The happily ever after story of marriage is a fairy tale, and it’s told often. Even to this day, people believe it.
The truth is, a loving relationship is not a fairy tale. A loving relationship won’t make bad stuff go away. It won’t downplay issues we harbor, or things that trouble or challenge us.
To live happily ever after takes some skill. Awareness. It requires some serious chops…
…because an intimate relationship will, in fact, bring anything on our learning curve front and center. Our issues tag along like little lambs wagging their tails (and tales) behind them.
I’m not saying one should forget about being in an intimate relationship or that it won’t help or delight.
I’m saying that our cultural expectations about partnerships tend to be off track. Unrealistic. Idealistic. Let’s be honest here — our happily ever after expectations are ridiculous, really.
I’m not stating this because I’m calloused, jaded or bitter.
In fact, I’m enthusiastic about intimate relationships, even a cheerleader of sorts. It’s just that we have dreamy ideas about long-term commitment that cause us to miss — entirely — the true and everlasting value of being in a love relationship with another human being.
With that, why not go ahead and have a few sips of that wonderful coffee sitting next to you?
Maybe you’ll saunter toward a donut-muffin-croissant to go with that coffee. Go ahead. I’ll wait.
But do come back. Here’s why.
We’re about to have an eat-your-croissant-length talk about the nature of relationships in a way that — if we humans knew this one thing — it would make such a difference in the quality of relating to one another. Everywhere. Forever.
Would what I’m about to say dash the romantic hopes and dreams of those getting married?
I don’t know. It could.
More likely, though, it would provide a proper container for saying “I do” or being life partners which could hold the reality of the challenges that come with relating to another person day after day, for months and years.
Common Secret Belief
I work mostly with women, and I’m going to tell this one on us. I cannot begin to count how many women I’ve spoken to in the last forty years who (secretly) believe that being in a relationship will take their biggest, naggiest, most daunting pile of trouble away.
That being in a relationship will remove loneliness, for instance.
Or worry. Or fear. Or confusion.
Or that, surely this time, the person they meet will be more agreeable than the last one.
They are certain life will improve with someone else around. They believe they will (suddenly and magically and because of this partner) be a different person, especially, a better person, a finer specimen of human.
They believe they will have more fun.
Any of these things could possibly be “true” to start. This is why we invented the honeymoon.
However, at some point, what has been hibernating begins to stir and make noise. These sleepy issues yawn, stretch and walk out of the cave, one by one, to create events unique to your relationship with another.
Your relationship with another works the way you (personally) work.
Your relationship with yourself guides every other relationship you have. Your partnerships, connections, and friendships with others are built and maintained the way you treat yourself and take care of yourself.
They would have to be. It’s what you know.
How you view yourself, how you understand yourself, the leeway you give yourself — all of these play out with another. Your ability to love yourself no matter what you do or don’t do paves the way to how you include and love another person when they do or don’t do.
Your relationship moves forward the way you personally move forward. Your relationship grows if you do. Your relationship changes if you do. Your relationship evolves in a satisfying way if that’s how you roll.
From your point of view, this is what an intimate relationship is about — you, you, you. Not in a selfish way or an “it’s all about me, let’s forget about you” kind of way, but rather in a powerful, open and blooming like a spring flower kind of way.
Your relationships with others (even that person you just yelled at for cutting you off in traffic, or the person you dissed in the parking lot for thinking you took their space) — all your relationships are about you and your building materials.
Your intimate relationship is about your belief in yourself, your vision, your practice of loving and honoring who you are and expressing that fully and freely no matter who’s around.
Recently, I got together with girlfriends for a potluck meal, which I knew would be delightful, but didn’t expect it to be magic.
After a tour of our host’s artsy home, all of us were in awe of her various collections. As we settled in for the meal, we could have talked about the usual what’s-going-on-in-your-life questions.
But we didn’t.
Instead, the hostess asked, “What were you doing in the 80’s?”
Each of us told a story about those years of our life, which, as you might imagine, was surprising, touching, and randomly hilarious. I learned so many things about my three friends!
At the end of the evening, we felt especially inspired, as if gifts about each other had been unwrapped one by one all evening long.
On the way home, the most delicious thing happened: a promise I made to myself long ago regarding art began to rise up inside.
Fueled By Inspiration
Arriving home, rather than closing my eyes for a good night’s sleep (which would have been a reasonable thing to do given the hour) I googled this promise from my past.
In the mid to late 70’s, I took a ski trip out west somewhere, and during that trip, I visited a gallery of wildlife photographs. These photographs had impact.
