20 Things I’m Learning From Relationships

I began this list for another blog but in 2016. That feels like an entire life ago, but it was sometime around the birth of my second son. I aimed for 25 lessons but stopped at 20. I haven’t edited this “draft,” though I’ll post it and, likely, return with an updated, five-years-after-divorce version. Maybe after I’ve those other five lessons.

Sons, relationships are tricky things. I define relationships as those lovely interactions which turn into friendship, companionship, and the regular engagement of my life with someone else’s life. I have in mind as I work up this list my relationships from before, from now, and from the future. My early attachments, friendships, romantic relationships, working relationships, and basic acquaintances are all a part of the learning environment here. To follow is a brief reflection of what I’m learning about me, about people, and about the world. I’m included necessarily in all three.

I’m learning:

  1. I am complete. I am a whole person, with likes and dislikes, most of which I can explain, some of which I’m still learning, and I’m whole.
  2. I am different. I’m not the person most people think I am, and a large part of developing a relationship is in presenting who I am in the mirror or face of who someone thinks I am.
  3. I am needy. While I don’t think of myself in this way initially, I’m more convinced that at an essential level, I need others, and I’m committed to the recovering work of being in quality relationships, committed to being needy and being okay with that.
  4. There’s a “but.” I only need others insofar as they are participatory in the salvific, constructive, overarching redemptive work of me being my real self. I think there is a small number of people who are willing to be in this type of relationship with me.
  5. I’m not a morning person. I wake up slowly to the world, and this characterizes how I let people in, how I engage people, and how committed my significant others must be to be in relationship with me.
  6. I do what I like. I work a lot, and I’ve systematically chosen to enrich myself with power (and been blessed with such a gift) so that I can choose to do what I like, not what I’m told–mostly.
  7. I don’t like to be told what to do. Others can tell this story as good as I can, but I’m really good at doing what I think is right, at being self-directed, so being in any true relationship is, at first, a testing of my ability to be interdependent.
  8. I know how to quit. I don’t quite know how to lose, but I know how to quit; this is an ever-present switch in me that enables me to cut-off those who no longer matter and it’s a lifelong temptation, the notion that people don’t matter.
  9. People want to be loved. This is trite truth, and it’s just as challenging because loving is very hard when it has to be consistently offered in murky, uncomfortable, or otherwise difficult circumstances. Indeed, most of love has to be applied in such circumstances.
  10. People have a hard time choosing themselves. A lot of people put others before them–consciously or unconsciously–and that behavior repeats itself in choices against the self. The slow work of healing is about saying yes to yourself, your wholeness, your being saved, your being true. You cannot choose another if you haven’t chosen you.
  11. People want others to know them. I think this is a divine desire, wanting to create in order to express self-knowledge; wanting to be in order to be known. When a person ends a good relationship, there’s destruction in deep places. That’s normal and it’s normal to feel it.
  12. People want to be supported. The most beautiful testament to love is in showing up after a long drive or after a fight or after some ending in order to express that some things don’t change, that love endures, and that love is displayed by supportiveness.
  13. People want to be heard. When a person talks too much, whatever that is, it just may be because they haven’t been adequately heard.
  14. People grieve. As foundational as is the reflex in people to love is the reflex to lose those loves, and when we lose, we grieve–consciously or not.
  15. People are inconsistent. This is one of the most basic abilities in people: to change and, therefore, to be inconsistent. It colors the best of relationships.
  16. People disappoint. Because we have our stated and unstated expectations of each other, disappointment is inevitable, and unfortunately forgiveness is not. Forgiveness is a series of choices that is hard to come by.
  17. Most people in relationships seldom know what they really want, ask for what they really want, or show what they really feel. This is wisdom from David Richo in How to be an Adult (p 84).
  18. Love and respect go together. Claiming to love a person has to pair with regularly allowing that person to choose, in other words, respecting that person’s choice. This is wisdom from Grammie Joseph.
  19. Telling a person ‘I love you’ is completely restorative, redemptive, and settling. Most people don’t say ‘I love you’ enough. Wisdom from Jonathan Alvarado.
  20. The most helpful, honest relationship is the one that is both alluring and scary. I have in mind a relationship with God but it’s true about the other real ones too. Healthy relationships carry a quality of the known and a quality of the unknown. When you’re in it with a person, you should humbly accept that there are so many potentially lovely unknowns to be discovered, and that’s nerve-rattling!

Celebrate, Grieve, Celebrate

These are three motions, three commitments, three postures – all worth living into. If you’re into making commitments in the first month of the year, consider them.

Celebrate what was. One of my plans in the first weeks of this year is to a write list or create a word cloud of all the things I got to do last year. So far, I’ve been writing the list in my head but I’m aiming for paper. It’ll include all the things I got to be and all the gifts I received. It’ll be my way of celebrating what was. The celebration is inherently an act of remembering.

Grieve what’s gone. We don’t grieve enough. I don’t grieve enough. I’m convinced that we’re taught how to end grief not welcome it. So, a lot of my work is around nurturing this soul gesture, building this emotional skill, and opening myself up to doing what the world often has little room for. We need to say goodbye and to grieve those goodbyes.

Celebrate what remains. Seeing what’s still present is another beautiful and clarifying gift. When a role or a job or a relationship or an ability ends, the ending needs to be felt. That’s the grief. But there are things which remain and those still-present things require their own celebration. What’s current needs to be enjoyed. The more we refrain from appreciating what’s present, the more we fix our focus upon the past or the future, and we miss what’s right now. This second celebration powers life and thriving.

There’s more to say but the more falls within those three postures.

Giving and Not Giving Energy

When you give energy to a thing, you give it life. Energy includes mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual material like thoughts and posture and effort. When you give a thing or a person or an idea energy, you give it life.

