from Dr. Bonnie...
I was at a fork-in-the-road. For some strange reason, I felt compelled to make a choice. It was Thanksgiving Day, 1991. Recently divorced, I felt the sting of being in LA, alone again. I had declined an invitation to dine with friends. I wasn’t up to being a stray at someone else’s dinner.
How shall I spend my day? Since I was in training for the LA Marathon, it was easy. I’ll go for a long run.... With lots of time to think I was drawn into my typical rumination.
What to do with relationships and dating?
Although I was tepidly convinced that I could wall off and be a comfortable introvert, I knew that wasn’t ideal. Long, happy, “successful” marriages were the norm in my family, so I had many role models. I certainly couldn’t blame my parents.
“But all the good ones are taken,” I badgered. Somehow, that logic broke down.
Oddly, I know that on that day, I made the decision to love and marry again. I just didn’t exactly know how.
I decided that to have the marriage I wanted, I had a lot to learn. Not exactly sure why, but I thought in terms of learning and knowledge. This wouldn’t just happen. I accepted this: my existing level of understanding had led me to the painful marriage I had needed to leave. I recognized the need to look at my marital failure with rigorous honesty. Without learning from my pain, I would recreate it.
How could I accomplish this task I had identified? Where do I go for advanced education beyond Relationship 101? I was hungry and not for that Weight Watcher turkey dinner in my freezer. I wanted a road map. I anticipated my wish to retreat behind a safe wall of aloneness that I could control, so I needed to plan for much discomfort.
“How come I don’t know this stuff already....” my mind raced. Others made it look so easy, but I knew myself.
I needed help. And I was hungry. Really, really hungry, I later understood. And owning that hunger was an important step.
I was exhausted when I finally devoured my little dinner. That day in my studio apartment on Magnolia Blvd., I finally had clarity. I would open myself to the relational path. The map will become clear later.
That clarity has taken me on an amazingly interesting, not always easy, journey. But for now, I’ll wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving, whatever your circumstances.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and sorry I could not travel both. Two roads diverged in a wood and I took the one less traveled by. And that has made all the difference. (Robert Frost)
Gratitude. For that moment of clarity, and my twenty years of rich state of marital delight. I am grateful.
from Scott ...
In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I wanted to share the relationship skill I am grateful I have learned and practiced. As a marriage counselor that also just celebrated 17 years of marriage, I have learned invaluable lessons about the successes and mistakes people make in intimate relationships. When I boil down my knowledge to one essential skill that I am grateful my wife and I practice well together it’s: Emotional Regulation
Not sexy. I know. Not exciting. True; and yet, by far the most lifesaving relationship skill I cherish. Growing up, my household was emotionally volatile. For me, this was frightening; for some folks, this enables them to be fighters – to stand up for themselves or the little guy and put up a good fight. I tend toward conflict avoidance.
I learned I can manage my own emotions. I learned not to bully other people with my feelings. I learned that during disagreements my words have power – power to wound and power to protect. And, that although situations can invite me to react in dysregulated ways, I am ultimately in control of how I handle those situations.
Because of this practice, I am a safe person to talk to. My wife and child know that they can come to me with worries, concerns, hurts, anger and disappointments and they will be heard and not attacked. My friends know I speak truth with love and gentility in a way that can be heard.
I sometimes continue to avoid discomfort; I continue to people please even when I wish I wouldn’t; and so I keep practicing.
Here’s what I’m most grateful for: I have a partner that practices emotional regulation also. I feel respected when she can tell me she’s upset, or frustrated or disappointed in me in a way that I can hear it. She owns her feelings and communicates honestly by speaking to me in a way she wants to be spoken to. We have disagreements. We argue about things. And, I’m so grateful right now that I cannot remember a time when after a disagreement we didn’t turn to each other, hug and come to an understanding. That is a blessing.