I Have Never Once Been Sorry (about setting boundaries)

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“I know my boundaries and one day I might just enforce them.” Unknown

I curled up under the blanket on our living room sofa and ate Reese’s Cups while mulling over what went wrong.

The conversation with John was okay until we each made a comment the other one didn’t like. I took something he said the wrong way. I apologized for my tone, and I also wanted to clarify and have him understand.

His pain and anger about our interchange made it impossible to discuss what happened for the rest of the weekend.

We stopped talking about the topic and started talking about each other. We blamed, brought up the past, and, at one point, forgot what we were arguing about.

Since I recently wrote about enabling and boundaries, I sat still while John went to bed without saying good night and without asking if I wanted to pray. I can’t remember the last time he’s done that. I felt shaken and scared, but I didn’t snap.

I messaged a friend who I knew would listen and be compassionate towards both of us. She suggested leaving him alone for the evening instead of barging into our bedroom to fix us. She agreed it was a bad idea to revert back 10 years to habits like begging him to talk or explaining louder and with examples like, “How would you like it if I went to bed without saying good night to you?”

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T
he latter made so much sense, I may have said it anyway had I not remembered advice from another friend, “I’ve often regretted not setting a boundary, but I have never once been sorry when I set one.”

The soundness of her words stopped my feet in their tracks (they were headed to our bedroom). It calmed the dialogue I had going on ever since John closed our bedroom door. With all those voices in my head, I’m not sure why I needed to talk to him anyway.

I thought, What if he dies tonight and this weekend of arguing is the last memory I have?

This is my mom’s voice of fear and guilt, which I’ve let control me since childhood. I’ve learned to quiet her and her fears after almost three years of her being gone. (a boundary)

What if I’m wrong and responsible for this weekend’s entire debacle?

This is John’s voice when he is frustrated and hurt. I’ve learned to reason with him (his voice in my head better than him in person) and resolve I’m not all wrong. (a boundary)

What would it hurt to follow him into the bedroom, apologize again, and curl up there instead of the sofa?

This is my toxic Jiminy Cricket’s voice saying I SHOULD be able to fix everything. And, let me tell you, when I start shaming myself and saying things like “What would it hurt …,” I hurt myself by not setting boundaries, especially when I know he is momentarily unavailable. (a boundary)

“Shame, for women, is this web of unobtainable, conflicting, competing expectations about who we’re supposed to be. And it’s a straight-jacket.” Brene Brown

Instead of giving into John’s frustration and my fear and shame, I set boundaries I may have disregarded had I not been writing to y’all. 

#GettingYourOwnLife
#WhileLovingthePeopleinIt
#WhileLovingtheHusbandinIt

Are you determined to set boundaries, but you haven’t yet? I highly recommend them.

Thanks to John for encouraging me to blog about our stories, and for blogging with me through our relationship and life. Thanks to my friend for hanging in there late into the evening and advising me well. Thanks to you, our friends/readers. I hope you find here both courage and ‘couragement. You’ve certainly given both to me.

We love your comments! Thank you.

In This Together,
Kim

Enabled to Stop Enabling

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“We cripple people who are capable of walking because we choose to carry them.” Christie Williams

Enabling is one of the surest ways to assure not getting your own life.

Enabling goes hand-in-hand with not setting boundaries – two sides of the same coin. Like the quote says, we have to say “no” or we do damage. We cripple people, and usually the ones we love the most.

What is Enabling?

Here are definitions of enabling, which sound harmless until we recognize we’ve signed up to run someone’s life besides our own, and we may be signing up to run it forever.

  •  To make (someone or something) able to do or to be something

 Twelve step programs typically define enabling as …

  •  Doing for others what they can do for themselves.

Like the times I did my son’s chore of raking the backyard. I didn’t think I could watch any longer while he balanced the handle of the upside down rake in the palm of his hand, and then walked all around the yard still balancing it in the air. I felt like crippling him with the rake long before my enabling did damage.

I didn’t equate raking for a 13-year-old as enabling until I looked up the word in an index of one of my daily readers. I thought I was doing a friend a favor. I planned to pass along insight from the pages about how she could stop enabling her older teenaged son.

As I flipped through, I noticed the only two pages on enabling belonged to my husband and my son. The pages happened to fall on their birthdays.

While trying to dismiss the correlation, I forgot about helping my friend. I spent weeks mulling over how others enabled, and how I didn’t.

I knew …

Parents who did their children’s homework, parents who ran items to school every week when their children forgot them at home, parents who fought with teachers and administration to defend their children every time they got in trouble.

Parents who allowed grown children to live at home, not work, and run up whopping debt for cars and education and wardrobes.

Women who worked two jobs because their husbands worked none.

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And I was worried about raking? Seriously? Raking?

I thought, What’s the harm in helping in the yard when he can’t get it done? You know, because he’s practicing his balancing act.

I asked these same sorts of questions about my husband and my daughter. All the while, I justified enabling as helping and I minimized the size of my enablement. I told myself, “It’s just raking.”

Justify it or not, minimize it or not, experience confirms we get better by taking small steps in the right direction the same as we get worse (more irresponsible, more immature, and more helpless) by taking small steps in the wrong direction, which includes your mom raking for you when it’s your chore.

