I get inundated by people who want me to write about their books, their websites, their counseling services and their products. And, sadly, 80 percent of these requests come from people I just can’t endorse. I can tell from between the lines that they are doing this for the wrong reasons and that their only goal is to make money. Usually the goal of “helping people” isn’t on the list at all.
That’s why I was pleasantly surprised when–during a rare moment of boredom–I checked out a site and found that not only did the it provide quality content, but it also was content that I could learn from and use to make my marriage better. Let me tell you: after reading as much as I’ve read about marriage, that doesn’t happen all that often these days. I spent a good hour on this site watching every single video that the two marriage counselors had put together. I then spent some time scheming ways to get my husband on said site.
And then I wrote the publicist who’d ask me to go there in the first place and I thanked her.
What follows is one of the videos from the Power of Two. This is a membership site that costs $18/month. If you are interested in checking it out, they offer a two week free trial and money back satisfaction guarantee. They are offering ProjectHappilyEverAfter.com readers 75 percent off the first month’s fee. If you are interested in joining, email firstname.lastname@example.org and say you came from ProjectHappilyEverAfter.
Note: In roughly a month I’ll be launching a giveaway for people who pre-order Project: Happily Ever After. A free membership to Power of Two will be one of many cool prizes you can win, with others ranging from vouchers for marital counseling to stays at romantic B&Bs to a Kindle that is fully loaded with all of the books that helped me to save my marriage. If you pre-order now, you will make me very happy. Just save your receipt so you can enter the giveaway. (And don’t worry if you’ve already pre-ordered and do not have proof of purchase. There will be other ways to enter).
Last week I was being interviewed by a producer for the CBS Early Show. She asked, “What percentage of the housework do you do?”
“Probably 70 percent,” I answered.
“That’s interesting,” she said.
“Why? I think most women probably do more, don’t you think?”
“No, it’s not that,” she said. “When I asked your husband the same question, he told me that he did 70 percent. No, wait. I think he said he did 80 percent.”
I busted out laughing.
“70 percent?! He thinks he does 70 percent?! Did he really say that? Are you sure?”
She had to wait while I got all of the chuckles out of my system. Then I said, “I’m happy that he does any housework at all, but he definitely doesn’t do 70 percent of it.”
Later that day, I asked my husband, “Do you really think you do 70 percent of the housework? Or were you just saying that because you wanted to look good on TV?”
“How do you know I said that?”
“The producer told me. Do you?”
“Yee-ah,” he said slowly, bracing for a fight. Fortunately for him, I wasn’t angry at all. I found the difference in perspective amusing.
“Do you even know what I do around here?”
“What do you think I do?”
“You put the clothes away?”
“That’s all you think I do?”
“How about dealing with the mail? Paying the bills? Clipping the coupons? Buying the groceries? Doing our accounting? Taking Kaarina to and from school most days of the week? Cooking 90 percent of the meals?”
“That’s not housework, though,” he said.
“Paying the bills isn’t housework?”
“Nope. Housework is cleaning. You don’t clean that much.”
He gave me the eye.
“Okay, so I don’t do dust all that often. But I dusted our bedroom for the TV cameras. And the camera man told me that I was a good duster. I also clean the bathroom once a week, and scrub out the toilet whenever there’s mold in it. And I clean the kitchen once a week. What do you do?”
“I vacuum. I pick things up. I do laundry,”
“But I put the clothes away. It takes longer to put the clothes away than it does to shove them in the washer.”
“No it doesn’t.”
“Yes, it does.”
Reader: I feel the need to inject here that this was a playful conversation. We were smiling the entire time and occasionally poking one another. I threatened to stop doing all that I do around the house just to see if he would notice. But I didn’t really mean it, and he knew I didn’t really mean it.
The following day, I was sitting at our dining room table, which has basically become a desk that I use to sort the mail into 6000 piles that only make sense to me (coupons pile, stuff that needs to be shredded pile, bills pile, Mark’s mail pile, etc).
“I’m sorry that I didn’t think of that as housework,” he said. “I see that it takes a lot of time.”
I hugged him. “By the way, cooking takes a lot of time, too.”
After this discussion, it occurred to me that many spouses probably walk around with this simmering resentment about their partners who seemingly do so little around the house. Little do they know that their partners have the same resentment about them. Fascinating, right?
So maybe the first step in solving the housework debate centers on this difference in perception. Who does more? If you both think you do more, then one or both of you is in dire need of a reality check. But which of you needs the reality check?
So I’m curious. Who does more housework in your home? Think about that question and then ask your spouse the same question. Let me know if you and your spouse suffer from a similar difference of perception as I did with mine.