The other, accompanying side is that when you remove your lifegiving energy from a thing, you starve that thing of life. It could be a shift in your focus onto a different task. It could be removing a contact from your phone. It could be the choice to leave a call unreturned. It could be a decision not to go for that walk you said you would take. 

Giving to a thing is a gift that keeps that thing going. Removing what you give, then, is a resounding endorsement of another thing. What will you give to in the upcoming days of your life? What will you choose? Who will you choose? 

The answer really is about what you want to keep alive, what you wish to sustain, or what you will starve. Chaos needs energy. So does peace. Toxic relationships require attention. Living as an ambassador of contentment does too. 

Chats with Pediatricians & Parents & Children

by Michal Ramey

All too often our sex-ed conversations get bogged down in whether to stress abstinence as the safest (or only) option for teens. But an early, healthy understanding of sexuality can shape a person in ways that are significant and lifelong.

“Healthy sexuality,” the statement reads, “includes the capacity to promote and preserve significant interpersonal relationships, value one’s body and personal health, interact with both sexes in respectful and appropriate ways and express affection, love, and intimacy in ways consistent with one’s own values, sexual preferences, and abilities.”

That’s hard to cover in 40 seconds. It’s also pretty hard to Google.

Ideally, a pediatrician is just one of several respected adults talking to a kid about healthy sexuality.

Read more here.


Teaching Men to be Emotionally Honest

by Jason Rosewell

…Yet when they are immunized against this deeper emotional honesty, the results have far-reaching, often devastating consequences.

Despite the emergence of the metrosexual and an increase in stay-at-home dads, tough-guy stereotypes die hard. As men continue to fall behind women in college, while outpacing them four to one in the suicide rate, some colleges are waking up to the fact that men may need to be taught to think beyond their own stereotypes.

…By the time many young men do reach college, a deep-seated gender stereotype has taken root that feeds into the stories they have heard about themselves as learners. Better to earn your Man Card than to succeed like a girl, all in the name of constantly having to prove an identity to yourself and others.

Read the full article here at NYT.

Thanks, Kimmy!

The Activity of Making Sense

Photo Thanks to Glen Noble

Photo Thanks to Glen Noble

I am reading slowly The Evolving Self, a book by Robert Kegan, about the coming together of psychoanalytic theory and cognitive developmentalism. It’s heady and I’m being patient with myself, especially since the reading is deepening me and my theoretical basis for the more practical, and perhaps more intuitive, work I do.

Egan took a moment to reflect on his daughter’s development and his response thereto. I read this father’s recollection of when she was sounding out words and thought of recent experience with our firstborn, Bryce.

“Being in another person’s presence while she so honestly labors in an astonishingly intimate activity—the activity of making sense—is somehow very touching” (p. 16).

It is true in my experience as well. I was reading over words with Bryce the other week. And Dawn gave me a compliment about how I was with him, which is proof that human beings can grow!

Dawn is the better, more patient, nurturing teacher with Bryce. I’m the guy who cooks dinner while they do homework. It’s a more fitting use of our skills and temperament. Dawn with him, coaxing and instructing and illuminating, and me pulling pans and throwing together a nourishing meal. We get it done in our way.

On that particular night, I was reading with him before bed, and Dawn was feeding the new boy. I was to read two pages and then Bryce was to read a page. Little did I know that a page could take so long. I’ve since been carefully told by a teacher how to change this up, and I’ll post about that later.

Now, this boy knows his sounds, thanks to the good work we did with Riggs cards and good teaching last year at his preschool. He’s been “reading” and learning and growing all year in kindergarten. But to be honest, we’ve slipped a little.

Photo Thanks to Taylor Leopold

Photo Thanks to Taylor Leopold

We’ve let him be taken into the world of books he’s preferred to read rather than those slim volumes with encircled number 2 or 3 on the right hand corner. We’ve read to him. And he’s been at the work of reading, but he’s really been cheating when we haven’t supervised his reading. He’s looked at comic pictures, which, of course, is a good thing. But he hasn’t been reading.

And he forgets. A lot. He will forget a word that I rehearsed multiple times, and he’ll forget it in three minutes. Now, I have a degree in psychology. I have coursework, dusty it may be in learning and memory and other cognitive psychology courses. But those courses were not my strong areas. I did well if you count the As and honors I always got in psychology, but those As were different than the ones in the clinical/applied courses. So, when I meet with my son’s unique developmental milestones, it frustrates me.

It makes me question my competence. It reveals my anger at him and myself and it shows where my values are: in getting things quickly and in getting things done quickly. This is something he does too, at his six-year-old speed. And of course, when he rushes through something, I catch him and call him out. Even though he’s doing what I do. Even though at his age, he’s doing what I often model: going through the motions. My motions are tutored by what learning I have, and his is too. I just have more in my box than he does. We’re doing the same thing. I’m his model. It’s sobering.

So, seeing him read is an entirely destabilizing endeavor. It’s constructive. It’s good. But it’s disorienting. He’s where he “should be” if we look at him through the gauges people we don’t know have made for him. He’s on course if we take counsel in the collective wisdom of curriculum writers who tell parents what their kids ought to know when. I’m not worried about Bryce in that respect.

But I am worried about how this kid has a way of continually teaching me about me. He’s a teacher to me who exposes my hidden and implicit biases for movement and productivity and fast-gained knowledge and quick wit. Even if those things complicate the simplicity of being at one’s own, real, natural, splendid, unrushed pace.

That is the activity that makes sense. Slowing down makes you. Pacing yourself has a way of making the sense I need. It prevents me from having sense made for me. It’s the activity I need of in my life.