- by Carolyn Bergen
J. took me to Carolyn's grave on Sunday. For the first time. He took me to the grave of his late wife.
I always thought that this might be space that would belong to him alone. I thought that he might want to keep some part of her private from me. I live in the house she designed, and have moved into the kitchen she cooked in. I still see her hand written labels on the red quinoa in the cupboard and on the frozen peaches in the freezer, and her handwriting is on the recipe card of family's favourite cookie recipe. I have my clothes in the closet where hers used to be. There are so many ways in which I have moved in where she was. I thought he might want to keep some space where he could be with her--space that I wasn't in--space that continued to be theirs alone.
But when your husband asks you to go graveside, you go. It's the sort of thing you figure out later, but just say yes in the moment.
I think it's part of us being married. She was and always will be a big part of his life. To be invited into the part of him that is still connected to her by visiting her grave is part of loving him by knowing his world. It was a privilege that I was going to do my best to honour.
The air in the car changed on the way to the graveyard. It became silent, a little stiff--definitely somber. He was distant, remembering times past. I asked him once what he was thinking, and with a chuckle, he said that lately the triggers that brought her to mind happened when he entered the kitchen and the cupboard drawers were open. She always closed the cupboard doors when she was working. (I'm of the style of closing them once at the end...efficiency y'know?) He said the counters were often wiped while she working (yep...I'm one of those that wipes them once at the end).
He was careful to say it wasn't criticism...just a way that he noticed she wasn't around, and found himself getting wistful for her. She comes to his mind often...and maybe sometimes I don't ask him about her often enough.
We arrived. I watched, helplessly, as his whole body shook with the sobs of brokenhearted as we approached the gravestone.
Gosh, he misses her.
I watched myself watching him that afternoon. At one point, he said to her, "I will love you always". And it struck me that I might have been jealous--but I checked myself and I wasn't. I was just sad...so sad. The crappiness of cancer ripped a couple apart--they loved each other and were two-people-become-one--and then would ripped apart when she died. It's raw and harsh this stuff of grief. It's wrong. It's painful to watch...because I know it's even more brutal to feel/
It's an utterly helpless feeling to watch someone I love so deeply hurt so much...and I'm lost on the "right thing" to do in that moment...do I, as his current wife, hold him as he grieves his late love or keep my distance and just silently witness his grief.
Just. Don't. Know.
I have to say that sometimes my head and heart rather threaten to implode and explode simultaneously as I have the fun joy of being a newly wed to an attentive, kind and loving man after a decade of being a single woman. It's delicious to be cared for after so many years of looking after myself all by myself. But I am aware that my happiness and our love only happened because of her death.
There was this cutely awkward moment when J spoke to herr as he gestured towards me, "Carolyn, my wife...meet Carolyn, my wife." He and I both chuckled a bit. I like to think that she heard that, and smiled too.
It was an honour to spend time there. An honour to watch him talk to her about himself and each of the Junior Tribe Members, putting a rose representing each of them in the vase on her marker as he spoke of them. He included a sprig of pink baby roses for the JTM that whose heart only beat for a few weeks of life. He talked about me too...and laid that rose on the marker near, but not in, the vase.
I wasn't quite sure what to do, or how to be. There were clumps of wet grass and early fall leaves on her marker, messing up the leaves. It seems pathetically little to tidy up the marker...but it sorta seemed like something this door-closing, counter-wiping woman might appreciate. I flicked the leaves, and rubbed away the grass..yes,pathetically little.
We came home in the evening, and he was tired. Wiped out.
But he said something really powerful to me that I hold as wisdom for myself:
"My missing her doesn't diminish the love I have for you.
These don't compete in my brain...I miss her a lot and I love you a lot. I wish my sons had her as their mother still, and I'm so grateful they have you in their life now. I will always love and miss her...and I will always love and cherish you."
I love J for a lot of reasons. One of those reasons is his ability to feel big feelings as they are--he accepts them. He doesn't try to fix, or judge, or shush one feeling in favour of another. It doesn't torture him to both grieve his past wife while he loves life with his current wife. He doesn't have to let his grief go to love me, or put aside his love for me to grieve his love for her.
I'm learning from him on that. I need to learn from him...because I love my life with him, and also so often wish that she hadn't died...that J wouldn't have this ache that is now a permanent part of his life, that her JTM's would hear her laugh, feel her care, and be guided by her motherly wisdom...and that so many to whom she meant so much wouldn't be living life without her. It's hard to watch the man I love ache...and to wish he didn't ache...but to know that for him to not ache would mean I wouldn't have him as my husband.
Confusing, but possible to hold at the same time.
I'm learning from him how to hold those big feelings together.
- by Carolyn Bergen
This is not your typical "introducing our newest therapist/intern" blog. I'm introducing me...my new name. Same therapist...different name. Used to be Carolyn Bergen. Now...Carolyn Klassen.
I got married in April. And when I got home from my honeymoon, I was still a Bergen...
You see, I got a whole new pack of Junior Tribe Members and a husband that I wanted to invest in. Another one just came home from a year away. They were priority #1. And catch up at the office from when half (or more!) of my brain was running a wedding, not a practice. And then, well...summer. And in order to change my name I needed to go downtown and get a formal marriage certificate and that was an errand that didn't get to the top of my list until lately.
So, as of today, October 1st, I'm Carolyn Klassen.
This changing of my name is hard and exciting. It's a decision that folks have to decide when they get married. Different people do it differently...what is right for one person might not work for the next person. My story is unique.
A long time ago, I got married for the first time. I was just fresh out of university and working to understand and figure out who I was as an adult. I fell in love and was to become married. It meant that I would be moving to a new city in Saskatchewan to live with my new husband, get a new job, move into a new apartment, and join a new family...far away from my family. I wanted to keep the name I grew up with. It felt quite important to bring my name with me.
