Psych Central

Living (And Almost Dying) On The Edge

By Linda & Charlie Bloom
Silk Road #10

Jonathan Kos-Read via CompfightMarkus

Markus had everything going for him. He was a star athlete, had been captain of the high school hockey team, he was young, healthy, strong and smart and was now the best salesman in the company. He could write his own ticket for the future, anything that he wanted. At twenty-five, a world of possibilities awaited him.

But all that was before the accident. It occurred one unforgettable day in Colorado in the Fall of 1995.  It was a perfect day for a motorcycle ride, and that’s what Markus was doing. Riding along the Continental Divide on a windy mountain road, He cranked up his bike to over 80 miles an hour. “I was going fast, faster than I should have been going but I always loved playing the edge and it was almost winter. This would be my last ride of the season.”

On this particular day, however, the edge that Markus was playing was a literal edge that separated him and his bike from a sixty foot drop off the side of a mountain. “When I hit that gravel patch, I skidded, lost control of the bike, and went off of the road. The next thing I knew I went over the edge and was launched up in the air, literally flying. I got separated from my bike in mid-air and looked down and saw the tops of trees and the ground way below me. I knew then that it was over. My thought as I was in flight on my way to the ground which was over sixty feet below was ‘This is the end of my life. I’m a dead man’”.

Markus fell through the trees, ripping off branches and limbs  on the way down and tearing up his body and breaking his bones as well. The impact of hitting the ground knocked him out. He awoke after a few moments to find himself face down in a stream of icy water. Unable to move his arms or legs, Markus was somehow able to lift his head out of the water long enough to gulp enough air into his lungs to keep from drowning, then dropping his face back into the water when he lost the strength to hold his head up.

“It took me a while to recognize that I was still alive but then I realized just how impossible my situation was. I thought, ‘I can’t move my body, I’m in excruciating pain, nobody even knows I’m here, I can barely get my face out of the water, and I don’t know how much longer I’m going to be able to do this. Maybe the crash didn’t kill me, but I’m a goner now. I felt my body getting numb from the ice water and I knew that I was going into hypothermic shock.  I hated feeling so out of control so I decided to take control of the one thing that I could. I decided to end my life. I wanted to at least leave life on my own terms. I wanted to make a clean passage to the other side, and not exit my body in anger or panic.

I willed myself to stay alive long enough to leave with positive, loving, and grateful thoughts in my mind. I took a few moments to feel gratitude for my eleven brothers and sisters, then thought about my parents and my friends. I remembered the good times that we had together. Then I became aware of feeling that I was getting very close to death and. I decided that it was time to make my final act, to drop my head in the water, take one final breath, and drown. But my life force overrode my decision and I involuntarily pulled my head out of the water every time I tried to drown. That was when I really felt hopeless: I couldn’t even die.

“Then in what seemed like the next moment, I heard the sound of something moving and saw out of the corner of my eye a man walking towards me. He was shocked to see me alive and he couldn’t stop exclaiming about it. But I was still wanting to die and I asked him to be quiet so that I could finish preparing myself for death. Then a few minutes later, a team of rescue workers that someone must have called showed up. I could tell that they had expected to pick up a dead body, but when they saw that I was alive they sprang into action, picked me up, put me on a stretcher and carried me up the hill. The pain I felt when going up the hill was indescribable.

In the hospital they found that my back was broken in seven places, two of the breaks were complete fractures. Also I had a fractured hip and pelvis and my tailbone had broken off. I was in surgery for sixteen hours during which time they took a bone harvest from my left rear hip, rebuilt my fractured vertebrae, and put three titanium rods in my back and leg. After the surgery they told me that I was paraplegic and would never walk again.

I spent the next seven weeks in the hospital and six months in rehabilitation. I was unable to move either of my legs at all. I was told to be prepared to spend the rest of my life in a wheel chair. Before the crash I had had a job I loved, a girl friend that I was engaged to, money, and a strong healthy pain-free body. While I was in rehab I lost my job, my girlfriend left me, I was living in constant pain, and I had practically no contact with my friends. My entire sense of who I was just crumbled away and I fell into a pit of hopeless despair. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was dealing with a severe case of post-traumatic stress disorder. I was feeling pretty bad before I lost Nancy, but when she left me, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back.” All of the losses hit just hit me like a ton of bricks. I was inconsolable. My life force just kind of disintegrated.

