assume our assumptions are correct. We're not exactly sure what we expected to get, but we really didn’t expect it to cause so much inner turmoil in so many of you. We must admit we like it when we stir your inner pots a bit. Frustration and confusion often proceed growth. We’ve decided to leave the topic open for another week. We want more!

Here are somethings to consider:
  1. There are no right answers.
  2. Anyone can “play” - you need not be in a committed relationship to enter.
  3. If you can’t see generosity in yourself - how can you see it in others? We’ve all been told that it isn’t nice to brag or boast. We aren’t asking for bragging or boasting. We are asking for sharing. There is a difference.
  4. We think if we had asked you to tell us what bugs you about your partner, kids, co-workers, etc. it would have been easier for you to comment. Perhaps we are more prone to recognize what we don’t like than what we do. It’s much easier to let your inner critic run wild and say awful things about you than to find admiration for yourself. Please practice being gentle with yourself.
  5. Use any format you choose. (See number 1.)
You can subscribe to the RSS feed or check back often to see what others have to say.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Talk Amongst Yourselves

We'd love for you to share comments with us and the other readers of this blog. So as Mike Meyer's (playing Linda Richman) on Saturday Night Live used to say

"Talk amongst yourselves. I'll give you a topic..."

Generosity of spirit

Tell us what you do for others and/or your partner that comes from your generous spirit. By all means, let us know what your partner (or friend, relative, co-worker, etc.) does for you that reflects his or her generous spirit. If you need a little something to get you rolling, our last two blogs were on this topic (read Ron's or Gayle's.)

No need to be in an age gap relationship to play. We'd like to hear from as many of you as possible. You can share your name, make up a name, or remain anonymous - it's the sharing (not your name) that counts.

Thanks for being a generous spirit....

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Generosity of Spirit (By Ron)

About 80% of the couples in my practice come in with communication, sex, or money issues. Every now and then a couple presents with step-children problems or questions. These can be from blended families or those in which only one partner brought children to the relationship. Regardless of the circumstances, the problems are often significant.

When Gayle and I married I already had four children, the youngest of whom was in her teens. Not surprisingly, none of them were happy that their mom and I had divorced. They also weren’t happy that I was marrying Gayle (or anyone else for that matter.) Gayle knew it was likely she would face problems like most step-parents.

So, how did she approach the potential for problems with my kids? She "loved" (a verb) them. Over time she grew to "love" (a noun) them. She went through quite a bit of “not being accepted” behavior and did not let it turn her away from me or my kids. I could see how it hurt her but she continued to hang in there. She knew there was no “us” without them.

It takes a great deal of generosity of spirit to be able to persevere in the face of non-acceptance. She could see they simply didn’t know how to handle what had happened. Although it felt like it at times, she knew it wasn't personal. Her arms were and are always open to them and their families. Doing it in their own different ways, they have also come to love (both the verb and noun) her even though she isn’t and doesn’t try to be their mother. They recognize how giving she is and are able to give back to her.

We consciously made the decision to not have children together. My kids are her “bonus” children and she loves them dearly. Together we have 12 grandchildren. They know "Gigi" only as their grandparent. They don’t question it. They know the depth of love and generosity of spirit that Gayle has for them.

Ours is not a particularly unique situation. Quite often, however, relationships fail because a partner cannot endure the isolation that comes from being the “outsider.” It takes a strong and generous spirit to survive and thrive as has Gayle.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Generosity of Spirit (by Gayle)

One of the secrets to a lasting relationship is to find ways to honor and deepen your commitment to each other. I’ve found that practicing a little generosity of spirit can go a long way toward bridging the age gap (or any kind of gap for that matter) within a couple. For starters, I want you to identify the gaps that exist between you and your partner. Not only do Ron and I have a significant age gap, but we also suffer from “time gaps.” Our busy and demanding schedules get in the way of our quality couple time.

Ron has a very generous spirit. It’s not necessarily that he is generous with things (although he is) - it’s more about being generous with himself and taking care of little things. I hate alarm clocks. I find it “alarming” to be rousted about of bed by the sounds of buzzers and bells. Thankfully, my loving husband is willing to facilitate the process of waking me each morning. I am greeted by a lovely cup of coffee, two beagle dogbabies, and my husband’s generous spirit each morning. The dogbabies lick my face, the husband kisses my face (not where dogbabies have licked) and the coffee goes into my face. This process makes it much easier for me to start my day. I sorely miss the ritual when Ron is out of town. What is especially amazing is that the ritual continues even when Ron and I aren’t getting along so well (yes “stuff” happens even when you are deeply committed to each other!)

If I ever question how much he loves me or how committed he is to us, I don’t have to look very far. There are breadcrumbs of his generous spirit everywhere along our trail.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Ron's Top 5 Ways of Being Present With Gayle

I came into our relationship with at least two serious problems when it comes to being present with anyone. First, my mother was always present. By the time my siblings were all gone and I was old enough to have much to say - my mom was usually saying it all, over and over. So, I developed the skill of "listening" without hearing. You know how that goes. Yes and no or uh huh every now and then, listening for my name, etc. In other words, I was not really present.