However, I was marrying someone from small town Saskatchewan...where all women always changed their surname to their husbands. There was no category for him and his family for me to keep my name. It would seem disrespectful. It would seem as though I wasn't fully prepared to be joined with him in marriage. It would be confusing to have a different last name as many in his world had no concept for a married couple with different last names.
I am a flexible easy going person...and I reasoned that changing my name even though it was hard was the one of the many give and takes that would occur within the context of marriage. I changed my name to Bergen...it was hard for me, but I did the expected thing...the thing that needed to happen to make it all work. That's what spouses do, right?
It was about 6 months into our marriage where my first husband, CJ, and I were watching a cop show on TV. The show featured someone who was in the FBI's Witness Protection Program and establishing a new identity. During the commercial, CJ turned to me and said, "Wow...can you imagine what that would be like...moving to a new city, creating a whole new life...and having a new name. Like, to change to a different name than you've always had...it would be like a new identity...a name is sooooo much a part of identity...and so to change your name...such a big deal..."
His voice trailed off as I stared hard at him. He looked at me hard and slow...wondering why I had suddenly turned mute and only looked. I could see his face changing as it slowly dawned on him what he was saying...and realizing that he had so easily assumed it was no big deal when he suddenly realized it was actually was a very big deal.
I felt understood, profoundly.
I don't remember much that happened after that conversation until Valentine's Day...the first Valentine's Day after our wedding. As his gift to me for Valentine's Day, he handed me an envelope with a form in it. A name change form.
In what I regard as up there with one of the most romantic moves of all time, he gave me the gift of changing my name back, regardless of what others would think, and how his community would handle it.
It was the acknowledgement of the form was what I needed...moreso than the name change itself. I felt understood and my difficult validated...that was a gift that was powerful and life-giving. I had already been a Bergen for the better part of a year, and the fuss seemed more trouble than it was worth. I did however, feel his blessing to use my maiden name as a middle name. I've signed all my documents "COBergen" for a lotta years...and now I will sign "COKlassen".
When my marriage ended many years ago, many thought I would return my last name to my maiden name. Why continue bearing a man's name that I wasn't married to any more? Two very important reasons...one very emotional, one very practical.
Fast forward 10 years...and I fall in love with Mr. Klassen. We marry...and now I have to decide what to do with my last name. My new husband is older and wiser...life has taught him that last names are less important than the process by which last names are arrived at.
He gives me complete freedom to go back to my maiden name or take his. He's reluctant to have me remain with Bergen, given that this name is another man's. This makes sense to me...I don't want my current last name either now.
Now the dilemma. I'm a long way away from my maiden name. It doesn't feel like I'm moving forward to go back to an old name as I join together to form a new family. I discard that idea rather quickly.
Which leaves me to take my new husband's last name: Klassen.
It means changing my name to something different than my biological JTM's. That's hard. They're adults now, so it may mean that it is harder for me than for them...but it matters. It's another belated loss that their parents' divorce has given them. Kids are kids even when they're adults, eh?
However--and the black humour here is not lost on me--my husband's late wife--her name was "Carolyn Klassen"...and she was a therapist too. I mean, seriously, Carolyn is not that common a name, and we both share it?
To become Carolyn Klassen means that the world, especially her friends and family, have to be compassionate towards me as we share the name. They will have to understand that I don't mean to replace her, or disrespect her, or in any way minimize her memory.
There have been some interesting moments. J's late wife, Carolyn, was exceedingly generous, and more than once I have answered the phone and when "Carolyn Klassen" is asked for on the phone, I say "speaking". The voice on the other end of the phone thanks me for my past generosity and asks me to again consider donating. It's either chuckle or cry.
(For the record, if she supported it, I support it too. That's part of honouring her.)
I don't even try to explain that the Carolyn Klassen they are looking to speak to isn't me. What would I say? Why would they believe me?
So...as of today, I am Carolyn O. Klassen. But don't call me Mrs. Klassen...that's my mother-in-law.
Just call me Carolyn. Everybody just calls me Carolyn...I wish I could just be "Carolyn", like Cher, or Madonna...but I don't think I have enough personality to pull that off. :)
But I'm still Carolyn. Me.
A happy married me.
- by Carolyn Bergen
Bonding science says the biggest factor in the quality of your sex relationship is the safety of your emotional connection of the person you are making love with.
This stuff is easy to write about...and challenging to embody in a relationship. Sex can often be a bit of a "canary in the coal mine".
We know now that safe emotional engagement is the key ingredient in relationships that turns us on in bed, and out of bed.Dr. Sue Johnson
- by Carolyn Bergen
I read Donald Miller's Scary Close book late last fall...and it was one of the best books I'd read in a long time. It was funny and clever and engaging, and all about relationships, my favourite topic. Y'know it's a good book, when months after it's been read, it comes back to bite you in the butt.
And this one did. In reverse.
Lemme explain. I'll back up a bit first.
I grew up in a conscientious household. A generous, giving household. We paid our bills on time. Never carried a credit card balance. Made meals for others when they went through a hard time. Had baby showers and wedding showers for the women in our community to celebrate life events. Cleaned up the house pretty constantly so as to always be ready for company if they might knock at the door. Brought lotsa food if we were invited to a friend's cottage. Always asked what we could bring when invited over for a meal. We never imposed on anybody--and it we thought we did, we made up for it by bringing over a brownie to thank them.
My dad would say, "Before your friends come over, make a sandwich for them that they can eat when they are here." And it was fruitless to explain to him that they ate sandwiches five lunches a week for years, and trust me, they would rather eat overcooked brussel sprouts than have a sandwich. Because we were a friendly, giving sort of people--he was adamant that we put a sandwich in front of them, regardless of whether they wanted it, liked it, or would eat it. "Give them a sandwich." was the mantra.