One day in the rehab center I found myself consumed by uncontrollable sobbing, when I felt the presence of someone close to me. I opened my eyes and saw a man in a wheelchair next to me. He was a quadriplegic, paralyzed for the neck down. He wheeled a little closer to me and softly asked what was going on. After I told him all of the details of my misery, he paused then said that he was sorry about my losses. Then he said to me: ‘You’re a paraplegic. You might even be able to walk one day. Can I tell you about my life? I had it all. Valedictorian of my class, I went to an Ivy League college, got a law degree, married a beautiful woman, and have three children. I did everything right. Six weeks ago I was riding my mountain bike and flipped over the handle bars and broke my neck. That’s it. I’m never going to be able to take care of myself. I’ll never practice law, never hug my kids, I’ll never make love to my wife again, and I’ll probably die within the next few years. Why don’t you look at what you have rather than what you don’t have?’

“His words hit me almost as hard as the ground that I landed on when I went over the edge of the cliff. In what seemed like an instant, my despair and self-pity dissolved and I felt the truth in what he spoke. That man’s words saved my life as much as the men who came down to the bottom of the ravine did. I had hit bottom. Again. And the thing about hitting bottom is that there’s only one direction from there that you can go. I slowly began to pull myself up. It wasn’t…hasn’t been an easy journey, but I made the transition from seeing myself as a pitiful victim to seeing myself as fortunate, incredibly lucky in fact, despite the fact that I still have to deal with a lot of pain and a body that will never function the way it used to.

I don’t just believe in angels now, I know that they exist. That man was one of them, and I’ve met others since him as well. I still get low at times and feel defeated, especially when the pain gets overwhelming. But it seems that just as things seem to get really bad, another angel shows up; sometimes in a wheel chair, sometimes not, but always with a reminder of what I’m blessed to have in my life, and a reminder that things can and do change, and sometimes that change is for the good. I was told that I’d never walk and now I walk without crutches. I work out three or four hours a day and though the pain is still there, I have a body that I’m really proud of.

I’ve learned that with the proper mental focus and determination there’s nothing that you can’t do. I used to have a lot of limitations but after going through what I’ve been through, I know that there’s nothing that I can’t do. ”

One of the things that Markus has discovered that he can do is to be an angel for others who are struggles with ordeal in their own lives. He’s found that he has a passion and a gift for helping and inspiring others, and he has spoken to many groups of people particularly young people who have been confronted with difficult circumstances and situations that challenge them. His tendency to be at the right place at the right time, just when he is needed, is something that has earned Markus the nickname, “Captain America”. When he risked his life to rescue several college students who had fallen through the ice, he was honored with a Congressional Certificate of Appreciation for heroism for “unselfish and courageous endeavors”.

At he end of our talk, Markus told us that “I give every day my best shot. Some days I have more to give than others, but I give what I can, in whatever way I can, to whoever it is that needs something, even if it’s just a kind or encouraging word. I believe in paying it forward”. He also believes in Karma. “What goes around comes around”, he told us. “I believe it’s not just good fortune that has enabled me to survive the ordeals of my life, but I think that the good that we do for others always, in some way, in some form, at some time, comes back to us through the goodness and kindness of others. It just seems to be the way the world works. It’s a pretty good system, don’t you think?”

 



When Less Is More

By Linda & Charlie Bloom
Love is being stupid together

Nattu via Compfight

Charlie: A while back friends of ours who are writing a book on relationships that deals with ways of loving a man and of loving a woman asked us to offer a contribution to their manuscript. When I began thinking about the ways that I experience being loved by Linda, there were so many things that came to mind that the list felt overwhelming. I also found myself feeling surprised to see that it wasn’t just the things that Linda does for me (and she does a lot!) that I find myself really appreciating, but all that she DOESN’T do that really makes my day. Sometimes NOT doing things requires more effort, self-restraint, and love than doing them does.