There’s a fine line between being a wife and a mom who helps or being an enabler who harms. Unfortunately for us, we enablers are the ones who have to draw these lines (remember from a previous blog post, if you’re in the most pain, you’re the one who has to change). The person being enabled isn’t going to stop us.

And we each draw our own lines. What’s acceptable for one person may be enabling for another.

For me, the line where I’m enabling is …

  • When I’m resentful about what I call “helping.
  • When I don’t want to do what they ask, but I do it anyway.
  • When I put my life on hold so I can do what they want.
  • When I grumble about the person I’m supposedly helping.

Maybe you’ll recognize this rant.

“Do you know what happened today? My (family member, friend) asked me to (fill in the blank). Can you believe that? I did it, but I won’t be doing it again. He/she didn’t even thank me.”

The funny (funny interesting, not funny ha ha) thing about enabling is next time he/she asked, I did it again. I complained again. He/she asked again.

For me, the line where I’m enabling is also …

  • When I hear them not only asking for help, but also expecting and insisting on it even when it’s something they can do for themselves.
  • When I notice they’re regressing and I feel like I’m dealing with a child in a big body.
  • When there are visible signs of trouble like excessive drinking, running up debt, laying around for days, acting irritable, making irresponsible choices.

Enabling feels similar to a hostage situation. Once we’ve taken responsibility for their lives, they take over our lives. We feel trapped. We may not know how to stop the progression. And they probably won’t want us to.

It took several (okay, more like several hundred) times of reviewing the two enabling pages before I took the words to heart and put them into action.

It took experiencing the crippling effect with my own family when their list of expectations grew longer than my to-do list.

It took seeing the crippling effect like watching more than one elderly couple work overtime to provide for their unemployed adult children.

It took hearing a mom share about her alcoholic daughter who died from drinking. She said, “I literally loved her to death. I knew better, but I couldn’t stop trying to help her in unhelpful ways.”

 So, why’d I do it?

 Oh, I had my reasons.

 Here are a few from my long and scary list …

 1.     I was afraid.

 2.     I was fearful they really couldn’t do it, whatever “it” was.

 3.     I was fearful they wouldn’t do it.

 4.     I was fearful if they didn’t do it, they wouldn’t be okay, which would mean I wasn’t okay.

 5.     I was fearful if they weren’t okay, it’d be my fault.

 6.     I was fearful they’d die and our last time together would be when I set a boundary and said “no.”

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What’s the solution?

Stop enabling.

Stop even if it seems insignificant like raking for your 13-year-old.

Find a friend who understands and talk with them. Make an appointment with a counselor. Attend a 12-step meeting. Reach out to someone who’s in your same situation.

Help the people you’re enabling by helping yourself. Find something to put in the place of enabling like #GettingYourOwnLife.

It’s easier said than done, I know, but “stop enabling” is the only solution. And it’s why I’m writing about it. Y’all are the group I’m reaching out to.

In This Together,
Kim

Image of rake compliments of Pixabay.com.

Disclaimer: This blog post is from my personal experience and is not expert advice like you’d receive from a psychologist, psychiatrist, or medical doctor, although I do have advanced degrees in the counseling field. When dealing with serious issues like addiction and depression, be sure to engage a support system, one that can help you set boundaries, prepare you for consequences when you stop enabling, and offer assistance to the person you’re letting go. 

Boundaries or Bound by Others? (it’s your choice)

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“You teach people how to treat you by what you allow, what you stop, and what you reinforce.” Tony Gaskins

I had never heard the word boundaries used in reference to relationships until a counselor told me I didn’t have any. She said, “You have no idea where you end and where others begin.”

According to Merriam-Webster, here are the definitions of boundaries as they relate to people:

  • A point or limit that indicates where two things become different. (Okay, so this isn’t about people, but it’s a logical reminder about the point where I end and you begin.)
  • Unofficial rules about what should not be done.
  • Limits that define acceptable behavior.

Most of us think setting boundaries is about saying “no.” And it is. And setting boundaries is also about saying “yes” … to us and to what we need and want.

Boundaries are about saying “yes” to #GettingYourOwnLife.

And saying “yes” to #LovingthePeopleinIt.

Because boundaries, even though they may not seem loving at first glance, are just as much about caring for others as they are about caring for ourselves.

Here’s what Betty (a friend I learned a lot from) told me about boundaries. She said, “If you do what’s best for you, it’s best for everyone.”

Her advice sounded selfish, but it’s not, because what’s best for us is to live our lives according to what God has in mind for us, not what our family and friends have in mind.

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Drawing a line is wise.

Drawing a line is a form of self-care and a way to be kind to others.

Drawing a line is the litmus test for dozens of demands made on our time, energy, and finances.

Here’s an example of a boundary Betty helped me set early on, and also an example of how it turned out best for everyone.

Betty and I talked about my family’s tumultuous Sunday afternoon lunches at Mom’s house. She said, “Have you ever thought about not going?”

“We’ve been getting together for years. Mom would be so upset if we stopped,” I said.

“Really? Are you sure about that?”

I was convinced breaking tradition would cause more turmoil, but Betty convinced me to take a break. She said, “Why don’t you give it a try and see what happens?”

