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.