For example, a while back, Linda and I were on a road trip and I was driving. We were in Nevada and we’d gotten off of the main road and had found ourselves out in the middle of nowhere with no idea where we were or how to get to where we were hoping to get to. Of course, asking for directions wasn’t an option for me since that would have meant that I really was lost, so I kept driving and getting increasingly more lost while Linda suggested that it might be a good idea for us to find a filling station and pull in to ask the attendant how to get un-lost. I agreed that that would be a good idea, after I tried just one more time to find the right road first.

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Recovery Is A Full Time Job

By Linda & Charlie Bloom

Veronica had a lot of reasons to be angry at the world. Born into a family with a history of domestic violence and incest, she never had anything even remotely resembling a “normal” upbringing. One of her earliest memories is of her father taking nude pictures of her when she was barely six years old. “Even as a small child, I knew that there was something terribly wrong with what he was doing. When he told me to take my panties off I remember starting to cry. But then I got angry. I knew that he could force me to take off my panties but he couldn’t force me to smile. And I didn’t. I paid dearly for that act of defiance, but at least I preserved some sense of self in the process.”

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It’s Never Too Late to Have a Happy Marriage

By Linda & Charlie Bloom
Ashley and Adam

Billy Wilson via Compfight

 Great relationships take a lot of work. You’ve got to do your own work if you want your marriage to work. If you don’t do the work, you won’t get the benefits. The idea that we have to work in order to create a worthwhile relationship has been around for quite a while and many of us, particularly relationship ‘experts’ and therapists have been affirming the idea for so long that we rarely question it’s veracity. But what exactly does working on your relationship really mean? Is it really true that the willingness to do “the work” is the critical factor in determining the quality of your relationships? And what exactly IS the work that relationships require anyway?

The idea of work is so embedded in our beliefs about relationships that we rarely, if ever, question these assumptions when we hear them in conversation or read them in self-help books. Might there be some benefit to taking a closer look at this notion? Perhaps. As my grandmother used to say, “it couldn’t hoit”.

One of the first things that we may notice when we begin to examine our beliefs about work and relationships is that we often aren’t exactly sure what the “work” of relationships really is, and consequently tend to default to our associations with the word “work” in our efforts to better understand the concept. When you think of “work”, if you are like most people the associations that you have are not likely to be especially thrilling or even particularly pleasant. The American Heritage Dictionary defines ‘work’ as “the exertion of physical or mental effort or activity directed toward the production of something.” Synonyms for work include labor, exertion, travail, drudgery, trouble, chore, and toil. “Toil” a word frequently associated with work means “to proceed to make one’s way with difficulty or pain. To labor continuously and strenuously.” Phew! Is it any wonder that most of us have a certain degree of resistance to the notion of embracing work as a path to anything?

So if you have any confusion or mixed feelings and thoughts about doing your relationship work, it’s with good reason, and you’re not alone.

Yet the desire for loving relationships and the pain of living without them can be strong enough motivators to provoke efforts on our part to confront our confusion, challenge the odds and overcome our resistance, persistent though it may be. The question however, still remains, what exactly IS this “work” that relationships require? In confronting this question it becomes obvious that paradoxically, doing “the work” often requires us to redirect our attention away from our relationship, and focus instead on ourselves, sometimes even to the extent of running the risk of losing the relationship itself. Barry and Maya found this out the hard way.

Together for over twenty years, Barry and Maya were living in what both of them characterized as a marriage in name only. They paid the bills, took care of their two sons, maintained the home, kept enough food on the table and in the refrigerator, and fulfilled all of the external conditions of family life. The problem was that the heart of their marriage was dying from neglect. That is, until Maya out of desperation, loneliness, and exhaustion did the one thing that made it impossible for either of them to continue to ignore the pain in which they were both living. She had an affair.

Maya: “I was vulnerable to an affair because I was so hungry for a deep emotional connection. I finally felt fully alive for the first time in years. It was like coming back from the dead. I really didn’t want to end my marriage with Barry, I just wanted to join the living again.”

Maya and Barry had always been honest with each other and so she told him about the affair.

Barry: “I was devastated. And I was totally opposed to breaking up. I couldn’t understand why we couldn’t just work things out. I knew that Maya needed to find her life again but I didn’t see why we couldn’t stay married while she did that. I was willing to do anything to help her retrieve her soul.”

