On Marriage, Détente and Higher Peace

Of all the chapters I have posted online, this one by far has been the hardest to do. And I am not entirely sure why? I mean really, I’ve written about much more difficult things in my life than the challenges that Teresa and I have had over the last twenty-seven years of our marriage (Chapter 2 for example). Yet this one…

After my last edit, I gave it to her to read with the full option to say no to publishing it. I was nervous in giving her final say so, though I knew it to be the right thing to do. This was not going to be one of those things where forgiveness over permission would be the better path, as I’ve used up too many of those silver bullets. I didn’t hear back from her for a couple of weeks and eventually convinced myself she hadn’t even read it. I finally mustered the courage to ask, fearing the answer.

“Hey, by the way,” I asked as nonchalant as I could make it one recent Saturday morning as she lounged on the couch in her pajamas, the cat and dog draped over her as she sipped her coffee and surfed the net on the iPad. “Did you ever read the chapter I sent you?”

“Yes,” she said without looking up. Great, I thought, certain on what was coming next.

“Are you okay with me posting it on my blog?” I asked.

“I guess,” she said, still not looking up.

“Are you sure?” Jesus, Rick. Are you kidding me? Take the money and run!

“Mmm-mm.”

“Okay.”

 

That was it. No discussion, no questions, no ringing endorsement. A yes, nonetheless and such as it is, it is posted below with perhaps a thought or two more for context. Slow Climb covers a short, but intense period in our marriage when multiple things were converging – a struggling business, unreconciled grief from the deaths of my parents, unrealized dreams and aspirations of whom I thought I was, and what I would accomplish. All of these and likely many more crisscrossing all at the same time.

As I think back on it and read through the chapter, I’m still not sure how we made it. And yet as I look over the span of the twenty-seven years we’ve had together, a more profound understanding begins to emerge. You see, the relationship Teresa and I have is not what one would consider as perfect soul mates. We are very different people. We have very different interests and value different things. Yet there is this intersection, like two circles on a Venn diagram that converge. The convergence includes the kids, friendships and many other things in this life that we have made together. And yet it is more cellular than that. Like mitochondria, our relationship is endosymbiotic (new word for my vocab, had to look it up). Literally, we exist in partnership within each other.

This deeply embedded relationship has implications, however. As individual as the non-intersected aspects of who we are may be, we cannot truly act on our own accord, out of our own individual desires without it affecting the other. At times we are at such a state of intimate union with the other, and at other times finding ourselves recovering from disconnections and working through détente. In fact, managing through détente has been, and continues to be, a great teacher in my life. Letting go of the individual self. Surrendering to the union.

This I know. All the things that used to, and occasionally still do annoy me – like the remnants of flour on her hands she leaves on the refrigerator door handle, or whatever other food she is cooking hand printed around the kitchen – are now treasures. They are but small blessings of the gift she has for cooking and expressing it through the preparation of amazing food made with love. And I clean up behind her, not with a muttered curse but with whispered reverence and thankfulness for what they represent.

This is my higher peace – finding the joy of the relationship with my wife through the veil of all the things that used to piss me off.

The Underage Traveler – Chapter 13_Slow Climb

 

 

Winn

The long awaited, anticipated, and multiple other -ted’s…Chapter 10 of my Memoir, The Underage Traveler. Jeez, this one was like giving birth.

“Like you’d know!” my wife would accuse. Point taken, but this one was hard to finish.

Enjoy.

Chapter 10: Winn

Middle Child

I cried my eyes out this morning. My wife had already left for work, but I scared the shit out of the dogs. Guttural sobs while I leaned against the cold steel of the kitchen sink, staring at the wintery backyard through flooded eyes.

God, it hurts.

It is a familiar trigger – struggling with my children’s struggles. This one especially so because he is my reflection, and yet so different at the same time. Like me, he is the middle child. Unlike me, he doesn’t say much. Like me, he craves to be accepted. Unlike me, he won’t ask for help until it is crisis mode.

Ok, I guess that is a little like me…

It’s bad enough that he struggles (even though I know they can be blessings in disguise). But to be a parent is to be by his side, to let him know I am there for him while staying out of his way in his struggle. To allow him to find himself in his flailing and moaning. Yet, I complicate it by projecting my own stuff into it and I make his struggle mine. Fuck, this is hard.

No different than he, I want everyone to be happy. I want everyone to get along. I am the middle child who is a parent of the middle child. And I can’t do this for him.

Red

Chapter 9 of my memoir, The Underage Traveler: Essays On An Unprepared Journey. It describes when I first met my wife, Teresa when finishing college at WWU. Reading through the manuscript, I recall the time vividly and it strikes me how innocent we were. After twenty six years of marriage, if I could speak to myself back then what would I have said?

