I was honored to be interviewed by the inspiring Erica Jefferson of Be Inspired! It is my pleasure to share this podcast.
Thank you, Erica~
What does the pursuit of happiness look like in your house? In our home, it used to mean the quest to actualize the picture perfect life; a lovely home, big careers, high achieving children. However, our search for the American Dream was quietly laid to rest once we figured out that the stress that came along with that dream did nothing but drive a big, fat exhausted wedge between the four of us. Our wildest dream is now about owning less and simplifying even more.
This month, take a step back and see how much of marital and family strain might be fueled by cultural norms that you may never have given yourself permission to question. The abundance available to us in our communities and our constant search for happiness and a sense of accomplishment outside of ourselves begins, at some point, to work against relationships. Begins, at some point, to erode the sense of intimacy that keeps families close. A lifestyle anchored in achievement does not necessarily equate to happiness.
Years ago, my brother Joe, then employed in development for George Washington University, called me one day and invited me to be his guest at a dinner party at Arianna Huffington’s house in Los Angeles. Not one to ever pass up an interesting party, I met him there and proceeded to endure a most humbling evening. Sharing space with the likes of Gloria Allred and many big wigs of the Democratic party, I was clearly out of my league. When people around me made small talk and told uproarious jokes about issues and people I had never heard of, well, let’s just say I felt like a kindergartener at the eighth grade lunch table.
I always remember that evening, feeling like I was less. Like I would never live in an elegant home like Mrs. Huffington’s or be the type of person that would understand jokes about the inner workings of Washington, D.C. I left that night promising myself to work harder, read more news magazines, watch more serious TV and avail myself to more intellectual discussions. I promised myself to find a way to have more. More, more, more…faster, faster, faster to make sure I didn’t feel less.
In October 2009, I saw that Mrs. Huffington had chosen, as her first book club pick, In Praise of Slowness, by Carl Honore, a book about less, less, less…slower, slower, slower to make us feel more. Life has its ironies.
I agree with Carl Honore. In his book he discusses the current trend toward deceleration saying that “The problem is that our hunger for speed, for cramming more and more into less time, has gone too far.” That “the current recession is a stark reminder that an economy based on fast growth, fast consumption, and fast profits is not sustainable.”
The pendulum is swinging in the opposite direction. Not only can our economy not withstand such a pace, neither can our families. Divorce rates remain around 50%. I wonder how that might change, how children’s lives might remain innocent and intact, if families were given cultural permission to slow down and own less. The greatest indicator of success is a happy family, not a beautiful home as glossy magazines and TV shows might suggest.
Our experience of selling all and living abroad for a year to reconnect as a family supports Honore’s theory. It was a sacred time of owning nothing but possessing everything. Simplification has helped us maintain a level of sanity and intimacy that supports rather than strains our family. Perhaps the American Dream, as we know it, has run its course. Perhaps it is time for a new one. A slower, less materialistic one.
Taking things out of your life will help you and your spouse find more time for each other. So much of what we choose to fill our days can be argued as good, but too much of a good thing is still too much. If you are seeking real change in the quality of your marriage, you must find a way to create the emotional space to interact in meaningful ways.
I challenge you, this month, to think outside our cultural box and create your own recipe for happiness according to what works best for you and your spouse. My wildest dream is a peaceful heart and happy home, the very same two things that I wish for you!
A few months ago, Dena Patton, the founder of Chat, Chew, and Chocolate, an international women’s organization, asked me if I would be interested in becoming one of the “Lifestyle Experts” for their website. Who wouldn’t be flattered by that?
The only catch was that she offered me the Weathering Marriage in Rough Times category. By accepting I would agree to write an article each month about how to navigate marital and long term relationships. I mulled this over for a bit as I felt a little awkward. Anyone who has read Halfway to Each Other knows that neither my husband nor I were especially good at it. We actually had to move to another country just to iron ourselves out and get our act together! Though I learned much during our year abroad and am happy to share the things that helped us revive our marriage, I could never don the badge of Expert. (Italian wine drinker and pasta eater expert? Maybe.)
Then it occurred to me that I don’t really believe in experts when it comes to marriage. I have yet to meet one couple that dances through it kicking up their heels in unified delight. Every couple is unique and no two personalities collide in exactly the same way. Who am I to tell another couple how to change their steps?
Oh, I respect the many doctors and therapists out there who have studied human behavior in all of its intricacies, and who are able to educate us with regards to communication and conflict resolution skills and other avenues to happiness. We need you more than ever. But I also respect the great power of sharing life’s journeys with each other. Perhaps that is one of the reasons I am so drawn to memoir. We all have hard earned wisdom to share.