Note: My appearance on the Early Show was bumped to next week, so those of you who thought you missed it really did not. I believe it’s supposed to run on Tuesday, but I’ll post an update closer to the air date.
We all like to blame other people for being passive aggressive. I know I do. Me? Passive aggressive? Nah. That’s something other people do.
It’s like that.
Still, it’s my belief that we all practice this ineffective communication strategy from time to time.
Even I have done it. There. I copped to it.
Technically, you are behaving in a passive-aggressive manner whenever you agree to do something that you don’t really want to do—so you passively resist what you just agreed to do.
For instance, a passive aggressive spouse who has been hen pecked into washing the dishes will do a crappy job washing them.
A spouse who has agreed to trim the bushes in the yard will continually put off the job. “I said I would do it!” such a spouse will say, but saying it and doing it don’t ever seem to match up. Or such a spouse might continually blame his bad memory. “I’m sorry. I just keep forgetting to do it!” he might say.
A spouse will agree to have dinner with the in-laws only to sigh, roll her eyes and behave negatively the whole time.
A spouse will say she’s not mad that you didn’t call when you were late, but then she’ll dock you later for the misdeed when you want to get frisky.
You get the idea.
Procrastination, inefficiency, slipshod work, and negativity are all types of passive aggressiveness.
It’s important to be able to see this behavior in yourself before you can address it in your spouse. Few people – communication experts and therapists aside—are such good communicators that they never act passive aggressively at one time or another. If you can be honest with yourself and get at the reasons youdo it, it will be easier to confront such behavior in someone else.
How to Break Yourself Out of the Cycle
Remind yourself that passive aggressive behavior rarely, if ever, gets you what you want. If anything, it usually hurts you more than the person you are directing the behavior toward. If you don’t believe me, keep track of the end result whenever you act this way. Usually it just annoys people and drives them away from you.
Remind yourself that confrontation might seem scary, but it’s a lot easier than the subversive tactics you’ve been using. More important, it’s a lot more likely to get you what you want.
See yourself as a work in progress. Whenever you notice yourself feeling resentful, examine the emotion and think about what is going unsaid. Then be assertive and ask for what you need rather than pretend that nothing is wrong.
How to Break Someone Else Out of the Cycle
Don’t reward passive-aggressive behavior. You might be tempted to continually ask the person, “What’s wrong?” Whenever you do that, you are rewarding the ineffective communication strategy. Instead, simply say, “It seems like something might be wrong. If you want to talk about it, I’m here.” Then shut up and don’t bring it up again.
Don’t fix your spouse’s work. If your spouse did a poor job on purpose, live with it. Eat off the scummy dishes. Allow everyone in the house to walk around in wrinkled clothes. This won’t be easy, but it’s very important not to reward your spouse by doing the job yourself.
During a good moment (ie when you are not fighting and when you don’t think your spouse is already ticked off about something), mention that you’ve noticed a trend of your spouse agreeing to do certain things that he or she doesn’t seem to want to do. Explain that you would much rather get a firm “no” from your spouse than the resulting behavior. Ask your spouse, “Are you scared to confront me? I will love you no matter what. You know that, right?” Ask open-ended questions and try to truly understand what is driving your spouse to act this way.
Have you successfully addressed passive-aggressive behavior in yourself or someone else? Share your advice here so others can learn from your success.
Most Westerners see nothing wrong with having a little pride. We use the phrases “I’m proud of…” and “I pride myself on the fact that…” without thinking much about them. We hang diplomas, certificates, awards and other signs of our success on our walls. And we strive for things that set us on a higher level than others—important sounding job titles, important sounding degrees, important looking cars and houses, important looking shoes and purses, and so on.
We think of pride as one of the keys to a healthy sense of self, and we think of a healthy sense of self as one of the keys to happiness.
In Buddhism, though, pride is thought of as one of the obstacles to a happy, peaceful existence. Pride gets in the way of compassion, and compassion and cherishing others are what Buddhists say lead to a happy and content life (more about compassion tomorrow). When you embrace pride, though, you see yourself as higher than others and you value your happiness over the happiness of others. When you embrace humility—the opposite of pride—you see yourself on the same level as others, and you value their happiness just as much as you value your own.
Let me tell you, I struggled with this teaching for a long, long time. There was this one part of me that was all like, “I’ve worked hard to get where I am, and I AM special, dang it. Just look at all of those bestsellers that I’ve penned. I deserve to be treated with respect. I’ve earned it.”
And then there was this other part of me that wondered, “If I embraced this and if I allowed myself to see every single person as equal and deserving of happiness, how would it change my life? If I embraced humility and brought it with me to every interaction, how would it change my career? Would I be happier or just that much more frustrated and downtrodden?”
