Couplespeak™ Blog

The Challenge of Staying Present

 

This guy, Tucker, is one of the 4-legged loves of my life. In previous posts I’ve written about how through our daily romps in the woods around my land and walks around the neighborhood he reminds me about what’s most important in life, especially as I veer off into thoughts about my unanswered emails, calls, bills needing attention, etc. (Refer to “Its’ All About the Ball!”)

I share him with our next door neighbors Peggy and Dave who inherited him, not having had an agenda or a wish for such a demanding, messy creature. They love Tucker but Dave isn’t a dog guy. So our arrangement works. I don’t have a dog of my own, so Tucker is it. He lives at Peggy and Dave’s, but his heart lives with me.

 

Here’s the thing: Tucker at 7 years old has terminal cancer. Six months after surgery to remove a huge malignant mass on his thyroid the cancer is back. After a subsequent evaluation, the vet gave him about 7 months to live. My challenge is how to manage the pain of witnessing his imminent suffering and probably losing him not long from now, without wasting precious time we have together today – time for joy and much fun. It’s a mind screw and a heartbreak – right now he has minor symptoms – some weakness in his legs and some coughing, but other than that he still acts like an exuberant toddler, full of sweetness, innocence and life. 

“Staying present” means being in the moment without preoccupation about the past or the future. Some Eastern spiritual practices say that when you’re anxious you’re not here now, but in some possible or anticipated future, and when you’re sad you’re living in the past, grieving some loss or disappointment. So, the challenge is to be here for the present moment, savoring and amplifying it. The present moment is usually just fine if we don’t mess it up with our thoughts. For me with Tucker the present moment is about enjoying his current vitality and playfulness, savoring the shared sights and smells of Autumn without obsessing about it probably being his last one. (And by the way, research has indicated that people who practice savoring and amplifying positive experiences have more happy neural pathways which show up on brain scans)!

 

If you are in a situation like this with a similar challenge, make room for your sadness and honor it when it visits you. But, so your sadness doesn’t drown out all else, when you’ve given your sadness its’ due, change the channel in your brain through the practice of noticing the specialness of this present moment, take a mental snapshot, then save it as a treasure to place in your treasure box of memories for the future. Pay attention to what is right in front of you and appreciate its meaning to you. You will be present for your life which will feel much fuller, and in the future you’ll be thankful for that!

 

 

I’m Finally Back….

If you’re a follower of this blog you may have been wondering where I was all summer – why no posts?? Where’s the new material, any new tools or resources, even just thoughts?

The answer is: I’ve been having too much fun practicing what I preach to clients: nourishing connection with self, family and friends, mostly outside, nowhere near a computer! I’ve put away the devices, as we all should do with some intentionality, and practiced more face-to-face experiences. How can a cell phone or a laptop compete with a glorious, sunny 80 degree day on the lake with beloved family or friends? How can researching and posting about all the new resources for creating joy and meaning compete with the meaning derived by loving up the local shelter dogs each Monday? And what “work-related” activity on Earth can compete with days at the beach or the park with our irrepressible two year old granddaughter Anna and Old Soul grand-dog Barley? What thoughtful article or diligent new podcast could possibly compete with immersion in the magnificence of our coast, our mountains, our rivers and forests here in the Northeast for the measly three months of friendly weather? None!!!

Then, there’s the other knee with it’s own torn meniscus, amplifying a sense of needing to “make hay while the sun shines”, knowing the inevitable surgery is around the corner (successfully completed today), bringing with it mandatory vegging out on the couch and a perfect opportunity to get back together with all my devices, my writing, my internal world.

So, there you have it – iced knee on pillows, hoping for crappy weather to avoid FOMO, and lots to share once again with you, my gentle readers whom I hope will forgive my incognito, hedonistic summer and know that I’m finally back…

Susan

A Second Important Question for Spouses with Kids

(Here’s the second very good question Parenting NH magazine asked me recently):

What are some practical tips and ways for parents to prioritize their relationship as spouses/partners?

Most people know about the importance of setting aside quality time together through things like “date night.” Having a planned, ritualized time alone with your partner amplifies your “couple-ness” through shared experiences, reminding you about your reasons for choosing and staying with each other. I encourage couples to ramp it up a notch by taking turns with the planning, each putting energy into the “work” of connection.

