relationships

The Art of Conversation

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let's talk
There are a bunch of studies that claim the secret to a long, happy life is found in the relationships we have with other people. A study published in Harvard Medical School’s online newsletter, for example, says that “Dozens of studies have shown that people who have satisfying relationships with family, friends, and their community are happier, have fewer health problems, and live longer.” The article goes on to say that, “Conversely, a relative lack of social ties is associated with depression and later-life cognitive decline, as well as with increased mortality…an effect on mortality risk roughly comparable to smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day, and greater than obesity and physical inactivity.” And yet, we are a society spending more and more time on our smartphones, increasingly tied to technology, and overwhelmingly hooked on social media. I guess my question is whether or not these ways of communicating will, in the long run, produce the same results. My guess is no.

I was at a restaurant recently with a friend. When he excused himself for a moment, I couldn’t help but notice another couple at the bar. The couple was engaged in conversation – but I use the word “conversation” loosely, as it was more a shared experience over something the man was showing the woman on his smartphone. Why did I notice this? And, so what? Well, the reason that I noticed was that in the 10 minutes my friend was gone, the man never put down the phone. In fact, when her eyes would wander away – perhaps to observe something happening in real time – he would pull her back to the tiny screen. I don’t know what they were watching, but it was clear from his reactions that he had seen whatever it was before (and found it funny). She obviously had not. And since the bar was noisy, I doubt she could hear a lick of it.

My observation of this couple led me to look at others around the same bar. Of the 10 people there, seven were doing something on a smartphone. Only one of those seven was at the bar alone. It is certainly reasonable that some of the folks were responding to a sitter who was texting, or to an email that couldn’t wait. But increasingly, we are a society losing our ability to actually have a conversation with others.

If I think about this topic on a broader scale, and think about my own use of technology to stay connected, I am guilty too. I very often feel “in touch” with someone because I’ve read their Facebook status, or shared a simple text back and forth. But if someone were to ask me how that person is – like how they are really doing on a day to day basis – I’m not sure I’d be qualified to answer that question. I could guess based on the photos they’ve posted, or the emoji they chose to send. But I’d be simply guessing.

The art of conversation is just that: an art. It takes effort and energy to generate a conversation that is enjoyable and meaningful. Moreover, it takes a genuine interest in the other person. A conversation that gets past the weather and into something more personal requires that each person is willing to engage, that there is a mutual trust or willingness to share, and that some kind of connection exists or is possible. It is much more complicated than sharing a status or posting a picture, or even watching TV together.  Sure, we can watch TV, but if you want to use that experience to generate a connection, you’d better ask me what I thought of the show when it’s over, and then share with me what you thought. Otherwise, I could be watching alone and feeling a lot less unfulfilled when it’s over.

My point is this: the world is full of everyday possibilities to connect with other people. We share experiences and opinions that provide that opportunity. Just being in the same place at the same time is a conversation starter, if you are willing to use it. Does it take energy? Yes. It maybe even takes a little creativity. But in the end – if all of those studies are right – the work (and the connections they foster) just may be a lifesaver.

 

Source: https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/strengthen-relationships-for-longer-healthier-life

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The Moment of Impact

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impactI was recently talking with a friend of mine who is an avid golfer. He loves the game, practices religiously, and is committed to bettering his skills. As we talked, he educated me a lot about the various clubs in his bag and about the essential elements of his swing. But he said one thing, in particular, that sort of stuck in my head. He said, in relation to the initial drive, that he’s seen a good number of golfers who position themselves into what appears to be a very strong drive. They have the right stance, the right arm and body position, and know how to hold the club. But, he said, for some reason, they slow their swing right at the very moment the club is set to hit the ball. That single moment of hesitation leads to a less than desired result.

In golf or in any other endeavor, I am led to think about how we respond right before any critical moment; that moment when the club hits the ball, if you will. That moment is the last of its kind. After it passes – and depending on how we respond – the future is shaped. That moment of impact is a defining moment. It sets our course.

If we move off the golf course, I think we see life moments like this all the time. Anytime we’ve invested ourselves into something, there comes a moment when our commitment and follow-through are tested. Can you think of a time when you second guessed something for just a moment and lost momentum? Perhaps a quick hesitation in an answer or an action changed the course of your life? I can certainly think of more than one time where I stepped up to hit the ball – and I mean I was really ready to whack it – and then, in that critical moment, I choked.