Mentally, molecularly, essentially — they changed me, as if someone shot an arrow (of love, awe, reverence) into my heart and there was not one thing I could do about it.
That was forty years ago.
The gallery was filled with breathtaking photographs of wildlife by someone whose name I couldn’t remember, in a ski city … oh, gosh, where could I have been traveling?
Here’s what I did recall.
I remembered the feeling of being with his photographs, and the reverence I felt for the animals. I remember vividly that his photographs were living, breathing prayers for the beauty, strength, and importance of animals and our beautiful Earth home.
I remember the privilege it was to stand in a room surrounded by one-in-a-thousand shots. The skill and patience required to get even one of the photographs — the amount of waiting alone — was beyond me. (And photoshop didn’t exist then. They were honest photographs.)
I wondered about the man behind the camera. I wondered who he was.
I remember that the photographs were large, well-lit and perfectly framed. One was a red fox. There was a tree full of waxwing cedars. A wolf portrait. Tiger eyes.
And, to me, the most stunning of all — a massive print of an eagle flying out of a dark forest, a once in a lifetime shot. I stood quietly for a long time in the presence of that photo.
At the time, I didn’t believe I should spend (that much) money on art, and believed I couldn’t afford the large photographs I really wanted. But I remember making a silent vow to buy some of his work “someday.”
When I could, I would fill my living room with the places he had traveled and the animals he knew. I imagined which photos I would choose and how it would feel to take them home.
On Sunday evening after this magically artsy girlfriend dinner (and an focused Google session) I found the photographer.
From Mangelsen’s website: “In this dramatic aerial display over McDonald Creek in Montana, a mature female bald eagle, with wings locked, glides out of its dark roost into the first rays of dawn to pluck a landlocked kokanee salmon from the water’s surface. But there is more to the story. Somehow, the avian had lost a talon, likely to a muskrat trap, which could easily have spelled its doom. Mangelsen observed the injured female for days, admiring her perseverance and will to live. Waiting to capture her in all her glory, he succeeded with this photograph that was one of his most sought-after ever, popular especially among the veterans of military families.
On the morning this picture was taken the bird plunged like a fighter jet emerging from its shadowed roost into the auspicious hope of sunlight. Her frame being pulled into the frigid current as she tried to hoist the heavy payload, she struggled, eventually lifting off again and her wet head feathers carrying a frosting of ice. To all who witnessed the bird’s indomitable spirit, as she clutched the salmon in her lone talon, it was—and remains— unforgettable.”
Thomas Mangelsen Traveling Museum Exhibition coming to Asheville!
In 2021, his work is coming to Asheville. Mangelsen, by the way, is known as much for his animal conservation efforts as he is for his photography. Check his website for details. For a schedule of other cities on the tour, go here.
May 15, 2021 – September 5, 2021 North Carolina Arboretum 100 Fredrick Law Olmsted Way, Asheville, NC
Person meets person. They fall in love, get married. But down the road, the connection is strained to the max. The good fairy tale has gone bad.
How does this happen? How does something seemingly good and true go sideways?
I’ve done this good-going-sideways thing at least six solid times. Though it took me quite a few years, I learned from my troubles, and perhaps I can save you valuable time.
What follows is one pivotal piece that is the basis of how to pull any relationship out of a downward spiral. It is, in fact, the basis of how I pulled my relationship with my fourth husband out of (the dreaded) downward spiral.
The Pivotal Piece
Any relationship causes an unveiling. The unveiling happens in three main ways.
Every relationship lifts the lid off something — beliefs, wounds, patterns.
Every relationship accentuates something about you.
Every relationship shows you the way to something you didn’t know about yourself, that if learned and understood, changes the quality of your life for the better.
First, a happy example of the idea of unveiling.
My 92 year old mother is visiting me for a couple months. She no longer has a home of her own to take care of, and she doesn’t drive. Mostly, she spends time with my sister (in another state) and occasionally comes to see me.
Mom says she likes “flitting about.”
Recently, I put her on a plane to visit relatives in Florida for six days. She loved her time there and returned home radiantly happy and warm from the Florida sunshine. The weather was perfect while she was there.
She’s delighted to be alive and well, making quilts for grandchildren, reading large print books from the Etowah library, and eating food we prepare together. She is happy — and able — to pitch in with dishes or sweeping. She loves being driven here and there.
We giggle together. She has gotten funnier with age, or I have, I’m not sure which. Maybe both of us have. Maybe life itself has gotten funnier.
What gets unveiled with us is delight. Humor. Appreciation. Gratitude. Oodles of love.
On the way home from a craft store, she thanked me for driving her, and for making things so easy for her.