I made up some excuse for missing the next couple of Sunday lunches. Mom didn’t seem upset like I dreaded. In fact, she looked relieved. By the third Sunday, she had her own excuse for missing lunch. The rest of the family who Mom cooked for decided to take a break as well. It was best for everyone when our decade-long tradition ended.

Some boundaries aren’t as easily implemented. Actually, that one didn’t seem easy except in retrospect. However, following through helped me see the value in doing what’s best for me (not out of selfishness, but from a place of self-care and other-care). I saw Betty’s perspective on “doing what’s best for you” as it turned out to be best for everyone.

There are easier boundaries to set like declining a request to head up a program at church or saying “no” when asked to donate time or money to a cause we’re not devoted to. I say “easier,” but sometimes these are hard no’s for us people pleasers. There are harder no’s, though, like a friend who left her daughter in jail after several arrests and another friend who dropped off her son at a homeless shelter after he stole from her to sustain his addiction. These boundaries don’t sound best for anyone, but consider the alternative of reinforcing (like the quote says) destructive behavior.

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Setting boundaries (doing what’s best for you that ends up being best for everyone) includes all sorts of things like …

  • Asking for and expecting respect from family and friends. Setting boundaries may mean ending a conversation with  a spouse who is verbally abusive or taking time off from an adult child who continually manipulates to get his/her way. It may mean limiting time with a friend who complains non-stop or who gives non-stop advice.
  • Refusing to fund adult children (or anyone else) if giving them money jeopardizes your finances or jeopardizes them taking responsibility. Setting boundaries may mean cutting off an allowance or not paying their rent so you’re able to afford your own bills. I have two widowed friends who struggle financially month-to-month because their sons borrowed large sums of money they can’t repay.
  • Checking into childcare for grandchildren and senior care for sick or aging family members if you notice a decline in your own physical or emotional well-being. Setting boundaries may mean seeking assistance for them so you don’t end up having to be taken care of yourself.
  • Saying “no” to church, to school and community activities, and to other people’s agendas when their plans don’t coincide with the ones you and God agreed on. Setting boundaries may mean dropping off committees, declining to help with important ministries, and deciding not to show up for every worthy cause.

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Do yourself a favor. Free your energy by setting a boundary today.

Setting boundaries restricts destructive behavior (#whileLovingthePeopleinIt) that could divert our time, energy, and money from what we believe we’ve been called to do (#GettingYourOwnLife). It’s a favor to everyone to set them. 

Do you have boundaries that need setting?

In This Together,
Kim

I appreciate the images, Pixabay.com. Gotta buy you that coffee one of these days.

They Needed to Get Better

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“Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on their environment and especially on their children than the unlived life of the parent.” Carl Gustav Jung

For years, I convinced myself I’d have time and energy to accomplish something impressive if only my family would get better. I blamed my lack of motivation and creativity on their issues. I imagined what I’d do when I was out from under the pressure and concern I had for my husband, my children, my parents, and my sibling.

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That’s a lot of people to worry about.

If only my husband quit smoking, went into business for himself, took off additional time. If only he learned to relax. If only he’d listen to my suggestions about straightening out his life, our marriage, and our backyard fence.

If only my son and daughter learned to keep up with their belongings, take responsibility, express gratitude. If only they’d do their homework, care about school, score a soccer goal or a point in tennis. If only they’d find the right place to live, the high paying job, the perfect marriage partner.

If only my family of origin celebrated new ideas instead of being afraid of them. If only they talked about something besides weather and health problems. If only they laughed and went outside sometimes.

With my husband, I gave full commentaries about the dangers of cigarettes, making healthy choices, and communication.

With my kids, I helped find keys and shoes and half-finished job applications stuck under cushions. I advised about homework, friendship, and courtship.

With my family of origin, I changed the topic of conversations so I’d be comfortable and told stories that weren’t funny.

I understand now why I felt stuck.

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I counseled my family, but didn’t go into a counseling career like I planned. I talked about pursuing a career in inspirational speaking, but I was talked out at home. I dreamed about writing a book, but determined it was more important for my family to realize their dreams.

When I heard about a friend’s outburst after a mutual friend gave her advice, I laughed because she could have been talking to me. I’d distracted myself from my own life (again) by hoping family would get better. She said, “Your children will get better when you get better.”

“If that’s true, who needs to get better for me?” I asked. I was “sort of” joking.

I figured I could blame others for a few more years or I could get better by finally getting my own life. I did some of both.

In the meantime, my husband and children got better before I did. They also got their own lives before I did, which, as focused as I was on them, didn’t surprise me. I’m still taking some credit for their betterment, though.

I like to think I’ve helped them and me get better since giving up my habit of dabbling in their lives. And since #GettingMyOwnLife #whileLovingthePeopleinIt. And since writing about it.

I’d love to hear from you about how you can get better so your family will get better. Ideas from you help all of us.

In This Together,
Kim

Unless something pressing comes along (sometimes I have to blog on a topic before I can move on), my next blog post will be about setting Boundaries and why they’re good and necessary.

Thanks for the images, Pixabay.com.

The Life You Want, But Can’t Have (oh, but maybe you can …)

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“You must give up the life you planned in order to have the life that is waiting for you.” Joseph Campbell

I doubt I’d remember my dog being hit by a car since I was only three except I heard the story dozens of times. I think Mom repeated it to prove her point about being cautious with hope. The afternoon my uncle brought the puppy home, I played with her on the front lawn until she darted into the road. I have no recollection of the scene, just that Mom said I cried for days and she told Uncle Jimmy, “I told you not to get her a dog.”