The Great Humility Experiment
Buddhists see hardships and suffering as gifts that allow them to practice and strengthen their spiritual skills. Well, it didn’t take long before life gave me a gift that allowed me to practice the skill of humility.
I was working on a huge, long-term project with a team of people. Each person on the team had thoughts on how the project should be done, and most of these thoughts diverged. One person would suggest I write one way. Another would suggest I do it a completely different way, and a third would suggest something that was even more different than the second.
Even worse, the minds of all of these various people kept changing.
As a result, I would write something. Someone would ask me to rewrite it. I would. Then someone else would want it rewritten a completely different way. I would do it. Then that someone would change her mind and there I was rewriting the dang thing yet again. It seemed as if I was writing all day and all night, but that I never truly got anything done. I kept cranking out words only to delete them and start over again.
I don’t even want to get into what I thought about all of this because I like to think of myself as a professional, and the thoughts that occupied my mental continuum during this time of my life were anything but professional.
Anyway, while all of this was going on, I was going to my Buddhism class and I was learning about pride and humility. I asked myself, “What can this situation teach me about humility? How can I learn from this? How can this hardship make me a better person? Can embracing humility help me to survive this horrific experience?”
To embrace humility, I visualized a monk. He had a shaved head. He was skinny. He wore orange robes, and he had a big teethy smile. In my visualization, it was this monk’s job to build a series of cement steps. Each morning he would pour the cement and smooth it out. Each afternoon his boss came, inspected his work, and said, “These are the worst steps I’ve ever seen. Get rid of them and start over.” My imaginary monk would smile, bow, and say, “Yes, sir. Of course. Right away! I’m sorry that my steps have caused you suffering.”
And then he would happily jackhammer his recent creation and start the whole process over again.
In my mind, this monk was the antithesis of pride and the epitome of humility. He happily built the same step over and over again. He treated his surly boss with nothing but compassion.
He was filled with love, happiness, and peace. He always smiled. He hummed as he worked. He was lit from within.
I visualized this and I visualized this and I visualized this.
You know what? Eventually the rewrites stopped bothering me. Eventually I didn’t care that I wasn’t getting recognition for my writing. Eventually I stopped struggling. I stopped thinking things like, “I deserve better” and “why don’t these people recognize my worth?” I stopped should-ing and I stopped if-only-ing. I stopped fretting about who was right and who was wrong.
I shed the negative mind chatter and emotional angst.
Instead, I embraced the process. I accepted the situation as an opportunity for me to grow. I allowed this God forsaken project to teach me lessons about communication and interpersonal skills. I allowed it to teach me lessons about forgiveness. And I allowed it to teach me lessons about compassion. As a result, I began doing a meditation during which I wished happiness to every single team member on that team.
You know what? Doing so brought me peace.
And it wasn’t until I got on the other end of it—until I’d fully embraced humility—that I could look back and see that the pride would have gotten me nowhere. I could have fought for what was fair. I could have raged against the machine, right? I could have told off a few people. I could have argued for more money.
I could have whined.
I could have done any number of things.
But none of that would have brought me happiness, and none of it would have improved my career, either.
In the end, the one thing that I needed was the one thing I was most scared to do – let go. I had to let go of my sense of importance.
The Antidote to Pride is Humility
I wish I could say that I was cured of pride, but I’m not. I’ve received many gifts over the past few months, and most were gifts that helped me strengthen my humility. Let me tell you: I wanted to regift a few of them. I seriously tried to tell the universe that these gifts had been bestowed on the wrong person–that someone else needed to be taught about pride more than I did.
And then I realized that even that was being prideful.
I’ve had to shed my sense of self-importance over and over and over again.
It’s something that I might just have to work on for the rest of my life.
But each time I embrace humility, I find myself happier and more at peace. You might find the same is true for you.
And, now, my dear readers, I humbly ask you a question. I decided to write this series because I’ve learned so much from the karma project, and I wanted to pass what I’ve learned onto others. It was never my intention to offend. I did hear from a reader yesterday, though, who told me that he finds this series offensive to his beliefs as a Christian. I’m curious if there are others who feel the same. I’ve been trying to write about topics that seem to cross over and are embraced by all religions, and I’m avoiding topics (such as reincarnation and karma) that do not cross over. But perhaps there’s more to it than that. I’d love to hear your thoughts. You can comment here or email them to me: email@example.com.
The other day, my 5 year old and my husband got into a snit. This put my 5 year old in her bedroom for a nice long sulk. Eventually, she stopped sulking and started drawing pictures. That’s when she realized that her latest masterpiece was in need of orange, and the orange magic marker was not in her bedroom where she was drawing, but rather in the living room, where her daddy was surfing the Internet.