Mom has a way of sending a thank you all the way into my heart. Her thank you took my breath away.
I’ve watched her do this same deep thank you with strangers. She relates to a store clerk as if that person is as dear as someone she’s known for many years. It always touches me.
She says something very personal to others, usually a compliment of some kind. When she reminds them to have a good day or evening, they get it. Their eyes light up as if Mary Poppins herself has landed in their store to wish them well.
What gets accentuated in my relationship with my mom is delight and appreciation. It’s how we roll.
But… it’s not always the easy stuff that comes up.
Relationships also reveal challenges. Discomfort. Problems.
Maybe it’s a rub, an annoyance, a small issue which grows. Maybe it’s a shocking event.
Sometimes what’s unveiled is a difference in thinking, an important way one partner doesn’t match the other, which was not visible at the beginning when happy feelings twinkled like night stars on a clear evening.
I was speaking with a young woman recently who was grappling with getting back together with her boyfriend. After their break-up, he slept with someone else. They are back together now, but she can’t get the haunting visuals of the other woman out of her mind.
Clearly, there’s her work, her challenge, her learning curve. Their relationship unveiled it. Can she open her heart under these circumstances? Will she eventually understand that the mind’s job is to add meaning, the kind of meaning which often complicates matters?
We shall see.
Maybe the pot-smoking son (who needs a job, but isn’t getting one) activates his mother’s worry-frustration-anger button. (There’s her work.)
A friend’s behavior offends us. (There’s our work.)
An interaction with a lover leaves us disappointed and confused. (There’s our field of exploration.)
Someone in our life reminds us the world is not always a kind and comfy nest of feathers. They force us to stand up, speak up, show up. (They help us rise up to be ourselves. If we’re willing.)
Stand Up, Speak Up, Show Up
This past Sunday at Unity of The Blue Ridge, Rev. Darlene told a story about Gandhi which illustrates this in a large and sweeping way.
Gandhi was a small man and struggled with his shyness, but to honor his father’s wishes, he became a lawyer. He was offered a job in South Africa and purchased a first class train ticket to travel to a trial. Those on the train were not pleased that a brown-skinned man was sitting in first class.
Because Gandhi refused to give up his seat and move to the rear car, he was thrown off the train into the cold night. Another train would not be along until morning.
Gandhi spent the night alone in the cold. Gandhi’s time alone on that cold night changed the course of history.
Upon learning this story, Albert Einstein wrote of Mahatma Gandhi, “From that night forward, the small, unassuming man would grow into a giant force for good, drawing national attention to acts of prejudice and injustice. Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon the earth.”
Gandhi almost single-handedly freed India and its five hundred million people from the British empire, and did so without raising an army, without firing a gun, without taking a hostage and without ever holding a political office.
Oh, Gosh. Always learning…
Daily learning can happen on a small scale, too.
Recently, I was asked for music feedback. I believed that those asking meant what they said — they wanted feedback.
So, in giving my response, I felt I was kind, direct and casual. To my way of thinking, I offered exactly what had been requested of me.
However, the feedback I gave was received with silence, the kind of silence that makes one wonder “what in the world did I just say that caused this response?”
For a moment, it felt terrible. It felt as if my hand had been slapped, and it stung.
After those first awkward seconds, I found out they wanted feedback, but not — that — feedback because they mentioned a reason why they’d reacted. The moment passed with no harm done.
However, I recalculated. Quickly. Because, to my complete surprise, they asked for feedback a second time.
Because I was more informed, though, I was smarter about what I said. To be clear, I was not less expressive or less truthful, just smarter. There’s a difference.
All of this was easier for me in that moment than even a few months ago. I’m always learning.
I figure that any learning curve is excellent practice for my future — practice for coming out of hibernation since Eric’s death, practice for future speaking engagements.
My learning curves are rehearsals for interacting with the public more, for growing my ability to hear and feel without taking things personally. For recovering from an uncomfortable moment, for understanding a temporary (slightly scary) mystery.
It’s good to know about the unveiling idea, isn’t it? That every unveiling points to our personal work?
In learning situations, there’s truly nothing (and nobody) wrong. Nothing is askew. Nobody’s making a mistake.
There’s only you and me in a world of innocent others.
It helps to think of all of us as five or six years old, doing our best to explore our personal playground.
We’re exploring the edges of our understanding. Our capacity to include. Our ability to grow open minds and big hearts.
It would be good to know information that could save someone’s sight, right? Yours or someone you know? Sight in my left eye was, in fact, saved by the kindness of a blogger describing the symptoms of a detached retina.
I’m paying it forward.