Second, while reading books on the subject of ADHD to help diagnose a client, both Gayle and I realized the books were describing me and many of my behaviors. I finally understood some of the difficulties I have always had being truly present for anyone.

So what are my top 5 ways to be truly present for Gayle? They are:

5. Look at her when she talks to me (except when driving, of course.) Making eye contact ensures my presence and minimizes distractions.

4. Spend the first 30 minutes of the day drinking coffee and planning the day with her.

3. Don't start asking questions or trying to make plans with her just as she finishes with her last client of the day.

2. Get away from the phones, tvs, and computers and have quiet time together.

And my number 1 way to be truly present for Gayle:

1. Don't interrupt when she's talking.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Gayle's Top 5 Ways of Being Present with Ron

I remember going to a party of social workers (an oxymoron for sure) the year I entered graduate school. They had their own language. While I understood what they were saying, I didn't want to "grow up" and sound like that. Today I call it "shrink-speak" - and yes - I hear myself "sounding like that" a lot of the time!

In my last post, I used the shrink-speak term "being truly present". Let's make that term a bit more usable today.

Gayle's Top 5 Ways To Be Truly Present In Her Marriage:

5. Turn the radio off in the car when we are together.
4. Spend 30 minutes drinking coffee with Ron in the morning.
3. Shut up and listen (that means quiet the voices in my head too.)
2. Clear a day of commitments and don't answer the phone.

and my number 1 way of being truly present with Ron on any day....

1. Turn off any device with a screen (yes dear that includes my computer!)

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Multi-Tasking Hell (by Gayle)

My mother may have walked three miles to school, carrying her lunch in a bucket, past a band a gypsies fearing kidnap (I know that’s not PC, but in the 1920’s she was really afraid of gypsies), but I swear I’m more stressed than she was. She had to go to a well to get water (or maybe that was Jack and Jill), but I do know the only “...washers” they had at home were their bare hands and I still think I’m more stressed than she was. Sometimes they caught “crawdads” for dinner in the rain-fed creek behind her house. She started school a month late each year so she could help the family pick the final cotton crop of the year, and yet I’m sure I’m more stressed than she was. Her adrenal glands went into high gear as she approached the gypsy camp, mine pump like that when I’m in multi-tasking hell. Thanks to email, voice mail, text messages, cell phones, traffic, the news, travel, and technology (especially when it breaks) it's not hard for any of us to go into adrenaline overdrive. (I have more to say about the effects of stress on my website.)

Poor stress and time management (read as crappy self-care) kill marriages and people. They killed my father at the age of 54. Blood pressure pills, statins, and an aspirin a day might have extended his life. However, my hunch is that medication would have only given dad more days on the planet to take really lousy care of himself. (If you really want to get really stressed - read about General Adaptation Syndrome.)

One of the things my marriage has taught me is that the degree to which I take care of myself has a direct impact on Ron. Some might call it co-dependence. I think it’s reality. When being truly present in my marriage stops being one of my multiple tasks, I put Ron, my marriage, and myself in jeopardy. If you want your relationship to work better, you better know when to stop working.

"Be here now."
~Ram Dass

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Is It Magic or Bait And Switch? (By Ron)

I often hear clients and others talking about how marriage destroys good relationships. I believe that is totally wrong. Marriage is usually just the next step for couples who wish to formalize their already good relationship. So, what's with the belief about marriage destroying good relationships?

Let me answer with a story. Several years ago I counseled with a young couple who had been married two years and were having severe problems in their marriage. The sexual relationship was almost non-existent. They argued about money. There was little or no conversation between them. She complained that he was almost never home, and more.

They had met at work. He was an executive and she was a departmental manager. They didn't work closely together so the company had no problem with them dating. They began to spend more and more time with each other and finally moved in together about a year before they married. They both said they had a great relationship. They went out often, had lots of friends and were together almost all of the time they were not at work.

The relationship continued to be very good for about three months after the wedding and then problems began. It took several sessions before we were able to pinpoint the causes. As is often the case in counseling we danced around for a while before finally uncovering the source. For purposes of this blog I will skip those weeks and go right to the discoveries.

He had regularly traveled for business before they started dating. That dropped off dramatically while they dated and began to pick up again a couple of months after the marriage. Also, they began to drive to work separately because he was working later and later each day and he usually worked at least one day on the weekend. Their social life dwindled away and she spent most of her free time around the house watching television and reading.

It wasn't that they didn't know what was happening. They had discussed how hard he was working. He said he was doing it to move up in the company so she could quit work and they could start a family. She said it was because he was no longer interested in her. Then she asked why he was willing to spend so much time together while they were dating but not since they married.