Mom didn’t mean to relay messages like, “You can’t have what you want.”

Dad didn’t either when he frequently said, “Don’t get your hopes up.”

They meant their warnings to shield me from disappointment, just like when I’ve said similar things to my children. Instead of feeling protected, I thought they were saying I shouldn’t hope for anything and, even worse, I wasn’t worthy of what I hoped for. 

Mom told me about problems she had getting pregnant when I let her know John and I were trying for our first child. She was afraid I’d have trouble conceiving also.

Dad cried when I told him we were selling our home of 18 years to buy my dream house, a fixer upper on a corner lot with hanging live oaks and more work than he thought we could handle. He asked, “Why can’t you be satisfied with this house?”

They both expressed disappointment the day I quit my job to venture into business for myself. Mom said, “I don’t understand why you’d leave teaching. It’s a good profession.”

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Thankfully, the life I somberly planned (in light of giving up hope) wasn’t the one waiting for me.

The life waiting for me included a son and a daughter who are starting their own families.

The life waiting for me included years of renovations on our nearly century-old fixer upper that led to opening a home improvement business and landing an article about the house in This Old House magazine.

The life waiting for me included a few false starts like owning a cleaning service and working as a professional organizer, but it also included my calling to write.

Oh my goodness, how difficult it’s been for someone like me (fearful, doubtful, and cautioned against hope) to accept God’s goodness, believe I’m worthy, and hope for more.

A couple of weeks ago, I set up an appointment with a real estate agent to look at a house. I let her know upfront we weren’t in the market for buying and even if we were, we’d have to sell our house first. We were looking “just for fun.” I didn’t want to get her hopes up. I wasn’t very convincing when I stepped into the living area and said, “I want this house.”

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I’m (still) a little afraid I’m not supposed to get what I hope for, but we put a For Sale sign in front of our house anyway.

What are you afraid to hope for? Can you believe along with me that it’s okay to have the life that is waiting for you?

#GettingYourOwnLife #GettingtheLifeThatisWaitingforYou

In This Together,
Kim

Thanks for the photos, Pixabay.com. What a beneficial service you’re offering to artists everywhere.

Hope For the Unheard

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“It is not distance that keeps people apart, but lack of communication.” Unknown

Here’s the post I didn’t write last week, but meant to. It’s the one about our communication that hasn’t taken place … for three years. I started not to write it this week either, except a friend commented on last week’s post, “Sometimes, even when you say it, it’s not understood.”

I understood all too well. I also knew I needed to tell the story I’d avoided telling.

Three years of communication that hasn’t taken place in our family, even during joyous occasions, convinced me to make the same daunting decision I made as a child, “I can’t keep loving my family like this. It hurts too much.”

I was eight years old when I decided the first time around to stop loving my family. Mom cried all afternoon like she did many afternoons, probably because of communication that hadn’t taken place with Dad. I was too young to figure her out, so I decided she cried because of me. I worried and asked questions, which made me a likely scapegoat. They reprimanded me instead of talking to each other.

That evening I left a dime and two nickels on their bedroom dresser. Underneath the money, I put a note with a heart in red crayon and words in blue that said, “I’m sorry. I love you.”

They never mentioned it and neither did I. I figured it’d be easier to stop feeling than try to talk.

After our grandson’s recent first birthday party, our granddaughter, Claire, tried on a dress I bought her. She slid her hands down the silk material and ran off. She came back with 32 cents, stared at me for a few seconds, and said, “This is for you, Mammy.”

I cried telling my husband and daughter the story. It was different from my story, but somehow healing.

What’s happened the last three years with our daughter?

Claire will be three in July. I wrote a blog post three years ago about being afraid to have a granddaughter, “Girls Aren’t Safe Here.”

Emotions flooded Kelly’s and my relationship with the news we were adding a girl to our family, emotions that neither of us expected or knew how to handle. Craft days intermingle with cry days. We dress up and melt down. We hug, tear up watching Claire love us, laugh hard, but don’t talk for days because something hurt. Something scared us. We talked some during the three years, but stopped when it got too complicated.

Kelly announced at Claire’s first birthday party she was pregnant with our second grandchild. Our grandson, Wyatt, arrived into a calmer world than Claire, but still too much communication hasn’t taken place.

What’s happened the last three years with our son?

Not too long after Kelly’s announcement, our son announced he’d proposed to the love of his life. They married one year ago in May. He moved her to Oklahoma (I sobbed when they pulled out of their driveway in a U-Haul truck) and then to New York. Courting, proposing, working, moving twice, and marrying took up their time.

Distance and distractions, dislike of talking on the phone, and determining how to talk these days as opposed to how he and I used to talk has built up to communication that hasn’t taken place.

What’s happened the last three years with us?

Hannah, our basset hound/terrier mix, joined our family a couple of months before Kelly found out she was pregnant with Claire. The day after we adopted Hannah, our vet told us she needed surgery to repair two fractured hips or we could return her to the shelter.

