Life Lessons from my Lab (George) #4: I Love You No Matter What

George inside the back door when I get home.
George inside the back door when I get home.

As I turn the key to unlock our back door, I can’t help but laugh. Through the glass, I watch as George springs into the air awkwardly. I use the word awkward because my VERY large yellow lab does not look anything like a dog when he jumps to greet me after a long day at the office. Instead, he resembles a cat. Let me see if I can describe a snapshot of him in mid air. He takes off of all four paws at the same time. When he reaches maximum altitude his back is dramatically arched and his toes are pointed like a weird ballerina dog… Do dogs point their toes?!? I digress. He does not touch the back door. He does not put his paws on the glass. He leaps into the air over and over again, reaching the same height each time, a good 3 feet off the ground. At the top of his bounce he has a grin on his face and his tongue hangs out of his mouth. Okay, tell me that’s not AWKWARD!

The interesting thing is, though I can expect George’s excited reaction when I come home, it still makes me smile every day. Yes, he is a dog, but George accepts me no matter what I do. Even when I neglect to walk him in the morning, or even when I get home later than expected, George’s reaction does not change. This got me thinking about human relationships: relationships with ourselves, relationships with others, and the ways we allow our judgments to interfere with the potential for deeper connection. Ask yourself the following questions, and it might shed some light on the ways you may be hindered in your relationships.

Do you value yourself based on what you do or based on who you are?

Are you hard on yourself when you make mistakes? Are you hard on others when they make mistakes?

Do you consider yourself to be a human-doing? Or a human-being?

Does your acceptance of others change based on what they do or do not do?

Do you withhold love and kindness from those close to you when they mess up?

Do you withhold love and kindness from yourself when you mess up?

Do friends/family/loved ones show you their imperfections? What about your reactions makes you a safe or unsafe person to open up to?

What if we were all able to see one anther honestly, for who we truly are?- loveable, imperfect people in need of grace.

Identifying Passions, Behaviors, Motivations and Interests

The holiday season is typically NOT a time where we allow ourselves the “space” to sit back and think. Why do we do the things we do?  What makes my child behave that way? What motivates my colleague? What interests me enough to pursue it as a hobby, college major, or job. NOPE. It’s the time where we push all  of these questions to the back burner of our minds and think, “I’ll deal with that when I have time.”  Newsflash: two weeks off from school, a couple days away from work, and a more flexible schedule (that is, when you’re not traveling!) is exactly the time to consider these things.  This year, I’m offering some office hours for feedback sessions during the weeks of Christmas and New Year’s  to accommodate people who’d like to come in to receive their feedback while they’re away from work or school.

It may seem like a daunting task to approach questions like those above.  Five years ago, I was faced with some tough questions regarding myself: where to work, who to marry, and how to interact with my family.  Then the Birkman…

Oh, the Birkman (short for Birkman Method assessment).  It’s a  298 question (250 true-false, 48 multi-choice) that you take online whenever you’d like (home, office, vacation, etc) and should take about 30 minutes to complete. The results available immediately after completion and are then sent to me for report preparation. The questionnaire is translated into over 20 languages and, yes, we offer Skype sessions for feedback. There are dozens of report formats for individuals, pairs, and groups. These options make the Birkman a great tool for exploring a college major, switching careers, pre-marital or marital counseling, family counseling, and “figuring out” what makes your relationship with your teenager or spouse thrive or plumit.

What I once thought was just a couple of pieces of paper telling me more about my personality has turned out to be so much more.  I’ve utilized my own results to land a stable career at Heritage Behavioral Health Consultants, marry a man who I can communicate and be vulnerable with, and connect with my sister in a way I never thought possible. If you’re willing to make the time to invest in this tool, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. Call us today (713-365-9015) to receive a quote for your assessment and schedule a feedback session. Spots for the holiday weeks are limited.

The “Yes, please” marriage

Back in college I overheard a friend say, “Can you pass me that?” to her new boyfriend. His response changed my life for the better. He told my friend that his parents had a wonderfully loving and respectful relationship until the day his father died. His mother and father always said “please” and “thank you,” even for the little things. His parents knew that their efforts were not taken for granted – they knew that they were a team working together – and this was the foundation for solving disagreements in a loving marriage. My friend’s boyfriend then said that he would always say please and thank you to the woman he chose to date and ultimately marry. Then, he asked my friend if she was willing to do the same for him? She said yes.