A detached retina happens when the tissue at the back of the eye separates from underlying structures. Left untreated, it can cause blindness.
My left retina detached about eight years ago. Eric was out of town. While teaching a class on a Thursday evening, I noticed a gel-like substance oozing into the visual field of my left eye.
There was no warning, no sudden burst of floaters in my eye. No pain. No other symptoms.
I finished teaching the class, didn’t mention it to anyone, and went to bed that evening wondering what in the heck was going on. It’s interesting — without pain or discomfort, a physical symptom can seem less urgent. The change in my eye didn’t feel like an emergency.
The next morning, the gel-like substance had not gone away. In a leisurely way, after taking care of a few “must do’s” I began to Goggle my symptoms.
But how do you google something so weird? I think I finally looked up something about gel oozing into my visual field, and a blog came up, describing exactly what was going on.
The blogger said that if the symptoms he was describing matched mine, I should stop reading and call my eye doctor immediately.
Which I did.
When I described the symptoms to the optical assistant she said, “I will talk to the doctor right now. Please keep your phone line open, because I’m going to call you right back in a few minutes.”
Everything that needed to happen to save my eye began to unfold quickly and efficiently. I wasted no time getting to my emergency appointment with Dr. Park, a retinal specialist.
After the exam, Dr. Park turned me over to the paperwork people. He said he would have dinner with his family and come back to the hospital to do the operation that evening.
The surgery was successful. Part of the procedure was to place a gas bubble in my eye, which keeps the retina in place while it heals. Instructions were to keep my head upright and tilted to the right — for an entire week — to keep the gas bubble in the correct position, so the retina would be held in place while it healed.
I walked, ate and slept with my head tilted.
The nurses encouraged me to count my lucky stars about my assigned head position, since it is not uncommon to be face down for a week to keep the bubble in place after surgery! At least I could prop my head on pillows and watch movies.
Other Things To Know…
A retinal detachment can start with a retinal tear or hole and is not detectable in a regular eye exam. (Only in a retinal exam by a specialist.)
There are generally no visual symptoms, although sometimes you’ll see more floaters.
If you’re extremely nearsighted, you’re at higher risk.
Once you’ve had a retinal detachment in one eye, the specialist keeps watch on the other one, because the likelihood of the same thing happening in the second eye is high.
A couple weeks ago, during my yearly retinal exam with Dr. Park, he found a tear in the retina of my other eye. The next day, he donned a headset and directed a tiny laser beam through my pupil to spot-weld the tear closed and prevent the retina from detaching.
I’m so thankful.
I thought you should know, in case the information could come in handy for you or someone you love.
Terri’s first book, 100 Words: Small Servings of Whimsy and Wisdom to Calm the Mind and Nourish the Heart is available from Amazon.
Today, I want to talk about the importance of addressing a small issue before it grows into a soul-draining bully of a thing.
I hope today’s post encourages you to make small changes. Because over time, the result of small changes can be phenomenal.
Most of us do well most of the time. We’re awake, aware, and capable. But because life is our faithful teacher, even the most adept and aware among us have mysterious collections of thoughts and feelings stuffed deep into pockets or under a rug.
It’s the way it is. It’s how humans roll.
Worry or fear could be running in the background of our daily existence, for instance. Or grief about someone or something. Maybe we have unresolved disappointment from long ago. Perhaps we believe in ideas about ourselves that aren’t true.
A limiting idea is a lie. A lie (even a tiny one) has layers, and over time it has impact.
A lie, no matter how small, is a self-inflicted triple whammy.
May I explain?
I’ll start itty-bitty, because the practice of learning to fall for untrue beliefs seems so teeny-tiny you’ll wonder why I’m even writing about it.
But here’s the thing.
What happens with any practice over time, is that our skill improves. If we practice believing tiny lies, our capacity to include them grows. It’s natural.
I Know This. Because.
When people sign up to talk to me about their relationships, their lives — they often bring buckets of overwhelming, collections of angry or resentful, and backpacks of profoundly sad.
They bring me something that was once itsy-bitsy, and now it’s all grown up and wears big boots.
They bring me big issues because somewhere along the way, they got really good at their practice of believing in a tiny fib or two. Gradually, the fibs wore new outfits and became fearless.
How do I help people? We go back to the beginning. To start, we usually talk about really small stuff …
Here’s an itsy-bitsy. (Remember, it will seem so insignificant that you’ll wonder why I’m even writing about it…)
I’m meeting a friend for tea in a town I’m passing through on my trip. I check Google about the meeting place, follow directions and park. Then, unbeknownst to me, I walk down the street in the opposite direction of my friend.