While at our daughter’s house the day after finding out we were going to be grandparents, Hannah peed on one of their dog pillows. John spanked her. He didn’t hurt her, but I panicked because it hadn’t been long since her surgery. “I hope you don’t react the same way with our grandchildren,” I said.

I apologized and tried to explain. It’d been an emotional few weeks with Hannah and, although exciting, an equally emotional weekend finding out baby news. It wasn’t my accusation, but our five-hour argument on the way home from our daughter’s that caused a three-year rift. Our disagreement escalated the more I tried to explain why I got afraid when John reacted like he did that evening with our dog.

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“I’m so disappointed we fought like that,” he said.

“I am too, but it’s evidence of how much we need to talk and be heard,” I said.

“Why’d we have to fight for five hours?” he said.

“At least we know what we need to work on, our communication,” I said.

“It’s been so long since we’ve gone at it and for that long,” he said.

Our cyclical banter went on for six months until it was evident he couldn’t hear me, so I quit talking. I set out to stay in our marriage without being part of it. For the first time, I positioned “getting my own life” above my family and not because I wanted to write more than anything, but because I hurt more than ever. All of the change, loss, and loneliness felt too big to fix, especially since no one was communicating.

It was the second time I decided, “I can’t keep loving my family like this. It hurts too much.”

Our daughter asked if everything was okay. She wanted our family healed by Claire’s arrival. We put a band-aid on the problem, but communication still hadn’t taken place.

Fifty Years Later …  

It’s been fifty years since I tried to stop loving Dad and Mom; three since I tried the same with John and our kids. I’m happy neither one took.

I mentioned in the last post, it’s the person in the most pain who has to change. It took three years, but I’m finally speaking up and with firmness instead of an attitude of “fight or flight,” which makes me easier to hear and I believe more deserving to be heard. Since I can’t afford to not be heard anymore, I don’t stop talking until the knot in my stomach untangles.

Even though John figured I’d been heard about “the dog argument” since I brought it up 1,001 times (over the course of three years, mind you), I brought it up one and two and three more times because no matter what he thought, I didn’t feel heard. John said, “Then talk about it one more time. I’ll be quiet and listen.”

He did. I went through half a box of Kleenex in an hour.

I told him how I’d had trouble sleeping for at least two years because at night I’d lay in bed and try to figure out how I could get over needing to talk so I could stay with him. I told him about my fear of God who didn’t intercede no matter how much I prayed, journaled, and begged. But I also told him why I believed God left me alone, “I think God knew if I could get a little relief from my pain, I’d never get out of the way and let y’all figure out your own lives, but it seems he could have come up with a gentler plan.”

I told John I shut down because the kids were living their lives, but he and I weren’t living ours. I told him I felt alone because they were gone and he wasn’t showing up. He asked, “What does showing up look like to you?”

“Showing up means you let me talk and you listen. It looks like you holding me and hearing me even when I say things you don’t like and things you don’t want to hear,” I said.

He held me and he listened. Interactions like these let us know communication is taking place. It happens more often when we’re willing to stop fighting, stop “flighting” (flying out of rooms and slamming doors), and begin talking about how we feel.

Our hope is this blog post encourages you toward talking and hearing. We’d love to hear from you.

#GettingYourOwnLife #whileLovingthePeopleinIt

In This Together,
Kim

Thank you for permission to use your artwork (the woman), Kelly Rae Roberts. Beautiful, as always. Thanks to Pixabay.com for the spiral stairs.

Side note: Readers have asked if John minds my blog posts. We’re grateful for your concern and I probably should have already mentioned this. I never publish a blog post that John hasn’t first read and edited. He even adds things about himself when he thinks it may be relatable and helpful. We’re wholeheartedly “in this together.”:)

 

Can You Hear Me Now?

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“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” George Bernard Shaw

On our way home from church Sunday afternoon, John asked where I wanted to eat. We were close by a cafeteria we used to frequent, so I mentioned stopping by to see if the place looked clean and the food fresh.

John named a few places as we passed by, but they were closed. He asked a second time where I wanted to eat. I again mentioned the cafeteria. He tried to turn into an Italian restaurant, but he couldn’t get over in traffic. The third time he asked where I wanted to eat, I named the cafeteria … again.

“We’re going to the cafeteria. I’ve ignored you three times, but I’m not doing it a fourth time,” he said.

Fifteen years ago was our first documented (by me) case of communication that hadn’t taken place. We stayed with our children at a motel in the mountains. Neither of us remembers the name of the place, just that it had bright pink floats drifting in the pool. We planned to head to a new town the following day. When John asked where I wanted to spend the next night, I said, “I’d love to stay here and enjoy another day of the pool.”

An hour later, he asked again where I wanted to spend the next night. He didn’t want to stay at the “pink float motel” because he thought the room was pricey, but he didn’t communicate that.

“I don’t care. Wherever you want to stay is fine with me,” I said.

“I wish instead of always saying you don’t care, you’d help decide sometimes,” he said.

My head snapped and so did my voice.

“I told you where I wanted to stay tonight,” I said.

We splashed around the next day in the pool. John hearing me doesn’t mean I always get my way, but it does mean I get it sometimes.

I reflected on why I didn’t learn from our pool experience. My guess is it’s because I’ve not felt worthy of having my way unless it agrees with others.

