“You had me at “I’m disappointed.”

"It's not what you say, it's how you say it." Melinda Walsh

Recently a friend shared with me how she had promised to do something for a client and didn’t follow through, due to her son falling off his bike and breaking his arm, which led to an unexpected trip to the emergency room. Due to this distraction, she forgot to let her client know what was going on, and her unfulfilled promise led to some embarrassment for her client. Regrettable, but understandable under the circumstances, and a perfect reminder of our imperfections as humans.  When my friend called to apologize and make amends, her client responded by saying how disappointed she was and then proceeded with a blamestorm outlining just how wrong my friend was for not letting her know. My friend attempted to apologize again but everything she said was used as evidence against her. The conversation was clearly designed to make my friend feel as badly as her client felt upon being disappointed, but instead, had the opposite effect. At some point, my friend became angry, knowing that while she definitely missed a promise, she did not deserve to be treated in this manner.

It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. 

Why didn’t the client simply stop at “I’m disappointed”? The desire to blame comes from a mood of righteousness, which then leads a speaker to feel justified in punishing another person. “I just went off on them” is an indicator of righteousness.  The first issue is the broken promise, which can be repaired in a number of ways—owning the mistake, and taking an action that remedies it. But now there is a second issue:  the punishment brought about by the mood of righteousness. While moods such as these are transparent to the listener, the speaker is often blind to the damage of their words.  Blaming someone only serves the purpose of making someone wrong and someone right, and who among us thanks the person who attempts to shame us by going on and on about our shortcomings? Better to become more aware of our own need to make someone wrong, and stick to simply addressing the real issue. Now, this can take a few moments to observe what our true intention is, but doing so will serve us well in the long run. And that’s Love Applied.

Your daily practice.  Spend some time observing how often you blame, or need to make someone wrong. And then ask yourself, is this really necessary or could I handle this by simply letting someone know how what they did impacted me (I had to stay late because I didn’t get your report on time), and then request that in the future, let’s both make sure to do this a different way.

Staying Connected In Conflict

Love AppliedHow Do I… Handle it When My Partner wants to Talk About Something and I’m Not Ready Yet?

It’s a classic problem. One partner wants to talk about an issue that’s on their mind and the other doesn’t. At least at that particular moment. What usually ends up happening is an uncomfortable situation where the Talker keeps pressing the UnTalker for a conversation because for them, the way to lower their anxiety about whatever is going on is to talk about it. The UnTalker handles things in a different way: percolating on something until they are clear about what’s going on.

So, what’s a good way to handle it?

If you’re the Talker, instead of:
“Hey, how come you won’t talk to me? Why are you so quiet? Don’t you know we need to talk?”

Try this:
“UnTalker, something’s been on my mind and I’d like to discuss it with you. Is now a good time for you to talk?

If the UnTalker says, “No, I really need my space right now.”

Talker says, “I can respect that. I don’t want to ignore this, however, when can we talk about this?” And then get a commitment from them for a time to talk.

UnTalker, it may be your usual habit to keep quiet about something until you’ve thought it through but realize that not saying anything can invite your Talker to make up a story about what they imagine to be wrong—which may have nothing to do with what’s actually going on! But once it’s formed, it may be hard for you to dissuade them. Better to say, “Hey, nothing is wrong with us, but there is something on my mind. Can you give me a little time to process it? That way, when we do talk about it I’ll be better prepared. I know this is important to you and I promise I will get back to you about it.” And then offer a hug.

Part of working through disagreements or conflicts in relationship is learning to stay connected even when you may be angry at something the other person did or did not do. CHOOSE PEACE! It’s not always easy, and is definitely a trial and error process. But doing so is Love Applied.

You Need What??

Melinda Walsh

My Sweetheart and I have different needs. Shocker. We are probably the first couple ever to have that dynamic!

When something is important to someone else but not important to you, it can be really easy to downplay it, dismiss it, judge them for being silly or dumb, or whatever. Consistently ignoring the needs of your partner is a terrific way to create resentments that can grow large and mean over time.

I was really good at that in my prior relationships. I usually made an attempt to make my needs known but if they were ignored, or dismissed, I started devising ways to justify ignoring or dismissing the needs of my partner. Usually this was accompanied by me needing to make me right and them wrong for thinking the way they did. After all, wasn’t that what they were doing to me?