He didn't have an answer. She asked the same question another way. He still didn't have an answer. Finally, I asked why he was having such a hard time answering that simple question and he made a comment about not wanting to hurt her feelings. When I explained how it was already too late to avoid that he looked directly at her and said "you should have known that was dating behavior." In his mind, now that they were married he could go back to his normal behavior.

In other blogs I've talked about it being ok to be selfish. His type of selfishness is not ok. His wife was devastated. She told him she felt like a trophy, a prize he had won by being good and now he no longer had to be good. She made it clear that his behavior was not acceptable and they would have to compromise about their time together if the marriage was to survive. He couldn't and the marriage ended a few months later.

So, did you get what you thought you were getting in your relationship? If you are married do you blame that for problems? Each of you is still the same person you were when you met. A little older and wiser, maybe, but still the same. I have also heard so often that "he/she will change once we are married." Don't count on that. It rarely happens without a lot of help and serious commitment. "What you see is what you get" should be your mantra as you enter into any relationship.

It's behavior, not marriage that destroys relationships. When "dating behavior" and "married behavior" don't match, marriages often end. It feels like "bait and switch" and that is not a good basis for any relationship. When the behaviors match, however, that's where the magic happens.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

A Dishwasher Primer (By Ron)

I read with interest Gayle's comments about how we dealt with responsibilities early in our relationship. She was right, she didn't like the way I loaded the dishwasher. I don't remember why, but that's not important. As I said in an earlier post, I was selfish enough to learn how she wanted it done.

So, have you ever looked carefully at a dishwasher? Have you checked the baskets that roll out to make it easier to load? Most dishwashers, like ours, have compartments that are designed for certain sized glasses, cups, plates, saucers, pans, etc. There is a certain symmetry about a dishwasher. If you load it wrong, what it is supposed to wash does not get clean. Somehow over the years of our marriage I became the (best) loader of the dishwasher. That's right. I don't like the way Gayle loads the dishwasher. I don't like the way the cleaning lady loads the dishwasher. I do like the way I load the dishwasher.

This blog is not really about dishwashers. It is about change. When Gayle let me know how she felt about the way I loaded the dishwasher, change began. Yes, I listened and watched as she showed me how she wanted it done. I don't think it mattered at the time because I really didn't have a great deal of experience loading dishwashers and was willing to learn. I began loading it her way.

It's good to remember that change continues throughout your life. I don't recall when the worm turned, so to speak, but there came a time when I noticed that Gayle no longer loaded the dishwasher to my satisfaction. I didn't stew over it and get mad, I just rearranged the dishes. I didn't hide it from Gayle, either. I told her what I had done and why. She was fine with it. Her solution was to let me be the chief dishwasher loader. That works very well for me.

Often, change is not quite so obvious. Sometimes it happens even without your knowledge. I can't pinpoint the time that my method of loading dishes became my preference, but it did. I didn't even know it until the first time I rearranged what Gayle had done. It may not seem momentous, but small changes can make a huge difference in relationships.

We talk about someone not picking up their socks, or not closing a door (a huge problem with one of my couples.) On the outside looking in a lot of things may seem unimportant. The thing to remember in any relationship is that we each get to assign our own level of importance to any problem. Keep in mind that the reaction to a small problem like picking up socks can mask unexpressed anger or hurt. Be aware. Be present. Watch, listen and learn as your relationship matures.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

I Got Happiness Instead (by Gayle)

When Ron and I met we were both smokers. A few years later I quit and within a few months Ron did too. Over time cigarettes found their way back into our lives (okay, we found them) and we became full time smokers (addicts) again. Neither of us had any delusions about smoking. We knew the health consequences and each professed a desire to be smoke free. I smoked my last cigarette in early 1992. This time Ron did not quit. He made attempts, but continued to wrestle with it for another eleven years. He no longer smoked in the house and sometimes even hid it from me. Mostly he just kept me out of it. When he began having blood pressure problems in the mid-nineties, I became adamant that he quit smoking NOW. I knew I was right.

He knew I was right too, but that didn’t make it easier for him to quit. What started out as a heartfelt plea to my husband became nagging. The nagging morphed into bitching and the bitching became unadulterated harassment. I felt vindicated. The surgeon general was on my side, his doctors were on my side, for the most part society was on my side, and his children were on my side.

I was right and I knew it, but being right wasn’t making me happy. What were my choices? I could leave him (physically and/or emotionally) or I could practice some acceptance. I did neither for the majority of the time. I stayed in my “rightness” and judged the hell out of him. One of the most painful memories I have was telling him that I thought he was weak because he continued to smoke. Talk about a self-righteous bitch. He was battling an addiction and I invalidated him over and over again. I have since asked for and been given his forgiveness, but I am still sad when I remember how I acted.

In the year or two before he quit smoking, I finally began to set better boundaries for myself. I was never happy about his smoking, but I agonized less. I searched and found ways to reduce (I didn’t say quit) my need to control him. I found more acceptance for his struggle and knew it was not my battle to fight. I never did it perfectly, but I was happier and so was he.