Life stories amaze me. The love, courage and ingenuity revealed in the face of hardship or inexplicable evil inspire me to be more loving and courageous in my own life. The soul bearing grief or revelation of deep sadness or regret in a person’s tale often buries itself in my own soul reminding me to behave more empathetically and put myself second when others are hurting. Witnessing selflessness or simple, and not so simple, acts of forgiveness broadens my heart and dares me to act in the same manner toward those I love.
I am not trained as a therapist or counselor so I could not, in good faith, write an instruction manual for how to weather tough times in marriage, but I can create an arena that invites those who have successfully traveled difficult paths in their own relationships to share what they have lived and learned so that we may draw on these lessons when we are experiencing times of emotional drought.
Please join me at Chat, Chew, and Chocolate at the beginning of each month to sit around a virtual kitchen table with one of our peers as she/he tells the story of a time in his/her marriage that was particularly difficult and how they were able to work through it. No pressure here to be perfect or an expert at anything, just a fellow traveler on this often complicated journey of marriage.
Feel free to comment via this blog as the CCC website is not equipped for commenting.
This month’s guest is Stephanie Baffone. Stephanie, or Aunt Steph as she is known to many who read her advice column in Delaware’s The Community News, is a licensed, board certified mental health therapist. I love her blog and am happy to have her back to share her very personal essay about dealing with infertility in marriage.
National Infertility Awareness Week is April 24-April 30 and Susan was gracious enough to extend an invitation to me to guest post on how couples affected by infertility can keep their marriages strong in the face of the emotional turmoil. Thank you, Susan for the opportunity to share tips for couples on how to stare down the beast of infertility without allowing their marriages to become a victim of it. This post originally appeared in LifeGems4Marriage.com last year but it’s so valuable, it’s making another round this year.
How to Keep a Marriage Strong in the Face of Infertility
“You guys are both identical twins?! Wow! How many children do you guys have?” Expecting a staggering number, my husband’s and my response forlornly, has remained the same for 19 years.
We anticipated categorically, our foray into parenthood would be a breeze. Not only are we both identical twins, we hail from Irish, Italian, Catholic prolific families. My husband is one of ten and I am one of five, my mother having had two sets of twins. Yet our pursuit to hear our own children call us “Mommy” and “Daddy” was more tornado like. We didn’t see infertility coming and the emotional carnage it left in its wake was catastrophic.
To read the rest of Stephanie’s essay click HERE.
The Words We Choose Matter
Words are powerful. They can, if strung together in just the right pattern, change lives. You can choose to make your life more peaceful by thoughtfully examining your daily word choices.
Words reflect the soul of the person that speaks them. They will effect those who hear them in either a positive or negative way. If you choose words that uplift, heal, problem solve, soothe, and promote good will, then those with whom you come in contact will generally mirror your tone.
Nobody likes to be around a cranky, down in the dumps, stick in the mud. This type of person, and we all know at least one, creates his/her own misery by choosing to constantly share their negative thoughts and words with those they meet. Though he or she might actually be seeking solace from the listener, it usually accomplishes the opposite.
When I teach writing, I spend a lot of time on word choice and how it affects the tone of a story. We examine pieces of writing with angry, divisive words and compare them with pieces that contain soothing and peaceful ones. The tone in the classroom invariably corresponds with the tone of the writing. It is often an eye opening experience for the students to feel this on a visceral level.
Such it is in life. Each day you are the author of a new page in your life story. If you want to live in peace, choose words that promote it.
It takes courage to be vulnerable. It takes an olympian effort to be vulnerable in public. But I have found that the most genuine friendships and meaningful connections with other people take place in that space. Though I am inspired by valiant acts of courage and articulate speeches by dynamic leaders of all sorts, my heart is often left unchanged.
Sometimes I suspect greater power lies in the moments of shared weakness, in the glimpse into someone’s pain or uncertainty. Trust is built at that level. Vulnerability, and the sympathy it produces, encourages the birth and development of empathy. Empathy is the soil that will bear the fruit of peace.
So I encourage all of us, me included, to look upon vulnerability as a beautiful thing. As a life-giving energy. I leave you with one of my favorite poems. Have a vulnerable day!
The Sacrament of Letting Go By Macrina Wiederkehr
She celebrated the sacrament of
First she surrendered her Green
Then the Orange, yellow, and Red…
Finally she let go of her Brown…
Shedding her last leaf
She stood empty and silent, stripped bare
Leaning against the sky she began her vigil of trust…
Shedding her last leaf
She watched its journey to the ground…
She stood in silence,
Wearing the color of emptiness
Her branches wondering:
How do you give shade, with so much gone?
And then, the sacrament of waiting began
The sunrise and sunset watched with
Tenderness, clothing her with silhouettes
They kept her hope alive.
They helped her understand that
her dependence and need
her readiness to receive
were giving her a new kind of beauty.
Every morning and every evening she stood in silence and celebrated
the sacrament of waiting.