“Mommy, can you go get my marker for me?” she pleaded.
My husband can be a big grumpy bear at times, so I completely understood her fear. Heck, there have been moments when I haven’t wanted to walk past him either.
But I knew this was a good learning experience. After all, if she could learn how to assertively face down her father, then she would be able to eventually face down anyone.
“Look, honey, it’s easy,” I said. “You just walk into the room like nothing ever happened. You walk past Daddy and say, ‘Hi Daddy!’ as if you are ever so happy to see him. And then you get your marker. Are you ready to try it?”
She said she was. She slowly walked out of her bedroom and into the kitchen. Within just a few seconds, I heard the quick thump thump thump of her feet. She ran back through the bedroom door, put her hands on her knees and breathlessly said, “I didn’t do it. I got too scared!”
“Alright. Maybe we should practice,” I said. “Pretend I’m Daddy. Walk past me and say, “Hi Daddy!’”
She hung her head, stared at her little feet, and whispered, “Hi Daddy.”
“Okay, again, but with more enthusiasm!” I said, as if I were some sort of cheerleader.
This time she stared past me with an expressionless face and monotoned, “Hi Daddy.” She sounded as if she were the saddest human on Earth.
“Alight, one more time!” I said in this strange perky voice that I didn’t even know I had.
“Hi Daddy!” she said with a smile.
“Perfect!” I said, giving her a high five. “Now let’s do it with the real Daddy!”
Things with the real Daddy didn’t turn out so well, I’m afraid. Somewhere between the bedroom and the living room, she lost her nerve again and reverted back to the whisper. She did manage to retrieve her marker, though, and she and her Daddy eventually made up—with no intervention from me.
I tell you this story because it illustrates the importance of tone of voice and body language. Even if you manage to say the right thing, you can still fail to achieve your purpose if you say the right thing in the wrong way. You might not verbalize the fact that you think your spouse is an idiot (or worse), but your tone of voice and body language broadcasts that you are thinking it.
The Night Daggers Emerged From My Eyeballs
This very thing happened to me Friday night when I realized that my husband had planned to work on Saturday, be away all day Sunday, and then proceed to be out of town for four days the following weekend. This was after he had been out of town for a few days the week before. This realization was made worse by the fact that he smugly reminded me that I’d agreed to all of this.
I said, “I wish you would take my needs into account before planning so many trips so close together.”
Good wording, right?
The problem was that invisible daggers were flying out of my eyeballs as I said those words. My aura was a fierce ball of heat, and he retreated for dear life.
I’m embarrassed to say that I remained a fierce ball of heat all weekend long, which is probably why he ended up getting all snippy with our daughter (can you spell d-i-s-p-l-a-c-e-m-e-n-t?) and why the two of them got into a fight and… well, that’s enough of this self blame, don’t you think?
My Tone of Voice Tips
Now, after reading that story, I’m not quite sure why you would trust me to give you tone of voice tips. Really? Me? The Queen of Sarcasm is giving you tips on tone of voice? How could that be?
Let me just say this. I’ve been making a lot of progress in this communication department. That’s almost entirely due to the Karma Project, which I will be writing more extensively about in the coming weeks.
For now, here are some pointers.
State the obvious. If you have to communicate when you are angry, then state that you are angry and apologize for any ramifications. For instance you might say, “I’m really angry right now, so I might accidentally roll my eyes or something. I really do love you, even though I might not believe that myself right now. Once we solve this problem, I know I will love you again, because I always love you again once we solve problems. I’m sorry that I can’t seem to calm down, but I feel we must discuss this now.” Or something like that. If you manage to crack a joke, you’ll lighten things up and chances are you might even be able to improve your delivery.
Chill out. If you don’t have to communicate when you are angry, then retreat. This past weekend, after I delivered the eyeball daggers, I retreated for days. It took a run, a full night of sleep, and an incredible amount of self-talk for me to calm down. But once I was able to calm down, I was finally able to look at my husband with a warm smile and ask, “Are you okay? Do we need to talk?” And from there, we fell back in love with each other again.
As you chill out and talk to yourself, remind yourself of the following:
I loved my spouse before I got mad. I really did. As soon as I shed my anger, I will love my spouse again.
I want to warm things up between me and my spouse. It sucks that I have to be the big person, but this is how it is. I can either get past this and make it right between us, or we can both be miserable forever. Which way is it gonna be?
Meditate. I’ve written about black and white breathing before. I’ve found this technique incredibly helpful at releasing anger. Once I do it for a while, I can usually bring my mind to a compassionate place. Once I’m there, I mentally wish my husband happiness and I keep wishing him happiness until I really mean it and feel good about it.