It worked perfectly. We ended our relationship, full of anger and resentment and the feeling that the other person never ‘got me’. I couldn’t see at the time that we were both doing the exact same thing: dismissing the needs of the other and justifying doing so.

As my Sweetheart and I were forming our relationship, we decided to do something different. We each choose to make the needs of the other equal to our own. For example, he has a need to be acknowledged for the things he does for me. It’s kind of easy to do that, actually, he brings flowers and cards to me without prompting, and nothing in the house ever has a chance to break because he is always on top of it. However, I know that as time goes on, it’s really easy to take these things for granted, so I tell him as often as I think about it how much I appreciate what he does for me. My need to feel cared for is fed by him. His need to be acknowledged is fed by me. “You’re amazing!” I say. “I know”, he replies.

It doesn’t take too long in a relationship to learn what your partner’s needs are. One of you will always have a need for more reassurance, more sex, more affection, more time together, and on and on. By both of you making the other’s needs as much of a priority as you do your own, a beautiful thing happens: you begin to feel loved and cared for, and the ‘fight’ to get your needs met will lose it’s hold over you.

When that happens, a beautiful space of intimacy and connection opens up and Love can flourish. And that’s Love Applied 🙂

“B”-ing My Mom

When my grandmother was pregnant with my mom, she and my grandfather were so convinced that they were going to have a boy that they didn’t choose a girls name.  And when my mother popped out as a little baby girl in 1930 (surprise!), they named her for a boy anyway:  Willie “B”.  The ‘Willie’ was after my grandfather, and “B” for no particular reason that I could ever discern.  Mostly, she goes by “B” unless it’s someone she has known since childhood, then it’s Willie “B”.

Image

I’m told there is a family resemblance.

I don’t know if a girl named for a boy was the female equivalent experience of a boy named Sue, but my mom has shown some pretty fierce determination through the years.  My grandfather contracted tuberculosis, which he did not want to treat, and my mother firmly told him that she would not risk exposing me and my sister to him unless he went to a doctor.  I have one memory of visiting him at the sanatorium, and it was only much later as an adult that I realized how difficult, yet clear it must have been for my mom to stand up to him.

She ensured that we practiced our piano lessons, made it on time to cheerleading practice, and insisted that we attend church each and every Sunday, despite my best teenage pouts and delaying tactics.  I never did win that one. When a mammogram discovered a pinpoint speck of cancer when she was in her 60’s, she drove herself to radiation and listened patiently to other patients’ troubles while declining the need to talk to a counselor herself.  “The Lord listens to me just fine,” she explained.  “No need to complain.”

At 82, she takes care of my increasingly frail father, who will be 91 in May.  He doesn’t always know where he is; would rather eat brownies for lunch instead of chicken and vegetables, and gets anxious when she is out of his sight for too long.  I can’t say she is always patient with him, but she is always loving.  And this is what I learned about Love from her.

1.  “B” Accepting and Not Judgmental.  Mom always seemed to grasp that the situation where her friend’s teenaged daughter turned up pregnant would not be helped by criticism or judgment.    She accepted people as they are and doesn’t indulge in tempting displays of gossip and sarcasm.  “Everyone has their point of view, Melinda”, she would remind me.

2.  “B” demonstrative to those you love.  Everyone in Mom’s world knows that she loves them.  She has always taken the attitude that the more love you give away, the more you will have.  “B” is free with “I love you”’s and hugs and kisses.  On each holiday there is a little trinket that she picked up at the Dollar Store that “just reminded me of you.”  For my Mom, Love is clearly an action.

3.  “B” there if someone needs you. “B” was the one to initiate family gatherings; to visit a sick cousin in the hospital; and volunteer at the church to help serve dinner on the grounds.  If a neighbor called to invite her over for coffee, then the vacuuming could wait til later.  “People are more important than a little dirt”, “B” explained.

I’m quite sure that I was as much of a handful growing up as any teenager can be.  I never doubted that my mother loved me, even when I was dreadfully embarrassed at some of her quirky sayings or rebelling against going to church for the second time that week.  But I too buy silly trinkets for those I love; take friends with cancer to their doctors’ appointments; and look for the best in people.  I am happy to “B” my mother, my original teacher of Love Applied.