And we cleaned up after ourselves. Oh, yes we did. When we moved out of our house, we cleaned it for the next people so it was cleaner than when we moved in. When we left a hotel room, we tidied up the bed, collected the towels in a neat pile and prepped the room for the cleaners. At banquets, we would stack the plates and cups together on the table for the convenience of the service staff.
The motto I grew up with in my home was, "Leave it cleaner than how you found it."
It's a good motto, I think.
And I think I generalized the motto to beyond cleaning, much the way my parents have lived their whole lives. In general, if someone did something kind for me, I would seek to do something kind for them...but probably a little kinder--a little bigger. If somebody helped me, I was grateful...and I would seek to be helpful in return...and I wouldn't ask them for help again until I reciprocated.
I have to tell you, there were years in which this was hard for me, cuz I was a single mom who needed help at times...and when a friend helps you with plumbing, or a friend hosts my Junior Tribe Member for nights regularly, there is no "reciprocating" as good or "slightly more than". I figured it out in my head knowing someday I would seek to "pay it forward" to another person who was struggling.
The issue came to a head last winter after J and I started dating. J is an extremely thoughtful and kind man--and his sweetness towards me is one of a kind. He opens doors for me, walks on the outside of the sidewalk, insists on carrying my backpack for me, and if I even have a thought in my head that I might like a glass of water...suddenly, it appears. He also works intensely hard in the summer and has a slower schedule when the snow flies. He would pick up a few groceries for me that he knew I needed when he did his own grocery shopping shopping--and they would be in my fridge when I got home from work. He wrote sweet letters with little packages for my suitcase when I went away. One weekend after I got home from a course with Donald Miller, I came home to find my entire living room ceiling painted.
Who does that? J does.
It took my breath away.
But not in a good way. Not like, "Awww...that's so sweet and so kind, it blows me away." More like a, "I'm panicking and freaking out, and it feels like I can't breath cuz something is sitting on my chest, and I gotta get outta here" sorta way.
I asked him to slow down, or if possible, even stop his kindness. So I could catch up.
I told him I couldn't keep up.
I told him I was having a hard time holding my anxiety at the debt that was developing as the mountain of kindness he was extending to me was growing so quickly, it left me scrambling to figure out how to be as kind (but preferably slightly kinder, let's be honest) to him.
I disliked this internal discomfort that was growing by the day as he was so generous with his time and thoughtfulness.
And he reminded me then (and still consistently does, because old habits die very, very hard for me) that "Comparison is the thief of joy." He doesn't like it when I compare his kindness to me with my kindness to him.
And every time he says that, Donald Miller's chapter on "Five kinds of manipulators" comes back to haunt me in the loveliest, most daunting and challenging and delightful sorts of ways. He says:
Because intimacy is based on trust, any form of manipulation will eventually break that trust.
Dang it, Mr. Miller--that's kinda harsh in its truth.
And the first kind of manipulation he lists is "Scorekeeping". Miller says that "Whenever somebody starts keeping score in a relationship the relationship begins to die. A scorekeeper makes life feel like a contest, only there's no way to win."
I think Donald Miler meant that scorekeepers expect others to do as much as we do in a relationship, and scorekeepers feel justified in holding back until the other "pays up" in a relationship. He says that scorekeepers call in favours and have strings attached to their generosity. I didn't recognize myself in that, cuz I'm not that kind of scorekeeper.
But I keep a reverse score. I need to be ahead in the "acts of kindness" score or I start to panic.
And I realized that one of the ways I find comfort in a relationship--in any variety of relationships--is that I give more than I receive. My comfort zone is to know that I don't "owe" anybody anything. It's not like I expect them to pay me back--not at all. I just like the feeling of knowing that I'm ahead in the generosity department.
Vulnerability sucks. (Even though I believe it is the lifeblood of all meaningful relationships, which I preach over and over--but that doesn't stop me from doing crazy little dances to avoid it, too!)
When I am looking to be generous and giving and kind to others (in a way that's giving more than taking)--it's a sneaky, subtle form of feeling more in control, and therefore, less vulnerable. Generosity and kindness are awesome...but when I keep score to ensure that I have given more than I have received...well, then I have made the relationship a transaction where I seek to have the other person be in debt to me.
That's NOT kind.
Donald Miller says that, "They never tell you when you get born a control freak it will cost you a healthy love life." No mincing of words, that Mr. Miller.
I don't wanna be a control freak. Actually, I can hide it pretty good. It's hard to see "control freak" in a pan of brownies delivered warm to your door, so I have hidden it even from myself for a lotta years. But, if I'm honest, control-freakness sprouts it's ugly head when I play this little "do more" game inside my head. (e.g. She bought me a tea this week and her thoughtfulness meant so much...I think it would be great for me to buy her a tea and a muffin next week.)
But when J brings me a latté every morning on top of everything else he does as my husband, I've been feeling a little panicky lately. I am so not the person who will every be up ahead of him to make him a hot mug of coffee in the morning at least (or hopefully slight more than) half the time.
It just ain't gonna happen. Those who know me understand this not-being-fully-conscious-before-the-sun-is-up thing that I have. So it feels like I will never get ahead, I will always owe him, and somehow that makes me not "good enough" for him.
He tells me to stop keeping score. He tells me that if I keep score on his kindnesses, then he will have to start feeling guilty for all the ways I have made his house a home, and been mothering his JTM's. He says that I contribute ways in our relationship that he will never be able to match...and if I keep score in the "acts of kindness" department, he will feel pulled to keep up in the "relationship development" department--and he's pretty sure he will always be in debt there, if we are keeping score.
It gets pretty gross, I think, to keep score--to keep others in our debt. It's not kind.
But it is automatic for me.