Do a mental practice run. I visualize myself saying what it is I want to say, and I visualize myself delivering the message with love and compassion. I keep at it until I look and sound happy in my mind.
Remind yourself of this important fact. Compassion breeds compassion. Surliness breeds surliness. Most of us resort to a surly tone of voice out of fear—fear of rejection, fear of our spouse’s anger, fear of failure, you name it. Yet, it’s the surliness that will bring about all of the things that we most fear. Only the compassion will get us to our happy place.
This post was brought to you by your request. I only have 20 more of these to go! Let me know how you feel about this series in the comments, will you? Also, let me know if you think I should have just gotten that orange marker for my little girl, or whether you have tone of voice tips to share.
Today’s Marriage Improvement Monday is brought to you by Ben Klempner, MSW, of EffectiveFamilyCommunication. Today, on his site, he’s running a companion post that I wrote on the same topic. Get to know Ben. He’ll be posting here roughly once a month. If you have questions about getting along with your in-laws, please leave them in the comments. Ben is here to offer advice and share his insight and he will try to answer whatever questions or issues you have on this topic. Think of it like a free therapy session.
Here’s his advice for getting along with the in-laws.
About Those Family Ties
As a therapist and counselor, I can say with a fairly good deal of confidence that in-laws can make or break a marriage. If the in-laws decide that you are not the right one for their child, watch out. Even if the in-laws decide that you are the match made in heaven for their child, you can rest assured that your in-laws will be there to smooth things out whenever your marriage faces a problem or challenge.
I recall several instances when clients had controlling mothers-in-law and husbands who were overly attached to these mothers. The wives were resentful that their forty something husbands were still more attached to their mothers than to them. Not surprisingly, these marriages ended in divorce.
What is the “make it our break it” factor when it comes to in-laws? The answer is simple to write but difficult to implement. It’s respectful boundaries.
On the one hand, there should be an expectation that your spouse, you and any children form a cohesive unit. On the other hand, those whom you are closest (the extended family) can be a source of nourishment, inspiration, and guidance.
But a delicate balance is required. While a welcomed guest is a delight, there is nothing worse than an unwelcome guest.
Set boundaries. All well functioning families have clear boundaries that determine which guests will enter, for how long they will be permitted, and when and how they will be asked to leave. What are your boundaries? Discuss it with your spouse.
Establish expectations. Without expectations things become a free-for-all. Our spouses need to know what our limits, boundaries, and expectations are regarding their parents. Are we open or closed to their parents input? Are their allowed to live in our homes but expected to stay out of the decision making? Are they invited for three day visits or for three month visits? Our spouses need to know what our exceptions are. Conversely we need to know what their limits, boundaries, and expectations are regarding our parents (remember, your spouse has in-laws too).
Respect your in-laws, regardless of how you feel about them. Your in-laws may have been terrible and abusive parents to your spouse. They might be the type of people who you have every reason in the world to dislike. Nevertheless do your very best to keep your opinions to yourself. Your in-laws did the best they could to raise your spouse. They may not be perfect, but neither are you. It’s difficult to do, at times, but try to focus on gratitude and on giving them the benefit of the doubt. At the very least, you can be grateful that they raised, invested in, shaped, and molded the person you chose to share your life with.
So, when all is said and done, there is really only one thing we need to say to our in-laws, “Thank you for having raised the wonderful person I’m married to.”
What issues do you have with your in-laws? Discuss them in the comments. Let’s all see if we can solve these problems together.
Yesterday’s post about a celibate marriage sparked a lively and wonderful discussion. I’d love to continue that energy because I feel we can all learn from one another. Although I am not a 100 percent convert to the Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus camp (not even a 50 percent convert), I do believe that men and women are different, and those differences both attract and repel us from one another. Those differences can, at times, prevent us from digging deeper and getting to know one another better, too.
With that in mind, I’d like to start a discussion about turn ons and turn offs. I’m not talking about specific incidents here, such as body odor or bad breath. I’m talking about the kinds of turn offs that cause you to lose your attraction to your spouse in an ongoing and painfully long way. I’ll start.
For me, all of the turn offs have a theme. They cause me to fear being vulnerable, and when I fear being vulnerable, I don’t like being naked. In order to feel sexy, I need to feel safe.
* Talking down to me
* Not listening to my problems
* Making fun of my weaknesses
* Refusing to consider my view point
For me, turn ons are about feeling adored, about the instinct to nurture or about feeling like a woman.