I’m not casting any judgement on moments of hesitation. Certainly, there are times when something just doesn’t feel right. The universe sort of sends signs about a need to slow down or change course. What I am wondering about, however, are those moments of hesitation caused by fear. How often do we come fully prepared for something after giving it lots of thought or practice and then fail to deliver on our follow-through? How often do we maybe not commit to hitting that ball as hard as we could because we are afraid?

I guess that’s the “think-about.” In the critical moments, do we let fear slow us down or somehow alter our potential? Or, are we able to position ourselves to take the swing with the original impact we intended? I think the answer probably offers us something really meaningful to consider.

The Habit of Love

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Like many, I am a huge fan of the show This is Us. More often than I could say, a line from the show causes me to pause, to think, to reflect, to wonder. Last night’s finale was no different. But before this turns into a blog about a TV show, let me shift my focus to the line that prompted this blog. One character to another said, “Next time you tell me that you love me, make sure it’s not out of habit.”

People who love me have heard me ask, “Why do you love me?” I don’t ask that question because I want to hear a list of things someone else admires in me. Nor do I want to hear the person go on and on about the qualities they see in me that make me outstanding to them in some way. Rather, I ask the question for the very reason the line in the show was stated. That is, because I believe it is important to know why you love someone. After all, if love is an active verb (as I’ve often written it is), shouldn’t we be actively aware of what it is in a person that makes us love them?

I have to wonder how many people are in relationships where the cause of their love is somehow lost. Certainly, as people grow and change, some of the qualities we fall in love with in the beginning of a relationship may also change – in both good and bad ways. Therefore, instead of simply getting in the habit of routinely saying “I love you,” day after day, month after month, year after year, I think it is important to reflect on our love for another person from time to time. I believe that reflection is an act of love in itself. It gives us a much greater awareness of why we love someone well beyond the reasons we fell for them in the first place. And then, when we say “I love you,” it is a confident statement rooted in the present, instead of something buried in habit and obligation for which the cause may no longer even be known.

Lots of people stay together or even get back together because they share a history. And certainly, those shared experiences bond us to another person in a meaningful way. But like the character on the show, I don’t want someone to stick around because times were once good or because they once saw something in me worth loving. Love simply cannot be that complacent. Moreover and perhaps even more importantly, I believe that active reflection about love leads to gratitude. And so when I feel annoyed because he forgot to call, or because he left a spoon in the sink, my active reflection about why I love him reminds me that the spoon wasn’t that important after all.

Three words said casually between people who’ve been together for a while can often feel routine. We get in the habit of saying them almost mindlessly. But I’d argue that the words “I love you” probably make us more vulnerable than anything we say to another person. When we say them, I believe they should be said with intention and without doubt that love is an action, promoted by something we can identify and appreciate. So tell people you love them. But once in a while tell them why. That why is a celebration not only of the love that exists, but also of the people who make it come alive.

I Fear a Lesson is Coming…

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lessons-learned
I’ve been seeing a number of posts in social media lately about how everything that happens in one’s life (especially in relationships) should be seen as an opportunity to learn and grow. In other words, the posts discourage regret or sadness about past choices by suggesting that everything one has endured up to a certain point has been a teachable moment. The messages imply that if you haven’t learned something from a decision that turned out to be the wrong one that you just aren’t looking hard enough for the lesson.

Look, I’m all for learning from my mistakes and growing stronger from disappointment, but what happens if the depth of that disappointment feels like an abyss; like a hole one has fallen into by no fault of their own? But wait. We aren’t supposed to blame others for the things that happen to us, right? We always play a role. OK. So what if our fault lies in loving someone too much, seeing the potential in someone who refused to see it in themselves, or just trusting another human being to do the right thing? You see, here’s where my confusion about the lesson to be found begins. Am I supposed to learn not to love so much? Should I stop pushing to see the good in people? And how about trust? Should I be less trusting?

