Part 5 of 5. Great Love. Sorting According To True Priorities

For those of you reading the Series, here we are in Part 5, the final post. You’ve had practice Observing yourself in quite a new way. And you know the value of sorting  reactions, and how to begin to sort.

Onward, with sorting!

Last time, I gave an example about my phone. 

My reaction wasn’t helping me in any way I could think of. And I did think about it. Reacting didn’t feel good. It didn’t solve my problem. It didn’t help me figure out my phone issue.

I practiced a simple thing. I felt my reactions, considered it, welcomed it as part of me. I sat with it.

Did I want to explore a new way of being? Yes, I did.

Hmmm… what could I do instead? What else have I got?

I love the Verizon store near me, so I paid them a visit. Why not ask the experts? I love experts. Experts are the shortcut on the desktop of life.

They are so helpful at this Verizon store. When I walk in, someone with a tablet asks what I need, and they put me in cue for the next available phone whiz.

How great is that! It’s totally brilliant customer service. I felt taken care of immediately.

When I get to the person helping me, they are smart and fast, as well as enormously patient (a stunning combo, I must say). I’ve admired every Verizon Zen Techie who has helped me.

This time, my phone whiz was a young woman with wild purple, green and pink hair, dark lipstick and tattoos. (I love that Verizon apparently doesn’t have a dress code, hair code or tattoo code.)

She whizzed around my phone with lightning speed, and informed me that I have automatic tech help because of my phone insurance. Apparently, I can ask for tech help with a guaranteed 15 minute response time.

She set up the App for me. And she used the app to solve my problem.

Well, that was dreamy easy!

THE TRANSLATION

This simple example translates well to relationships — things that we think are hard and frustrating or unsolvable involving our partner are often really simple, if we’re willing to set aside our current knee jerk reaction long enough to consider that our “now” view is not the only view.

But that’s the key. We must be willing to consider the existence of another, happier possibility.

That’s all it takes.

A SHORT STORY

Once upon a time a very upset woman blurted to me about her “horrible husband.”

I listened.

Quite a while.

She had a long and well-justified story. At one point, out of curiosity, to learn about her gear-shifting ability, I interrupted her story and casually asked her to reel off a quick list of things he did right.

This caused a sort of panic in her eyes and posture.

Apparently, this was not a question she had considered recently.

Many seconds went by while she struggled in silence. I did not help her. I wondered how she would rally around this question.

Several times, she started to speak, but stopped and thought some more. Finally, she named two things:

  1. He gave her head and neck massages.
  2. And “he lets me do what I want.”

Her evaluation of him, her blurt, her thinking process, her answer to my question — all of these pointed to something hanging in her relationship closet.

Do you know what it is?

(Don’t scan down to check the answer yet, see if you can come up with it. I’ll put in beautiful space while you think.)

WHAT’S HANGING IN HER CLOSET?

She’s hard on other people.

And therefore, and more fundamentally, she’s hard on herself.

That’s her simple problem — she’s hard on herself.

Her problem has nothing to do with her husband. He’s just in the neighborhood.

I described the process of noticing and setting aside her reactions to her husband, one by one as they come up, and how she could assume that all roads lead to Rome (her). That all the ways she disapproves of him are actually all the ways she disapproves of herself (or would disapprove if she did what he does).

I mentioned that the process for her would be about becoming more aware and kind — to herself.

She nearly fell off her chair.

She gave me that “are you frigging kidding me” look — you know the look I’m talking about. She probably wanted to quit right then. Walk out and never look back.

At the very least, roll over and go to sleep.

She wanted to do anything but shine a light on how much she disapproved of herself. She would rather that stay in the dark back corner of her closet.

She was a trooper though. She went through strong emotions sitting there in the chair. First, there was the rain, then the hot sun, and finally storm clouds. I listened, waited, watched.

She decided to make a list of what she did right over the coming week.

She had the best of intentions.

She came back to her next appointment with a list of things she “may have” done right, and kept apologizing for not really knowing how to come up with the list because “who could really say whether she did it well or not…”

She was reluctant to give herself any credit — at all — for anything.

Hanging in her closet was the idea that if she was unhappy, it was surely because of someone else. Her main block to true happiness was apparently living in her very own house, wearing pants and a shirt, and sleeping with her.