John, on the other hand, was used to getting his way. It worked to his advantage (in a way) that confrontation made me as uncomfortable as did pushing for what I wanted.

He says he turned into a “steamroller.” We can mostly laugh about him steaming ahead and me getting steamed up. My outbursts seemed to come out of nowhere, but actually they were from communication that hadn’t taken place.

I’ve mentioned before about blaming John for this sort of thing. I thought, He could change. He could care enough to take care of me. He could be attentive and listen.

He said I could change, I could take care of myself, and I could speak up.

We were both right. We could have done those things, but we didn’t. Anyhow, we came by it honest, our communication that hadn’t taken place.

How’d I expect him to show up in shining armor when he fought hard not to hear anything that remotely sounded like criticism?

How’d I expect to show up belting out Helen Reddy’s “I Am Woman” when all I knew was giving into others so they’d love me?

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I wanted John to do the changing because I convinced myself (and tried to convince him) it would be easier for him to hear me than it would be for me to speak up. I waited until it was painfully obvious what a counselor said, “The person in the most pain is the one who has to change.”

As rational as it sounded, I ignored her advice and pitched big fits to be heard. The impasse, no matter how unfair or maddening, is that when something’s “working” for a person, like John getting his way, they are not likely to give it up without a fit of their own. Of course, communication that hadn’t taken place wasn’t actually working for him or our marriage, but he was in less pain, so, at least in the beginning, being heard was mine to change.

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Here are three tips John and I practice to assure communication has taken place now:

  • We make “I” statements like “I feel (insert a feeling) when you (insert what the person did that made you feel that way).” Here’s an example, “I feel frustrated when I don’t think you’ve heard me.”

If you’re rolling your eyes, I understand. I paid a lot of money early on in our marriage to practice these statements in front of a counselor, knowing that when I got home, there was no way I was telling John how I felt unless he asked. It was easier, even though not beneficial, to talk about each other and that’s what we did for a long time.

  • We stop droning on for hours about the progress we want to make (for example, “I want us to learn to get along and talk and listen and enjoy each other’s company and have fun and travel and get together with friends and … ) and we stop provoking to the point that one of us flies out of the room and slams a door (for example, “There you go again talking about how bad things are … ”). When we give into these sorts of distractions and reactions, we’re doomed to patterns like numbing out, blaming each other, nurturing resentments, and lapsing into despair.

Instead of droning and provoking, we ask, “Do you mind being quiet for a few minutes and letting me talk?” or, because fear has a big influence on poor communication, we ask, “What are you afraid of?”

  • We get in touch with how we feel. As simplistic as this sounds, I grappled with the complexity of emotions when a family member said she thought I was angry, but then recognized I was fearful. I seldom felt angry, but I acted like it. It’s challenging to identify our feelings, as well as emotional to share them with those closest to us because, although we care about each other, we also hurt each other.

I hope you “heard” something helpful in this post that will help you be heard. If you have tips of your own, we’d love for you to share them in the comments.

In This Together,
Kim

Listening to Understand

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“The biggest problem with communication is we do not listen to understand. We listen to reply.” Unknown

A couple of blog posts ago, I shared inside one of our arguments titled, I’m Posting on Friday Because … This week I’m sharing more about communication between John and me. I wouldn’t put much of this in writing if I thought we were just one couple in a few. We’re not. I’ve talked to enough friends to know there are a lot of us out there who have difficulty talking with our spouses.

John and I grew up in families who didn’t communicate except to yell and throw things or be quiet and fume. Families like ours also didn’t talk about feelings unless we were having a scene. Even though John and I were teetotalers raising our kids, we lived by at least two of three rules in alcoholic families:

1) Don’t talk
2) Don’t feel
3) Don’t trust.

Living by these rules didn’t mean we didn’t talk and feel. It meant we talked about others instead of ourselves. It meant we didn’t get in touch with our real feelings. We’d sulk when we wanted attention, we’d get quiet when we had a lot to say, and we would fly off the handle when we were scared. We’d eat a row of Oreos to numb out or practice some other destructive habit instead of dealing with our emotions.

John’s family yelled, so he wanted our home to be quiet. My family fumed, so I wanted us to talk. John thought being quiet would fix everything or at least it’d keep him from having to hear what he did wrong. I thought talking would heal us even though I had no idea what I was feeling or how to talk about it, so I talked about him and what I thought he should fix.

John got quieter. I got louder.

He wasn’t talking at all by the time I was yelling and it was mostly about why he wasn’t talking. He was quiet in hopes that I would be too. I talked because I didn’t know what else to do. We lived this way for a lot of years, which wasn’t as bad as it sounds because we had kids and parents to distract us from each other and our issues.

A conversation with our son served as one wakeup call about our lack of communication. He said, “Why would I want children of my own when it’s been so hard on you?”

I thought, Oh my gosh, you and your sister have been the JOY in my life, not the hard part.

I said something like that to him while trying to settle down from our exchange. John and I were three decades into our mess and at least one of our kids thought he was the problem, just like I thought with my parents. And it wasn’t true of him or of me.

My family of origin talked a lot less than John and I talked, although he and I were 30 years into the same conversation – one that we had over and over and to no avail.

“I don’t want to talk anymore about what’s wrong. I just want us to learn how to get along and have fun,” John said four million times.