But now I know. And I want better for us...and for me, in all my relationships. Henry Cloud and John Townsend say that "Deception in any form kills intimacy." And keeping score is a form of manipulation. And manipulation is a form of deception...trying to "win" (or frantically scrambling not to lose) in a relationship, even with acts of kindness is Just. Not. Cool.
I don't think control freaks are born that way. I think control freaks become that way to cope with the scary world of connection, intimacy, and friendships. And when control freaks have developed that way, they have the potential to develop and grow into folks who can acknowledge vulnerability and uncertainty.
So...it has become a daily discipline to accept J's lattés and his many other kindnesses with a simple, heartfelt thank-you.
I work to stay in gratitude and not slip into panic ("What can I do for him right now?")
I work to stay connected with him, and not disconnect to tally the mental scorecard to see how badly I am losing at the relationship giving game. I'm working not to let it become a game. I'm working to let it stay a relationship. J says that he would like us each to contribute in ways that work for us, and have that be enough. Isn't that wise?
I'm working to trust that I am enough. Me. Not what I do, but who I am. I'm working to let my generosity with him be authentic, out of my love for him, not a scramble to "be enough".
This is not easy...and truthfully, thus far, only semi-successful. This "give more than you get" theme goes really deep for me. It's gonna be a discipline. And hard work.
But relationships are always worth it.
- by Carolyn Bergen
I can remember a few moments where it became clear that he was the one I wanted to spend the rest of my life with...where I realized that J was the sort of man who centred his life around treasuring the woman in his life.
We were dating. I had a medical appointment to investigate a lump and I mentioned it to him. J offered to come with me. I declined...I've been going to appointments on my own all my adult life...I can handle 'em. I can. And I certainly wasn't gonna have him come with me...It wasn't that long ago that his wife died after a legion of appointments when her own lump was cancerous. He called the next morning to say that he wanted....no, needed to drive me...to this appointment. He didn't think he could do his own thing that day knowing I was getting checked.
I heard many stories he told in the first months of our friendship...as he told me about his late wife and her concerns. How he rejigged his work so he could be home with her. How he drove her to medical appointments. How he beat himself up in painful ways when he recalled an occasion when he encouraged her to attempt to wait out a fever without going to hospital. He was worn out and couldn't face a frigid evening to wait all night in an emergency room. (Turned out it was a great move, and she thanked him the next morning...but it didn't stop him from feeling the guilt.)
Having watched J from a distance for 15 years, and then in the context of a solid friendship, I knew he was the sort of fellow who was able to connect in kindness to others. He was understanding and empathic with customers...even when they were short with him and rude...he could understand how his illness made his day hard, or her delay in paying the bill was a larger issue of concern.
I was leaping into love with him certainly...but having studied John Gottman, I knew that he had what it took to make a relationship successful.
Everywhere on the planet, Gottman has found, people automatically evaluate every human transaction on a scale of positive to negative. To repair the damage of missing each other’s bids to connect, individuals must accommodate their partner’s needs as well as their own. That, says Gottman, is the measure of trust—the degree to which you believe your partner has your interests in mind and can listen to you nondefensively, even if you can’t stand each other in the moment. It is the single most important factor that takes a marriage beyond the fabled seven-year breakup point.
- by Carolyn Bergen
A few weeks before my April wedding, a professional woman who I'd recently gotten to know asked me, "Were you happy being single?"
I floundered for a response and babbled on in a scrambled fashion for a few minutes and then finally had the insight to ask her, "Where does that question come from?"
And she said something like this: "My single friends and I have seen you speaking and counselling and living your life as a confident, single woman. We used you as a reference point to say that we don't need a man to live a full and productive life. You looked happy and fulfilled. It was good to know that you were single, because, in a way, you were one of us, and we liked that. And now that you are getting married, we feel like you are joining the, 'married side' which has us feeling a little abandoned...and maybe like you are thinking it is better to be married...and so...I had to ask."
Sigh...I stammered and stuttered a bit more with her. I'm trying again with an answer that is a bit more thoughtful:
Yes, I was happy being single. I believe that ultimately, I am a person that pursues joy more than happiness. Joy is not a function of circumstance but of mindset. (I remind myself that a year after winning the lottery or a year after becoming a paraplegic, after a catastrophic accident, the lottery winners are only slightly happier than the paraplegics).
I've learned by personal and professional experience that being in a destructive marriage is debilitating. I desperately didn't want my marriage to end...but it did. My first six months being single were scary and hard and difficult..but much easier than my last six months of being married. It was a relief to not be married in my circumstance.
I put on a ring shortly after I became single again...a simple gold band engraved with a reference to my faith and my Junior Tribe Member's (JTM) names on it. (I still wear it actually). It served to remind me of what was real and important in my life...it grounded me as to my primary values and priorities regardless of life's circumstances. Where I was at in life was not going to define my level of life satisfaction. Striving to maintain alignment with my values I knew would be deeply enriching.
Yes, I loved parts of being single. I am an introvert, and loved going to see whatever movie I wanted to on a Friday night with no need to negotiate or collaborate on a decision. I could decide all sorts of things without having to consult...colour of shower curtain, vacation destination, what we would have for supper, what I would do on the weekend. I ate sushi, because I love sushi. I like my own company.
I loved the opportunity to pursue interests. Being in a good marriage takes a lot of time...that's just being practical. It's important to connect and spend time with one's spouse. Without a spouse I had many hours in the evenings and weekends to prepare lectures, grade papers, write blogs, build our counselling centre, work on speeches I was asked to give. I simply wouldn't have had the time to develop my career in the way I have had I been married. I like what I do...so having the hours to do it was a gift.
There were other unexpected gifts in singleness...I had a close relationship with my JTM's, and we developed unique and special traditions that developed out of our unique life circumstances. Our annual Christmas Stocking Extravaganza Experience, the Sunday night America's Funniest Video suppers, the hours in the car driving them to sports--somewhat overwhelming at the time, and infinitely precious in hindsight.
