Sunday, February 28, 2016

Ambivalence in Relationships

Ambivalence is the topic of today’s post.  My last post was a suggestion for you to seek the truth in opinions on your compatibility, from both your friends and family, and most importantly – yourself.  This is the type of input that can actually be helpful to you in your decisions.  Half-truths (and lies), from others and especially from yourself, do not help.  They will only hurt you in the long run.  I wish you good luck in seeking the truth on feelings about your relationship.

Today I’d like to talk to you about the big topic of ambivalence and provide a book recommendation.

Defined loosely, ambivalence is the state of having mixed feelings or contradictory ideas about something or someone.  Everyone has had ambivalent feelings about someone at some point in their life.  When you have strong feelings of ambivalence when it’s about someone who is as important as a future life partner or spouse, you need to pay close attention to them.  Personally, I had many feelings of ambivalence, both before and during my marriage.  I analyzed and re-analyzed these thoughts and feelings.  It can be very hard to even admit sometimes that we feel ambivalent about a person we think we’re in love with.  It can be extremely confusing, and you can find yourself very “stuck” emotionally.  I know very well how that felt, and it was not a good feeling.  It’s actually not supposed to feel good, as it’s not a good state of mind or feeling.  Seeking clarity and true understanding is the only way to be.  Working through and understanding the ambivalence is really the thing that you should be doing.

From personal experience, I was ambivalent for far too long.  I’m an analytical type of person, and I was in this state for far too long, mainly because I thought that this was just the way most people felt, thought and dealt with their love relationships.  It can be.  Ambivalence is a fact of life with many relationships, but if endured for too long on a deep relationship, it can also be toxic and erode your ability to trust your own thinking and instincts.  It’s important to recognize when you’re stuck and suffering, and begin to find your way through.

My recommendation after dealing with this state of mind for years, is that with any committed love relationship, you need to either be fully in it – in every way – or get out of it.  Again, seeking health, peace and resolution on this painful state is key.  The trick is to understand the actual importance of doing the work on this.  Time flies by and you can find months and years going by in this state.  If you’ve been in it for a long time, it becomes hard to see whether you are truly happy, and even what happiness is anymore, and what is important for you.  You can even lose yourself.  Living with negativity is very unhealthy emotionally.  I know that that it’s difficult to change, especially from within a committed relationship, even ones that aren’t even good for us to begin with.

Ambivalence in relationships will be a topic I’ll be coming back eventually to in future posts, but I want to use this as a first introductory post, and provide a recommendation to the best book that I’ve found on the topic.  The book is called Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay, by Mira Kirshenbaum.  This is the book that made me see that I was truly stuck in ambivalence about my relationship, and helped me begin to understand how to determine whether it was good for me to stay in.  I can’t say enough about how helpful this book can be in evaluating life and making decisions.  When making decisions on about a relationship, some people say to make lists of the advantages and the disadvantages, and use those as a gauge.  That approach will only get you so far.  Amazon makes the first chapter available for free online in preview mode.  It’s an excellent introduction to the topic of ambivalence and the book.

Wishing you clarity, happiness and understanding in your life and relationships.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Seek the Truth

Hope you are well.  Last time we talked I tried to explain how important it is to be true to yourself and not “settle”.  Again, it’s important to remember that you always be true to yourself.  It’s the only way that you can be happy in the long run.  If you’re not happy, you will change things eventually.  Years or decades can be lost.  Lately I’ve been getting back to reviewing some of the great words of wisdom from Dale Carnegie, the timeless public speaking guru, from his book, How to win friends and influence people.

I’m recently getting into a job role with more public speaking responsibilities and I've needed to dust off all my reading related to public speaking and find new material as well.  Carnegie’s books are classics and simply great -- easily accessible and chock full of affirmation, they’re definitely early “self help” for public speaking and human relations in general.  His books were written long before the term "self help" was ever thought up.  In watching Carnegie’s A&E biography online today, I learned something new about him.  He had an unhappy first marriage that ended in divorce.  Although my heart goes out to him and his wife and anyone who’s been down that road, it somehow reassuring to know that someone of Carnegie’s caliber could also make a major life relationship mis-step.  I mean, we’re talking about one of the early and foremost authorities and teachers on human relations.  Well, it just goes to show you that the heart can take full control of captaining one’s ship of life, leaving the mind a confused second in command.  It’s sometimes only years later that one finds that happiness is not only kept afloat by the heart and mutiny ensues.  So much for my analogy, I’m sure you know what I mean.  May you not be one of those who loses years as Carnegie (and I) did.