Be patient. Be kind. We all have shit we are dealing with.

The Underage Traveler – Chapter 9_Red

It Is Okay

Whatever you fear

what you are wary of

what you despair and lament

I lost a client yesterday. Funny, that is is almost as hard to acknowledge than to receive the email from the client in the first place. The truth is, I don’t do vulnerability well. Saturday I went for a walk with a friend who had recently returned from walking the Camino del Santiago and we were getting together to hear about her journey, but we ended up talking about me and my silence (safe to say, I’m usually the chatty one). As she did, I felt a heaviness come over me like a wet wool blanket. I stared at the ground as we walked, kicking gravel out of my way as my jaw slacked. And it dawned on me how much I silence my voice when I am feeling vulnerable.

It is okay

you are not alone

your feelings are known

I have a shadow that moves when I am feeling weak. It is the Warrior archetype and it moves in quickly to protect. It has done its job well over the years, and yet I find it serves me less and less these days. The absence of pain equates to the absence of healing, and I shut myself down.

In the depth of your anguish

remind yourself you are here for a reason

you matter

more than you can see, or hear, or touch

Interestingly, it is here where my work saves me, time and time again. In preparing for a group facilitation I decided to show the Brene Brown TedTalk on vulnerability (if you have not watched it before, I highly recommend it and have linked to it). I have watched Brene’s talk many times before yet I don’t ever seem to have recalled it when I needed it most. Until this week. When in deciding whether it was appropriate to include in the facilitation, I realized it was for me. Because I needed to hear it really bad.

Be patient

breathe

and in time your purpose

will be known to you

But, back to losing a client… The irony in this is I had been feeling for some time that I had lost their ear and what I was delivering to them was having diminishing value. Yet, as always seems to be the case, I depend on the retainer fee and the tension between those two polarities has had me frozen in inaction. Until this weekend when after my walk and talk with my good friend, I had decided to broach the issue of reframing the work or ending the retainer. As much as I feared that conversation, I felt empowered by the conclusion. Then I got sick, and while sleeping it off yesterday I received an email from that client that they were suspending the work due to financial reasons, etc. Reading through the lines, I know what lay at the heart of their decision because it had been my conclusion as well.

And your struggle, your moaning,

your aches and pains, and impatience

will be as echoes on the wind

And this is where it gets interesting. While I had already resolved to terminate the work if needed, receiving the email from them first triggered all kinds of emotions around scarcity, lack of self worth and shame. As crappy as I have been feeling, it was blessing that I was sick because my Warrior kept his shield and sword sheathed, and allowed me to experience the emotions without getting in the way. Raw, unfiltered lament. It sucked and yet was so necessary.

Nothing of consequence

nothing of gravity

is absent of suffering

 

All of which prepares me for the next journey, because as I have experienced time and time again, when the proverbial door closes, a window opens.

The only question to ask yourself is

what are you willing to suffer for?

 

What If I Got It Wrong?

I am not where I thought I would be. I do not feel how I thought I would feel. I am not doing all that I thought I would be doing. And it feels as though I am falling behind.

If there is one thing I am convinced of in acknowledging these brutal truths…I am not very good at predicting when, or how something will happen. And yet I am compelled by visions and intuition that have proved truth enough times over to assure me of my endowments.

What gifts lay within beguile in close proximity to myself.

How am I to reconcile these things? It seems as though without the uncertainty and unknowing, that the vision would become pedestrian and unworthy of the good fight. And yet it is these attributes that plant the seeds of doubt and lament. By not knowing how long or by what journey it will take, the vision is held in the balance of either coming into being, or vanishing with every misgiving.

All of which brings me back to where I am, which is not where I thought I would be. And what scares me more than anything is that I got it wrong. And that there are no do overs.

Turkey Loaf

Chapter 7 of The Underage Traveler – It is fascinating what is remembered and what is forgotten. In fact checking with my sister, I realize that I had conveniently forgotten critical details in how things went down in the family. Or perhaps, we are both correct and the only thing that matters is our version of truth. Because in the end, that is what we face. Our truth. No one else’s.

The Underage Traveler – Chapter 7_Turkey Loaf

Cattle Call… – God

I believe we receive calls. But not just any calls. Calls that profoundly change the direction of our lives for good. Make no mistake, it’s not a matter of if we receive them, but when. The problem is most of us are either too distracted or too comfortable to see them, or if we do, too scared to do anything about them. The latter is a good indication by the way that it is a call. It is when your response is, “%$#@!” Then you know its a call.

And they come at the most unexpected times. Mine came while grieving over my mom’s death. A friend was coaching me through some grief recovery exercises and asked me to write her a final letter. Writing the letter was hard and at first the words came slowly, but soon flowed like a broken spigot. As I read it aloud to myself, one sentence in particular screamed back at me.