But I'll admit I was lonely. This is a couples' world, and often I would hear later that good "couple friends" had gotten together for dinner and cards...and I realized I was never invited. Families would go on vacations together...and single parent families rarely get invited along for these kind of events.
Some days I would have a hard day at work...and there was generally no one to listen to me vent...and no one to give me a hug, that might not have fixed the situation, but would have made me feel a lot better.
Single parenting is not for the faint of heart...parenting is best a tag team sport and when there is no one to spell you off, there are moments that aren't pretty. Times when I would have nothing left...but still had to step up to the plate and do what was needed.
Being 100% responsible for mortgage, taxes, bills and all that goes along with running a household was daunting. And a lot of work. But it had me discover how strong I was. I liked feeling that strong feeling and was grateful for the opportunity to experience it.
I hadn't planned on meeting J. In fact, because his late wife had the same first name and same profession as I, I actively avoided him. We had our first long walk the day I came home from the trip to drop my youngest JTM at university.
For 10 years I had worked to make my life such that my JTM's would have a happy and healthy home environment..to give them a safe family to live in, and to venture out from. I was dreading coming home from dropping my JTM at his dorm at the university. In the best sort of way, I was being fired from "hands on parenting" and I was terrified. For years, my life had focused on getting to the finish line of getting my JTM's all growed up...and I had no idea what came next. I had vague notions of book clubs, and gym memberships, season tickets to the theatre and professional goals but the empty expanse of time ahead without driving kids around, making endless meals, and all the day to day things that moms do scared me.
But I knew I would make it work, and I knew I would be content. I wondered if some day I might marry again, but I knew the odds were against it, and I was determined to make a good life for myself. I had adjusted to single mom of small children, now I would adjust to single woman with adult children.
But that never had a chance. I got home from the West Coast at 5:00 pm and at 7:30 pm I went for a long walk with a new friend. That walk was repeated several nights later, then regularly, and a new friend became a good friend who developed into my spouse...the love of my life.
Am I happy now? Heck, YES!!
I know it's only been four months...and you may think the newlywed glow is still skewing my perspective, but I love being married. But it's not about being married...it's about being married to J.
It's not about simply being married, it's about being married in a relationship that is life giving.
I'd promised myself a long time ago that I would stay happily single rather than be unhappily married.
I didn't want to compromise my quality of life to be able to have a man/any old guy in my life. Life is too precious to find a guy just to couple up. I wanted my married life to be better than my single life...and I had a really good life. Marriage in my 40's would require major readjustments, and I wouldn't do it lightly. A man does not complete a woman.
The sort of relationship I wanted and the man I dreamed of seemed unlikely. It was gonna be quite the man that would have me feeling like the great life I led would be bettered by being married to him.
I didn't know if he existed.
J is loving and kind...he is so slow to anger that I can't wrap my head around it. He is patient and loving. He's interested in what I am interested in...when he hears about something I'm learning about, he looks it up to become familiar with it. He has made it his mission to be calm and trustworthy for those times when, because of my past, I become fearful and have questions. He doesn't mock or become impatient...he smiles and enjoys the opportunity to show me that he's there for me. He tells me often that he has thought of and prayed for me.
I matter to him.
He's clear that he wants me to feel like his "queen". His eyes light up when I walk into the room because seeing me makes him happy. He thinks I'm beautiful. He brings me lattés in the morning, and goes for walks with me at night. He shops and cleans...there are things done around the house without me making them happen...I still marvel at that--after all those years of single parenting, it feels like magic.
We share the burden of household finances. Not being completely responsible for absolutely everything all the time...sharing that with a partner who loves to bear the load...well, sometimes I feel like I'm on vacation.
I feel cherished and valued. I am loved. He's got my six. He hugs me at the end of a hard day...and listens to me rant. He hugs me at the end of a great day to celebrate. He hugs me at the end of everyday, just because.
That's a wonderfully powerful feeling. We are created for connection, and a rich and close marriage is a fulfillment of something that we are created for.
But it's a boatload of hard, too!
I have eaten sushi rarely in the last months. A busy family means I am making meat and potatoes for a crew.
I am delighted by bonus children...but the gentle negotiation of relationships with Junior Tribe Members whom I love as my own, but for whom I am a "bonus parent' means constant mental gymnastics. I am constantly considering my approach--to be loving and respectful, to be close but not assuming of closeness, to care but not to smother, to be mothering but not their mother.
While I was on my own, I didn't have to face the painful shadows from Relationship Past. Now, in close relationship, I experience stress and distress, questioning his motives and mine far more out of what I remember than what is happening now. While it is healing to experience a close relationship, it is also challenging to be reminded of relationship dynamics long forgotten. Healing but hard.
I've had to let a lot of furniture and familiar things go. We merged two households worth of stuff into one...that's a lot of letting go...inevitably loss and grief. We have two groups of friends...and with added parenting, I see my friends less than I used to. I read less books, take less naps and listen to less audiobooks. Bringing in "new good" has involved letting go of "old good". Grief of any kind is hard.
We're figuring out how to do life together...finances, vacations etc. While most of this is going smoother than I would have thought, his relaxed approach to life sometimes feels too loosey-goosey for me. I long to nail things down to plan, and he lives freely in the now. That's why I married him...but sometimes it drives me crazy.
I blog less...far less. There is less time for writing...he frees me to go off and write, but being newly married well takes a lot of time. When there is a misunderstanding, I work to drop whatever I'm doing to allow us to have a conversation to clear the air. We have to get to know each other's rhythms and preferences. And strong love needs time to marinate...long hours of walking and holding hands, or sitting on the porch and chatting. A good relationship is a long road of intentional investment.