Today I’d like to speak to you about family and friends.  Hopefully you’re keeping in touch with them, they’re very important.  Communication, as Carnegie would say, is key here as well.  Be sincere.  Keeping those treasured friends and deep relationships is all so important in life.  With this said, when it comes to sincerity and their input to you, I want to be the first to caution you – always take the opinions of family and friends on your relationship with a serious grain of salt.  The truth hurts, and sometimes it is withheld when it is most deeply needed.  Strive for truth.

I’m just going to be honest and direct here -- don’t count on your friends *or* family to give you their truly honest, tough love opinion when it comes to a decision on commitment and marriage.  As with all things in human relations, you need to be careful on how you approach them and ensure you are creating an atmosphere of sincerity and trust and ensure you let them know you are letting them know you want their honest opinion.  That is not an easy thing.  You need to be very careful because if they see that you’re “in love” and strongly leaning towards marriage, the last thing that they will want to do is be labeled as the one “nay-sayer” to be remembered as saying something negative -- that you shouldn’t have married so and so, when you actually go and do it no matter despite their words of caution.

No matter what you do, ask for people’s opinion on your “match” and your chances of making it for the long run.  Seriously, in an age when the divorce rate for first marriages hovers around 50%, and even higher for second marriages, you need all the help you can get.  I may be the first to tell you this and I’ll speak more about it in a future post, but seriously – marriage is *not* a requirement for happiness in life.  In fact, it can be just the opposite.  Don’t take my word for it, just ask Dale Carnegie.  Make sure that you’re talking to people properly about this important topic, and talk to a real blend of people that will give you the best chance of getting honest responses, both from people who have been divorced and those that are in seemingly functional and happy marriages.  You need to think long term here, and not just letting your heart run roughshod with optimism.

When you do find the people on your list who can really tell it like it is, after having been married for many years, make sure that you’re also asking the right questions so you can get the full picture.  Don’t expect that they will lay it out for you.  Be receptive and ensure that you’re letting them know that they you will always appreciate their honest opinion, no matter what they say.  It’s up to you to ensure you’re talking to the people whose opinion you would truly respect in the first place, not just Aunt or Uncle So-and-So, who you barely know and somehow never divorced… for those people you ask who are married, you need to make sure that they’re truly in a happy, healthy marriage, not just one where they decided years ago to be room-mates.  You know the type.

I leave you with some final words from Dale Carnegie.  Seek the truth on your relationships, and honor and respect all your relationships, especially of friends and family who were with you long before your beloved came along.  Be honest with everyone, and most importantly, with yourself.

“Any fool can criticize, complain, and condemn—and most fools do. But it takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving.”

“When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but with creatures bristling with prejudice and motivated by pride and vanity.”

― Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Don't Settle.

Last post focused on an important question one needs to ask, “Does this *choice* diminish me, or enlarge me?”… and by *choice* it could mean anything – a job, a relationship… any choice in your life.  It’s a critical question.  As time goes on, if you haven’t asked and actively sought out the answer, that answer will still eventually reveal itself.  Then, if the answer is that the choice does diminish you, it will be very sad if years have gone by, and also if commitments and responsibilities have locked you into a situation such as a marriage, where you can’t get out easily.

Life only gives a certain number of passes for a big "do-over", and those always involve a lot of investment in time and effort, courage, and usually plenty of sacrifices and suffering.  Still, they are there, they are possible.  My new path, and my hope for you, is to continually ask this question of all those key choices in life on a weekly basis, and reflect on those.  It’s easy to not do this and let weeks, months, years just fly by.  Again whenever it does reveal itself, hopefully by your active reflection, if a key choice does in fact leave you feeling diminished, I hope you can find your way to either make a change for the better, or go through and/or out of that situation.  Give it a try.