I know a great number of people who are jaded from relationships in which they suffered deep disappointment. For these people, the answer to most of the questions I posed above is a screaming, “Yes!” As a result of their experiences, these people do approach relationships differently than maybe they have in the past. They might stick a toe in to test the waters, maybe go knee-deep for another length of time, and maybe even make it into their waists. But they never fully submerge – and subsequently spend their lives complaining that they can’t seem to find anything real and meaningful. I guess in these cases I wonder what the value of the lesson truly is. More importantly, I wonder what part of themselves they are sacrificing as protection from future hurt and disappointment. I’m not sure the lessons are serving them well. In fact, I think what is really happening is that they are punishing themselves – and anyone else they meet – for things that happened in the past.

That which doesn’t kill us might make us stronger, but I think its ok to be broken for a while. Some things deserve to be felt, to be grieved. And that’s ok. If you’ve spent all of your energy in loving someone or something that didn’t work out, it’s probably ok to spend some energy grieving its loss. And if you can’t find a lesson in any of it, don’t let that make you feel worse. Sometimes people just don’t have the capacity to love in the same way you do. Sometimes, the lessons they think they’ve learned block them. Maybe knowing that is lesson enough.

In the end, perhaps the greatest lesson we can learn is more about ourselves than it is about any situation or person. And to that end, the most important question we can ask is whether we want to be motivated by love or motivated by fear. A seemingly simple question requires careful introspection. And living true to the answer may require courage. What will you choose? I have a feeling your answer will shape the lessons you learn.


Want to read more about fear vs. love? I found another blog that deals with this topic: https://wordfromthewell.com/2012/08/03/love-vs-fear-the-most-important-decision-youll-ever-make-and-youre-making-it-right-now/

 

 

 

 

The gift of a birthday

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Today is my 44th birthday. 44. That’s weird. I don’t feel like 44 years have gone past me (although I admittedly have aches and pains not seen in my 20s and I now find great joy in a Saturday night with nothing to do). But on this, my birthday, I’ve been reflecting on the past year. And through that reflection, I’ve been given a marvelous gift; that is, perspective. In the great summation of another year lived, I am able to learn about myself…and to find lessons that I hope will make me a better person in my 44th year.

I have learned that trust is a rare and delicate gift. I often give it too freely to those who haven’t earned it, or too long to those who don’t deserve it. And I know I don’t thank those who do enough.

I have learned that the heart has a tremendous capacity for joy and an equally intense ability to feel pain. Sometimes the deepest cuts are made by the same person or thing that once brought you that joy. 

I have learned that the human spirit is amazingly resilient. I am grateful for those who reminded me about that.

I have learned the value of forgiveness. Grudges cause the most pain to those who hold them. Even greater relief is found in the ability to forgive oneself.  

I have learned that despite good intentions and honest effort, sometimes I will just fall short. But if I learned something in the process, the time and energy was not wasted. 

I have learned that you can really only love someone as much as they will allow. That said, I have learned that I can love more deeply and unselfishly than I imagined. I am grateful for those who don’t limit my love and who love me back without restriction. 

I have learned that every day is an opportunity to be happy. But happiness is not something that happens to me. It is something I create. It is a mindset framed in gratitude.

I have learned that many people are happy to settle for mediocre. I’ve also learned that I am not one of those people. And I won’t apologize for that.

And so, lessons learned. Here I am at 44 … still learning. What better gift could there be? 

The Risk in Being Known

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trueself
Have you ever been with someone who knows you? “Knows me?” you might be asking. And your next thought is probably, “Of course he/she knows me. We’re in love.” But I begin this blog thinking that knowing someone – truly knowing them – might be more rare than we think.

I was recently watching an episode of my favorite TV series. The female lead character was talking to a stranger about her recent decision not to marry the man to whom she was engaged. She tells the stranger, “I realized…in four hours I would marry a man who didn’t know me.” The man’s response: “Yeah, who knows anyone? Who cares?”

And so it begs the question: how well do you really know the people you call friends; the people you say you love? How well do the people who say they love you really know you? This awareness goes well beyond a favorite color or food; it is deeper than simply understanding preferences or dislikes.

I write this fully aware of the fact that we wouldn’t want everyone we interact with on a daily basis to know everything about who we are. There are certain suitable lines to draw with strangers, co-workers, and even friends. But I wonder how many of us have at least one person who knows everything – the good, the bad and the ugly, as it were.