But Maya was convinced that living in a dead marriage was killing her. Despite her reluctance, the two of them got into marriage counseling and continued with it for a year until the pain of living together became intolerable. Maya moved into a small apartment while Barry continued to live at home with the boys.

Knowing that involvement with Barry or any man before she reconnected to her own inner passion would cause Maya to slip back into her old patterns, “I promised myself that I wouldn’t enter into another relationship until I was confident that I would never lose myself like that again. I kept that promise and it was four years before I was again intimate with a man.”

One year into the separation, Barry and Maya’s divorce became final. By this time, their contact with each other had been reduced to occasional conversations regarding the logistics of child visitations. They were however by no means living a life of leisure. At this point they had each committed themselves to their own recovery from the deadening effects of years of codependent living. No longer preoccupied by efforts to control each other and the relationship, they were both finally able to direct their attention to their needs and longings that had been and buried under years of neglect. Both Maya and Barry became pro-active on their own behalf to get their lives back again. They each renewed friendships that had been put on the back burner for years. Barry got into a mens’ group where he found support and challenge from other men who had experienced similar struggles themselves. Maya also deepened her connection with her friends and joined a women’s group that encouraged her to recover long-lost dreams and desires with which she had lost touch over the years. They both got into individual therapy.

Very little communication about their personal processes took place between them, yet they were both on the same path: a quest to reclaim their deeper passion that had been lost through years of neglect and preoccupation with other commitments. Four years into their separation, Barry, now no longer consumed by pain and resentment towards Maya for initiating the divorce, told her that he finally saw his part in the breakdown of their marriage, and acknowledged that “if you hadn’t done what you did, I would never have gone through what I did in order to develop and heal myself. Nothing short of divorce would have rocked my world enough to propel me into the life I have now. And I wouldn’t trade this life for anything. Thank you.”

Although neither of them had felt or expressed any inclination towards reunification, they found themselves gradually beginning to make more contact with each other. Tentative at first, they gradually became more bold, experiencing a kind of openness, pleasure and ease with each other that they hadn’t felt in many years. They moved in together and eight years later got married again.

It’s been many years since their second marriage and the benefits of the work that each of them did during the four years in which they lived separately and the work that they have continued to do since then, continues to infuse their individual lives, their relationship, their family, and the increasing numbers of men and women whom they touch through the communities of friends and kindred spirits with whom they have connected along the way.

In reclaiming his passion for mythology and history, Barry has written and published a widely-acclaimed book entitled Madness at the Gates of the City: The Myth of American Innocence (Regent Press, 2010). Maya leads groups on Soul Collage ®, a creative process that promotes self-discovery and intuitive knowledge. She has also had her poetry published in two anthologies.

Barry and Maya’s work took them into their own souls and opened their hearts to their deepest longings and unmet needs. Their journeys have been simultaneously unique and universal. The work that they have done and that we all must do in order to qualify for the relationship of our dreams is to claim the life of our dreams. This probably will require us to grieve the losses we have sustained, celebrate the blessings which we have received, free ourselves from the addictions that have possessed us, heal the broken places that have been in need of our own compassion, and ultimately recover our sense of wholeness that may have been sacrificed in our quest for approval, security, control, or success. In recovering our wholeness, our lives open up to possibilities that had been previously inconceivable. This is the work that is required, the work of a lifetime. Is it worth the effort? There’s only one way to find out. You can wait until life forces you to take the leap or you can take it now, before you break up or break down. The choice is yours.

Barry and Maya’s story has been adapted from chapter 3 of our book, Secrets of Great Marriages: Real Truth from Real Couples about Lasting Love.



What Really Matters

By Linda & Charlie Bloom
The Creation | Tunnel View, Yosemite

Anders Young via Compfight

It was the summer of 1990 and Linda and I were finally on the getaway that we had been looking forward to for years. Both of us were fried to a crisp from months of overwork. We had been hanging on by our fingernails, until the kids left for three weeks of overnight camp. For the first time since our move to California eight years earlier, we were finally going to get to see Yosemite, just the two of us.  The idea of having a week to ourselves with nothing to do and no one to take care of seemed almost too good to be true.

