The Lies They Tell Us

 

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——–The Story Tellers——–

I was recently at a party with several women who were sharing their thoughts on marriage. Honestly, I found some of the advice to be off base or harmful, and I realized that I have heard these same thoughts and ideas since I was a young girl. They, like me, have seen these messages reflected in social media, preached from the pulpit, handed down over generations, and recycled time and time again. We are all at risk for buying into these messages. And this isn’t specific to women, these messages are affecting men as well.

The problem with these lies or misconceptions, is they lead to unhealthy communication, needs, roles, conflict resolution, and ultimately unhealthy marriages. I’m no marriage expert but I have had some unique experiences in my marriage, I work in the clinical social work/therapy field, and I have sat along side amazing, healthy women who have been married much longer than me. So in some ways, I have some good knowledge for debunking the terrible lies ‘they’ tell us! The list below is based on my personal experiences over the course of my adult life and the experiences that others have shared with me.

——–The Lies——–

#1: Don’t let the sun go down on your anger. If I have heard this once, I have heard it a million times. I’m not sure why this myth has been perpetuated when it clearly doesn’t work. Most of the time, I find arguments start after the sun has already gone down, and they get pretty bad before they get better. In these situations, experience has shown me, I’m more likely to say something terrible, get overly emotional, or act selfishly the later it gets.

Healthy conflict means: take a break when its needed. Take time for your own self-care. Have boundaries about how long or how late you will fight. Experts say…don’t argue if you are: HALT (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired).

So if going to bed angry is what you all need to be healthy…then go to bed angry. 9 times out of 10, things look differently in the morning.

#2: Never sleep apart even when angry. My beef with this is, well, everything. To me, this is a co-dependent statement that really says “No matter how badly someone treats you or how unsafe you feel, you should still sleep next to them because you HAVE to.” What this statement does is take away choice and not allow people to take care of themselves.  Self-care in marriage is huge! How do we expect to bring our best selves to a marriage if we can’t take care of ourselves?? What if your spouse is acting unsafe: physically, verbally, sexually, emotionally? What if you have a 7am presentation and lying next to someone you are livid with will keep you up all night?

This myth is illogical. If someone needs space…they can take it.

#3: If your spouse wants to have sex, you should do it. I had someone tell me that she never tells her husband no, even when she doesn’t want to have sex with him. She trudges through since its her duty. Sex is intimacy that starts outside the bedroom. In a marriage, hopefully its about mutual trust, respect, love. The best way we can love our spouses is to first love ourselves. If we can’t take care of us, how can we take care of others? Follow me here: If we don’t respect ourselves enough to be honest about where we are sexually, how do we have a mutually trusting, respectful, and loving relationship? How does “trudging” through sex result in intimacy and relationship?

And lastly, and most importantly…marriage doesn’t mean a spouse now owns their partner’s body. Each person still has choice in how they bring their body to the relationship, what they do with it, and what someone else does with it. Every person has the right to say “no, I don’t want to have sex right now.” No person has to have sex with their spouse…it is not their duty. EVER.

#4: I must have sex with him (or her) so he doesn’t look at porn or cheat on me. Hold on, what!? What’s crazy about this myth, is I have heard it from dating couples, christians, celebrities, old married folks, etc. This lie does not discriminate. The irony here is that people think they can control someone else with sex, when they can’t control someone else at all. This too is a form of co-dependence and very common. The partner takes responsibility for their spouse’s behavior, but wait, why? If someone decides to look at porn, cheat, etc. That’s on them. That was their choice. No amount of sex or lingerie can fix that. If your partner is telling you that having sex with them will keep them from doing those things….that’s called manipulation.

We cannot control anyone’s behavior except our own.

#5: If you’re marriage is struggling, get into couple’s therapy. The problem with this solution is that people think the marriage is the problem instead of looking at themselves. If a person’s marriage is in trouble…get into individual therapy. We each bring a history with us into marriage. And whether we talk about or even acknowledge this history, it will play itself out every day. How we respond to conflict, share feelings, and view roles are all impacted by how we were raised, trauma we have experienced, and learned behaviors.