Since he was the problem, she was doing her best to tidy him. She was sure that cleaning up his act was her business. Then she’d be happy.

Oops.

No.

What I say and think about them is who I am.

When I have a reaction to someone, that’s what’s hanging in my relationship closet. If I take it out and take a good look at it, I can own it instead of pretend it’s not mine.

I can sit with it. Meditate about it. I can note how I am (doing, saying, being) what I’m accusing another of being.  I can be with my dark side, my underbelly, my negative emotion.  See it. Welcome it. Feel it. Notice the results of my thinking or my actions. Be amazed. Get curious. Investigate.

Only then will I have breathing space to consider another way of being. Is this way of being truly me? Do I prefer this way of being? What else could I do that I would enjoy more?

I explore alternatives.

When I’m done sorting, organizing what’s left is a breeze, because what’s left makes sense. It’s me.

Do you need help sorting? Illuminating?

Flag me down.

 

 

 

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Feather Finding, Bat Catching and Leaping In Tall Treetops

A few days ago, I opened the relationship book I wrote before Eric died. The book is for women who have been married multiple times.

I had completed the book and given it to my editor. She was working on it. Not long after, in December of 2016, her husband’s health took a sudden and unexpected turn for the worse and he passed away.

Around the same time, Eric went to the hospital several times, and finally hospice. He died on March 25, 2017.

Needless to say, my editor and I abandoned all work on the book. We gave ourselves time.

Since then, I never once went to my computer to open it. I just couldn’t do it. I’m not sure why. In fact, I hadn’t opened the document since December 6, 2016.

A couple of days ago, I decided to take a gander at what I had written. Much to my dismay, I didn’t like the introduction or the first chapter. At least, it wasn’t what I would call a “hell, yes” or two enthusiastic thumbs up.

(Ugh.)

That was was slightly upsetting, mostly because of the work I imagined ahead.

I texted my editor and gave her the bad news. “I finally looked at the book I’ve written and so far, I don’t like it.”

She texted back, “Oh my. I don’t know what to say! Let me know how it goes and what you want to do. But take your time and be gentle with yourself.”

(What a good editor she is. What a wise and wonderful person she is. Such good advice to a panicked author.)

I had finished texting her while out on a mountain road walking my 12 lb wonder dog, Jackson. I tucked my phone back in my pocket, ready to continue walking.

Looking down at the ground, directly at my feet was a most striking feather. I am not a person who generally comes across feathers, even out here in the forest on a mountain road where there are plenty of birds — and therefore feathers.

It felt like a gift, a message, so I picked it up.

Out came the phone again. One source said feathers are symbols of freedom, inspiration and travel.  That felt good and it helped me calm down about my book.

Everything’s gonna be OK, I thought to myself, and the book will surely need some editing and re-writing. That’s natural. After all, look what’s happened since I wrote it. What an amazing experience to realize how much I’ve changed since March 25.

Fast forward with me twelve hours.

That evening, there I am lying in bed reading a good book. I’m engrossed.

Except…

Something moved in the upper right corner of my eye, and it wasn’t a “floater.” (No, nothing to do with my aging eyeball!)

Something whisper quiet and the size of a bird was flying — in my bedroom!

It didn’t flap, so I knew it wasn’t a bird…

Oh, gosh, a bat! That’s what it is!

Goodness, another message about flying! Mother Nature has clearly gone out of her way to speak to me today.

I got out of bed and headed into the great room to (hopefully) call Mr. Batman to me. Thankfully, he followed me.

I closed the bedroom door so he wouldn’t go back in. It’s way easier for a trapped bat to fly in the great room where the ceilings reach the sky.

I employed several totally made up bat removal theories involving lights and darkness, windows with no screens, and wide-open doors to the deck. 

He was having none of it.

Well alright, then. I can take a hint. I stopped trying.

Instead, I stood in awe of this beautiful flying creature as he silently circled the room in the same perfect pattern. Was he talking to me about something? Was he communicating? What am I supposed to understand here?

My thoughts wandered to Eric. Eric is a night guy. Maybe Eric was saying hello.

Mostly, though, I wondered how in the heck Eric The Bat had gotten into my house. (Where’s that secret, never-before-seen video when you need it most?)

We had had a bat in our house a long time ago and I tried to remember how Eric got him safely out of the house. (My cat Bella brought him in, holding him gently in her mouth. She wanted to show us her new play thing.)