We had arrived at Yosemite around dinnertime the day before, and spent the night in the Crane Flats campground just inside the western boundaries of the park. The next morning we had breakfast, left our gear  in the tent, and drove to the valley floor to spend the day hiking. On the way back down the trail, we noticed that the plume of smoke from the fire in the distance that we had first seen in the late morning was much bigger and thicker. It was spreading over a large portion of the sky and it seemed to be moving downward towards the valley.

By the time we got to the Visitor’s Center it was early evening and there was already smoke in the air. A large group of people had gathered near the main entrance and a ranger was speaking to them using a microphone. He was saying something about blankets being distributed and all roads out of the valley being closed because of the fire. “What’s happening?” I asked a tall bearded man standing next to me.

“There are fourteen separate lightening fires in the park. They’ve jumped the three roads leading out of here. There’s no way for anyone to leave the valley. We’re all stuck here.”

“Until when?” I asked, realizing immediately the ridiculousness of my question.

“Until they get control of the fire. The ranger has no idea when that might be. It could be hours, maybe days.”

“Days?” I said incredulously. What if the fire keeps moving down towards the valley? It’s already pretty smoky here and this place is like a bowl.”

“I know,” he said patiently. “We’ll just have to wait and see.”

Linda and I got in line to get our blankets. We asked the woman who handed them to us if there was any way for us to find out about our gear in the campground. “It’s probably been destroyed in the fire. There’s been a lot of damage to that section of the park.”

My heart sank, not because of our lost gear, but because I was beginning to realize the reality of the situation. We were in the midst of a major disaster and helpless to do much of anything or go anywhere. I thought of our children and very briefly considered the possibility that I may not see them again. It was too much to contemplate. My rational mind kept trying to reassure me that everything would be fine but the truth was that I was scared.

We were directed to the lobby of the Ahwahnee Lodge, a beautiful old elegant hotel not far from the visitor’s center. “I’ve always wanted to stay here”, I told Linda, “but this isn’t exactly what I had in mind.”

“At least we’re together, that’s what counts”, she said, responding to my unspoken anxiety.

“I guess this is as good a place as any to die in, better than most”, I said, weakly attempting to lighten things up.

Linda grimaced and put her arm around me. We took our blankets into a large room where everyone was directed to park themselves on a spot on the floor get “comfortable” for the night, or for however long we were going to be there.

People kept coming in until the floor was literally covered with bodies. The room was stuffy, noisy, and crowded. Everyone was very friendly and we were all doing what we could to adjust to an exciting but stressful situation. Underneath the buzz of excitement was an undercurrent of tension. None of us knew what was in store for us.

At about 11 o’clock I suggested that we might be more comfortable in the car. Linda agreed. We went outdoors and looked around the lot until we found our car. There were lights on inside lots of the cars. Apparently other people had the same idea.

Inside, we reclined the driver and passenger seats, opened up the sunroof, lay back and hoping to see stars, looked up into the night sky. But smoke had clouded the air and no stars were in sight.  The cool air touched with the scent of smoke drifted into the car. For a long time we both just lay back with our eyes open, listening to the stillness within us and between us.

“You know”, Linda said, finally breaking the silence, this could be our last night together. It could be our last night on earth.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. We’re not going to die here tonight. They’ll probably get at least one of the roads open by morning.”

“Probably, but what if it was? What if this were our last night together? What if we only had a few more hours before it was all over?  What would you want to do? How would you want to spend the time that we had left?”

I thought for a moment then turned on my side and looked at her. “I’d want to spend it where I am right now, doing what I’m doing right now for the rest of the night, looking into your eyes, holding your hand, feeling how much I love you and how connected we are right now. I think that we’ll probably make it through the night, but if we don’t there’s worse ways to go.”

“I feel so close to you right now. In some ways closer than we’ve been before,” Linda said.

“I’ve got an idea”. Let’s spend tonight as though it really IS our last night together. We’ll do and say whatever it is that we would do and say if we only had a few hours more to be together.”

“Well one thing I know I would not do is sleep,” Linda said. “I wouldn’t want to miss an instant of the brief time that we had left. I don’t know that there’s much I would really want to do though. Just staying here together would be enough.”

“Me too”

And that’s what we did. We stayed up all night just being together, sometimes in conversation and sometimes in the space between words.