Here’s what I have seen be the most successful: get into individual therapy and work on yourself. Learn new skills with a therapist. Work through triggers, and build self-care and healthy interdependence. When you and your spouse are in a healthier spot, then go to couple’s counseling to build upon those items together. Get yourself healthy first…so you both can bring the healthiest versions of you to the table. It usually works.

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#6: I’m so glad she found someone who can take care of her. I used female pronouns here simply because when I have heard this, it is usually about a heterosexual female. I think I get confused here because, did this woman get adopted? Like did she marry her dad? If two grown adults are joined in marriage to be partners…why is everyone so glad she now has someone to take care of her?

Also, I typically feel bad for the guy here. I know he can’t take care of her. I know he will fail her because that is reality. My understanding of a healthy relationship is this: each person is responsible for taking care of themselves, communicating their own needs, and asking for help/support when it is needed. The marriages I respect are the ones where the couple knows how to care for themselves so they are free to care for each other and others.

I don’t want a marriage where I get taken care of. I’m not a child and my spouse is not my parent. Plus how exhausting for him.

#7: When there is conflict, one of you should just take off all your clothes.  I remember someone telling me this when I got engaged. What a terrible way to handle conflict. This solves nothing, it doesn’t hear or respond to the other person. This does not exchange empathy or care. This is literally a band aid on conflict. And I worry that couples who use sex, humor, or their bodies as a way to handle conflict, will only put band aids on their problems.

Conflict and how we respond to it, grow through it, and embrace it can make or break a marriage. Conflict is inevitable. Will we be healthy and mature enough to sit with it, to listen to one another, to apologize, and to grow in empathy?

Taking off all one’s clothes typically doesn’t accomplish any of that.

#8: Marriage should be easy. Healthy marriage is hard and it is a lot of work. If couples really engage their conflict, pain, shame, and if people are living in true transparency- it will be hard. Growing next to someone is not easy. It is rewarding. It is fulfilling. It is fun. Becoming the best versions of ourselves feels good. Marriage can help us do that, if we choose to engage it. But it’s not easy. And, that’s okay.

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——–The Epilogue——–

There are many other lies floating out there in the void, however, these are the ones I hear A LOT and wanted to challenge. I hope if you read this, you found some of it challenging. Maybe you disagreed with something or had never thought about it before. Regardless, I hope if you are in a dating/marriage relationship, that you are moving towards health, talking openly with your partner, and living according to your needs and choices.

Let us all keep doing the best we can.

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Dude, Let It Out.

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About a year ago, I had an epiphany. It had been a pretty crappy week, and I was either too busy or too tired to really comprehend how I felt about it, let alone actually feel what I was feeling about it.  I sat down on our little L-shaped couch and started scanning through all the movies. Not sure what I was in the mood for, I just assumed that one would jump out and scream “You want to watch me, yes you do!!”

Well the jumping, screaming movie I landed on was “P.S. I love you.” Yeah….. I have a bad week and decide to watch one of the saddest movies ever made. ODD…or stupid. You pick. (If you’ve never seen the movie, see brief summary at end of blog)*

About 20 minutes into the movie I just start bawling my eyes out. I literally had to pause the movie because I was crying so hard. And no, I wasn’t crying at the movie. The sadness of the movie had catapulted my suppressed emotions into action and finally allowed me to grieve my week and all that I had experienced. (It was at this point my husband came home. He thought someone had died.)

The epiphany: There are things we can do to help our body and emotions process and feel so we can move towards health.

You see, I clearly needed to cry. My body and mind were aching for it. I felt so much better after getting that out (minus the stuffy nose and red eyes).  I didn’t realize how tense and tired my body was feeling until I cried. Afterwards, my body felt lighter, relaxed, and relieved. I imagine some of you reading this are thinking, “Yikes, she’s a mess. I just get over things and stuff them down. That works for me.” or “Good for her, but I don’t get emotional.”

griefThe thing is, our bodies carry our emotions whether we allow ourselves to feel them or not. According to an article on NPR, just having an emotional thought or response triggers parts of our body. Stress will be manifested in the gut or chest. Anger often creates tension in the arms and hands. We carry emotions in different areas, shame for example, literally stays in the body’s core. People carry the emotion of shame in their core. Can we let that sink in? Imagine stuffed shame…where does that sit in the body? Happiness on the other hand spreads warmth throughout the entire body…people talk about feeling all tingly when falling in love. That is because our body reacts to emotions.