Today I would like to talk about settling.  Most of you will know exactly what I’m talking about.  I settled over the years in far too many ways, but primarily in love and marriage, and also in my job.  Both were very good and rewarding, especially from the perspective of others, and I can’t tell you how many times others had said that I should be happy with what I had.  Still, I knew I had settled.  I tried for years to improve both, changing many different things, tried all the normal routes everyone takes, but the end result was that I knew neither were healthy for me, and I had become a very sad, depressed person.

Sometimes when you work very hard and make deep investments in something, it’s hard to admit to oneself that you’re actually not going in the right direction.  As I’ve heard it said, one can spend so much effort climbing a ladder (job), only to find it was leaning entirely against the wrong wall.  Change is not easy, we only have so much energy in a day, and it’s especially hard later in life.  Still, one knows how suffering and dissatisfaction feels, and it’s an important clue letting us know that we went down the wrong path and potentially settled.

I’ll expand on this more another time, but I want to now give you two excellent resources for reflection.  One is a great article that’s been online for a while and which I like to re-read.  The other is a classic address given by Steve Jobs.  I hope they help you think about your situation, so that you will not settle, and if you find (like I did) that you have settled somewhere, that you can begin to seek ways to make changes that will help you to be happier.

First, a great article on settling, which lays it out nicely:

Second, a classic passage from Steve Jobs where he talks about his life and perseverance.  The whole Stanford commencement address is worth reading / listening to:

“Don't lose faith. I'm convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did.  You've got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don't settle.

Steve Jobs, 2005 Stanford Commencement Address, June 12, 2005.  

I like that:  “Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it.”

Here’s to all of us accepting the challenge of the hero’s journey, to continue to seek, and to strive to understand ourselves and our needs… until we know when we truly have found them.  I wish you the best on that journey.  Don't settle.

Monday, February 15, 2016

An Important Question

Hope you had a nice Valentine’s Day.  It’s normally a pretty big commercial event here in the States.  I know that it’s done differently around the world, every country has their twist.  Here it can be deeply wrapped in big expectations… the flowers, the chocolate, the dinner, the wine, the romance, the promises, the deep kisses and deep everything.  With this said, it’s interesting to think about attitudes around all this, the giving and receiving of it all, and I’ve mainly been the giver on these things, with some years being better than others.  In any case, the reactions of the one receiving these gifts are always telling, but it’s not just the gift itself, but in many cases the attitude of the giver which very much affects the one receiving the gift.  Many times it depends on the depth of your relationship and the level of your commitment, but again, the feelings are always telling.

I guess I haven’t mentioned yet that I’m a middle-aged, straight male.  I just remembered that’ll be important for any of you reading this, to know that, to keep the perspective in mind.  I’ve always been the sensitive type and felt things deeply, almost to a fault.  I’m the romantic type as well, which has been an issue (we’ll explore the topic of romance further down the road).  I can even remember some of my first girlfriends as a child, giving them gifts, writing them love letters, etc.   It’s kind of funny to recall that about myself, how soon we forget who we were about such things, but it’s important as well as it guides us in our understanding of our own personality and its formation.  That type of thing will be important for us as we explore what it takes to know ourselves, and to know the “other”.

In these posts I’ll be trying to provide thoughts on things that have helped me with my decisions, and things which have helped me to either find, or re-find aspects of myself which were important, and would have helped me to avoid mistakes and wrong choices.  Some of these things will be psychological, some leaning more towards the spiritual, it’s interesting how those two are also closely related.  We’ll likely explore that as well.  I now want to tell you the person whose writing has had a profound influence on my thoughts over the past few years.  His name is James Hollis, a psychologist, writer, Jungian analyst and therapist.  Some in the States may have seen him on PBS.  I find his writing practical, profound and his ability to share the perspectives and psychology of Carl Jung all extremely helpful.  I’ll be sharing a lot of Hollis’ words of wisdom, as I think it may be very helpful to you as well.