We shared what needed to be shared in order to feel complete with each other. We forgave each other for what needed forgiveness. We expressed the gratitude and acknowledgement that had been unspoken. We connected through our words, through touch, through feelings, even through the stillness that came when there was nothing left to say.

We managed to stay awake for most of the night, but we dozed off briefly from time to time. We were awake when the sun started to come up, though the magic of the night was beginning to fade. I was feeling complete, emotionally full, overflowing. The sound of car engines starting brought me back to the so-called “real world”. There was a tap on the driver’s side window. I looked up to see a ranger at the window. “Highway 120 is open. We need to get everybody out of here right away. It might close up again at any time.”

“Say no more.” I said. “We’re outta here.”

He didn’t and we were.

If someone asked me to think of the most deeply intimate experience that I’d ever had, it would be that night twenty-three years ago in Yosemite. In those hours of incredible closeness, nothing mattered except the pure joy of being together with whatever presented itself to us. It was magical in the sense that it seemed that we had transcended the kind of thinking that usually dominated our awareness, opening us not only to an experience of profound connection, but one that left us both changed, with a deep understanding of what really matters in life.

When we are mindful of the power of intimate connection it becomes easier to prioritize our time in a way that allows us to savor our connections with our loved ones more fully. And any circumstance that bring us back to this awareness is indeed a great blessing.

Don’t wait for a life-threatening situation to remind you of what really matters in life. Seize the moment. You never know how many more you’ll have.

 



Humbled: The Price of Wisdom

By Linda & Charlie Bloom

CoupleSometimes the willingness to feel bad can be the price of great wisdom.

Charlie: One of the things that can be so frustrating about relationships is that it’s often at those very times that you think that you’re finally “getting it down”, that you get whacked upside the head by something that really humbles you and brings you to your knees. Linda and I had an experience like this after we’d been together for 14 years. You’d think that we’d have known better by then, at least that’s what we thought. We’d been through enough crises to get the basics down, and seemingly had learned quite a bit from them. Plus, we’d become marriage counselors and had spent several years helping people work out their own problems. So when we were knocked for a loop, it was not only embarrassing, it was very scary.

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Going for the Gusto!

By Linda & Charlie Bloom

iStock_000015517876SmallThe willingness to risk authenticity fuels romantic passion.

Linda: Back in the old days, at the very beginning of my relationship with my husband Charlie, what I wanted most in my life was the comfort and security of a committed partnership. I grew up in a family where chaos and struggle ruled and I was determined not to replay that scenario in my adult life. What I wanted was peace and predictability. Because I, like most of us, chose a partner who was (it turned out to be for good reasons) very different from myself, what I experienced, particularly in the early years of our relationship proved to be more conflictual and less peaceful than what I had in mind. Sometimes Charlie and I seemed to be so far apart in our views and desires that I feared that we wouldn’t make it. The fact that we did, I would attribute to some hard work, determination, good help, and love.

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The Greatest Thing You’ll Ever Learn

By Linda & Charlie Bloom

Couple on a beachOne of the great things about traveling, especially the kind of travel that takes you to far away places where people have customs, practices, beliefs and values that are different from your own, is that you get to see how different people can be in some ways and how similar we are in others. A wise person once said, “People are people.” In other words, the essential concerns, longings, desires, fears, and aspirations, of human beings throughout the world seem to be universal. While the particular ways in which people go about dealing with and addressing their concerns may vary from culture to culture, the underlying needs that drive us all are consistent, as are the challenges inherent in the process of meeting those needs in a world that doesn’t always support those efforts, no matter where we may live.

Over the past three decades we’ve taught in many places throughout the world and the same messages are consistently revealed, whether we’re teaching in a third-world country, or an advanced industrial nation: It’s relationships that makes the world go round, and what fuels relationships is love. So, becoming a more loving person is a worthy goal, whether you live in a tribal community or a first world megalopolis.

Unfortunately, confusion about how to become a more loving human being seems to be quite prevalent as well. During a recent overseas trip we were once again reminded of how easy it is for all of us to fall into the trap of mistakenly thinking that the problems of our relationships have more to do with the other person than with ourselves. So if you’re one of those people who often forgets that making relationships work is NOT about fixing, changing, correcting, enlightening, or teaching your partner what they need to know, the good news is that you’re not alone. You’re in the company of a great many folks who feel the same way. As anyone who has ever been on either end of a relationship that is characterized by this pattern knows, the endless, closed loop that this kind of thinking creates makes for serious suffering whether you live in Timbuktu or Kalamazoo.