So what happens when we stuff our emotions or don’t give ourselves time to process what is coming up for us? According to Familydoctor.org and many other experts in the field, here are some physical side effects that emotions can have on the body, especially when not dealt with:  ulcers, high blood pressure, loss of appetite, overeating, addictive characteristics, development of an addiction, lowered immune system, stiff neck, sexual problems, insomnia, headaches, excessive tiredness etc. The list goes on and on. I bet most of us can point to something on this list that we currently have, have had in the past, or have been cautioned about. Just because you refuse to feel it, doesn’t mean it isn’t affecting you.

People have this false belief that they get to pick and choose which emotions to feel. The lie here, is people believe they can squelch all “negative” emotions and only feel the “good” ones. If we continue to stuff or ignore one emotion, we are lessening our ability to feel all the other emotions as well. If we never let ourselves experience full grief and sadness then we won’t actually feel full joy and happiness. We have stunted our mind and body’s ability to feel emotions.

We experience emotions all day, every day, and the problem is, we have been conditioned to only show and express the ones that feel good, the ones that are acceptable. If you are excessively happy or joyful the majority of the time, you will never be called emotional, but if you are showing your sadness or grief the majority of the time or even twice in a year, you are called emotional. How is it that only people who are in touch with and express all facets of their emotions are called emotional, even though joy and happiness are also emotions? What we are really saying as a culture is that only certain emotions are acceptable to feel and show.

WHO got to decide what emotions are acceptable for us to feel? AND, since we live in a world of cultural and societal norms, what do we do with all these other emotions? Because stuffing them isn’t working. Letting them build up to a disaster surely isn’t working. We become resentful, walking zombies, reactive, and unable to make deep connections because we don’t even know how we truly feel.

14051642_892375536893_2995524260551460566_nI get it, we all want to keep our jobs, so showing anger in the workplace, maybe not great. I also get that if you sat in class and cried all day long, you may be sent in for a psych evaluation. There are norms and appropriate places to deal with things…but we have to deal with them.

SOOOOO here are some ideas on how to connect with, engage, and feel your feelings so you can relieve what’s happening in the body and ultimately live a healthier life.

 

Engaging Anger: 

  1. Punching bag
  2. Breaking glass (This should be done somewhere safe, and please clean up afterwards). (Also, goes without saying…don’t throw someone else’s belongings…like the person you’re mad at)
  3. Running while processing
  4. Take a walk or hike
  5. Journal (Writing what you’d like to say or how you really feel can really help get it out, instead of taking it out on someone you love)
  6. Go yell and scream somewhere (Preferably where none of us have to hear you)

Engaging Shame: 

  1. Talk about it with someone (This is the hardest one. Shame internalizes, so we have to talk about it, or it stays)
  2. Make amends with someone if necessary
  3. Self-care. (Something that is loving towards self. See my article on ‘Self-care’ for some ideas)

Engaging Grief and Sadness: 

  1. Put on a sad movie. Nothing helps me cry or feel grief more than a sad movie.
  2. Journal or do art to work through pain
  3. Take a walk
  4. Bubble bath
  5. Reach out to a safe person to talk to about it (Ask for help)
  6. Listen to music that either is sad and encourages crying OR listen to music that helps you feel comforted and wrapped up. Cecie’s Lullaby by Steffany Gretzinger is the song for me.

Engaging Stress and Anxiety: 

  1. Breaking glass can feel great here as well
  2. Deep breathing and grounding
  3. Ask for help with whatever is stressing you out
  4. Process with a friend or family member
  5. Exercise or yoga
  6. Get a massage
  7. Acknowledge what you can and cannot control in the situation. Let go of what you can’t control.

Engaging Happiness and Joy:

  1. Share it!
  2. Record it through video, writing, picture, Facebook, etc
  3. Say “thank you” or express your joy to those around you
  4. Engage in self care and activities that feel good for you. (Who said you can only take care of yourself or splurge when you feel crappy?)
  5. Meditate on it and let it sink in to your body

The thing with ALL of these, is you first have to own what you feel. “I feel angry, so now I will do…engage…etc”

Hope you get out there today and feel how ya feel, no apologies. : )

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*P.S I Love You- Long story short. The husband dies early in the movie, but leaves behind love letters for his wife. These letters help her to grieve, send her on adventures, and ultimately lead to healing. However, they also trigger extreme grief as the wife journey’s through the grieving process and deals with his absence in her life. The movie is great despite the sad theme, as it has lots of humor and Irish music.