Perhaps the even greater question to ask ourselves is not whether we have that one person who truly knows us, but whether we are capable of sharing our authentic selves with another. It is a scary thing to be raw with another human being; to expose our strengths and weaknesses, our good qualities and our faults. There is an underlying risk in allowing someone to see through the facade and truly into what makes us tick. To do so first assumes that we know ourselves – or at least that we are willing to uncover that self with another person. We must be willing to share even the parts that might embarrass us with another; and that person must accept us without judgment or blame. A relationship like that leaves us vulnerable like no other. It leaves us open to deep hurt, and it challenges us to be better in areas where we find a need for improvement. My guess is that not everyone is up for all of that.  It is much easier to settle into a more comfortable arrangement, where we find stability and contentment.

Very often in romantic movies or novels, we hear the term “soulmate” tossed around. The term leaves the hopelessly romantic looking for that perfect partner; the partner they were somehow predestined to meet. Hollywood makes it seem like the relationship with a soulmate is the perfect engagement, free of struggle or challenge because it magically works like no other. I would, argue, however that a soulmate relationship is probably just the opposite. The person with whom we share our soul has a great responsibility to help us grow, to help us love ourselves and them more deeply, and to continue to challenge us in positive ways. None of that is easy. But a true soulmate is, I believe, the one who also loves us for the effort and who celebrates with us all of the beautiful and authentic things that make us who we are. They understand our rough edges and somehow accept us in spite of them.

I read a quote online recently that said,” Some people bring out the worst in you. Others bring out the best. And then there are those remarkably rare, addictive ones who just bring out the most of everything. They make you feel so alive that you’d follow them straight into hell.”

Yeah. I want that.

 

 

 

 

The Divorce that Broke the Internet

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couple getting divorced

I heard on the radio today that the breakup of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie actually broke the internet.  I’m not sure if that’s exactly accurate, but when I heard the report I was immediately struck by it. I mean, it would take a lot of people to actually break the internet, right?

True statement or not, I have no doubt about people’s curiosity to read the gossip. What I do wonder about, however, is their motivation for being so interested. It’s not like Brad Pitt is some hot handyman in the neighborhood and now all the single women have a shot with him (and yes, I’m assuming that most news seekers in this case are women. Terrible how I’m perpetuating a stereotype, I know).  But as I think about it, I believe there are probably two reasons for people’s curiosity: people are either saddened or shocked by the celebrity breakup; or people find some kind of relief in being able to relate to it.

Relationships end all the time. We’ve all known seemingly perfect couples who have called it quits for one reason or another. After all, it is so easy to judge a relationship from the outside with statements like, “Oh, they seemed so happy,” or “They were so good together.” The truth is that we never really know the secrets of a relationship; the things that happen – or don’t happen – in private. It may even be true that in some cases, one of the people in the actual relationship is struggling to understand the breakup, not sure why the person they held closest to them decided to disengage or call it quits.

While Brad and Angelina appeared to the world to be the perfect power couple – blessed with fame and fortune, and enough love to adopt children from all over the world – the media is now in the business of citing blame for the breakup. And as more and more people speculate about what happened to cause such an upheaval, more and more reasons for the split are revealed. I guess I don’t understand why there has to be a victim; why there always has to be someone blamed. I’m stuck on the basics of the story: two people who loved each other have decided that it’s not in their best interest to be together, and in the wake of their relationship stand six children of a broken home. Celebrities or not, these are still people. This is a story full of disappointment and loss. Somewhere in the middle of “happily ever after” and divorce, I bet there was also a lot of turmoil and difficult decisions. Perhaps people pay attention to the story because what looked like a strong and good partnership turned into something very ordinary and disappointing.

In addition to those who might see the sadness in the Brangelina breakup are also those who, I think, find some comfort in it. How many of us experience a breakup and are left wondering, “What could I have done differently?” Even more often, I think people begin to question themselves, making “what if” statements about losing weight, being more patient, having more sex, etc. But to witness the breakup of a couple that was so celebrated seems to say, “Look, even Brad and Angelina aren’t perfect.” And in that statement, there’s an opportunity for all of us to be just a little kinder to ourselves. I mean if they couldn’t make it with all their money and privilege, how will we? Right?

When this story’s 15 minutes of fame are over, the truth is that there will still be a family affected. With a divorce rate in the United States somewhere around 50%, a break-up like this – along with Taylor Swift songs and country music – remind those of us who have had failed relationships that we are not alone. And once again we are reminded that while money is great to have, it can’t buy us happiness and it sure as hell doesn’t buy love.