“I wish you’d listen and hear what I’m really saying. That’d probably help with all the ‘getting along’ you keep talking about,” I said for the four million and oneth time.

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John’s wanted to skip through fields of daisies instead of dredge up anything unpleasant. I’ve wanted to dig to the bottom of our pain because we’re both in it. Communication’s the answer, but we didn’t know how to do it. We didn’t have examples to follow, so we’ve fought our way to it. 

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I’ve been scared and scary and I’ve screamed a lot. I’ve been depressed and quiet. I’ve faced demons of living in silence as a kid, then trying to do it again as an adult even though I’ve known I needed to talk. I’ve talked in the wrong ways and about someone else because it’s scary to talk about myself and what’s going on with me, but I’ve learned to talk anyway and, yes, about myself and what’s going on with me.

John’s faced demons of living with a mom in a lot of pain and now a wife who is also, and both of us very noisy about it. We told him what’s wrong with us and what’s wrong with him and what’s wrong with everyone around us. He’s hidden out from all of it, but if he’s going daisy skipping, he has figured out he has to show up sometimes to listen and to talk.

Fast forward to this week and keep in mind change takes time. I’ve been sick for weeks, which I believe is the result of not being heard for years. Our unattended emotions wreak havoc on our health. Writing on my blog about our lack of communication, talking honestly and free of judgment with a friend, and recognizing what it’s cost us and our family when we haven’t felt worthy of being heard have made me sick and tired and ready for change.

This week, John and I talked twice about our pain. Neither time did it have much to do with each other. We talked about things we think about and what we’re afraid of and how confused we get when we don’t talk and listen to each other. I cried a couple of hours, and then felt really relaxed – a first after one of our discussions. John went to bed exhausted (not a first), but knowing he listened the right way … to understand, not to reply.

We made headway in #GettingYourOwnLife #whileLovingthePeopleinIt.

In This Together,
Kim

An early blog post brought to you by Claire’s upcoming visit. Thanks for the images, Pixabay.com.

Next week, I’ll blog about George Bernard Shaw’s quote, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

 

What Happened That Was So Bad?

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“The real violence, the violence I realized that is unforgivable, is the violence we do to ourselves when we’re too afraid to be who we really are.” Unknown

While a friend and I talked about depression, she asked about my past and said, “What happened that was so bad?”

Although whining and blaming are unattractive, I didn’t mind a chance to tell my sad story. I launched about details I had never told her. Fortunately for you, I won’t share all of it here.

Emotional, religious, and sexual abuse contributed to what happened that was so bad. I knew better than to talk about my abuse with my parents because it wasn’t as bad as what Mom had been through, so I tried to help fix hers. The more I encouraged her to let go of her past and live happily ever after, the more strained our relationship became. She wanted sympathy, not solutions, but I needed her fixed.

My parents being unavailable and unpredictable contributed to what happened that was so bad. Dad spent nine months out of the year at the beach, running the family business. Mom either numbed out at home or couldn’t handle her emotions. I lived under threats like this one when I didn’t act like she wanted me to, “You’re lucky I didn’t do anything to hurt myself.”

Living around mental illness contributed to what happened that was so bad. Before Dad left for Vietnam, he moved Mom, my younger brother, and me in with my great aunt who raised Mom and her siblings. After Dad returned home and retired from the Air Force, we stayed put. It wasn’t long before my mom’s brother moved in with us. He walked around in stained t-shirts and with his pants unzipped, burned carpet and furniture with his cigarettes, and made sexual overtures that Mom ignored until he’d get so out of hand she’d temporarily commit him to mental institutions around the state.

I thought a sympathetic ear about my past would be comforting, but the more woes I shared, the worse I felt. What happened that was so bad was not about what someone else had done to me, but what I was still doing to myself. My family was long gone, but I still lived and talked about their crazy legacy.

Vivi, the alcoholic mother in Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, describes it best in a conversation with her daughter’s fiancé. She said, “I know she blames me. Of course she does, just like I blame my mother. I didn’t screw up her life any more than my mother screwed up mine. She almost did. But all the real long-term damage … I did to myself.”

So, what really happened that was so bad?

  • I repeated my past by setting out to fix my husband and my children just like I tried to fix Mom. Even when a friend said, “Your family will get better when you get better,” I kept focusing on them. I felt overwhelmed (and still do sometimes) by focusing on/fixing myself and living my own life.
  • I doubted my decisions and myself all along. Self-doubt makes it hard to stand behind my commitments, as well as hard to enforce boundaries I’ve tried to set. Self-doubt makes taking care of myself almost impossible. I give in and give up instead of standing up for what I want.
  • I self-destructed because whining, being lazy, and blaming others come easier than practicing a healthy routine. I eat too much chocolate, stay up too late, and overlook opportunities to live a sensible and happy life. I defer to fear if things get hard. I’d rather wallow around with a problem than research a manuscript. It takes a lot of work to get well. It means #GettingYourOwnLife.

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I acknowledge the power of messy pasts and the power of destructive family patterns. I also acknowledge how powerful it is to take responsibility for what we’re doing to ourselves and to make a decision to do something different. I hope you’ll join the Conversation and the Change.

In This Together,
Kim

Thank you for the swamp photo, Joel Carter. It looks as desolate as my life felt for a while.