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Codependent Raindrops

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Its Day 2 of driving across the United States. We somehow thought it was a good idea to pack everything we own, including our dog, into a U-haul to move from Washington state to Ohio. Those 40 hours spent in the truck gave us ample opportunity for endless thoughts and imaginings. It created space for a little daydreaming and reflecting. Here is one of many thoughts:

It is hour 16 of driving, and it has been raining or snowing for the entirety of that time. I am riding shot gun as my husband is as determined as the rain to drive the whole trip. My dog is wedged between us on the floor, and I notice he keeps inching closer to me with every bump and turn. His wet nose is resting against my foot, and I’m both disturbed and comforted by the warmth of his breath. I could move my foot, but its being used to stake my claim on the floor space in front of my chair. He’s a sneaky dog…I just know he’ll take over the second I move my foot.

Our truck sounds like a whirlpool- I can hear”shhhhrrrrrr” from the rain outside while also hearing “t-t-t-t-t” from the shaking of our U-haul. It creates a rhythm almost comforting despite the cramped space and long hours. As I stare out the window, I am distracted by the racing rain drops. They are moving at what seems like warp speed, across the glass, blurring out any chance of seeing the Montana landscape. (not that there was much to see at that point). Two raindrops in particular catch my eye. They are racing side by side. Each doing there own thing and going so fast. I feel anticipation, like a dog right before their owner walks in the door, as I wonder who will get to the edge first. They are pushing each other as one inches forward and then another. They are dancing, waltzing upon the glass. My child heart aches in wonder.

It was so slight as the truck rounded a curve, but I felt the wind shift and the two drops collided. These two independent, racing drops of water collided into one fat, perfectly round drop. “No!” I thought to myself. All their fun was over:  their dance, their independence. They had collided into this big, wobbling orb, smack in the middle of my window. I continued watching as the once lively drops were now burdened and trapped by one another. They no longer moved quickly and wildly, but instead trudged along the window pane. The joy they had exuded separately was diminished to weariness as they were now intertwined. The drop strolled along until the edge of the window where it disappeared.

I felt grieved by what had happened. I felt a loss because I enjoyed the dancing rain drops, and I did not want to see them go and look so trapped. Because I was in a truck, driving endlessly, I started thinking about the raindrops and how they reminded me of people I see all the time. I watch thriving, mature adults live in codependent, burdensome relationships. I watch them lose what they need, who they are, and what they want, when they deserve to be living in health and freedom.  People trying to dance, not realizing they are tied to the other person, unable to move.

I imagine, when we hear the word co-dependent, we all go “Not me!” I know I have said that before, and yet I found myself doing the things found in books and articles on codependence. I have also observed that many people think codependence can only occur in romantic or familial relationships, and yet I have witnessed people struggling with it at work, with friends, children, at church, and with people in authority positions. Codependence doesn’t discriminate. People may only be vulnerable to codependence* in one area of their life or all areas.

Okay…so if codependence is common and people are affected by it more than they realize, how can we know if we are vulnerable to codependence? Great question! Some ideas: read a book on it, ask people who know us well, see a therapist and explore relationships in our lives.  Taken from both personal and others experiences, I created a set of questions below that may get the ball rolling. If you answer yes to any of these questions, you may be vulnerable to codependence in a relationship.