* Him being the strong guy who makes sure there are no serial killers hiding in the closet
* Him trusting me to listen as he tells me about a problem
* Him complimenting me, smiling when he sees me, and giving me a shoulder rub when he knows I’m sad or stressed
* Me being irrational and him just being supportive without telling me that I am being irrational
* Him taking an interest in my writing
What about you? What keeps you attracted to your spouse? What repels you? There are no wrong answers here. Again, be kind. Be open minded. We’re all here to learn from one another.
I’d already crossed everything about this blog off my Monday to-do list. Marriage Improvement Monday: Done. Check. Over. Time to move on to the other stuff—the stuff that I actually get paid to write.
But first a hot cup of Procrastination Tea was in order. And, heck, I can’t write much while sipping tea, so I figured I might as well read a few blogs until my tea was done.
That’s when I read Julie Roads’ post, “Telling Stories” in which she talks about how she wrote the story of her life before that story actually happened. By writing it out, she made the story come true.
(Her post, by the way, was inspired by Chris Brogan’s post about story telling.)
Julie inspired me. After I read her post, I had a thought. It was this, “I have goals. I have a book coming out. I want certain things to happen. What if I wrote the story of what I want to happen before it actually happens? What if I published that story on my blog—before it ever took place in real life?”
You want to know what I thought about that? It was this, “Sounds absolutely terrifying.”
Well, you want to know what my imaginary boyfriend Seth Godin said to that? It was this, “If it’s terrifying, then it must be worth doing.”
So I’m going to do it. My book Project: Happily Ever After tells the story of how 12 marital improvement books saved my marriage. It will debut in January. Before the book debuts, a much different story will be unfold.
The Story of the Making of a Story
This story’s main character was once a 5th grader who aspired to be a science fiction novelist, but who was told by her teacher that she couldn’t write. She was once a newspaper reporter who wanted to write for the New York Times, but instead chickened out and went into book publishing instead. She’s now considered one of the country’s top ghostwriters of books, but now she’s got words of her own to put between two covers.
She’s helped more than 15 authors face that scariest of days. It’s called this: Book Release Day.
Now she’s facing her own scariest of days.
She’s worried. She’s finally written a book in her own voice and with her own byline. Is her voice boring? Is her story boring? Is her writing boring? Will the book flop? Will she walk away from this experience feeling like a failure?
Those, folks, are just some of her fears. Oh, let me tell you, this girl has got fears.
She has fears about the horrific indignity that could ensue if her hair looks greasy when she appears on TV to talk about her book. She has fears about her hands shaking and her face turning beat red when she gives speeches about the book’s story. She has fears about her friends buying the book, but then avoiding her for days, months and even years because they fell asleep on page 1 and are too embarrassed to see her and tell her that.
Thankfully for our fearful, neurotic main character, this fairy tale includes a sidekick. His name is Tim Brownson, and he is the knight in shining armor behind the story about the story. (Confused about that? I think I might be, too. Bear with me).
Tim is a life coach. He recently ran a promotion for 6 months of free life coaching. I told Tim all about my neurotic fears of failure. He felt so sorry for me that I won the contest. During the next 6 months, he’s going to transform me into the most confident author who ever published a book. And he’s going to single handedly make sure that:
I become immune to those stupid people who are going to write reviews on amazon about how my book is “stupid” or “boring” and “not worth the paper it’s printed on.”
I become so fearless that I will ask super duper famous people to read and blurb my book, and I will think it’s their sad loss when they say, “I’m much to busy to read a book, especially your book.”
I either learn how to style my hair or just stop worrying about it already.
I overcome my quivering lip and pounding heart so I can calmly walk on set of The Daily Show, tell Jon Stewart that he is the hottest man alive (next to Tim Brownson, of course, and next to my husband), and even crack a few jokes that do not include the words “fart” “blowjob” or “poopy.”
I get over my fear of rejection and write an essay about how this blog saved my marriage, and send that essay to the New York Times for publication in “Modern Love.”
Tim, you see, is going to be the clichéd wind beneath my wings. He is going to make sure I do not chicken out. If I check myself into an insane asylum, he’s going to march on over there and he’s going to check me right back out again.
He’s going to make me face each and every fear I have about publishing this book.
And I am going to publish the story of how he manages to pull that off right here, on this blog.
The first chapter opens next week. Monday marks my first session with Tim. During that session Tim is going to help me face my fears about an upcoming journalism conference, one in which I will be speaking about the future of publishing and trying to force myself to network. I believe he said he would be mailing me some Xanax.
On Tuesday, I will write the story of what Tim tells me I should do at the conference. This story will be a story about the future, and about how the conference is actually going to go before it actually happens. Then, I’ll check in here a week later and let you know how the real story turned out.