It’s not that things might not improve if the other person were to change, they probably would. It’s just that in the context of relationships, the other person’s work is irrelevant, and focusing on what you think they are doing wrong, rather than what you can do that might improve the relationship, merely deepens and perpetuates the cycle of blame, criticism and defensiveness.

Difficulties in relationships usually arise out of learning deficiencies on both parts. Trying to educate another when we still have a few things to learn ourselves is generally an ineffective strategy. It’s about doing our own work, which is not to say that our partner does not have her own work to do too, it’s just that focusing on their problems is not going to help even though it usually is much easier to see their shortcomings than our own. The “work” that we are referring to in essence has to do with becoming more able to engage with others in ways that invite openness, honesty, authenticity, respect, non-defensiveness, and vulnerability. The best way to promote this is to embody those ways of being ourselves. This is easier said than done, but with practice and intentionality, it is possible. Doing this does not, of course guarantee reciprocity on the part of our partner, but it does make it more likely that they will be more inclined to feel safer and more open to us than they would otherwise. These challenges aren’t easy to take on, but the alternative to doing so is to reinforce and perpetuate the defensive patterns that we’ve inherited, learned and reinforced for years, if not generations.

The divorce rate in Western and Northern Europe isn’t much better than in the USA where it is around 50% for first marriages and over 60% for second marriages. Third marriage divorces are currently running close to 75%. The good news is that it is sometimes the experience of failure that compels us to find the humility and motivation to become a committed student to some of life’s more difficult but valuable lessons.

If it is in fact love that makes the world go around, then it may be the lack of it that causes suffering and can move us to find the courage, inspiration and commitment to do our own work. In so doing we may, like the boy in the Nat King Cole standard “Nature Boy” find that “the greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.”



Downsizing Your Attachments to Preferences

By Linda & Charlie Bloom

whiteknuckleLoosen your white-knuckle grip on your expectations.

Kristen: Ever since I was a little girl, my fantasy picture of a happy family has included a big beautiful house with a big yard and a dog, a lab. The pictures in my mind’s eye were vivid, and my attachments to them were very strong. When I married Joel, he was a computer whiz, and was very financially fit. It didn’t hurt that he was smart and good-looking and that we were both in love. So for a while, my real life matched my cherished image. All went well for several years, at least for the kids and me. I believed that it would go on forever that way, that we would always have a comfortable life and that I would be well taken care of. Then the whole picture shattered.

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Why You Can’t Always “Just Do It.”

By Linda & Charlie Bloom

CoupleFacesDid you ever wonder why despite your best efforts and your most sincere desire and your absolutely clear intention to hold your temper, listen with interest and patience to your partner, offer more acknowledgement and appreciation, give up your relentless grip on control, remember to say “I love you” more often, or keep any of the other resolutions that you may have made to yourself that you knew would improve your relationships, much more often than not, you just don’t do it? Unless you’re very unlike most people, you’ve had the experience of failing to do what you really wanted to do not once or twice but countless times in your life.

If you are one of those people who has a lot of items on your relationship improvement to-do list, you probably know what it would take to get them done. More likely than not, you have the ability to do them. You’re even clear that you want to get them done and that there would be great value in fulfilling these commitments, and yet, they remain on your list, undone.

There are of course other things that we do handle, many of them so quickly that they don’t even make it to the list. So what is it that determines whether these items do or do not get done? Why is it that with some things we can be one of the world’s greatest procrastinators yet others get taken care of immediately? We may tell ourselves (and others), “I guess I don’t really want it badly enough because if I did I would do it.” or  “Based on results”, “I’m not really committed because if I were, I would have handled my resistance by now”. It sounds right when we say it, and people rarely argue with us, but we might do well to consider another possibility.  Maybe things are not so either/or, or black and white, as they seem to be.