  1. Do I often not say what I am really thinking or feeling for fear of upsetting others?
  2. When someone is upset with me, am I unable to function in that tension? Am I a mess until it is resolved? 
  3. Do I make it my responsibility to keep my boss happy or stress free: I don’t go to them with what I need, I don’t actually say what I mean for fear of upsetting them.
  4. When I experience hurt feelings from someone, do I expect them to come to me to fix it, even though I am the one who is upset? 
  5. Do I get upset or feel controlled if someone asks for what they need from me?
  6. When my partner and I are in disagreement, I feel that we must think the same or come into agreement in order for there to be peace and harmony?
  7. Do I ignore what I need or not ask for what I need because I am afraid of how someone will respond? 
  8. Do I dislike my close friends having other friends or other opinions. I feel threatened by that. 
  9. Do I feel threatened if someone does something in a different way than I would do it? Example: raising children, recovery, wedding, budget, etc
  10. If someone comes to me with their hurt feelings (from me), do I often feel attacked by them?
  11. Do I say “sorry” even when I didn’t do anything wrong?
  12. Do I try to maneuver my spouse, friend, partner, etc into what I think is best for them, even when I have nothing to do with it? 
  13. If someone does not like a certain behavior or personality trait, do I try to alter it for them, even though it is not wrong? ( loud talking, reserved demeanor, laughing, crying, etc)
  14. Do I continue to hang around or remain in relationship with people who compromise my physical or emotional safety? 

If you answered yes to one or several questions, you may be vulnerable to codependence in a relationship. It may help to read that book** or reach out to that therapist you heard about. However, I am not your therapist or living your life, so you may not be vulnerable at all. I hope regardless, this post gets you thinking and raises awareness in your life or in the lives of those you love.

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*I do petition people to not label yourself or others as codependent. I like the phrase “vulnerable to codependence” or “struggling with codependent relationships.”, the other way can be very judgmental or stigmatizing.

** Book ideas: “Codependent No More” by Melody Beattie.  “Facing Codependence” by Pia Mellody,  “The New Codependency” by Melody Beattie.

Our Castle

I create for the sake of creating. I create because I need to. I was inspired one day leaving therapy, as I remembered where we all come from. We come from children. Children who deserve to be protected and free. Children who believe in tomorrow. I went home and I wrote this short story…this snap shot. I hope you enjoy!

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Our Castle

It was in that moment, with perfect clarity, that I could see all that we would have been. What we would have conquered had it not all been stolen away. I could see the children we were when our parents protected us and innocence was written on our faces,  before war ravaged our land.

He’s smiling at me like I am the sun after months of rain. I feel a yank on my arm and my hand is spirited away to chase butterflies. So swiftly and lightly we run through the tall grass and I hear music. I hear the music of our little kid laughter. It chimes like bells and squeals with delight.

There’s no purple and blue on those little faces. No scars around their ankles. They are free and untouched. I feel a warmth around my shoulders as his arm settles there. I turn my face towards his and he whispers, his breath tickling my ear, “I’ll race you to the top.” Before he can take a step toward our castle, I stick out my leg and hear a “whoomp” as he topples to the hard, dirt ground. “You’re on” I say and take off for our tree, our mighty castle.

My long golden hair is streaming behind me, my dress a blur of red in the wind, my lungs are full as I breathe in and out. The air is dancing and whirring, and above all that noise, I can hear him gaining. With a thud we reach the tree at the same time, and for the briefest second, our eyes meet: the grey in mine seeing the blue in his, and he winks. His mouth slightly curves up on the right and then I find myself in a heap on the group. He pushed me!

“Ha ha, two can play that game Muir! Catch me if you can!”  He yells as he shimmies up the tree grabbing each branch to pull himself up. Lucky for me I’m faster. I begin to climb. My hands run over the bark, and I notice its smooth from years of climbing. This tree knows my hands and feet better than anyone I think to myself, and I know this tree better than anyone too. Sweat is dripping down my nose, my red dress is turning brown as dirt smears all over it. I’m going to get in trouble when I get home, but I can’t let him win. I stop climbing and instead start swinging. Like a monkey,  I leap from branch to branch using my arms like ropes. As he sees me gaining on him, his belt loop snags. It was the small window I needed and I climb over him using his own shoulder as a step. He grunts with agitation and then joins me in our tower.

Air moves in and out of our lungs as we try to regain a normal breathing rhythm. The moisture on his face grabs his hair and won’t let go. I know I don’t look much better, but up here, no one cares. As we sit down and I watch my legs dangle at the top of the tree, we eat from our secret stash. It once housed toffees, and caramels, but now it only contains nuts and seeds. He pops them in the air and we try catching them with our mouths. I’m feeding the birds with how many I catch. Looking out over our little world he says “I like sitting on top of the world with you.” The smile that splits my face is like gold. In that moment with him, we were kings and queens, and we can do anything.
The vision leaves just as fast as it entered my mind, but I can’t forget. I can’t stop seeing us, and what we could have been, could have felt. Now I remember what I’m fighting for. I remember who I am fighting for and she is worth it. Yes, they are worth it.