But I was doing other things that day, and didn’t see the “get the bat out of the house” process. Eric handled it.

Since I didn’t know what Eric did, I thought I’d sleep on it. Maybe Eric would remind me while I dozed. 

And no, I didn’t worry at all that a bat was flying around in my house. I figured he’d need sleep sooner or later, too, and then he’d fold up those beautiful wings and all would be quiet in my wonderful house.

(And honestly, Mr. Bat seemed quite sweet. He wasn’t scary or weird. I’ve never spent up-close and personal time with a bat and I rather enjoyed it.)

As a Native American animal symbol, the bat is a guide through the darkness. They say bat medicine releases us from our old self and opens the doors for something new and healing. In other systems, bats symbolize death and rebirth. Sometimes, they are known as the “Guardian of the Night.”

Well, chose any or all of that interpretation and it couldn’t be more perfect.

I felt touched that he had visited, reminding me that I’m being guided through the dark. Heaven knows I need a little help with the dark.

In the morning, I woke up with a picture of a ladder and a jar in my mind. I figured Eric couldn’t catch the flying bat, either, or guide him out of the house with a broom, as the internet suggests.

With the help of this mental picture, my best guess was that Eric waited until the bat landed on a low ceiling, got a ladder and put a jar over the bat. The bat fell into the jar and Eric carried him outside.

I did it! Worked like a charm!

Luckily, Mr. Bat was sleeping on a low ceiling where I could reach him — not the great room, thank goodness. Such a partnership!

At the right, you can see the rescue ladder and (barely, barely) the mason jar sitting on top.

Mr. Bat fit perfectly in the jar.

Holding this jar of wings, I thought, “Oh, honey, you’ve been in my house for far too long, let me get you out of here. But thank you for visiting me. And thanks for the message.”

(No, I didn’t make him endure a bat photography session.)

Taking him outside, I carefully poured him onto soft dirt in a tall planter.  He wiggled to his feet and flew gracefully away, making a wide turn to the left.

Fast forward another few hours.

Walking my dear Jackson boy later that morning, I was thinking about re-reading my book and how much I’ve changed since Eric’s passing.

Just as I was wondering about that, asking myself exactly how I had changed, there was a ruckus above me — two squirrels leaping from treetop to treetop. They were up there, so high, flying from branch to branch without a net.

Oh, there’s my answer!

Thank you squirrels!

I’ve been leaping. More freely. From treetop to treetop. 

I’m more direct in my communication. I’m more aware of my own BS and willing to give it up. The fear of moving forward without my long time friend, Eric, is slowly dissipating. I feel more confident. Freer.

Thank you, Mother Nature, for helping me in so many ways. I never feel alone or confused for long. When I have questions, you dispatch the perfect creatures to drop in, say hello and help me in some way. My heart is very happy about that. 

Grazie mille, la mia Mamma! (Thanks a thousand times, my mamma!)

 

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PART 4. Great Love. Zeroing In On Sorting Skills.

Note: This is Part 4 in a series.

PART 1. Get Going On Great Love, Fun Love, Happier Love

PART 2. Great Love. The Surprise Flip To Avoid.

PART 3. Great Love. More About Observing

A few days ago, I flew on glass… early morning on a jet ski in Lake of the Ozarks before many boats were out and before the wind cracked one eye and yawned good morning.The air was cool, and I was free.

There was no resistance anywhere on the horizon of my being, my thoughts, my life.

Can life be like that more often?

I don’t know.

But I’d like it if it was.

In this series about relationships, it’s becoming clear why my life is sometimes like flying on glass. I’m becoming super aware of what I do that causes the difference between choppiness and flying on glass. 

I’ve been observing myself and my responses and reactions. I see what I do now in response to people and life, and especially my intimate partner.

So far, though, I haven’t changed anything.

I’m also doing my best not to judge, I’m simply the one who watches what I do, say or feel.

Because of my observing, I’m in a unique position to work with what I find. I’m not knee deep in my actions, thoughts or feelings, I’ve stepped back. I’m curious about me. This makes it easier to see what I’ve got. 

Because I’m observing and not judging, it will be easier to decide what to keep and what to toss.

AND WHY WOULD I SORT?

This is yet another way closets and relationships parallel each other beautifully.

I sort my closet because my closet is too full and it gets messy easily.