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To Feel or Not to Feel

Melinda WalshA longtime friend called me with a question. “I’m in a dilemma and I am not sure what to do. Would you give me some perspective?” he said. “Do you think Love is a choice?

He told me about a female friend that he’d known for several years, who was newly sober and freshly out of a relationship. The two of them were platonic and were clear that they were just friends, but he suddenly found himself having feelings for her, despite knowing that this she was in a vulnerable state and wouldn’t be a good choice for a relationship for him.

This is  our conversation.

FRIEND

He’s been single for a number of years.

How do I stop these feelings?  We single folks crave touch, and how can I stop wanting that? My head knows that there are red flags with her all over the place but I keep having feelings for her.

MELINDA

“First off, there’s nothing wrong with you. You’re human and humans get lonely, so it doesn’t surprise me at all that you feel this way. You’re normal!

FRIEND looked surprised, as if I had just told him that he was going to sprout wings.

What you’re really craving is not her, but the way you feel when you’re involved with someone. We all want companionship, to love and be loved. And that’s what you want. You’re clear on it, your head knows not to get involved. But don’t suppress your feelings, either. They will come and go like the tide.”

FRIEND

You mean they will go away?

MELINDA

Not altogether. You have to learn to manage them without coming up with a story that inspires you to give in to them. That’s where the trouble starts— most people don’t know how to tolerate feelings of loneliness so they choose relationships that really don’t serve them in order not to feel that anxiety. Your job is to learn to just allow your feelings to flow—and choose healthy actions, while tolerating those feelings.

FRIEND

But that’s uncomfortable! I don’t like that!

MELINDA

Laughter

Of COURSE it’s uncomfortable. You can give in to the discomfort and end up in a crappy relationship or learn to manage it while choosing actions that serve you and honor your integrity. It’s up to you. What’s it going to be: short run or long haul?

FRIEND

He is quiet for a moment.

I was thinking there was something wrong with me but I’m really just human, aren’t it? So, how do I manage those feelings?

MELINDA

Journal. Say out loud, ‘This feeling sucks,’ ‘I hate feeling lonely’. Cry. Talk to a friend. Go for a walk or work out. Eventually you will learn that you can manage them and that makes you feel really confident when it comes to relationships.

I do believe that Love is a choice to some degree, but the more important choice here is to evaluate your feelings and your actions separately. Don’t let your feelings talk you into doing something that soothes the anxiety of loneliness in the short run, but goes against your integrity in the long run.

MELINDA smiles.

I know you’ll do fine.

Learning to Love isn’t always easy. Sometimes we have to learn to tolerate discomfort in service to a bigger objective. Feelings are just feelings, there is nothing wrong with having any of them. It’s what we choose to act upon is truly Love Applied.

Your Choice. Focus on Fixing What’s Wrong? Or Appreciate What’s Right?

A friend sent me the link to this video, which offers a clear example of the difference between how we see ourselves, and how others see us.

 

So if you’ve watched the video, would you say this applies to you? Are you in the habit of describing yourself to yourself in a way that’s harsh and unflattering? Have you ever stopped to think that maybe, just maybe, you might be wrong about that? Do you think you would be willing to change?

Isn’t it time to get into the habit of treating ourselves more lovingly? Being kind to ourselves is Love Applied, and it’s okay to do that.

Through Whose Eyes?

I saw this Facebook post today from my good friend Tamyra Bourgeois, a psychotherapist and author of “Once Upon A Blue Moon: Memoirs of a Woman in the Middle of Her Life”.

From Tamyra:

“I had a favorable opinion of someone, and the person I was with did not. They starting spewing negative assessments about that person to me. And with great clarity, I stopped them and said; “I feel you would rather I see this person through your eyes and not my own. I’m not willing to do that.”
The person with me fell silent and didn’t speak about that other person again. I felt really empowered and clean, and living in my inner integrity. Not every time I have an exchange like this do I catch myself. Too often I pretend to agree. But I feel I’m growing up in this way. I feel good about that.”

Reading her post made me reflect on how often that dynamic pops up in conversation. Tamyra nailed it as an invitation to see a situation or person the way the other person sees it. It can be indulgent to vent and it’s a natural human tendency to surround ourselves with those who agree with us. I certainly grant someone the right to their opinion, but occasionally find myself at a loss for words when someone is spewing. I don’t want to join in and usually either say nothing (which leaves me feeling a little cheesy at not having defended someone) or simply, “I don’t see it that way,” which almost seems like a version of “Yeah she is”, “No she isn’t”, “Yeah she is”. I like Tamyra’s wording, and will likely adopt it.