2016 Chart Toppers and Lessons.

 

I think most of us are in agreement that 2016 was a rough year. Whether it be personal struggles or nationwide political division, this year has not been great. Most mornings I woke up avoiding the news knowing I wouldn’t hear anything positive…learning that the evil in humanity had struck again. I watched hate win, bigotry walk front and center, people die, and the world have no idea what to do with it.

However, I am a full believer that the world…and by default this year cannot be 100% all bad or good. I don’t live in a dichotomous world. So while things were hard, I had some great moments, good lessons, epic reads, and fulfilling days. So I hope you read my list and get inspired to try something on it. I hope it causes you to think about your year and how even the small good things…were still good things.

My top 3 books I read in 2016…because I am a true book nerd at heart.

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  1. Rising Strong by Brene Brown if you hate being challenged…this is not the book for you. This book is a gut check in the best way. Wholehearted living at its finest.
  2. Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas 5th book in the Throne of Glass series. Fantasy, magic, love, battles, an evil lord…classic.
  3.  Gender Outlaw by Kate Bornstein This book could not have been read at a better time in history. What better time to learn about and to better understand the transgender experience and history.

 

Top 3 Experiences of 2016:

  1. My husband and I hiked the Kalalau Trail and tried not to die. Kalalau: journey to another world.
  2. I got into therapy. It changed my life.
  3. Attending my dad’s retirement party at Rockmill Brewery. The whole family was there, we had good beer, and everyone was in a great mood (or at least acted like it)

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Top 3 Movies of 2016: 

  1. Hunt for the Wilderpeople Seriously though, I laughed so hard.
  2. Arrival This movie was what you hope a movie will be…and if for some crazy reason you hate it…I bet you’d still love the music.
  3. What can I say…in addition to being a book nerd, I am also a sci-fi nerd. Therefore movie number 3 is Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

3 Things I checked off my 2016 bucket list: 

  1. Went to Hawaii (as close as I got to another country)14718591_924690702043_7036936832592357276_n
  2. Hosted a murder mystery party…and I was not the murderer.
  3. Learned something new that I wasn’t that great at: needle felting.

 

3 TV shows that are a must see from 2016:

  1. Chef’s Table France on Netflix I just fell in love with food even more.
  2. Stranger Things on Netflix Okay who doesn’t love a good 80’s thriller? Yeah most people…but this one changed all our minds.
  3. This is Us on NBC and HULU its everything you want from a TV drama.

Sorry Gilmore Girls Revival. You didn’t make the cut. I had high hopes and then they died.

3 Bands/Artists/Songs I fell in love with this year:

  1. I re-fell in love with Alicia Keys. I don’t why…it’s just good stuff.
  2. Johnnyswim warms my mellow heart.
  3. I listened to “Road to Ensanada” by Lyle Lovett way more than I should have. It happened.

Lastly, 3 most important lessons from this year:

  1. I can be a giving, loving person and still have boundaries, self-care, say no, and personally not give a damn about other people’s drama.
  2. I am very capable of taking care of myself, asking for what I need, and keeping my world safe. I know I can find a way through. I don’t say that like God isn’t involved…more that he has equipped me and I will be okay.
  3. Reality, even if hard, is always better than my naive hopes and ideals. I can make decisions in reality.
  4. Bonus Lesson!!! Empathy does not have to equate to action. I am not here to solve the worlds problems. And that’s ok.
  5. Bonus Bonus Lesson: I only have to accept the feedback from people who are in the arena with me…who are doing their own work and dealing with their own problems. I have a list of people whose feedback matters to me…and most of the world is not on it. It’s freeing.

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Smile!! We made it through 2016…even if barely. I hope you too found joyful moments in this chaos we call life. 2017 might not actually be better. But I hope, with naive, little girl hope, that we hold on to the small joys and people we love…that will pull us through.

Blessings in 2017.