Relationships

What you water grows: Part 1

You can find plenty of parents out there on social media who gripe about being parents. Sure, being a mom or dad is hard. If you’re a stay-at-home parent who has these little critters 27/4, the messy days, lack of sleep, and wearing down of nerves is a real thing. I’ve been there. I get it.

However, as a social scientist and family studies expert, I also believe in the power of “what you water grows.” It’s a scientifically proven principal, and as a lover of gardening, it’s a law of nature I can count on as well. What this means is:

  • Every interaction or relationship has an 80/20 ratio.
  • About 80% of that person is what you love and, in the case of your spouse, the reason why you married them. Then there’s the 20% of what you don’t love so much, perhaps is even a bit annoying, and is a reminder that no none’s perfect (including the 20% in ourselves, mind you!).
  • What you focus on gets more of your attention. I can see the roses or the thorns…it’s my choice.
  • What gets more of your attention is reinforced in your mind, as well as in the other person or thing.
  • If I see the rose, I find beauty and am filled with gratitude, love, and appreciation.
  • If I look for and find the best in the other person, I will find it. If I look for and find the weaker parts, or thorns, in the other person, I will find that too.
  • If I continue to look for and reinforce the weaknesses in another person, the 20% in them inflates to eventually becoming the 80% and I feel completely justified in hating them, being dissatisfied, disgusted, or feeling justified in my removal of love (water) and acceptance of them.

Children and their parents have about an 80/20 relationship principle as well.  I can tell you from raising five babies to teenagers, that they stink, are moody, or contrary at least 20% of the time. But if you can look beyond the crazy hairstyles, acne, and sullenness, you’l find pretty remarkable, talented, loving, funny, smart, social, delightful human beings. I’ve enjoyed every stage of life with them. Each is my favorite.

Click on this image and say aloud what is the first thing you see.

Because of the darker images, usually our eyes are drawn to the bats or demons, as the artist Escher wanted. But look at it again, and stare for a while at the white spaces. Coming into focus, when we really concentrate, are angels.

In every person, there is both, good and bad, light and dark. It’s our choice to look past the things that are of no lasting consequence in our children and spouses and quiet down that voice that wants to criticize. Instead, sit still. Be calm. Focus on the light and the white spaces between. See what angels are brilliantly waiting to emerge and for us to embrace them.

And then water, water, water.

 

 

 

How To Fight Fair

Why do you think a man will agree to play sports with the possibility of getting hurt? Why do people march willingly into battle, even in the face of the enemy?

These are examples of conflicts that contain something that protects us and gives us confidence in the face of uncertainty.

Rules.

In sports, there are understood rules. There is a referee to keep players protected. If someone gets a little too heated and loses his head, the referee will call a foul, or a technical. In war, there are rules of engagement that give structure to an otherwise hostile event.

So it is with couples who fight. If they become out of control and unpredictable, their fighting is unproductive, even destructive. However, if couples established agree-upon rules, the conflict can be resolved much easier because both parties feel safe.

These are some rules that couples can sit down and adopt before the conflict arises. If followed, they change “fighting” to a constructive discussion that leads to mutual understanding.

  1. No yelling. Fighting can be passionate and if it gets too loud, it just turns into a screaming match. When one person yells, it’s like a barking dog. The other dogs have to join in, and they just get louder and louder. One person trying to out-do the decibel level to be heard over the other. Then they both end up yelling on top of the other person so that no one can hear the other.
  2. No name calling. Along with yelling, using derogatory statements or mud slinging is against the rules. I call “foul” because you have made this a personal attack and lost reason. We don’t attack the person, but the issue.
  3. Stick to the issue. When hot heads take off running, the contentious couple often start bringing up other grievances. It’s not fair to air a laundry list. Tackle one issue at a time.
  4. Similarly, don’t bring up old arguments. It’s like going back to the landfill, digging up old garbage, and flinging at your partner. The past is over, and the present is what you need to focus on.
  5. Take turns talking. This is probably the one that couples struggle with the most (along with the next related point). If you want to be respected for your opinion, you have to offer the same to the other person. You can’t ask for what you aren’t willing to give.
  6. Listen. When it’s your turn to listen, use all your energy to be in the moment. Don’t let your thoughts distract you. Don’t be formulating your rebuttal while your partner is talking. Even if you don’t agree with what the other person is saying, they deserve to be heard, just like you. Their point of view is their reality, even if it’s different that yours.
  7. Pick a good time to talk. Discuss your disagreement when you both agree it’s a good time to talk. You both need to be rested, relaxed, and ready. That means you might need to say, or email, “Honey, there’s a problem about overcharged on our credit card we need to go over. When would be a good time for you?” The wrong way to go about this is to corner your partner, like when they walk through the door after work (“We need to talk right now about your mom coming to visit!”). This is a sure-fire way to put your spouse on defense and the sparks to fly. I’ve never been a fan of the saying, “Never let the sun go down on your anger.” If I were to try to hash out a problem with my husband when it’s 11:00 p.m. and we’re both worn out, I can promise you that the problem would just grow and we would make it worse. Go to sleep! Get refreshed and pick a better time when you’re on the top of your game.