When you've each known tragedy and are fortunate to find love again, there is sweet patience. A dirty sink that might have bothered me years ago is now are a sign of a husband who is around. It is precious to wake up every day to a man who wants to be with me...it's so much easier to major on the majors, and minor on the minors when you've each had a broken heart from the death of a marriage.
I didn't want "just" a marriage...I wanted a good marriage. One where together, we would be greater than each of us could be alone. Where we would celebrate each other as individuals as well as being part of this pair. Where the sum of us together we would be greater than the sum of us as parts. That would involve him being just the right fit for me. And me prepared to do the work of being the woman who would make a marriage be good.
I'm in a life that I could not have imagined a year ago. A year ago I was a happy single woman. Now I'm a delighted and thrilled married woman.
- by Lindsey Walsh
Today I’m drawing inspiration (forgive the pun) from Calvin and Hobbes and its creator Bill Waterson. Sadly, I don’t have permission from United Press Syndicate to put the strip up on our web page – Hobbes charges a pretty hefty appearance fee.
Sorry about that - it’d be awesome to have it up here.
But we still have two options that don’t involve breaking copyright law.
(then come right back, please!) :)
Simply read on! I’ve transcribed this strip below. (In case you haven’t got a lot of time, rest assured: it’s only about as long as a Haiku. For those of you who haven’t got a lot of time and who don’t know what a Haiku is, it’s about as long as a Tweet….)
Scene: Daytime. Calvin and Parents driving over a bridge in the family car. At the foot of the bridge, a sign reads: “Load Limit 10 Tons”
Calvin: How do they know the load limit on Bridges?
Dad: They drive bigger and bigger trucks over the bridge until it breaks. Then they weigh the last truck and rebuild the bridge.
Calvin: Oh. I should’ve guessed.
Mom (to Dad): Dear, if you don’t know the answer, just tell him!
I have read this comic many times over the years. It stirs up mixed emotions for me.
They respected my childhood curiosity. To them, being curious was natural and necessary.
I remember being very young and asking questions at the dinner table. Invariably, my mom would jump up and run to the shelf of New World Encyclopedias in our living room. She’d grab the right volume and page through it to find answers.
That’s one way she joined me in my curiosity. She made it safe to ask questions. And she demonstrated that even mom’s don’t know everything.
Unlike lots of adults, it seems my parents get more and more Curious every year. And my wife and I do our best to pass on this spirit of Curiosity to our son.
So, that’s why I find this comic reassuring: It reminds me that I have parents who tune into me, who acknowledge and embrace my curiosity, who do their best to listen.
Who in your life helps you know it’s ok to ask questions? Who makes it safe to be brave enough to say, “I don’t know”?
I don’t know about you, but a bunch of things come together in this comic to make me smile.
Firstly, there’s the look on the dad’s face as he tells this outrageous fib to his kid. He is smiling the purest, most innocent smile. No smirk, no snickering, just a joyful expression.
And the line itself. “They drive bigger and bigger trucks over the bridge until it breaks” – to me that’s smart-funny. It’s a witty line.
In the 19th century Calvin’s dad could’ve riffed with Oscar Wilde. In the 21st century, he could win an Epic Rap Battle.
Though Calvin’s dad, despite his wit wouldn’t do either, of course.
I don’t mean to put too fine a point on it, but it seems to me that his witticism collapses the very bridges his son is trying to build.
Meanwhile, Calvin, is so jam packed with Curiosity he’s bursting with it.
That’s why his hair looks like an explosion: Calvin is literally bursting with Curiosity. And like all kids, what Calvin really wants is for someone to burst with curiosity with him. To join him in his wonderment and to help him make sense of the world around him.
At minimum, joining with a child in their curiosity really is a multi-stage process:
Or, if you don’t know (or are willing to pretend not to know for a while), team up with the child to find out the answer to their question.
This does a lot of things:
In short, save your cynicism for the next time a teenaged stranger asks you to pick him up a six pack “Cuz I left my ID at home, man”.
Or when you glance at the magazines at the check-out line. “Really?! I could have a body like that in only 6 weeks?! Yeah, right!”
Young people haven’t learned to fear Curiosity. They don’t know yet that it’s a sign of weakness to not know stuff or to be really, super passionate about the world around them. They need us to acknowledge that Curiosity is human kind’s truest form of engagement with the wonderment of the world. (It also helps us to know stuff we don’t already know, like how to put on our pants without getting both legs in the same leg-hole.)
Without Curiosity, our questions harden.
They become rhetorical: Why did you do that? (Meaning: Only a right and proper idiot would do that.)
Without acknowledgement that Curiosity matters, we become defensive or snap back in anger.
Or maybe we simply shut down and shut up.
For me, Calvin’s response is the saddest of all:
“Oh,” he says,
“I should’ve guessed.”
So, on behalf parents and of all of our inner-children I offer this correction:
[And feel free to try responding like this, if you don’t already, next time a child asks you a question.]
“Calvin, you asked a clear question. You saw the sign that said “Load Limit 10 Tons”. You read it correctly. And you wanted to know how they got that number 10 Tons. I don’t know the answer, but your curiosity makes me feel curious too….
Do you have any guesses, Calvin, about how they got know the load limit for that bridge? What are some ways to figure out how strong a bridge is? [I’m sure Calvin has lots of ideas - I would have when I was his age.]
…Maybe when we get home, Calvin, we can look it up…
…in the New World Encyclopedia.
In my next post I’ll write about how we can fully embrace Curiosity in ourselves and in the children in our lives.
After all, without the Courage to be Curious, we’re left in the dark valley…
...weighing the wreckage.
- by Carolyn Bergen
I heard a few stories from a few friends in the last few days (not from clients, btw--I don't ever tell client stories on the blog):
A woman in her early 30's tells the story of her parents divorcing when she is her teens. Several months after the separation, her dad called the children together to say to them: "I am moving away. There is nothing for me in this town."