Why does a closet get messy?

Not everything in the closet has a use or purpose.

Not everything in the closet has a home.

Not everything in the closet is loved.

EXAMPLES, PLEASE!

There are items in the closet I no longer need or use.

Translation: There are ways I relate to life that no longer suit me. For instance, I get angry about people who treat me differently than I think they should. I no longer wish to go to the great trouble of feeling resentful. I used to think strong emotions about this were unavoidable. I’m over it.

There are pieces of clothing in my closet I don’t even like.

Translation: In relationships with others, I am not true to myself, resulting in situations I don’t even like. Sometimes I say “yes” when “no” is the truth.

There is too much clothing for the available space.

Translation: I have too much to do. I over-burden myself. I feel stressed about my ongoing level of activity. My life feels chaotic and crammed. I take on more than I can reasonably handle. I feel overwhelmed.

There are items in my closet that aren’t really mine. I didn’t personally choose them. My aunt gave me this sweater and I’m afraid to throw it away or even give it away.

Translation: There are ways I act, things I say, habits I have that I was taught. They aren’t really mine. They were given to me and I accepted them. There are ways I was taught to be that aren’t “me.”

WHAT MAKES US NUTS AND CRAZY

If you remember, you can’t really clean a closet by re-arranging what’s already there. Trying to do this over and over will eventually make you totally nuts.

Instead, the idea is this:

  1. Become aware of what’s there.
  2. Sort. Purge. Only keep a piece of clothing if it sparks joy.
  3. Organize what’s left.

In step one, becoming aware, I learned the great art of Observing and noticed quite a bit about myself. I saw my defaults. I observed myself under stress. Over time, it became crystal clear how I respond to others (or situations) under all sorts of conditions.

Want to know how we’re ALL a bit out to lunch? 

Most people believe they can stay exactly the same and improve their relationship with someone else.

They believe it’s a matter of re-arranging how they already are. 

It doesn’t work that way.

With closets, you can’t keep everything you now have and expect your closet to improve.

Similarly, you can’t keep all of your habitual thinking, responses or conclusions and expect to get along better with your partner.

Sorry, it’s not possible.

It’s impossible.

You must keep on keepin’ on. Let’s go to Step Two — sort and purge.

THINGS ARE ABOUT TO GET MORE DIRECT

I have one criteria for sorting, which is the same one I had for my actual clothing closet: Does this item make me happy?

Translation: Does this thing I do or say make me happy? Does it move me toward living more joyfully?

Does this reaction I have improve my life? Is this way of thinking helping me in some way? Does this habit contribute to my well-being, my health, my joy?

That’s it.

If my habit of response doesn’t create more of what I want in my heart of hearts, I write it down.

I put it on paper, where my mind can’t change it.

Then, next time I’m in the middle of that reaction (the one I wrote on paper), I take a moment to consciously set it aside. I don’t use it.

At the very least, in that moment, I realize fully that my response is only one of many ways to react, and isn’t it interesting that I picked the one I did. I wonder what else I could do?

I’m cracking open my habit by questioning it.

How would this work?

My brand new phone had a texting habit I didn’t understand. Two texting programs kept fighting about who was the default. When I sent a message, I was interrupted with the question “would you like ME (whatever the name of the program was…) to be your default?”

If I answered yes in order to send the message, there were more demands from this very smart phone.

“That means you’re giving me (the phone) access to pretty much everything on your phone. Is that OK with you?” (You know how that goes…)

Not being able to easily send a message made me frustrated. I got upset. Every time.

In the grand scheme of things, this phone example is totally dinky. It’s not important at all. But fair and square, it’s an example of what’s hanging in my relationship closet, and it’s better to start with “dinky” when it comes to sorting and purging. It’s easier to get rolling.

Also, have you noticed that spending valuable time and energy being upset about a lot of dinky issues drains us.

I ask myself, “Does this reaction about my phone make me happy?”

Answer: “No.”

I ask myself, “Does this reaction about my phone cause me stress?”

Answer: “Yes.”

I write down my belief: My phone should send texts without asking me any questions.

That’s part one of sorting. I notice a belief that causes upset. I write it down. S/he should, they should, should not…

Then, just for a moment, I practice setting it aside (taking it out of the closet) and take a moment to realize:

  • do I still use this? want this? need this?
  • do I like this way of being?
  • is this way of being even mine? or did I inherit it? did someone teach me this?
  • does this way of being cause me to be overworked? too busy? is this way of thinking burdening me? making me worry? upsetting me? 