If you create a list of rules of engagement, both parties will be more likely to feel fairness, a shared amount of power, and safety when disagreeing. It may be easy to agree to the list when you’re both calm, but when emotions start to rule over reason, one of both may resort to hostility again. In that case, it’s very important that you also discuss what will happen in the heat of the moment. One of your can form a “T” with your hands, to indicate a “foul” or “technical” to remind the offending party that they broke a rule. Or just reaching over and gently touching the other person’s hand and saying, “Honey, remember we agreed not to call names” is a kind reminder.

A Tale of a Tree

When we bought our house, it came with a beautiful, old cherry tree that had been left over from an orchard. It was a connection to the “good old days” of farming, before suburban sprawl took over. I loved it.

It stood in the middle of our backyard, in front of our big picture window, and was a centerpiece for 20+ years of backyard family activities.

tree

(Emily in 1997)

My children climbed the tree in summers and we checked yearly for the robin who would lay her eggs in the nest perched on the same favorable branch.

nest

A toddler swing gave my 5 children, and other children, hours of delight.The tree was a harbinger of spring with its early pink blossoms and the cherries that grew later in the year were abundant. A wind chime let the tree sing music.

Sadly, the old cherry tree became diseased a few years ago and my husband began hinting that it needed to go. I always resisted because I couldn’t bear to let so many memories get chopped down and disappear. Finally, my new son-in-law picked a Saturday that he and my husband would take it down.

cherry-tree1

I couldn’t watch (My daughter took these photos. I was hiding behind the couch).

cherry-tree2

It was like having a child die.

cherry-tree3

The lawn felt barren and alone when they were done.

And then…the new sod was laid and I ventured out. Yes, it was different. But my first impression was, “Wow. Our yard looks so big now! It’s like breathing new air for the first time. There’s so much room. And look! There’s a view of the mountains I never knew existed because the tree had blocked our view.”

I was stunned at this panorama that opened up to me.

mountain

I finally rejoiced in the change.

The tree represents so many things in my life that I have a hard time letting go of. Pride, guilt, control, the need to prove I’m right (and of course, you’re wrong!), sins and misdeeds, bad habits. These are all diseases that corrupt the tree.

Every day I go outside in the backyard, I am reminded of the old tree and how fiercely I held on, way after it was no good. I was suffocated by its presence even as I fought to breathe. Old things, dying things we don’t let go of will block our view.

When I now look at the glorious view of the mountains I never knew I had all those years, I wonder what else I’m missing because I won’t let go of things that are no good for me. What vistas are blocked? What panoramas are unknown? What fresh air am I not breathing? How am I limiting my view?

C.S. Lewis, in “Mere Christianity,” said it this way:

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”

Cutting down the tree hurt.

I had to let go.

I finally recognized it was time.

It’s time for me to let go and possibly even rebuild many things in my life, with God’s help. The roots may be deep and the trunk and branches are hardened by years.

But it’s time to start digging.

 

 

Better Relationships in 2016

I was interviewed for a Wall Street Journal article called “Look Ahead: 4 steps to better relationships in the new year” in the Tuesday, December 29, 2015 edition.

Here’s a link to the online version:

http://www.wsj.com/articles/look-ahead-four-steps-to-better-relationships-in-the-new-year-1451324689