How did I do it? I practiced what we "preached" in our blogs "Selfishness Alway Gets a Bad Rap" and Come Grow Selfisher With Me. I selfishly decided my happiness was more important than my need to right. I focused on what worked in my life and in our life and I did a lot of praying...

In March of 2003 he made the choice for himself to smoke his last cigarette.

Life holds so much - so much to be so happy about always. Most people ask for happiness on conditions. Happiness can be felt only if you don't set conditions.
~Artur Rubinstein

Thursday, June 12, 2008

I Just Wanted the Dishwasher Loaded the Right Way (by Gayle)

So many recurring problems in relationships boil down to our need to be right. It’s a universal problem with or without a significant age gap. I think the age difference just gives us another justification for our position. Statements such as “You don’t have as much experience as I” or “times have changed and you are stuck in the past” come to mind.

I would love to tell you it was my time spent as a counselor that taught me how to work with and resolve these issues, but I can't. Most of what I learned was from the time I spent in counseling (both with and without Ron). I wish I’d learned some of the lessons sooner, but I’m grateful to have learned them at all.

I remember early in the relationship arguing with Ron about cleaning the house. I wanted more help. He began stepping up and making it happen, but I didn't like the way he loaded the dishwasher. I don’t even remember what I thought he was doing wrong. I just remember complaining in a very condescending way and of course, he got angry. I didn’t think he was right (or had a right) to be angry. I thought he just needed to follow my directions. After all, he was a man so I knew more about washing dishes than he did!

I was getting what I wanted, but I wasn't happy because I didn’t get it exactly as I wanted it. Every time I saw how he loaded the dishes it really teed me off. What was his problem? I was asking for something simple. “If you are going to help out and do the dishes, then do them the right way. After all, if you will just let me show you exactly what I want it won’t take you any longer. What’s the big deal?”

Dishes are just dishes. It’s not usually a life or death situation but committed relationships have ended over smaller things. It would be more clear cut in a real matter of life and death - wouldn't it? Ponder that for a bit - there's more on this subject tomorrow.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Come Grow Selfisher With Me - WDIHTC - Part 4 (by Ron)

I learned that sometimes being selfish is a worthy goal. Finally, I was selfish enough to see that I had to stop talking and start listening – especially when we were fighting. If I wanted her to hear me maybe I needed to hear her. I was selfish enough to see she was often right about a point of contention between us and to admit her being right did not diminish me. I was selfish enough to see that it was OK for her to have a life outside of us. I was selfish enough to tell her when I was angry with her and not wait for days or weeks or never. I was selfish enough to listen to her anger without being defensive. I was selfish enough to stop telling myself I knew more than she did. I loved her selfishly enough to do what it took to make our marriage work.

Relationships! They are a pain in the ass sometimes. Good ones are wonderful lots of the time. They are also boring at times. Bad ones can destroy you if you let them. If you want your relationship to grow and be fulfilling, you have to be willing to change. You have to be willing to adjust to your partner’s changes and the changes in the relationship as it matures. You have to be willing to be selfish.

As my mom and dad neared the end of their days they finally began to interact with me as an adult and not just their baby. They each began to talk with me about their life together. I learned from mom that she didn’t always like her role. She felt it never ended and she never got a rest. She felt she was taken for granted by all of us and often ignored by dad. I learned from my dad that they often argued and that mom was a difficult woman with whom to live. He told me there were times he just wanted to leave, but that wasn’t an option in the “innocent” times. So, they stayed together for more than sixty years. They reached an accommodation and became companions. I don’t think they were ever intimate in the way I have come to know it. I do believe they had what my couples clients must have for success. They loved each other.

Gayle and I are friends, companions, lovers, peers, business partners and are still learning true intimacy. How? By no longer asking why we need to change. We just do. We understand that if one of has an issue with the other – we BOTH have a problem. We learn to change because we are selfish. We know what we want and to keep having what we want we are willing to change. Stagnation isn’t an option for us. By changing how we experience life and each other we are new individuals each day and our relationship is constantly transmuted

Why do you need to change – because you want to be happy. It’s really that simple.

Selfishness always gets a bad rap! WDIHTC - Part 3 (by Ron)

Imagine my shock when realized I was indeed a hypocrite. I really didn’t love her the way she was and often would tell her so when I was angry. With the 15 extra years of wisdom, I knew I was right. Heck – I didn’t need the 15 years for vindication, but it was shame to waste such good justification! On the other hand, I rarely let her know what I needed from her when I wasn’t angry. As a result, it was hard to make my case when all I was doing was pointing my finger and blaming. I still didn’t understand relationships (even with 15 years of extra/excess wisdom!) I still didn’t understand give and take. I still didn’t understand that it was OK to be angry but not OK to be blaming. Our age difference wasn’t the cause of my unhappiness – I was.