The point I’d like to leave you with today is that fear always plays some part in our lives, and that we have to understand how it affects the many dimensions, especially our relationships.  Hollis brings out a key question in his book, What Matters Most, which I highly recommend -- “Does this choice diminish me, or enlarge me?”  You can and should apply this question to every aspect of your life, but today, ask yourself this about your relationship with your significant other – does it diminish or enlarge you?  What I like about the question is that when you ask yourself this in a relaxed, calm state, that you can almost immediately know the answer.  There may be certain pro’s vs. con’s type thoughts that arise, but if you let it settle in, the answer can arise, or at least the beginning of an answer.  The next question is what you do with that answer, and your next steps in exploring that further.

So check out Hollis' book, What Matters Most, it has an incredible amount of practical wisdom, which we’ll be exploring.  I leave you with his words:

So there you have it. Fear is the enemy. Life is not your enemy; the Other is not your enemy; fear is the enemy, and fear has crowded you into a diminished corridor of that vast mansion of possibility that the gods provide us. Ask yourself of every dilemma, every choice, every relationship, every commitment, or every failure to commit, “Does this choice diminish me, or enlarge me?” Do not ask this question if you are afraid to find the answer. You might be afraid of what your own soul will require of you, but at least you then know your marching orders. 

Only the boldest among us can acknowledge the role that fear plays in their lives. The bold are like those captives freed from Plato’s cave— they are no longer servants to ignorance. If you are governed by fear— and who is not— and if you can acknowledge what it does to you, what it costs you and others for whom you care, and even the world to which you owe your best being, then you at last know, really know, to whom your final obligation belongs.

James Hollis.  What Matters Most: Living a More Considered Life.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

It's Your Call, Make it Good

I’ve been down that road.  You know.  The one that no one wants to go down.  Divorce.  It was the hardest time of my life… by far.  I’m starting this blog in an effort to try and share some of my thoughts and reflections on marriage and divorce, but primarily on the decision to get married.  Mainly I’m doing this in hopes of somehow helping you the reader, in some small way, with your decision-making process.

In a nutshell, it comes down to your understanding of love – true love, for yourself and your partner, the goals you have for your life, and the type of person you are.  With this said, many times determining if you have all of these things are met and are sufficient for a lifetime… well, that can be one “tough call” as they say, a very difficult decision – and it should be.  This is not something to take lightly, and when you think you have the decision made, you should go back and check on it again, and again.  This isn’t choosing a new car here.  This decision on whether and who to marry is the most important decision that you will make towards your future happiness.

Let me repeat that.  The decision to get married, and who to marry, should be the single most important decision of your life.  The decision is not simple or clear-cut as some make it out to be, especially these days.  Some make it out as simple as there are plenty of parties out there that make their business out of helping people figure out how to improve a rocky marriage and even more who are set up to help people simply get out of failed marriages, all essentially built on the result of poor decision making.  Divorce is bad enough on the couple that are separating, but the real tragedy is for any children who came from the marriage.  It’s very easy and quick to get into a marriage.  It can be extremely difficult and painful getting out of one.

My hope is to try and help people avoid the pain that I’ve gone through for years in a dysfunctional marriage.  Someone may stumble upon this blog and potentially learn something which helps them with resources on how to deeply and thoughtfully consider whether they are on the right track with their decision process on the big question.  There are many resources out there to help people with decisions, but sometimes it’s hard to find the right ones that really touch on such an emotionally-charged decision.

Friends, family, hormones, biological clocks, peer pressure, society, religion, the list goes on – all deeply influence our hearts and minds.  One of the key points we’ll discuss is getting away from that and focusing on what you both feel and think about your situation.  Sometimes it can be just remembering who you are, distinct and separate from all of those influences, and that you actually can be happy on your own, which can make all the difference and allow you to see clearly what is and maybe what is not working for you.

Valentine’s Day.  Flowers, chocolate, good wine, romantic dinners and all the sweetness.  It can be wonderful.  I remember it.  Enjoy it – deeply.  Tomorrow, after the date nights are over, and the expectations have been, or maybe have not been fulfilled, we’ll take a look at those feelings and thoughts.   Happy V-Day.