You with me? You up for writing the story of your life before it unfolds? Do you think there is any merit to doing this? Wish me well, and leave a comment.
Blogging sister Julie Roads recently wrote about traits she wished she could surgically remove from her being.
About those traits? I have a lot of them: fear of failure, fear of appearing weak, fear of being a burden to others, fear of rejection, negativity, fatigue, cravings for things that are not good for me, worry, fear of other people thinking that I have lost a screw.
I could go on, but you get the idea. I’m sure you have your own list.
During the past few weeks, however, I’ve made quite a bit of progress at letting go of most of these fears. I’ve done it by blowing them out my nose.
I learned how to blow stuff out my nose during a meditation class I attended just before my vacation. It was at that class that my teacher explained the theory behind Black and White Breathing. Black and White Breathing is simple. You close your eyes. You bring your awareness to your breathing. Whenever you have a distracting thought—I’m not doing this right….Crap, I forgot to get the milk….I have so much to do tomorrow, but I don’t think I can get it all done… I hope my husband doesn’t want to have sex when I get home tonight—you mentally turn that thought into black smoke, and you blow that smoke out your nose.
Then you imagine all that is good in the world – love, peace, compassion, understanding, patience, orgasms and so on – as white light, and you inhale that light.
Now, I’ve been doing this Black and White Breathing thing for about a year, but it wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I really got the point of it all. What can I say? I’m dense like that. But once I got the point, it was a huge life shift for me. I started doing it repeatedly throughout every single day. Here are some examples:
We’re driving to the airport. Traffic comes to a standstill. We turn on the radio and find out that there is a four-car pile up and that the road is completely blocked off. My thoughts start going to the We’re-Going-to-Miss-Our-Flight-and-I’ll-Never-Get-to-Go-On-Vacation-and-If-I-Don’t-Have-A-Vacation-I-Am-Going-to-Die-From-Stress place. I breathe that thought out my nose as I say, “Whatever happens is what happens.” I breathe in my nice white light. Suddenly I could care less as to whether or not I catch my flight. (We did catch it, by the way).
We’re in Florida and we’re on our way to a restaurant to celebrate my mother-in-law’s birthday. My husband is driving. His mother is in the backseat with me. His father is in the front seat. My father in law and mother in law are backseat driving, and it’s vicious. Not a second goes by without one of them telling my husband that he’s in the wrong lane, not turning at the right place, or going the wrong way. My husband is getting more and more tense. He ignores them, so they raise their voices. I’m thinking, “Gee this is quite uncomfortable” and “well, isn’t he getting a taste of his own medicine” and “wow, now I know where he gets this from.” As the tension in the car rises, I close my eyes and breathe the tension and negativity out my nose. When we get to our destination, I hug and kiss my husband. His entire demeanor changes, and now he’s able to deal with his parents civilly.
I’m having dinner with a group of people. An acquaintance makes an anti-Semitic remark. I’m half Jewish. People often forget this because 1) I don’t celebrate Jewish holidays 2) I practice non-Jewish religions such as Buddhism 3) I apparently don’t look Jewish. None of that makes anti-Semitism hurt any less. I think about sticking a fork in this person, but then I quickly breathe that anger out my nose. I wish I could say that I said the absolutely most perfect thing—the thing that would make this person realize that Jews are human beings just like everyone else—but I did not. Still, I’m quite proud of myself for not sticking my fork in anything that wasn’t on my plate.
As I’ve mentioned, I’ve experienced a long siege of mildly annoying events, the most recent of which was getting the stomach flu and spending Wednesday night in the bathroom and Thursday in bed. I initially worried about a lot of things—the vomit that I got on my bathrobe, all of the work I had to do but could not get done, and how to make breakfast for my 5 year old when I could not get out of bed. I blew it all out my nose. My 5 year old not only entertained herself, but she nursed me, putting “Get Well” stickers all over my shirt and bringing me Gatorade from the fridge. My husband came home from work and not only fed her and took her to school, but also cleaned the bathroom and brought me more Gatorade. My bathrobe still has vomit on it. I’m considering tossing the thing. But everything else worked itself out, no worrying required.
Oh, things I’ve blown out my nose these past few weeks. I’ve blown away worries. I’ve blown away cattiness. I’ve blown out my envy, anger, frustration, fear and more. Now, whenever I have a negative thought of any kind, I ask myself, “Is this thought going to get me anywhere? Do I need this thought?” If the answer is, “No,” I blow it out my nose. Blowing negativity out my nose does not stop life from being a struggle. Bad things still happen. I still get sick. I still get locked out of hotel rooms. People still say hurtful things. Not everything works out as planned.
But turning such struggles into smoke and blowing that smoke out my nose helps me to stop obsessing about the things I cannot change, so I can focus on the things that I can do something about.