I’m simply questioning my habits and thoughts, I’m offering them up for investigation. As Leonard Cohen says, “There is a crack in everything… that’s how the light gets in.”

Next week, we’ll talk more about sorting (letting the light in).

Happy sorting!

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PART 3. Great Love. More About Observing Myself.

Note: This is PART 3 in a series.

PART 1. Get Going On Great Love, Fun Love, Happier Love.

PART 2. Great Love. The Surprise Flip To Avoid.

Closets and relationships are hardly the same animal, but closet cleaning principles can help me when it comes to “cleaning up” my intimate relationship.

(If you haven’t read the first blogs, for sure read them.)

So far, we know that the first step in closet cleaning is to take everything out of your closet and become aware of what you have now.

This step translates well to relationships — notice what you do and say now.

During noticing, you’re not trying to change anything in your relationship yet, you’re simply becoming aware of what’s there. You’re paying attention to what’s currently in your “closet.”

Because this step is pivotal, today we address more about it, including the importance of starting at the beginning, which is with me, not my partner. I’m going to tidy my own relationship closet, not my partner’s.

WHAT DOES “CLEANING MY OWN CLOSET” MEAN?

I begin by Observing myself.

Observing myself means I’m simultaneously being myself (doing, saying, thinking) AND I’m standing outside myself, observing me doing, saying or thinking.

I’m the one watching myself talk over the fence with my neighbor as I’m having the conversation.

Later, I’m the sweeper and the one watching me sweep.

I sweep my floor and at the same time, I’m noticing what’s going on with me while I sweep — how the broom rests in my hands, what I hear as I sweep, what I see gathering in the pile I’m making, and especially — what I’m thinking about.

A little later in the day, I’m delayed leaving the house for an appointment, causing the possibility that I’ll be late.

I’m the driver, and I’m the observer of the driver, noticing my emotions and thoughts as I move through traffic.

I’m on vacation in Paris, and I’m the observer of the tourist that I am.

On the streets of Paris, I’m wearing a comfortable and beautiful outfit, feeling good and strong as I walk. I notice what I think about the people passing by, and how similar or different it is from home. I walk by a chocolate shop and a restaurant and notice my thoughts. That evening, there is a classical concert in the street. I feel the enthusiasm of the crowd, I hear the beautiful music, I feel the breeze ruffling my hair.

Back home now, I am a swimmer and the one watching a swimmer.

Approaching morning laps, I notice my body as I enter the cool water. As I swim, I notice my thoughts as I do the front crawl, the breath required to move my body through the water, how the water feels passing over my skin. I notice the person swimming next to me, how strong she is, how the water moves over her shoulders.

All of this is simple practice in being an Observer of myself relating to my environment.

This is a key skill in a relationship, the ability to observe myself in action. It’s crucial to learn to be a watcher of myself, while I do, say, feel or think.

I’m not a judge, though, I’m an observer. There’s a big difference. As an observer, I note facts only — I’m a fact collector. I don’t come to conclusions about the facts, or judge them.

All of these situations are practice Observing myself in action.

HOW DO I PRACTICE OBSERVING MYSELF?

Below are more examples of me learning about myself. I am hoping to improve my relationship with others, my husband for instance, by beginning with me. I’m conducting simple observational experiments — of me, not him — in order to learn about myself.

Experiment #1: I decide to Observe myself watching the evening news. I’m sure the news will provide grist for the mill, and I’m not married to the politicians I’ll be hearing about, so it will be easier to be an observer of my reactions, attitudes, or whatever comes up.

Why am I watching the news?

To see what’s now hanging in my relationship closet.

(Remember the hint that if you want to improve your relationship with your partner, don’t start by practicing with your partner, start with someone you don’t know. That’s what I’m doing here. I’m learning about myself by practicing with strangers, with animals/pets, or simply with myself.)

OK, the news on TV begins. I’m in “observer mode.” I’m collecting facts about me. That’s my only job.

  • I welcome my thinking — while observing and noting.
  • I welcome my attitudes or points of view — while observing and making notes.
  • I welcome my emotions — while observing what they are.