Perhaps I am committed to doing what I say I want to do, and I also have another commitment that is in direct competition with this one that seems to be prevailing right now. But, I remind myself, although I haven’t actually been the loving partner that I want to be, as much as I had expected myself to be, I have spent a tremendous amount of time and energy thinking about it and feeling guilty about why I haven’t shown up more. So in my mind, that counts for something, doesn’t it? I mean, I really am serious about improving my relationship, because if I wasn’t, I wouldn’t be obsessing about it so much, and all of that obsessing counts. It’s just that it didn’t actually show up in the relationship yet.

I know how crazy this sounds, and as embarrassing as it is to admit it, this is the way the mind works, at least how mind does. I can rationalize not doing something by claiming that feeling guilty and coming up with reasons and excuses why it didn’t get done counts as legitimate time put into the project. I don’t think that I would apply this kind of thinking to someone who I was paying to do a job for me, but for some reason I find it easy to apply to myself.

So, my conscious intention is to become a devoted loving partner, but unbeknownst to me, I have this or more likely these other intentions that I’m not conscious of that are in are in direct competition with the commitment that I am aware of. The trouble is that until I can become aware of what they are, I will continue to feel guilty and incomplete. I can’t see those other, competing commitments until I stop rationalizing, justifying, and excusing myself and start telling the truth. The truth isn’t that I’m a bad, lazy, dishonest, uncommitted, or stupid person; the truth is that I haven’t done it. Period. The rest is just judgment and speculation, which has nothing to do with the truth. It’s just my mind making up stories, which have little if anything to do with reality. The problem is that when I buy into them, I diminish my ability to recognize the competing commitments that may be overriding my conscious intention.

Once we tell the truth, without blame, shame, guilt, justification, or rationalization, just the raw unadulterated truth, then what has been outside of our field of perception may begin to come into awareness. In the case of making relationship-improvement resolutions, there are many commitments that may be competing with our conscious desires, such as:

  • A commitment to avoid the possibility of giving ourselves completely to the relationship in order to avoid a potentially more painful loss if the relationship ends.
  • A commitment to protect myself from the possibility that devoting myself to my partner might take so much of my time and energy that I would have to sacrifice other things that I don’t want to give up.
  • A commitment to maintain the balance and equilibrium that is currently present in my marriage. It’s not great now, but it could be worse.
  • A commitment to avoid the possibility of failing to create a truly wonderful partnership. If you don’t start something you can’t not finish it.
  • A commitment to avoid confronting subject matter that could reveal something about me that I didn’t want to see or reveal to others.
  • A commitment to avoid the possibility of disturbing or threatening others (my kids, work, family, friends) who might resent me if I take too much attention away from them.
  • A commitment to avoid disgrace and possible humiliation if I give everything I have and it’s not reciprocated.
  • A commitment to hold on to my personal freedom, and a fear that I may give up too much of what is important to me.
  • Etc.

Bringing these concerns into awareness allows us to examine their validity and to become clearer about the nature of the risks involved that we may have been unconsciously trying to avoid. When we do this we may come up with strategies for dealing with these concerns that we hadn’t previously considered. Telling the truth about our ambivalence is what enables us to begin to see and tell the truth about our unconscious commitments. When we do this, usually one of two things happen:

  1. You get OK with not doing it and no longer hold it as a commitment, or
  2. You are no longer possessed by the negative feelings that accompany an incomplete commitment. At that point you may find yourself being more fully committed to your relationship since you are no longer being held hostage by unconscious fears and concerns.

This insight enables us to see more clearly what actually does have meaning for us. When we can put our heart into something, it becomes a labor of love rather than a self-imposed obligation. One way or another, the process of growing a mutually fulfilling relationship inevitably contains challenges and obstacles. The greatest gift in this process is the peace of mind that is found in relieving ourselves of the self-recrimination we often experience when we fail to fulfill our self-imposed resolutions and promises. Refusing to punish yourself with blame and shame when you don’t follow through with your decisions is not equivalent to letting yourself off the hook. But rather, it’s an opportunity to reassess your true priorities and recognize whether your heart is truly in this or whether it is just another “should” that you feel obligated to fulfill. Telling the truth to yourself BEFORE  you make any promises to others is always a good idea. It can spare you a lot of suffering in the long run.



 
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Linda & Charlie Bloom are authors of 101 Things I Wish I Knew When I Got Married & Secrets of Great Marriages.
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