I finally find the tea house and my friend, but I have taken the long route, and in a small way, I believe I wasted time — time I could have spent with my dear friend. I notice I feel mildly frustrated. I believe I should be different than I am, just a little.
See? It’s itsy-bitsy. And it’s fleeting. It’s inconsequential, right? A little dose of self-criticism with a sprinkle of angst thrown in, which disappears in a few minutes. What could possibly be less important?
Trust me, it’s important.
Why? Because it’s practice believing in something that’s not true.
The first part of the trouble is that I believe I made a mistake. Which is a lie, an exaggeration, an untruth. I walked down the street in the opposite direction of my friend. Any meaning added is extra, as in not the truth, just extra.
Then there is the physical discomfort (stress) caused by my thought that it’s a mistake. I can feel it in my heart. Just a little.
And third, I tell myself that I should be different than I am. I should be more like my friend who is smarter and more capable about directions. It’s a casual thought, but it’s there.
The essence of my practice is believing that something’s wrong with me. I’m not enough. I’m insufficient.
Sooner or later, my personal practice of believing I’m insufficient naturally extends to other people (they’re insufficient, too), to my intimate relationship (my partner is wrong, s/he made a mistake), to my life in general (life isn’t good enough, sweet enough, fun enough).
My practice grows — naturally. Of course it does.
Here’s another version. I believe that I should do this thing or that thing, but (heaven forbid) not THAT.
But I do THAT, even though I think I shouldn’t. Which feels uncomfortable. And I get after myself (even a little) for doing THAT. I tell myself I should be different than I am.
There’s my triple-whammy, my three-step dance. And the more I practice the dance, the more proficient I become.
Years down the road, because I’ve practiced so many versions of this little fib that I should be different than I am, I have slowly grown an unwieldy version of my itty-bitty.
I’m depressed. Upset. Unsettled. I’m not enjoying my daily existence. I’m grouchy, impatient, calloused about life. Being alive is hard. I’m thinking maybe I should call the whole thing off.
After all, things that used to make me happy don’t anymore. My career is unsatisfying. A dream is lost. My partner prefers to talk to other people, not me. What’s the point of being in a relationship? Etc. and so on…
Then, because of who I’ve “become,” I offer this version of myself to others. I don’t mean to accentuate the negative, but it’s what I’ve got plenty of, so I tell stories that reinforce my belief in my unhappiness.
Do you see how this grows? How it gets out of hand?
Do you see where my bluebird of happiness has gone?
Itsy-Bitsy ate it. Feathers and all, over the years. Yes, she did.
The Very Good News.
The great news is that if something itsy-bitsy has gathered momentum, you can turn it around. In other words, take care of teenie-weenie, and if you do, it won’t grow up to be a bully.
Start small. Speak up, just a little to start. How did that go?
Don’t tiptoe so much. Blurt your request, your truth, your need — and notice that everyone survives.
Revive your ability to say what you mean, which is sometimes different than what people want to hear.
Spend more time doing what matters to you. If you haven’t been singing and you love to sing, then sing today — just a little. Tomorrow, sing a little more. See where that takes you.
Take responsibility for where you’ve landed. Don’t blame others, that’s the long road. Don’t make someone else the cause of your emotions or difficulties, even if it’s tempting or provable.
Avoid slathering others with stories about how bad things are or have been. Instead, do your best to head in the direction of reporting your new plan. “I’m changing my tune about this… want to hear about my new practice?”
(You can tell your therapist or counselor long stories and explore details. But with friends and co-workers, nope, not so much.)
Choose love. For yourself, for someone else — just a little. If you hop on a negative train about someone, remember you’re the captain. Blow the whistle. Stop the train. What does it feel like to call a halt to entertaining a negative opinion?
Find a way to think kindly of yourself (genuinely, completely, honestly) in a small way that you would normally not.
Give yourself room to move, permission to experiment. Fall down, get up, try things. Liberate yourself a little, in an itty-bitty way that is practically invisible. Work your way up.
Practice daily. Be consistent. Starting small helps you be successful. Practicing success is a good thing to practice. It reinforces “yes, I can do this.”
At the risk of sounding like all of this is as easy as apple pie and ice cream on the porch on a warm summer day, please know that if you take care of an itsy-bitsy everyday, you’ll see life-giving results over time.
And you’ll get some mojo back, just a little — which grows. I promise. When bluebirds of happiness stop by for visits, you’ll realize your progress is showing.
So, go out there people! Notice an itsy-bitsy today and take care of it. Look with your heart and tell the truth about something. It will gladly do the hokey pokey and turn itself around.
That’s how you begin. And hallelujah everybody — your practice will grow!