I was raised to say please, thank you, and all the other polite southern niceties. But this was a whole different way of thinking about it! I was completely taken aback by the concept of moving “please” and “thank you” from a polite custom to a demonstration of true appreciation. I thought about how we are so good at being polite with our acquaintances and co-workers, but often forget about the people we choose to have in our lives – our close friends and family, significant others, or spouses. At that moment, I decided that I would incorporate this into all of my relationships. I decided that I would be mindful of expressing my appreciation each and every day to the most important people in my life.

I added this into my life and got wonderfully positive results – demonstrating appreciation is contagious! People love to hear that you appreciate their efforts and often respond by passing it on to others. Years later, I began dating my husband, and I know that my marriage is considerably stronger because I overheard this conversation.

Note to the friends I overheard: Thank you for affecting my life and marriage in such a positive way. I appreciate you and your friendship. I hope y’all have a wonderful 16th wedding anniversary!

Choosing Life Without Regrets

There was a time in my career when I worked in a medical hospital with patients who were facing death.  Though people develop differing attitudes when they know that their death is imminent, many express feelings of regret.

In the hope of encouraging you to consider living life in ways to avoid these, here is what a lot of people say they regret.

1.  Choosing not to live their lives in ways that they really wanted, but how they were expected to live them.

These are the people who discovered their passions but did not pursue them.  They had dreams but never acted on them.  They let the opinions of others or culture dictate their decisions.  What they chose wasn’t necessarily bad, but wasn’t as fulfilling as what might have been.  Frequently their sadness at life’s end is around the pursuit of money and “things” instead of relationships and their own true preferences.

2.  Working much and living little.

They worked instead of being involved in the lives of their children, whether it was their sports involvements, recitals, plays, or even homework.  They didn’t spend enough time just enjoying the relationship and “playing” with their spouse.

They worked hard to create a “lifestyle” instead of making a living so they could savor life.  There seems to be a movement recently to simplify in order to satisfy.  It’s difficult in our “get all you can get” culture to choose to downsize lifestyle and enlarge living, but the needed perspective and painful regret appear when health is lost.  Then it is too late.  Some of the most painful statements start with “I wish I had/hadn’t…”  At the end, newer, bigger, better, and more don’t mean much.

3.  Fearing to break the silence and speak the truth.

People often express regret at not having had the courage to appropriately express their true feelings.  The usual result is thinking less of themselves for keeping quiet instead of being pleased with themselves for speaking their truth and running the risk of “upsetting someone else, hurting their feelings, avoiding conflict” or whatever excuse they used to support their fearful silence.

Over time, bottling negative feelings creates resentment and bitterness toward others AND toward the one whose voice is silent by choice.  Bottling the positive feelings leads to sadness from missed opportunities and relationships not beginning or being nourished.

Speaking your truth with courage can add to the depth of a healthy relationship or the end of an unhealthy one.  That’s seems like a win-win to me.

4.  Neglecting to maintain and to nurture valued friendships of old.

The usual reason given is simply choosing to be busy with things that are now seen (with the benefit of hindsight and impending death) as far less important than those wonderful, rewarding, and rare relationships.

Realizing that loving relationships are the most valuable commodity human beings can possess comes too late when you only have weeks or days to live.  If nurturing them over time and benefiting from them for years has been missed, they will also be missed as special support during those last days.

They will be missed, not because of preoccupation, but because of the absence of intending to pay attention to those we truly value.

5.  Failing to CHOOSE to be happy.

Huh?  Yes, happiness is a choice.  We can consciously choose to focus on being positive, using language “in our head” that gets us out of the rut of familiarity, frees us from unhealthy or unpleasurable behavioral patterns, overcomes our fear of change, relieves us of the weight of pretending to be satisfied with our lives, allows us to laugh more and be serious less, and encourages more smiles than looks of fatigue, boredom, and sadness.  We can do this consciously and intentionally.

If you don’t know what it would take for you to be successful at achieving this goal, give it some serious thought, talk about it with someone you love, go to a comedy club, rent a funny movie, or call a therapist.