My reaction to the news begins almost immediately during a lead story about a Washington politician. First I notice my reaction — it’s disgust and it’s pretty strong.

Disgust is obviously in my closet of options. Good to know.

OK, let me see how disgust feels. Where does it show up in my body?

Well, I must say, I don’t usually stop to notice how disgust feels in my body!

FEEL: Disgust feels pretty bad, actually. My heart tightens. My lungs are a bit scrunched. My stomach doesn’t feel relaxed.

THINK: I wonder to myself if this has anything to do with the development of health issues such as high blood pressure, heart issues, or indigestion…yeah, probably…

DO: The only thing I do about what I’m noticing is that I make notes. No need to change anything, just notice. Pay attention. There is nothing wrong here. There is only me noting what I’m doing and the results of what I’m doing. I’m becoming aware of what’s in my “closet.”

I don’t get on Facebook and say, “Did you hear that so and so did such and such…” I don’t email my friend who would agree with me. I don’t mull it over, fume about it, wondering how to combat this politician who is clearly doing everything wrong, according to me.

I’m just noticing. That’s my only assignment. I’m at the hub of my wheel of life and my job is to notice what’s happening at the hub.

As I continue to watch the news, I also experience fear, frustration, skepticism, worry, suspicion and a little flare of anger. The final story is a happy one, and I experience joy and hope.

I make notes in my little notebook. “Evening news. Disgust toward ____(certain decision). Fear about ___. Frustration toward ___.”

And so on. I list them. All of these things are hanging in my closet.

Experiment #2: Now I’m at the grocery store. I can’t seem to find my list. I was so sure I put it in my purse. What were those things I wanted? Gosh, I know I need at least five pantry items for guests coming. I don’t have time to make two trips to the store.

I begin to feel frustrated, slightly bad, with a little extra judgment and self-criticism. When things aren’t going efficiently, I see that I react (even momentarily) with negative emotion.

The short story? I spend time feeling bad when I think I’ve done something wrong.

OK, I get it. I make an entry in the little notebook I’m carrying in my purse. “Lost grocery list. I’m wrong. Frustration, self-criticism, worry.”

Experiment #3: The next morning, I’m at my computer, writing. I open the window to hear the birds outside in early morning. The chorus is beautiful. Many sounds, many birds. The wood thrush is having a heyday with his song, and other song birds are joining in. Along comes a flock of noisy crows — caw, caw, caw. It’s not my favorite sound and I hope the crows go away soon.

Ahh! Another reaction, isn’t it? It’s teeny tiny, but good for me, I noticed it. I noticed that I’m playing god, really, thinking that I know better than the birds what the birds should be doing.

In my notebook: “Crows cawing. I know better. They should stop.”

Managing the bird universe seems to be hanging in my closet. More generally, what’s hanging in my closet is “managing others” or “knowing what’s best for others.” Again, good to know.

I’VE OBSERVED. NOW WHAT?

Eventually, I may be able to remove a response from my repertoire.  And maybe as I learn and change, I’ll feel more naturally confident, loving, and authentic. I’ll get there. Right now I’m on step one. I’m learning about myself and where I am now.

In the coming days, I spend many moments in observation, and I see so much about myself! What I think (about myself or others), how I react (to a homeless person asking for money), how I feel (as I walk up the hill, what I typically think about as I walk).

That’s my starting gate to great love, fun love, happier love — I observe myself.

What do I notice? What do I Observe about me? How does it feel?

When I make notes about what’s now in my closet, I realize “I have that” but I AM NOT THAT. It’s just something that’s hanging in my closet now. Soon, I can focus on what to keep and what to give away.

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PART 2. Great Love. The Surprise Flip To Avoid.

Last week, I introduced a giant topic.

Get Going On Great Love, Fun Love, Happier Love. PART 1

(I highly recommend reading last week’s post so this one makes more sense.)

Last week, I spoke about the convenient wisdom of applying what you know from an area of life where you feel successful to an area that could use a little help.

Take closet cleaning, for instance. I’m good at that. Can I apply what I know about closet cleaning to clean up my role in my intimate relationship?

It turns out, I can.

To begin, I practice noticing what’s hanging in my relationship closet. What do I say and do in my relationship with others? What are my reactions? What stresses me? What makes me happy?

Notice everything that’s now hanging in my relationship closet. Become aware of the contents.