It’s not really important to know the result of James’ and Judy’s counseling. What’s important is to know how to answer when you ask yourself that question. So, here it is – it goes for Decembers, Mays, and anyone else in a primary relationship. Here’s the answer to “why do I have to change?” It’s simple. You change so that you can have your way! You change so that you can get what you want! Does that sound selfish? Of course it does. How often have you gotten what you want by not being selfish? Selfishness has always gotten a bad rap. The question is - are you willing to be selfish enough to make your marriage work? (more to follow...)

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Plot Thickens - WDIHTC Part 2 (by Ron)

Then I met Gayle! She was something totally new. I was a country boy. She was a city girl. I was a child of the fifties. She grew up in the sixties. Our age gap is almost 15 years. We were like oil and water (May-December) and as you know, oil and water don’t mix. But she surely was exciting and lo and behold, we eventually married. If you have ever ridden a really high and fast roller coaster with lots of climbs and drops you know about the first few years of our marriage.

One day I was sitting in my office with a couple I was counseling. We’ll call them James and Judy. They had been married for nine years and had two children. James had been raised by a father like me who was a product of the innocent age when everyone knew their job and place in life. Judy had been raised by younger parents who were products of the sixties and seventies.

“Why do I have to change?” James was asking. “I’m coming home from work earlier. I’m drinking less. I’m trying to be better about yelling at the kids. I’ve done so many things I’ve never done before and it’s still not enough! She’s still after me to make more changes! Why do I have to be the one to change and not her? Why can’t she just accept me the way I am?”

I couldn’t recall how many times I had heard that question from both men and women in couples counseling, but it was a lot. It continues to be one of the questions I am asked most often as a marriage counselor.

I don’t remember the first time I asked the same question but I know I did. I’m not even sure I said it out loud but I was certainly yelling it in my head. “What more does she want? When will I be enough for her? When will I finally be doing what she wants or not doing what she doesn’t want? Why do I have to be the one to change even more? Why can’t she accept me the way I am? The next thought or verbalization was often; “I love her the way she is, why can’t she love me the same way?” But was I being a hypocrite? (more to follow...)

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Why Do I Have To Change?! (by Ron)

I sometimes wonder if it was the last of the innocent times. Life seemed a whole lot simpler. Everyone had a place to fill and a job to do. It was the time of Ozzie and Harriet and we actually believed theirs was how life should be. Dad worked and mom stayed home to take care of the house and the family.

My job was to be a kid. For kids it was the innocent time. The time before parents were afraid for us to stray from their sight. The time when kids could still leave the house and play in the neighborhood without fear of being harmed. We would come home twice during the day, for lunch and for supper. It was a time before soccer practice or dance lessons or driving kids to and from after school commitments. Yes, it was an innocent and simpler time. It really did feel that way.

Dad spent forty-two years at the same job. When he came home each day at 4:30 we immediately sat down to supper as a family. Although mother didn’t wear pearls and high heels when she cooked, as did Harriet and other TV moms, she still had meals ready and on the table at the “correct” times. She kept the house immaculate and we never lacked freshly washed, starched and ironed clothes. After all, her job was to be the mom and she was good at it.

Dad’s job at home was to take care of the lawn and make minor repairs and sit in his chair in the evening and sleep. He didn’t wash dishes. He didn’t wash or iron clothes. He didn’t get us ready for bed. His primary job was to provide for his family and that job was completed outside the four walls of our home.

I remember hearing mom and dad argue only a time or two. I have no idea what they were arguing about. As a child I thought the only person who suffered the wrath of mom or dad was me. They were parents and parents did not argue. They knew their jobs, they did them well, and nothing else needed to be discussed.

Those are the skills and habits that I brought into my “adulthood” when I married at eighteen. I knew that my job was to be the husband and father and my wife’s job was to be the wife and sooner than expected, the mother. We were raised in similar atmospheres. I think we had matching beliefs about our roles.

We had four children. I was a little more involved in their growth than was my dad, but sadly not much more. In fact, where he was gone eight hours each day I was often gone for weeks at a time since my jobs required me to travel. Like my dad, though, I was being the husband and father. If I provided a place for them to live, food to eat, and clothes to wear I was successful in those roles. Unfortunately, I still did not understand how this “success” damaged my relationships with them.

Relationship training was not part of my childhood. I really had no idea how to have an intimate relationship when I first married. I was married to my first wife for almost twenty five years before we divorced. And you know what? I still didn’t understand relationships or my part in them. But oh boy was I going to learn. (More to follow.)

Monday, June 2, 2008

Thanking my Honey (by Gayle)

Over the next few days, we'll be running a series of posts authored by Ron about change. The upcoming blogs pick up where his left off on Sunday. While he's blogging away, I'm busily working on "platform-building". I got our My Space page up today and am off to create a page for Face Book. Can I just tell you that my wrists are starting to hurt from too much keyboarding?! Ouch!!

