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.

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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.

Tiny Changes, Big Impact

 

The other day I had coffee with a reporter friend of mine, who told me that she had an interview with a graphic artist whose specialty is designing typefaces.  I shared with her a story I had read about the change in fonts on highway signs from Highway Gothic to Clearview, which was described as being like ‘putting on a new pair of reading glasses:  there’s a sudden lightness, a noticeable crispness to the letters.”  The changes made to the font were subtle but effective:  lightening up stem weights and increasing the interior space of certain letters, like a lower-case ‘a’ or a capital “B”.  The result is an easier to read font that ultimately enhances safety.

So it got me thinking.  What tiny changes can have big impact in a relationship?  One of our practices is that the first one to bed gets a glass of water for the other and puts it on the nightstand.  A small gesture, for sure, but it sends the message “Your comfort is important to me.” And that’s Love Applied.

What are some the tiny things you do or someone has done for you that mean a lot?

Relationships and All That Jazz

I love it when my Sweetheart plans a date for us. “I’ve been missing just spending time with you and I’d like a date”, he said. He had been working a lot and so had I, and it made me feel really loved to know that he is equally dedicated to the care and feeding of our relationship as I am. So off we went to a wine tasting and hors d’oeuvres, followed by a Chilean jazz singer that neither one of us had ever heard of.

Love Jazz

I must confess here that I wasn’t initially taken with the idea of going to a jazz show. Although I am many, many years out of practice, I trained as a classical pianist from childhood through my first year in college. Classical music appeals both to my inner artist and my inner engineer: beautiful and logical all at the same time. But jazz? I could appreciate a beautiful voice or adept musicianship, but the spontaneous, unpredictable structure of it quarreled with, let’s face it, my occasional desire for control. And who knows how long the obligatory drum solo could last? It could theoretically go on all night and I sometimes get impatient. Even though we had attended a wonderful jazz performance in the early phase of our dating and had a great time, I was still a little hesitant, wanting to keep things fresh and at the same time, not wanting to spend the energy to break our routine.

On the other hand, I recalled that an effective strategy for keeping the bonds of connection over time strong is to do new activities together that neither one of you had done before. At the start of a relationship, everything is new and surprising, and it follows that over time, your partner becomes predictable (and so do you!)

From New Love: A Short Shelf Life, by psychologist Sonya Lyubomirsky writes,

“Surprise is a potent force. When something novel occurs, we tend to pay attention, to appreciate the experience or circumstance, and to remember it. We are less likely to take our marriage for granted when it continues to deliver strong emotional reactions in us. Also, uncertainty sometimes enhances the pleasure of positive events.”

There is a lot of nodding in Jazz. The musicians nod when they are riffing, the audience nods along as if to say, “I’m with ya, brother.” The venue was small, intimate, the performers only a few feet away. I found myself being drawn in by the singer’s apparent bliss at sharing her talents with us. I nodded, too.

There is a lot of nodding in good relationships. We ‘nod’ whenever we thank the people we love for what they bring to our lives. We ‘nod’ whenever we listen to our Sweethearts even if we are tired and want to watch Downton Abbey. And perhaps most importantly, we ‘nod’ to the improvisational nature of our romantic relationships when we get out of our thinking ruts and risk keeping our love fresh and sustainable. I’m with ya, brother.

And that’s Love Applied.

One Year, Two Years…

Two years ago today, my Sweetheart and I met.  It was really just coincidence that it happened on Valentine’s Day although now I choose to see it as the Universe’s way of saying, “Hey, here’s someone special for you.”  Plus, it does make it easy to remember our anniversary date of meeting:-)

Over that time, we’ve experienced the sudden illness and passing of a close friend of mine; a six-week breakup to wrap up some old, unfinished business (which turned out to be a very good thing); and lots and lots and lots of conversation about both mundane and serious topics.

Melinda WalshI think a lot about what it takes to make a relationship work over the long haul, and that’s how Love Applied got started.  I’ve posted lists and practices, and today I’m thinking that mostly what it comes down to is just choosing every day to find something you love about the people in your life.  If I could put on a pair of Love Glasses, I would, so that I would always see everyone in a loving, compassionate light.

Don’t we wish someone would do that for us… to forgive our less than perfect moments and just love us anyway?  I believe the best way to get that is to give it.  And that’s Love Applied.

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?

Ready for a Relationship? Read on…

Opening the Door to Love

Are you REALLY ready for a relationship? How open are you? I met my Sweetheart almost two years ago, and I faced some difficult realizations about myself in the months prior to meeting him. Although I spoke that I wanted to be in a relationship, I was secretly kind of scared of the changes that a relationship would bring. I’ve been by myself for a lot of years and that gave me the luxury of selfishness. Was I really ready to take someone else’s needs into account when I made decisions? Could I trust myself to be able to talk about them effectively? These are the kinds of thoughts that came up for me and I finally decided that I was truly ready to go there, even if I wasn’t sure if I or we could handle it. So are you truly ready for all of what a relationship brings into your life?

Taking a look and owning where you really stand is Love Applied.

An Invitation to Love

So it’s February, a special month for me.  Our anniversary is on February 14, and my birthday follows a few days later.  One year ago, I started Love Applied, after so many conversations with friends who just wanted to experience more Love in their life!  Who doesn’t?   The response has been heartwarming, and I decided to use the month of February as a project to really ramp it up.  I heard Wayne Dyer say that Love isn’t just a feeling, it’s really an action, and that’s where the idea of Love Applied came from.  What does love sound like when you speak it?  And I’m not just talking about the words, “I love you”, but our larger, ongoing conversations with those whom we love.  Our words can convey so many things:  respect, anger, support, criticism, and on and on.  Speaking Lovingly to someone takes a commitment and pays off in intimacy and safety.