Thank you, Rhonda Hensley @ Inspiration Images and Media, for the photo of balloons. They represent change.

I’m Posting on Friday Because … (inside one of our arguments)

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“The aim of an argument, or of a discussion, should not be victory, but progress.” Joseph Joubert

I’ve seldom let anyone inside one of our arguments. They are too painful even if we say it’s about hair, which this one was. Of course, hair is not what escalates the argument and it’s not what causes the pain. The argument and the pain escalate because of the never-ending cycle of being unheard, which is how I feel, and misunderstood, which is how John feels.

I’ve listened to enough friends talk about arguments with their spouses to know we’re having some of the same ones and with the same undercurrents. Dissecting one of ours may help all of us improve how we deal with conflict.

Background Information

For a decade, I’ve cut my own hair. I shaved the back and sides with clippers and used scissors to style the front. In the fall, I decided I wanted a little length on my hair since it’s graying. I reconnected with my hairdresser from 10 years back. It took until two months ago to settle on a style I really love. She shaves the back and sides and blends in the longer hair on top. It grows fast, so it only takes days for it to look shaped instead of shaved.

What Happened At Home

 John and I planned to go to dinner the same evening as my perfect haircut. I showered, styled my hair, and was ready to go when he came through the backdoor. Instead of saying what I hoped for, “You look great. I love your hair,” he just stared at me, then put down his keys and wallet.

“Why aren’t you saying anything about my hair? Don’t you like it?” I said.

“Oh, I like it, but …” and here’s where it usually turns out that he’s misunderstood and I’m not heard.

Here is what he said, “Oh, I like it, but did you want it that short? I thought you were growing it out.”

I thought, All these years I’ve worn my hair much shorter and he’s calling this short? I guess he really hated it back then.

What He Said

Instead of offering reassurance that he liked my hair, which is what I wanted, he argued …

“I didn’t want to come home to this.”

“And I didn’t want to talk about your hair. I wanted to go to dinner and have a good time. I think your hair looks fine.”

“Anyhow, why are you making a big deal over your hair now? You’ve worn it a lot shorter and I didn’t care, so why would I say anything now?”

What I Heard

“I don’t care about you or your hair. I wish you’d shut up about all of it.”

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The Undercurrent

Since John prefers to ignore conversations that are unpleasant and I prefer to let him have his way, we both contributed to where we ended up this week.

Sometimes it seems less painful to halt communication. It doesn’t fix anything to ignore what’s seething below the surface, but it does keep us from having to talk about what hurts.

So, instead of healing, we’ve lived for two months with thoughts like I hope she doesn’t bring up her hair again and He hates my hair.

 

 

How To Fix It

First, let me tell you what won’t fix it. I used to tell John what he did wrong, instead of telling him how I felt. Every sentence out of my mouth started with “you.” I had no intention of telling the “enemy,” which is how I’ve labeled him when we’ve fought, anything as intimate as my emotions.

What does fix it is talking about my feelings. The more I share about how I feel, the easier it is to share and even show some emotion. That’s a lot of progress for me since I used to hate crying in front of anyone, especially John.

John concedes he wants to stop his habit since childhood of arguing and defending himself. He wants to get in touch with how he genuinely feels instead of giving into feeling sorry for himself because he thinks it’s unfair that I heard something he didn’t say. He said, “I want to learn to listen to why your feelings are hurt even if I didn’t mean to hurt them. And then I want to talk about how I feel.”

As uncomfortable as it is sometimes, when we talk about our own feelings instead of telling how the other person hurt us, we end up seeing the pain we’re causing each other. These conversations help move us toward what we pray for each night – that we are saner and softer.

What This Has To Do With A Friday Blog Post

I was in bed all day on Thursday, the day I usually post.

I got my hair cut this week. Since we had not resolved “what he said, what I heard” from two months ago, I made myself sick. Louise Hay’s book, You Can Heal Your Life, includes a chart of physical ailments along with their emotional counterparts. I’ve lived by this book for 15 years to keep from getting sick or to figure out why I am. I suffered for 24 hours with a fever (she says it indicates anger), chills (a desire to retreat), aches (longing to be held), and a cough (barking “listen to me”). Yep, every symptom I had fit every emotion I felt.

My day in bed was the culmination of our marriage-long pattern …

I think if John doesn’t want to hear what I have to say, I don’t have the right to say it.

This pattern has nearly ended our relationship. It’s made me sick more times than I’ve realized until now. It’s kept us from feeling emotionally safe and emotionally free. And this week, it’s ruined my Fitbit placement. In other words, this argument was a big deal. And it had nothing to do with my hair.

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I hope untangling our latest argument helps some of you since the first step to changing lifelong patterns is understanding them. The second step is sharing what’s going on with safe people who can help. (Thank you, Jenine, for being safe, loving, and supportive. Thank you to my readers for offering the same. I hope you’ll feel free to share here if you need a place to tell what’s going on.) The third is actually making the changes.

John apologized yesterday afternoon for being hard to talk to and I apologized for not talking anyway. To make up for it, he’s taking my Fitbit to work with him and racking up some steps.

 

In This Together,
Kim

On the side: Joel Carter, I can’t thank you enough for allowing me to use your photography and for brightening Facebook daily with your talent.