So while I'm being The Ronnengale Company's webmaster this week, the Ronmaster will be giving you something to think/read about. Excellent partnerships are a real blessing. I've always said - "when put side-by-side two lights shine more brightly than one." Thanks honey! I love you.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Some Things Are The Same (by Ron)

You meet someone who is considerably older or younger than you. There is a spark between you, interest, curiosity, attraction. For these and other reasons you begin to get to know each other and before you know it your interest has turned into something much deeper and you find yourself in an age-gap relationship.

I remember the early days of the relationship between Gayle and me. Aside from the fact that there were tumultuous days at times, most were surprisingly normal. Of course there were some interesting issues because of our age differences, but for the most part the progression of our growth followed patterns similar to the growth of any new relationship.

When we decided to move in together we had problems getting used to having the other person in our space 24/7. Since we did not merge our finances until much later we had to determine how we were going to share the expenses. How were we going to share the chores around the house? Who cooked? Who cleaned? Who did the grocery shopping? Did we do our own laundry or combine it? Who drove when we went somewhere together, etc.

Does this sound familiar? If you are in an age-gap relationship then you have probably experienced similar situations. If there is no significant age gap in your relationship you have probably experienced similar situations. Isn’t that interesting? Of course there are some unique situations in an age-gap relationship but, surprisingly, the beginnings of all relationships follow patterns similar to those I mentioned above. The relative ages of the partners have little or no bearing on most of them.

Society today likes to fixate on age differences in relationships. “Oh, he or she is too old for her/him. It will never work! She’s after his money! She's his trophy wife!” In some relationships these may be true. In the vast majority of the millions of age-gap relationshps in the U.S., the couples are together for the same reason as most couples; they met and fell in love. Love knows no age difference. It's our thinking that trips us up. When we start blaming the problems on age, we automatically rule out a solution. You can't change your age, but you can change your mind.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

My Cup Runneth Over (By Ron)

Have you ever heard anyone say this? It usually has a Biblical connotation representing an overflowing of blessings. In my work with couples, however, I’ve found it to be a good metaphor for how we use anger. Assume you and your partner are arguing about something minor that just happened. All at once you are being bombarded with anger about things that happened yesterday, or last week, or last month. Well, you may have been “anger cupped.”

Imagine that somewhere in your brain there’s an area that functions like a cup. This is your anger cup. This is where you store slights, and hurt and judgments and other angry feelings and thoughts. When he doesn’t help do laundry you store that anger in your cup. When she forgets to pay a bill on time you store that anger in your cup. When he… When she… and on and on.

Each of us has a different sized cup. Each of us can store different amounts of anger before we go ballistic. But, there comes a time when your anger cup is full. Full to the brim. Not running over, but there is simply no more room. Then something minor happens and before you know it you are “hitting” your partner with every unexpressed bit of anger you have experienced towards him/her in the past days or months. You couldn’t stop if you wanted to. There was no room in your anger cup and when you tried to stuff one more thing into it, it exploded.

We’ve all been there. We’ve all been in arguments with our partner when the original problem is forgotten. Arguments that get out of control because of the amount of anger one of you has held inside. We don’t know why, but we seem unable to stop refilling the cup. We hold that anger until we simply cannot control it. Then we let go! Is it any wonder that we continue to argue about the same things over and over? When we store our anger we seldom have a chance to address the causes individually.

One of our psychotherapist friends once gave us some very good advice. When one of you feels angry because of something that just happened, say “that pissed me off.” Yep, that directly. There are lots of other ways to say this but I particularly liked his wording and have used it effectively in my relationship with Gayle. Some people might say something like “that hurt,” “that made me angry,” or “ouch!”

The words you use are not important so long as they are not blaming. For instance, “you pissed me off” puts the other on the defensive. Nothing will be solved that way. “That pissed me off” says what you are feeling, not what they did to you. It may seem to be semantics but I can assure you it works. What is important is that you attend to problems when they occur. You have much more hope of clearing the air if it isn’t polluted by anger that may be so old you don’t even remember it.

So, be aware of your anger cup. As long as you continue to put your negative feelings inside it you can expect only more problems. Address problems when they arise. Let your partner know what you are feeling at the time you feel it. Asking them to remember how they “made you feel” sometime in the past rarely works. Also, addressing it immediately gives you an opportunity to find out if you actually heard what your partner meant to say. It may all be a misunderstanding. What a shame to miss an opportunity to understand one another better.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Look of Love (by Gayle)

What to know a secret? It's one we've been diligent about putting into practice in our May-December marriage, but it's one that will enhance ANY relationship.

Learn to listen to, hear, and understand your partner. Want to know why this is so incredibly important? A very wise supervisor of ours from years ago gave us the following definition for self-esteem:

  1. Feeling successful as you define success -and-
  2. Being listened to, heard, and understood by the people important to you. (Yes - you actually build their self-esteem when you do this.)

We've put the definition to the test both personally and professionally. It works. You'll never settle an argument (for once and for all) or work through difficult issues unless both you and partner believe you've been heard and understood by each other.