Sometimes surprise experiences can expand a sense of fun, and even ramp up friendly competition. Anticipating and later reminiscing about these events can actually build happy neural pathways in your brains!

Novelty and a shared sense of discovery by doing new things together also generates excitement and joy, which are important antidotes to the doldrums which often plague long term relationships.

Equally as important, build mini “pockets of connection” into your everyday life as a couple. Don’t overload date nights with too much expectation, especially if you can’t manage to have them regularly and frequently. Instead, look for small, subtle moments of sharing by being intentional about them:

– If you’re getting dinner ready, create a shared experience with some conversation and a glass of wine while you prepare the meal.

– If the kids are in bed sit on the deck or the porch and watch the stars come out together. Talk about your dreams and passions, not just who aced it at your kid’s soccer game.

– If you’re watching a TV program sit next to each other and use the commercial breaks to have a snack and share your thoughts about the program.

– “Kill two birds with one stone” and have some lively conversation while you walk your dog.

However brief your time together may be, protect it from outside intrusion. Get more comfortable saying “No, thank you” to invitations that might cut in on the two of you too often. Set boundaries and prioritize your time together, even if it’s not a Hallmark moment.

Whatever you do together, be intentional about it, be present, and put down your cellphones! Texts, Facebook, and Instagram can wait, unless they’re shared activities you both enjoy. Here again, remember that one way or the other, your kids are watching, and you’re giving them a template for either a loving, respectful partnership, or an empty one.

Three Big Questions for Spouses with Kids

I was recently contacted by Parenting New Hampshire Magazine for my thoughts about three big questions they have about spouses with children. I thought they were really good questions parents should be reflecting about, so I sent the magazine some of my ideas about the subject. I don’t know if my “answers” will be used in the article, but I thought I’d share them with you, my readers.
Here’s the first question:
Why is it important for spouses/partners in their own relationship to “not always be about the kids”? 
Most importantly, you as a couple came first, and unless you “fill your tanks” properly you won’t have
much of value to give to your children. Nourishing your partnership creates positive energy and “zest”
that then can radiate out into more constructive and loving interactions not only with each other, but also
with your children, especially when they are presenting aggravating or challenging attitudes and behaviors.
 
Also, by giving your marriage proper care and attention you will be providing not only a positive model
for self nurture and self valuing, but also an important frame for connective, collaborative partnership. Don’t be
fooled by what looks like self absorption in your kids – as busy as they may seem with their own lives,
they’re always watching you and unconsciously imitating your attitudes and behaviors!
 
One final thought about this question: In about 18 or so years your children will hopefully be “launched” and
out on their own. What of value as a couple will you have to share if you’ve created a totally “kid-centric”
life together? If you haven’t nourished your relationship sufficiently you will be less adept at communication,
managing conflict, taking turns, feeling close, and just plain having fun together!

It’s All About The Ball!

 
When it comes to how we live our lives, ask any dog, especially Tucker above, and they’ll show you that we’ve got our priorities all wrong – sideways, so to speak.
 
Tucker is my morning pal, the next door neighbor’s dog, and my big, handsome blonde Teacher of All Things, Big and Small. We run around and walk the trails behind my house every morning, Tucker attached like cement to his green ball. When I’m tired or cranky he reminds me that “it’s all about The Ball, get over it!” When it’s buggy or muggy or rainy like today, we both get bitten and soggy, but the Ball Game has to go on! A little rainfall won’t kill anyone. So what if there are some inconveniences?
 
Tucker has taught me not to make such a big deal of piles of snow, the early hour after a late night, muddy boots and trampled garden beds. He reminds me of the importance of promises, some predictability, and mostly the importance of being present in connection and having FUN in life. He helps me see that Quickbooks and emails can wait, calls can be returned later, but for a guy with only about 5 more years to live, the time is NOW for The Ball!
 
If you don’t have a Tucker in your life like I do, trust me that you’ll live longer and happier if you listen to and practice his “words” of wisdom: It’s all about The Ball!
 
If you’re on your own and need help getting your priorities straight, feel free to contact me – I’d be glad to help!
 
Susan Lager
603-431-7131

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Susan Lager

I am a licensed, board certified pyschotherapist and relationship coach in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Through my psychotherapy or coaching services, I can provide you with skills and tools to transform your life.

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