Try it and let me know what you think.
How do you deal with negativity? Do you have techniques for overcoming worry, fear, anger and other negative emotions? Share them here, so others can learn from your experience.
I grew up knowing the story of my maternal grandmother and how, not long after her second baby was born, she turned on the gas and tried to kill herself.
I also grew up knowing the story of my mother, about how, not long after my birth, she was driving one day and thought, “I should just drive the car off that bridge and get it over with.” Then her milk let down and she thought, “Okay, I’ll nurse her, and then I’ll kill myself.” Then something else happened to occupy her attention, so she told herself she would take care of that, and then she would kill herself.
The story became known as the day my mother could not find the time to kill herself.
My mother and my grandmother had all of the classic symptoms of post partum depression, don’t you think? But when, roughly 6 years ago, I filled out that intake form that every pregnant woman fills out, I checked “No” for the question that asked, “Do you have a family history of post partum depression?”
At that time, I didn’t know I had a history because I didn’t understand what post partum depression was. Had the form asked me whether any of the women in my family had attempted suicide after birthing a baby, I would have answered, “Yes.”
But no one asked me that question.
So, despite the fact that I am a health writer, it never occurred to me that I was at a higher risk of getting this disease. And when I suffered hot flashes after my baby was born, I blamed it on fluctuating hormone levels. And when the rage erupted–causing me to scream at my husband, the dog, my mother, and yes, even my own baby—I blamed it on sleep deprivation.
And when I came so close to shaking the life out of my baby one night because of that rage, I blamed it on displaced anger. The person I really wanted to shake was my husband—because he was sleeping peacefully and I wasn’t.
And by the time I was fantasizing about driving my car into telephone poles, I just wasn’t thinking much of anything. The ability to suss out normal from abnormal? I no longer possessed that.
It wasn’t until years later, when I was reading a book called The Female Brain that I finally realized what had been wrong with me. The book’s author described post partum depression in a way that gave me pause, because it was as if she were describing me.
Discovery Health Channel will air a documentary next week about this important topic. It’s called Post Partum Nightmares, and I’m one of the women interviewed.
When I learned that the documentary was airing next week, my first sensation was one of embarrassment. I thought, “Oh my God, now every single person in the United States is going to know that I am a bad mother.”
Yes, that was my first thought. Indeed, post partum depression leaves behind a sense of shame and failure that can be quite hard to overcome. Until I had a baby, I’d experienced nothing but success. Then, I had a baby and I felt like a failure. I had no idea what I was supposed to do with a baby all day long. I didn’t know what my baby wanted when she cried. And, some of the time, I just didn’t want my baby anymore.
How could I admit that to anyone? I felt so shameful about those feelings.
But that’s precisely why I agreed to participate in the documentary, why I’m blogging about it today, and why I’m planning on giving a presentation about it to a large regional hospital. It’s my hope that the show will start an open discussion among women and their doctors. It’s my hope that it will help mothers shed their own feelings of shame and inadequacy.
Because if you’ve been through this, I can tell you: you are not a bad mother. You are not a pariah. You are not a failure or a weak person. You have or had a disease, one that should have been diagnosed and treated.
Twenty percent of new mothers suffer from this disease. Think about that stat. That’s one in every five mothers. I suppose that stat does not include the countless women who — like me and like my mother and like my grandmother – were never diagnosed.
Now, nearly 6 years after I lived through it, I wonder what we can do to change that. Is there a way to help more mothers? Is there a way to normalize this condition? I think there is.
First, I think medical professionals need to ask the right questions, and they need to ask them often. And, I believe, the right questions are:
Do you ever have moments when you feel so overwhelmed with the job of being a mother that you wish you could just end it all?
Do you feel like a bad mother?
Do you feel like a failure?
Have you ever wished that you could give the baby back?
Have you ever thought about hurting your baby?
Are you so exhausted that you can’t get out of a chair or off the floor?
Do you feel embarrassed about your ability to be a good parent?
Second, I think we, as women, can help new mothers. Rather than putting them through the Baby Olympics (Is your baby sleeping through the night? Is your baby rolling over? Is your baby crawling yet? Is your baby talking yet?), why don’t we just compliment them? Why don’t we do something helpful, such as dropping off a week’s supply of frozen dinners or hiring them a cleaning service? Why don’t we talk about our own experiences? Why don’t we say things like, “Early motherhood was one of the hardest stages of my entire life. There were times when I wasn’t sure I was going to live through it. Honestly, I felt like such a failure. How are things going for you?”
I don’t know for sure that such things would solve the problem, but I think they would definitely help. What do you think?