You're going to have to work at this one. Saying "I understand" is NOT enough. It take real understanding. How will you know you've got it? First, if you're thinking your partner is crazy, irrational, stubborn, nuts, selfish, a pig or something similar you're not there yet. Second, when you get there you'll see it in your partner's eyes. It may start as a look of surprise. After a while you'll recognize it as the look of love.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Why Does Getting Better Usually Involve Feeling Worse? (by Gayle)

If you read Earnest Talks, you’ve read about our dog Shorty and you may even know he is being treated for heart worms. We knew he had a mild case of the little buggers, when we adopted him last December, but they thought his preventative medicine would do the trick. Last week, I took him in for his 6 month check up. Our vet decided we needed to go ahead and treat Shorty’s heart worms more aggressively. The first injection left Shorty sore, droolie, lethargic (but restless), and obviously confused – much like Ron after a recent alternative treatment for his arthritic knee. (There is an orthopedic surgeon in Irving who sharpens his scalpels when he sees Ron’s name in the appointment book. He can’t wait to replace those knees. Ron is trying just about anything to avoid this outcome. Ron blogged about this treatment which he describes as torture.)

I went outside to check on Shorty and found both he and Ron in the backyard. You could see the love and despair in Ron’s body language as he watched Shorty’s unrest. Had there been another observer in our yard that day, he or she would have seen the love and despair in my body language as I watched Ron watching Shorty. Ron noticed my surveillance and just looked at me and shook his head. I could tell he was close to tears. In nearly a whisper I said to him “welcome to my world.” His gentle eyes told me he understood what I meant. He knows I struggle when I see his pain. He said, “at least I can talk”. I remember thinking that while we humans can talk when we are in pain – often we choose silence. I’m learning to live with the silence when it happens. I try not to take it personally, but the damn helpless is the hardest part.

I felt a strange sense of validation when I saw my helpless on Ron’s face. I believe it’s part of loving fiercely. There are things we just can’t "fix". In my worst moments several years ago when my best friend was dying, I found comfort in the words of Oriah Mountain Dreamer’s poem – The Invitation .

I want to know if you can sit with pain
mine or your own
without moving to hide it
or fade it
or fix it.

Ron and I both knew this knee treatment would make him feel worse before he got better. We knew that Shorty would feel worse before he got better. I even know when clients walk in the door of my office they may leave feeling worse than when they came. The doctor who's doing the alternative treatments for Ron has Marine's t-shirt which says - "pain is weakness leaving the body." I think what we don't often take into account is how darn weak we are going to feel while we watch someone else's pain leave their body.

Thankfully, winter leads to spring. The earth may get cold and hard and the tree are barren but new growth lies just beneath the surface hidden from sight. Austere hibernation is a vital part living. You can’t hide it, fix it, or fade it. You just sit with it, sometimes hold a hand, and keep breathing.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Silverlocks and the 3 (well more than that) Hairs (by Gayle)

I recently read that the single most important invention responsible for us looking younger longer is hair color. With all the other advances (Botox, nips, tucks, lifts, potions, lotions, and peels) in “anti-aging”, I was surprised by this statement. Hair color has been around forever. Then I pondered its impact in my own life.

My mother - Goldie Luster (not her nickname) had silver locks by the time I was born 2 months and 3 days after her 40th birthday. It was 1957. Not an era in which women were typically choosing to wait until midlife to give birth to children. In fact, my mother hadn’t waited. She had given birth 16 years earlier to a son who survived for 3 fleeting days. My parents continued to want a child in the years to come, but evidently I wasn’t ready to be here yet. They were preparing to start the adoption process when I came bounding into their lives.

When I was 5, dad commissioned an artist to paint a portrait of my mother and me. At 45, her silver locks shone like a precious metal highly polished. My father adored her hair color. I know he loved me, but I think the painting was really meant to capture the beauty of her hair for all time.

By the time I was 6, the kids at school thought my mother was my grandmother. They didn’t understand the beauty of her silver locks. Neither did I. I was embarrassed by the color of her hair. I begged her to get her hair dyed. My dad did not consent. It was my mother’s head, but in those days dad was THE head of our house. No hair was changing color unless he agreed.

It wasn’t until I was 8 that my wish finally came true. My little 3 year old cousin Jody was able to reach my mom where I had failed. Jody’s favorite book was full of illustrated nursery rhymes. Jody seemed obsessed with The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe. She was constantly saying “there was an old woman who lived in a shoe, she had so many children she didn’t know what to do” in our presence. She dragged the book toward my mom. Mom thought Jody was bringing the book to her to read out loud. But when Jody got next to mom she opened the book and pointed to the old woman who lived in the shoe . Obviously the old woman didn’t have a flat iron, styling products, or much time to tend to her silver locks – her hair was standing on end looking frazzled.

Sweet little Jody looked at my mom and pointed to the picture. My mom got it – we didn’t - yet. Thankfully my mother’s sense of humor was much better developed that her sense of vanity. Mom started laughing and asked Jody if she (my mom) looked liked the old woman who lived in the shoe. Jody nodded innocently. That was the day my mother became THE head of her own head. Within weeks Silverlocks was gone never to be seen again.