THIS WEEK — THE FLIP

This week’s conversation continues with a big question. What is a cleaning practice that hangs up most relationships?

In cleaning my clothing closet, I used to think that all I had to do was organize what was there, that if I could just keep ahead of the mess and tidy it more often, things would work better and I’d be happy.

This is the most common mistake in the idea of “tidying” according to Marie Kondo, author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

Do we do this in relationships, too? Try to keep ahead of the mess? Try to organize the contents of the relationship better? Keep moving the same parts around, even if those parts don’t spark joy?

We do! We do so many things other than effortlessly enjoy our partnership with another person.

When the connection, love and appreciation of each other goes sideways, do you ever wonder why keeping enjoyment over time is sometimes so hard?

There’s a good reason for that.

In relationships, there’s often an interesting flip to the idea of tidying. Do you know what it is?

(See if you can come up with an answer before you look ahead.)

Answer: We don’t try to re-organize or tidy ourselves.

(Nope.)

Most humans go about attempting to improve a relationship by tidying the other person.

(Whoops.)

The “other person” can be a friend. An intimate partner. An acquaintance. An employee. A government official. A child.

We attempt to tidy that person over there — oh, maybe just a touch up here and there! Maybe they could do a little more of this, and a little less of that. If my husband or child or friend did these things, but not these other things, I’d be happier.

We make their business our business.

TAKE A PAUSE

Sit with this for a minute. It’s important. It’s the bugaboo in every unhappy relationship I’ve ever met.

This idea of how to make things better by tidying someone else is completely backwards, yet most couples do it.

Further, this is somehow accepted as the norm, as if we have the wisdom to know what’s better for someone else — and the right to make another person change so that we can be happier.

In other words, I’ll fix YOU and then MY life will be better.

I confess I’m a former expert in changing anyone but me. I’ve been married four times (three times on paper) and had a total of six significant relationships.

Even after 26 years of a predictable pattern of marriage followed by divorce in 5 years, I began my relationship with Eric undaunted. 

I re-arranged him, subtly at first, and more boldly as the relationship continued, in the attempt to be happier with me, him, marriage in general, my life as a whole!

My goal to be happy? Admirable.

My method? Not so effective…

After five years together, with my patterns and habits operating at full speed, we were poised for yet another botched and bungled relationship, thanks to me.

Oops!

But at that point in my 17 year relationship with Eric, I woke up by realizing the pattern was my pattern, it had nothing to do with him, and that I could change my  pattern. This was a starting point that made all the difference.

WHAT’S THE STARTING POINT IN IMPROVING A BIG OL’ MESS IN A RELATIONSHIP?

The starting block in the game of relationships is with observing the self.

To improve my relationship with Eric, it finally dawned on me (Hello-o-o-o, Terri) that I could begin with me, and me only. I could clean my own darn closet. I could be the change I was hoping for.

Well, that was a moment!

(I know, like I said in last week’s blog, we usually hope to avoid that personal change thing…)

You’ll be happy to know the results were revolutionary, extraordinary, and really fun. My flailing relationship with Eric recovered – fully, entirely, completely. We went from hell to heaven because I began to see things from this new perspective. After my epiphany, we had some very beautiful years together.

KEEP EXPLORING

Keep investigating the central question posed from last week: What’s hanging in your relationship closet? What do you say, think or do in your relationships? What do you notice?

Don’t worry about removing anything from your closet, just keep noting what’s there. Learn about yourself as if you don’t know you. View you and all that you do with fresh eyes. Be curious.

And this week, pay special attention to noticing when you tidy someone else, even if it is in your mind.

Having a passing thought that a family member or partner did something wrong counts as tidying someone else. Secretly wishing a friend would stand up for herself counts. Evaluating the adequacy or worthiness of someone’s actions counts. (Go ahead, think politics…) Thinking you know how someone else should act around you, treat you, or speak to you counts. Being frustrated about a partner’s habits counts.

All of these count as tidying someone besides you, which diverts the attention from you, the source of all change.

Not getting into other people’s business doesn’t make you a passive person. It allows you to be proactive on your behalf, instead of against someone else. It’s way more efficient.

P.S. Keep me posted on what you find, if you are so inclined, if you can bear it, if you’re willing to speak it aloud. I know intimate relationships can be a pretty private thing, but sharing a little about your journey could be helpful to others reading this.

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Terri Crosby

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