Any time we can clearly state the essence of the dynamic that is actually happening instead of what is just being talked about, it has the ring of clarity and avoids making the other person wrong.

Given a choice, wouldn’t you rather someone see you through loving eyes than critical ones? Choosing our words thoughtfully is Love Applied.

And the Director says…..”Cut”!

“You’re not in love with them—you’re in love with the person they used to be, or the person you wish they were.”

— Jerry Springer

Not that I’ve actually watched the Jerry Springer show or anything, but he can come up with some wisdom from time to time.  That quote came from a show where one female guest just could not let go of the relationship with her girlfriend, a woman who clearly wanted nothing more to do with her.  Have you seen this before?  Or maybe it’s happened to you (me too!), where despite a sea of red flags, you stubbornly held on to the fantasy that somehow, one day, you’d wake up and it would all be magical again.

So, the question is, how DO you let go of a former love?  The trick is to realize that you not only grieve the loss of the actual interaction (the relationship itself) but you also grieve the loss of the fantasy of what you hoped your future together would be.  We humans are as masterful at creating inner movies as any Stephen Spielberg.  We’re quick at it, too, often by the end of a first date we have the rest of our lives together already scripted, shot, edited and wrapped in the theatre of our mind.  And all too often, we don’t think to check in with them to see if their inner movie has the same plot as ours.

It can be difficult matching the reality of a relationship that is on the rocks with the movie of what you hoped and wish it could be….or the movie of what it used to be.  Springer was right.  We fall in love with our inner movies to the extent that if we’re not careful, it blinds us to what is actually happening right in front of us.  We excuse and accept poor treatment from others, justifying it in creative ways, in order not to feel the grief we know we’d feel from looking at reality.

By being willing to take a clear look at what is actually going on in your now-defunct relationship and acknowledging those red flags you have been ignoring, it becomes easier to see that what you are grieving is the loss of what you thought you were going to have.  Doing so doesn’t mean that you’ll have to give up on the dream of loving someone and being loved in return, it just means accepting that you may not be able to have it with that particular person.

That’s a wrap, and that’s Love Applied.

The Litter of Love

Love Applied

“May love litter your life with blessings.”

 
When you read these words, what comes to mind? For me, it’s a feeling that there is something wonderful to bump into, to pick up, to see, to step over everywhere I choose to look. It’s a reminder that we have a choice as to how we see the world, we choose what to focus upon.
The word ‘litter’ also implies trash, debris, something discarded and unwanted. So it’s an interesting exercise to think of being ‘littered’ with love’s blessings, almost like being sprinkled with glitter that has the effect of making you see the world through joyful eyes instead of looking for the worst. What is it like to be filled with so much Love that you have extra to spread around?
It also makes me think of how our interactions with others leave aftereffects. Is it a trail of love’s blessings that brightens their day? Or is it the litter of discouragement or resentment?
So for today, ask yourself what you can do to spread a little of Love’s ‘litter’ around. A kind word to a stranger? An extra hug for your children? A thank you to your spouse? Putting loving actions to loving feelings is what Love Applied is all about.

Facing your Fears

When you think of being in a relationship again, what are you most afraid of?

It’s easy to look in the other direction instead of looking at what scares us.  Only by acknowledging where you are can you begin to address it.  Usually our biggest fear is of getting hurt when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable.

I learned that I held a belief that went something like this:  “Being vulnerable is really scary for me and I only do it when I really really really trust you not to hurt me.  So therefore, in order to honor that trust, you must never ever ever ever do anything to hurt me and you must magically know what those things are without my having to tell you.”

Poor Sweetheart:-)  The day I spoke this to him out loud was the day we both had a good laugh and I came to terms that since we are all human, we are guaranteed to do something that will unintentionally hurt someone we love.  By disconnecting my choice to be vulnerable with someone from “You had damn well better not hurt me” it opened up a space for more intimacy.

What relationship fears have you addressed?  Was there anything you were afraid of that turned out to be unfounded?  How do you practice Love Applied?