Like Nike said, “Just do it!”, before it’s too late.

Decoding Valentine’s Day

By Jill Early, M Ed, LPC Intern and Jerry Duncan, M Div, LMFT

Valentine’s Day is a time designated for demonstrating how much we value another person. Some people associate it with things like chocolates, jewelry, expensive dinners, and/or greeting card companies making billions of dollars.  Unfortunately, it is also a time when many people feel anxious about whether they are right in their “guessing” what would demonstrate that sense of being valued for the other person.

Therein lies the problem in most relationship decisions.  We tend to operate as though “I should just know” or “he/she should just know” when it comes to most decisions regarding what helps the other person feel loved in a close relationship.  This could include holidays, anniversaries, birthdays, weekends, social preferences, or simply where to go to dinner. This belief often leads to a fear of simply asking or simply telling each other our preferences. We act as if telling each other what we prefer diminishes the thoughtfulness of what is given, done, or expressed, and then “it doesn’t mean as much”.

This belief also reveals another relationship challenge called “ignorance”.  That word may sound pretty harsh and is laden with emotion; therefore a definition is important for clarity.  It means the absence of information.  Our culture, our families, our schools, (pick someone to blame if you want), only teach us to talk, not communicate.  If we ask for the solution to above-mentioned problem, most don’t know the answer because we were never taught or had it modeled for us.

The solution is to learn how to:

  • express our honest feelings
  • ask for information that we need but don’t have
  • discover what another person INTERPRETS as being an expression of love, adoration, and being highly valued

Consider these steps:

  • Both partners read the book The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman
  • Discuss what you read
  • Clearly TEACH the other person what helps YOU genuinely believe you are loved

An example for Valentine’s Day that can be applied to everyday situations might sound like this:

“Because I love you so much, it is really important to me that I make Valentine’s Day the best day it can be for you in ways that you would most want for me to do them.  Would you be willing to let me know what some of those ways might be?”  The answers will vary widely from the usual to the unexpected, from jewelry/chocolate/flowers to vacuum out my car, clean the big window in the den, give me a massage that isn’t sexual, or just ignore it altogether.  The list of answers could be infinite and surprising.

May you have the courage to ask then act on what you learn.  May your Valentine’s Day and your relationships be more rewarding and intimate because of your efforts!

New Year Bandit

The fireworks pop. The confetti sparkles. The New Year is here and ready to take over. The Christmas decorations and holiday music took us by surprise when they appeared this year before Halloween. Watch out folks. Christmas has nothing on the New Year. Before the last ornament is back in the box and the final Christmas hymn is sung, the New Year comes in like a thief, grabbing us by the horns, flinging us back to the chaos and rush.

Don’t let the fact that January 1st has passed steal your calm, your chance to reflect, plan, and consider new changes, new goals for a great year to come. Turn off the technology, take a deep breath, and nuzzle in to a quiet spot. Write it, draw it, talk it out with a friend or call your counselor. Do whatever it takes but do not let the moment get swept away or placed on the to-do list for another day.

Where do I start?  Consider these five areas of your being:

  • Emotional
  • Spiritual
  • Physical
  • Intellectual
  • Social

What do you value in each of these areas? Over the past year, were you able to balance and acknowledge your needs in each area or did you find yourself immersed in only one and ignoring the others? If you felt overworked, stretched thin, or that something was missing last year, you might have been putting too many eggs in one of these baskets, leaving yourself empty and unfulfilled in the others.

Consider this example as you reflect and develop goals for change in each area:

Spiritual: It is important to me that I share a Christian example with others. To do this, I would like to be a more loving person. My spiritual goal is to act in a more loving way. What will this look like? One example is that I will consciously choose to act in a more loving way by being aware of how I drive on the freeway. I will drive with more consideration for others and exemplify less rage and frustration. Another example of living out this goal to act in a loving way is by taking my family to serve at the homeless shelter and pick a person whom I can treat, anonymously, with a random act of kindness.

Dedicating the time to reflect on the important changes you would like to see in each of these areas of life, developing the action plan, and defining how you will know you are working towards that goal will help keep your feet on the ground and your base strong when the daily grind of another year tries to sabotage your goals.