More than 40 years later, no one had to read a nursery rhyme to prompt me get my hair colored. The first time the gray started persistently peeking at me, I sought help! Now every six weeks you’ll find Ron and faithfully tending to the ritual of highlighting and coloring gray at the salon. We visit our stylist on the same day and share an appointment so to speak. I arrive 30 minutes before him to get highlighting foils and color applied. While I’m “baking”, our stylist put highlighting foils in Ron’s hair. Yes Ron gets highlights. After too much “Sun-In” one summer, he decided to get professional help (remember, I told you we get outside assistance when we need it!) To read more about his hair coloring history click here.

For years in this May-December relationship our age difference was not much of a visual issue. People could tell he was ambiguously older than me, but no one was calling CPS. Only lately has the difference become more noticeable. In recent years we’ve had a couple of encounters where it was assumed that Ron was my father. That’s a story for another blog, but suffice it to say I didn’t like it. I think Ron took it much better than me. His pride didn’t appear wounded. I reeled silently.

Actually, I think it bothered Little Gayle, just like she didn’t want people thinking her mother was her grandmother, she didn’t want people thinking her husband was her father (ick). So I began wondering if I should grow my hair to it’s natural color. My stylist strongly objected. She said it would age me prematurely (wasn’t that the point) and that the color would look awful (no beautiful Silverlocks for me!) Coincidentally, Ron started wondering what he would look like if he let his hair grow out to its natural color (did I mention that Ron’s son also has beautiful Silverlocks.)

So there I am with a major boundary dilemma. It was Ron’s head, but I didn’t want him to change it. I struggled with what to do or not do. Finally I decided to try the enlightened (not highlightened) path and tell him about my feelings and my confusion. I explained from where my anxieties were coming and told him that I knew what he did with his hair was ultimately his decision. In Ron's typically laid back fashion he replied with a nonchalant shrug and said “No problem - I was just wonderin.” I spend (waste) a whole lot more energy worrying that he does!

And that was that. Once we (Little Gayle and I) got heard and understood the anxiety dissipated. Ron and I still get highlightened and I have ALL my gray covered too. Now I get devilish pleasure when I see confusion in someone’s eyes about our age difference. I better enjoy their perplexity while it lasts. Who knows how long it will be before my hair color isn’t enough to throw them off track! Whether or not Silverlocks ever comes to visit the heads of Lambert-Luster household remains to be seen.

Monday, May 19, 2008

It's Not Always About the Gap (by Ron)

My first wife and I married when I was 18. My parents didn't have a great deal of advanced notice. I was home from Navy boot camp when she and I decided to marry during my two week leave. I can recall my mother following me from the front porch to the card yelling that I was not getting married. I was too young!

My ex and I were married almost a quarter century. In that period of time my mother and the rest of my family took her into the family without reservation. Needless to say our divorce did not sit well with them.

When we separated and I began the divorce proceedings I called my parents to tell them. Although I was no longer a child mom continued to think of me that way. She told me that I needed to make my marriage work and "forget this divorce foolishness."

Later, when I told her I was divorced and planned to marry Gayle she said, "she's only after your big check." She didn't even mention the age difference.

Personal boundaries never existed in my family of origin. Mom and dad felt we kids should always toe their line. If we didn't, we heard about it a lot, primarily from mom. When one of us put our foot down and did what we wanted, mom often complained to all of the other siblings. Everyone always knew what and whom mom was angry about. I knew I was destined to hear a lot from her about my new marriage, but I also knew I was going to keep my boundaries with my family secure.

Mom wasn't worried that I was 15 years older than Gayle. She wasn't interested in the size of Gayle's check. She simply didn't want to deal with the first divorce in our family. She wanted things to continue the way she wanted them to be. She wasn't a bad person, she was just scared and confused about the future.

Finally, when she knew she had lost, she brought out the big guns. "Ronnie", she said, "you can never bring that woman into my home." That took me by surprise. I had not expected my family to immediately welcome Gayle with open arms. However, I certainly hadn't expected her to be barred from my home. This was the beginning of major changes in my relationship with my mother. My response to the woman who had borne me and whom I knew loved me dearly was simple and direct. "Mom, she's my wife and if she's not welcome in your home then neither am I. I suppose we have seen each other for the last time in this life."

She didn't believe me, of course, and continued to ask when I was coming home to see them. I continued to emphasize that I could not come home alone. This continued through the Christmas holiday season. On Christmas day I made a call to mom and dad, as I always did. As usual since my divorce our conversations were uncomfortable. Dad spoke for only a few minutes, as was his usual pattern. Mom and I talked a little longer but I was finally able to begin bringing the conversation to a close. As I told mom goodbye and gave her my love I heard her say something that was totally unexpected. She said, "let me talk to Gayle."