She lived for years "knowing" that she didn't count. That she didn't register as mattering to him for him to stay in the town. She was part of "nothing".
It took her many years to recognize the cost of the divorce on her father in the small town...that his career and his friendships and his life had been so affected that staying wasn't an option. As an adult she had a perspective she did not have as a teen.
The story she told herself about her dad's departure was painful and mean. It led to years of seeking approval and value from men in ways that cost her. She lived her life to be noticed and valued in ways that were desperate. She ignored her inherent value as a human being. (And I can't begin to tell you here about all the ways she is an incredibly lovely woman and it blows my mind and hurts my heart that she drew the meaning she did from her father's departure.)
The pejorative comments from another years ago has the danger of creeping into my incredibly loving relationship my husband...unless I let myself explore the discomfort beyond my initial gut response of refusing his kindness.
My new husband is a sweetheart. He loves me, and he seems to cheerfully choose to use every opportunity to show it. He asked me on Thursday what time I wanted my latté the next morning. I told him I didn't want him to bring me a latté. He asked me why...I wouldn't tell him, I just repeated that I didn't want him to bring me me latté the next day.
He asked me if I didn't want the beverage or if I was just not letting him bring me one.
I have a commitment to not be deceptive to him...so I told him that I knew that Friday was an early morning for both of us. We had had a couple of late nights. And if he was to bring me a latté, then he would have to get up even earlier to make it and I wasn't willing to have him do that.
At another time in my life, I was told I was "high maintenance"...and trust me, that was not intended as a compliment. I was told I was wanting to avoid being needy and demanding...so, in general, I spend energy making sure that I am not "high maintenance". Refusing a latté is one way I can appear lower maintenance.
However, when he pressed me for details, the story became overt...and then we had to deal with it. I can decide to own my story; by reflecting on it, remembering it, mulling it over, exploring it's significance. By trying to determine other perspectives that are possible with the passage of time and growth and other input, I can choose to dig deep, draw on my courage, and decide its impact on me.
It's uncomfortable to be in the space of exploring the underbelly of one's thoughts...but the power of these thoughts on how we live our lives is so often underestimated. An unexamined life leads us to be pulled away from our authenticity, and away from deep connection with others.
(Blush) The above poster has strong language...makes us want to avoid curiosity even...because it's hard to wade into our own sh*t.
That memory of being called "high maintenance" still affects me, but it doesn't have to hijack me, and determine my actions and my feelings.
I get to choose my actions and my feelings once I know what I'm dealing with.
All three stories above required the experiencer to be honest with some painful stories...to marinate in the discomfort in order to better process it. Lotsa ways to do that: write about it, go to therapy with it, walk with a friend--and really be honest about the way we wrote the story about the story.
Once the story I tell myself about it is identified, I can wrestle with it...rumbling with truths and issues of worthiness and authenticity, shame and vulnerability...I can do some of this on my own, but often it is with friends (with no small coincidence, often over a latté), or a colleague, or my husband, or with my readers on this here blog. For me, writing is an excellent way to find out what I'm really thinking. :)
So...this wrestling and rumbling and reckoning...discovering our deepest longings and our deepest truths and our deepest hurts...and recognizing how we have allowed old and painful stories to pull us away from who we truly are--this is painful stuff. It's easy to feel there isn't time for it, or judge it as useless navel-gazing, or any number of excuses that save us from the challenging battles with our own internal hijackers.
But to not rumble and reckon is to lose out on the learning and the growing and the releasing from the power of the crappy stories that are just beyond our grasp unless we stretch hard to grab them and pin'em down to understand 'em.
It is often through relationship that we receive our deepest pain...and thus it is through relationship that we often receive our deepest healing.
On Thursday night, I took a deep breath and told my husband the time I was getting up the next morning and what time he could bring me the latté.
I told him that I loved his lattés and I was also scared about what bad thing it might say about me if he brought me one. I told him that it felt selfish and mean of me to expect him to be kind to me when he is tired and going out of his way early in the morning. I told him that I was worried he would love me less when he did nice things for me because it would burn him out. I told him it's hard for me to let him bring me a morning latté. (even if waking up to a kiss and a latté has to be one of the absolutely finest luxuries possible in all of life).
He gently told me that if he offered, it was because this was something he wanted to do. If he was offering, I could decline it if I didn't want one, but to decline it to save him the trouble wasn't fair to him.
And he told me that he was glad I told him all that. And he told me that he wouldn't offer if he didn't want to, so I should know if he offered, it was part of the way he would have fun in his day.
The rumble isn't over for me...I will have to remind myself of this conversation the next time he offers an early morning latté. But I'm thinking it will be easier to stay connected in meaningful relationship with my husband knowing what he said and what I've worked through.
...and once again, Brené Brown puts words and concepts around ideas that I have swirling around in my head. Her new book, Rising Strong is now out on store bookshelves ready for you to snap it up, and devour it...time to start rumbling and reckoning with your own stories!! (All the above pictures are snaps from her book...you'll love the pages that are behind the posters!)
- by Sabrina Friesen
Sigh...summer is such a beautiful time isn't it? And with it comes altered schedules...Carolyn's writing routine is off and she will be returning to regular writing on the blog soon. For now, another beautiful blog by therapist and writer, Sabrina Friesen...
I’ve always been a word girl, finding solace in the words of others and making sense of my own experience through writing as well. What that means for me is that I’m also a pretty big fan of music, particularly songs with soul. Not as in ‘soul music’ so much, but songs that embody meaningful story.
Basically, I’m a folk music junkie. I am pretty sure I could chronicle my life for you in song, starting with a little Def Leopard, Heart, and Bryan Adams with a side of Sharon, Lois, and Bram. I’d like to think my tastes have improved a bit since I was subjected to the music my mother loved.