Your legacy will be my work…with myself and those around me.

I could feel the gravity of what was being called out and my heart thumped at the implications. This would not be easy.

Nor has it been. It was three years before I had the courage to step out and start doing something about it. That explains my Crazy Ivan, going from engineering and running a manufacturing company to leadership coach. And that doesn’t tell the half of it.

I am a healer.

How is that for some crazy shit! “It is what it is,” as my mom would frequently say. Healing is the essence of her legacy and I have taken up the charge to fulfill that purpose.

There have been subsequent calls and signs affirming what I am doing, but none so profound as the first. Perhaps because the first experience of letting go was so unforgettable. Once you do let go, or surrender, or submit, or yield to a higher calling, they become more recognizable when the new calls come. If they do, that is. They don’t always. Mother Teresa had only one, yet it was profound enough to change a million lives. Or more.

The sad thing is, most of us don’t do anything with them. We convince ourselves that either we couldn’t ever do what the call is telling us, or we’ll get to it when we have time, later in life when the kids are grown, or when we retire, or when the house is paid off, or when, or when, or when.

That talk is crap.

In reality, the price of responding to a call, though seemingly higher earlier in life when there are obligations involved, like a family, or a job, or a mortgage, is much less than responding to it when we are free of obligations later in life. Later in life when we are comfortable. Transformation doesn’t happen when we are comfortable.

Following a calling at a time of our choosing rarely works. Timing is everything. The greater the sacrifice, the greater the reward.

For most, we know what the call is. The question is, when are we going to do anything about it?

You Are Not Responsible For Their Happiness

My wife and I recently celebrated our twenty fifth wedding anniversary, and I’ve been giving thought lately to the lessons I’ve learned in our marriage. Many of them were hard fought lessons, further complicated by the fact that my parents weren’t necessarily the ideal role models. Married just over twenty years (that actually doesn’t tell the whole story and probably for another time but suffice to say it was the second of three marriages for my dad, each lasting over twenty years), they never imparted any particular wisdom to prepare us for a lifelong commitment together. Further, now that our three kids are entering adulthood and will hopefully be finding lifelong companions for themselves, I am feeling compelled to do what my parents did not–provide advice on how to prepare for a life in relationship.

As such, following are the key lessons I’ve gained along the way that have helped me in sustaining our marriage thus far:

You are NOT responsible for your spouse’s happiness

Of all the lessons that would have helped me early on, this is the one that would have saved us a lot of angst. There is so much to say here that I am not even sure where to begin. Perhaps with the moment it became painfully aware to me… It was about five years ago a number of things conspired to bring things to a boil for us:

  1. The business I had started a couple of years prior was on life-support and the financial pressure it had created in our marriage was virtually unbearable. We were living off the equity in our home with no foreseeable change in the future. Further, I was the only income earner in the household.
  2. The menagerie of unfinished house building projects hit overload with my wife–especially after the latest equity loan was diverted from finishing the addition to paying for living expenses due to the aforementioned lack of business income.
  3. The impact of having lost my parents in 2002 was finally becoming apparent and I felt more alone than at any other time in my life.

I’m sure there were a few other things going on but they were not as central as these. At any rate, there was a clarifying moment while in marriage counseling when, after hearing my wife relate how many times I had promised her that things would get better, and after they never really turned out like I had assured they would, it became clear to me that the root of all this was my insecurity and need for her approval.

If, on the other hand, I had just simply believed that she would be happy and content to be with me as I was, accept me for who I was, it would have lifted an immense burden on our relationship. This was not her doing–it was mine. My own hyper-need for validation that created the space for over-compensation in the relationship. I realized at that moment in the therapist’s office that I could never, ever, achieve all that I had promised her because it was for all the wrong reasons.

It was what came next that was perhaps the most difficult thing I have ever said to my wife. “I am not responsible for your happiness.” Truth be told, I’m not sure that is verbatim of how it went down and I am certain she would have a different version. But that is how I remember it.

My mom used to remind me of the refrain, “when the student is ready, the teachers will appear.” Certainly in this case, it was true. Subsequent to this confession, the resonant messages began to appear, essentially communicating the same thing: happiness is an inside job. I am responsible for my happiness. You are responsible for yours. We can rejoice in the other’s acceptance of responsibility for our own, but we cannot adopt the other’s. And like many things I have learned, it comes down to letting go. In acknowledging that I don’t have control over most things that happen to me, let alone to someone else.

From this place of owning your happiness, and not someone else’s, and your spouse doing the same, you will focus on the important things from a much more grounded, and pragmatic place. Just the simple act of asking yourself, “why am I doing this?” allows for a different conversation. One that, between two people that love each other, leads to mutual and beneficial outcomes.