Love Applied

Same with our actions.  Do we take the time to do those little acts of kindness that tell our Sweethearts that they are important to us?  To lend a helping hand to a co-worker or friend.  “Sweethearts” can be a broad category and I invite you to expand that definition to include everyone you meet in February.  I believe that at our core, we are all innately loving beings that occasionally forget that we are….so let’s use February to reconnect with our Loving Selves and spread that around to our world.  I’ll be posting ideas and reminders all month long, so check back often!

That’s Love Applied!

I Like You But Not That Way

It’s the conversation we dread in dating. The one where you have been on date or two with someone and you realize that they like you more than you like them. What to say to both let them know how you feel and say it in a way that doesn’t hurt their feelings? The kindest bet is to be honest in a gentle yet forthright way.

1. Have the conversation in person, if possible. Phone is okay if you must, and NO (I mean it!) email or text. That’s just plain cowardly. It’s time to “man up”(even if you’re a female) on this one.
2. Start by being positive. “I have enjoyed spending time with you and getting to know you a little bit.”
3. Follow by your honest feelings. “I wanted to let you know sooner rather than later, that I am feeling more of a friend vibe between us than a romantic one. I’m not sure where you may stand, but it is important to let you know what I am feeling.”

It doesn’t have to be any more complicated than that, which is helpful when your heart is beating a million beats a minute at the thought! In my dating years, I had a couple of occasions to have this conversation, and both times, the men thanked me for being that honest and respectful of them and their time. No one likes rejection, but showing respect by sharing how you really feel in an honest way eases the sting.

That’s Love Applied.

After the Sparkly Phase….Then What?

One question I hear over and over is “How do we make love last once the sparkly phase is over?”  The initial attraction is referred to as “limerance”, where your partner can do no wrong, and their every quirk is incredibly charming.  Sooner or later, one of you will get the flu, have a bad day at work, and the aspects of your partner that you couldn’t get enough of now drive you crazy.  What follows next is crucial to the longevity of your relationship.  Either you break it off in favor of finding the next New Thing, or you buckle down and find some deeper, lasting ways to connect.

In an article entitled, “That Loving Feeling Takes A Lot of Work”, author Jane Brody reports that studies show that: “… the happiness boost that occurs with marriage lasts only about two years, after which people revert to their former levels of happiness — or unhappiness.

She goes on to write that “Infatuation and passion have even shorter life spans, and must evolve into “companionate love, composed more of deep affection, connection and liking,” according to Sonya Lyubomirsky, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside.

My Sweetheart and I are coming up on our second anniversary (we first met on Valentine’s Day…could that be any more romantic?) and this topic has been on our minds lately.  What are some practices that we can do to keep our relationship healthy and stay connected over time?

Here’s what we came up with, and now I’ll share them with you.  We call them The Five Habits of Happy Sweethearts.

1. The Habit of Appreciation and Gratitude

2. The Habit of Variety

3. The Habit of Keeping Things Clean

4. The Habit of Commitment

5. The Habit of Affection

Here’s how we practice these Habits.

1.  The Habit of Appreciation and Gratitude.  It’s a very human trait to become habituated over time to the things that make us feel good, leading us to take the things our Sweetheart does for us for granted.  A loving relationship is composed of many actions and interactions, and the five-year old inside of us likes to be appreciated for the efforts we make on behalf of others.  In other words, if your Sweetheart does things you like for them to do, make darn sure you thank them in whatever way you choose.  In a story of how powerful this is, a friend who is in a happy 18 year marriage told me that she mended a time of marital stress by shifting from what bugged her about her husband’s then current behavior, and focused on writing down each day the things he did for her that she was grateful for.  “I thought when I started that I would only have one or two things to write down”, she said.  “Each day my list got longer and longer and after only a few days, I wasn’t mad at him any more.”  The lesson here is that you can consciously shift your focus, and that the things you love about them are always present if you look for them.

2.  The Habit of Variety.  No, this doesn’t mean cheating on them!  What it means is that couples who seek out new experiences together get the benefit and thrill that comes from shared growth.  What this means is to try something that neither of you have done before.  Salsa lessons?  Skydiving?  Traveling to a new city?  Trying a new cuisine?  The actual event isn’t as important is that it is new to both of you and that you do it together.

3.  The Habit of Keeping Things Clean.  My Sweetheart and I make a point of resolving issues as soon as we can, rather than letting them linger.  We find that addressing uncomfortable topics early on keeps them from growing into deep-seated resentments and gives us more mental space to just have fun with each other.  “Under-the-rug” issues put distance between us and we have found that life just feels better when we stay emotionally connected.

4.  The Habit of Commitment.  In any long term relationship there are times when one of you ‘works at it’ more than the other.  There are many reasons, family or work obligations, health circumstances, you name it.   At some point one of the people mentally ‘leave’ the relationship and once that happens, it can be pretty much over.  So this habit is designed to be a preventive measure.  Put your relationship on the top of your To Do list, and even if you don’t practice our Habits, I’m sure you have your own that keep your relationship fresh.  Neither party wants to think that they are the ones doing all the work.

5.  The Habit of Affection.  Babies (both human and animal) fail to thrive when deprived of physical touch, and I believe that relationships fail as well in the absence of physical affection.  A non-sexual touch sends a message of love, of support, of comfort, of reassurance, and is a powerful connector.  Make hugs a regular part of your relationship.

 

That’s Love Applied!