As a girl I would often sit at our cassette player in the living room listening to one tape after another. Now I listen while I run, drive, or in my kitchen as I cook. Now I don’t know about you but every now and then I come across a song that is just so...striking.
Often the lyrics are a bit mysterious, and they almost always tell a story.
As a ridiculously unmusical person I appreciate music simply as an uninformed listener. I don’t understand the meter or how harmony works, or what a key change really entails.
There is something about a good song that stirs up feeling, and sometimes my insides just say yes!
If you’d been in my van at all this summer while driving about, you’d undoubtedly have come across me listening to this song by Patrick Watson:
Before you think I’m some sort of song interpreting guru – let me be clear, I don’t really get it. But the lyrics have been running through my head for weeks, and I feel like I’m on the edge of something each time I hear it.
There was a house halfway 'round the world
And I was invited in for a small taste of gin
There was a hallway a thousand birds long
But the biggest one of all was in a
Cage too small
I asked the caretaker cause he was the Maker
Looked at me and laughed, took another sip from his glass and said
Open up your ears and heart
You put a big bird in a small cage it'll sing you a song
There was something about this picture of a bird stuffed into a tiny cage that, even for this non-animal lover, was heart wrenchingly devastating. The image of this caged creature somehow seared itself on my heart, and the sorrow of that stuck place felt like a weight in my chest. This lamenting bird imprisoned, wedged in, and unable to move in the way it was intended.
I listened to it over, and over, and over again.
I know that one.
I don’t know if it’s quite proper to call this a ‘universal’ feeling, but I wonder if most of us can relate to feeling imprisoned in one way or another. Maybe we haven’t been physically restrained, but..
And so when caged, we respond. The bird sings, some shut down, others get angry. Some pretend they fit the cage and try to make it work.
As I ponder my responses to these spaces, I think I’ve managed to do a combination of all of these. And I can’t help but wonder, if the door was opened – does the caged bird even know how to fly?
You put a big bird in a small cage it'll sing you a song....
Only the song doesn't end there.
You put a big bird in a small cage it'll sing you a song.
That we all love to sing along
To the sound of the bird that mourns.
This part nearly did me in.
First because it is simply sung so beautifully, but mostly because the contrast between the loveliness of the song and the ugliness of the reality it speaks of is so profound. This part calls to us as witnesses, as those observing the stuck and captive place of another.
It also suggests something smacking of sinister...that we on some level enjoy the misery of the caged creature.Yuck.
I have been the caged bird, and I have enjoyed singing along with the sounds of other captives.
- by Lindsey Walsh
While Carolyn is away on vacation, Lindsey Walsh steps in again to respond to questions about emotional parts and how they interact with each other...
After reading recent blog posts, my friend Alejandra e-mailed me the following question:
“While y'all are talking about Inside Out, can anyone please explain to me what should I make of Mom's "Chief Emotion" being Sadness? […] Is this meant to be "contentment"?”
Thanks Alejandra! This is a vital question.
The short answer is: Inside Out, treats our Inner Worlds like an orchestra without a conductor.
Like children in a home with no nurturing adult.
Like you without YOU.
And sometimes we do feel that way. Sometimes we experience our emotions like kids without caregivers.
And most of us can agree that those are the hard times.
Luckily, the kids are not actually in charge. Or, if they are today, they don’t need to be tomorrow.
One of the most influential Family Therapists (and a hero of mine), Richard Schwartz, puts it this way:
“Everyone has a Self that is different from the parts [emotions]. [Self] is the place from which a person observes, experiences, and interacts with the parts and with other people.”
Just like a conductor has a different role from the musicians in an orchestra, my Self (Soul or Spirit) is different from my emotions, or what Schwartz and others call our “parts”.
You’ve maybe even said things like, “A part of me gets so angry when she says that.” Or, “A part of me feels so small when he treats me that way.”
That’s exactly it!
That’s the key idea that we forget sometimes: There is a “me” and there are the “parts of me”. There is my “Self” and there is my Anger, my Sadness, my Fear, my Disgust.
In the same way that the conductor of an orchestra is different from the musicians, the Self is different from the emotions, the parts of us. Self has a role and a responsibility to see the whole picture and to act with centredness, courage, compassion, and creativity.
Just as a cellist is not responsible for the tempo the trombone plays at, it is not my Fear’s job to soothe me. My Fear has one job: To alert me to real and potential danger and to protect me and those around me from danger.
I cannot - and should not - rely on Fear to nurture my child or listen to my wife’s day at work.
Fear cannot nurture.
And though Fear can listen, the sort of listening it does is partial at best. You know this from experience.
Fear cannot nurture or listen with empathy. These are not his jobs and, when he tries to do these jobs, things go poorly.
Very, very poorly.
Fear’s job is to remind me that my son GOT TO THE TOP OF THE KITCHEN STOOL AND IS LOOKING WOBBLY!!!
In short, Fear is a vital player, a valuable member of the team.
Fear is not a conductor.
Children need caregivers; orchestras need conductors.
Just as it is always my job to nurture my son, to provide him with love and guidance, to demonstrate respect and love for his mother and our family,
it is always my job to nurture my emotions. To appreciate my emotions. To learn from them.
But to never be led by them.
My emotions are the players in my orchestra. When they trust me to lead, we can make harmonious and beautiful music. When I leave the podium – chaos!
My emotions are the children in my inner-family.
And I am their father. When I can listen to, hold and soothe my own deep emotions--that is when they help me lead a rich life. That is when I can truly be in with my family and friends and clients. Then I can be compassionate and courageous enough to love my family and to serve my community with all my heart.
Visiting gravesite with my new husband, as he grieves his late wife. Lotsa big feelings...what to do with them all?
And announcing...Carolyn Klassen...not a new therapist, but a new name.
A look at what Dr. Sue Johnson says about Sex and Connection. The new science...learn about it!