(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.
I’ve been making lots of lemonade in the last few days. On Friday I had knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus, (which happened on the second day of a two week trip to Slovenia and Croatia – another lemonade story)! So here you see me trapped in an easy chair with the big, swollen knee, with only trips to the bathroom labelled as “walks.” The highlight of my day was watching our shared Lab, Tucker, chewing on a Kong on the blanket in front of me a few hours ago. Big doin’s!
So what do you do when you get a bunch of lemons? Make lemonade! – in my case, finding a way to reframe my entrapment into something meaningful, productive and hopefully fun. I spent a whole day tending to my “Google Business” site, beefing up my Psychology Today listing, at last funding my EasyPark USA account, watching the White House debacle of sociopaths and narcissists in action, cleaning out my email box, watching more criminals on TV, and reading my new “What Dogs Think” magazine. Not working out, not doing dishes, not Christmas shopping, not cooking or cleaning, not trimming garden beds, etc., etc. Just relaxing!
In psych lingo we’d call this very good “reframing.” Taking a less than stellar situation and “finding the silver lining”, “making lemonade out of lemons”, “looking through rose colored glasses,” to rattle off just a few metaphors for finding optimism and advantage in a negative situation. It’s an important skill all of us must hone to not let life make us crazy. In Buddhist ideology it would be related to the challenge of “letting go of expectation,” “acceptance,” and “cultivating stillness” as we strive to experience more peace of mind and presence in the moment. In Western thinking it would be about resilience and dealing more effectively with disappointments and mishaps, not becoming bitter and dark when life deals us difficult or aggravating blows.
So, whenever lemons have been dumped on you, find a way to make some really sweet lemonade, and you’ll get through it more peaceably with some learning and grace.
Now, back to all the criminals running the government……
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!
Look at this face!
This is Tucker, my morning cup of joy. Every day at 9 AM he arrives at my breezeway door, sent by my next door neighbor, ball in mouth, ready for action. (Some days I wonder why I’m voluntarily getting out of a warm bed an hour early and heading into the “arctic” outdoors with this rambunctious canine)!
We traipse around our land playing Fetch or Tug of War for awhile, then we head onto the adjoining trails leading to either the bog or the nature path which goes through miles of farmland and woods. Tucker runs ahead, then waits at every turn for me to show up and cheer him on. When he’s naughty he drops the ball and eats deer droppings or grabs onto giant five foot logs which he swings around, intending to haul back home. Once in awhile he obeys when I tell him to drop either the poop or the log. I’m persistent, so he’s minding me more often lately. It’s a work in progress…
For about four months here in Maine, any doubt I may have felt earlier in the morning about the effort to get up and out disappears completely once we’re immersed in this winter wonderland. After the walk I take Tucker downstairs into my gym where he works at the peanut butter inside his Kong while I’m working out. When he’s done he thanks me profusely with sloppy kisses, and I remind him how much I adore him. I then take him home next door, and return to the rest of my day feeling loved, useful, grateful, and filled with joy.
This is my happy place, communing with nature and a big, sweet, loving creature who enjoys the experience as much as I do. It’s a morning ritual which sets the tone for good energy and connection with clients, family and friends. I start each day “in the moment” with intention and gratitude.
So, if you have a dog and can’t roam the woods like I do in the morning, you can still make their walk a ritual of immersion in nature and love by just being present. If you don’t have a dog, borrow one as I do, so you can also borrow their capacity for spontaneity and pleasure. Chances are, your friend or neighbor who loans him to you will appreciate the help, and you and the dog will benefit immensely from your special time together. Any affectionate touch will ramp up the happy bonding hormone Oxytocin in both of you. You’ll begin the day with great self care and a full heart, and you’ll be readier for whatever comes your way!
*PS. If you need help with the whole issue of self care and practices which promote positivity and joy, feel free to call me at 603-431-7131 to set up an appointment. I’d be glad to help!
Most of us are familiar with the “January Effect” – people armed with New Year’s resolutions to live cleaner: workout regularly, be more organized, eat more healthfully and lose weight, drink less, be more productive and waste less time, etc., etc.
Years ago when I belonged to Gold’s Gym we “regulars” would see swarms of well-intentioned people in January jamming up the machines, crowding the classes, full of optimism, only to almost entirely clear out by late February or March. The self-righteous eye rolls or chuckles among the “regulars” would be palpable. After observing it yearly I ultimately decided that this phenomenon might not be so much about laziness, lack of commitment or disorganization, but maybe more about a lack of permission – a lack of giving oneself permission to honor the need for down time, rest, hanging out, or sometimes people’s lack of permission to look at themselves with honesty about what’s really important to them. Had the resolutions to work out rigorously four times a week taken into account what was realistic in the context of people’s sleep habits, infrastructure to take that personal time, need for solitude or need for rest? Often not – coming to the gym frequently sounded good on paper, but had these people given themselves permission to look realistically at all these other factors that could undermine them? I think not.
I met with several couples in my practice after the holidays who talked with surprise and delight about having had a wonderful time with each other and with their kids during the holidays – for some, the first time in years! It wasn’t because they packed more activities in or were “good.” They didn’t go to every festival or capitalize on every possible day to ski or ice skate. They didn’t go to every party. They didn’t jump start their New Year’s resolutions. Instead they gave themselves permission to do less, to relax more, sleep more, hang out more, go offline, and not compete with their friends or neighbors to be the most social, or have the best holiday decorations, or the most elaborate rituals. They had given themselves permission to be honest with themselves about how much was enough, and how much might be too much. They tuned into themselves and their children rather than the hype around them, and it made all the difference in the world.
So, if as you read this you feel some apprehension about becoming a sloth if you practice tuning into your needs for rest and relaxation, take a deep breath and just try it for awhile. You may very well discover that when you legitimize downtime you won’t ultimately be less productive or social or happy. You may just discover a quieter, “slower” aspect of yourself, creating more peace of mind. You may even get to the gym with sufficient regularity after January!