Family Gardening Goal setting Moms Perspective Problem Solving Relationships

Flower Child

In reviewing my blog page recently, I noticed it’s been almost a year since I last posted. Does that mean I didn’t write any? Not at all. I have many in the works but what seems to happen is that I complete 50% of the blog post, not sure I love it…79% of a blog, want to finish strong…92% percent of a blog, still, I might want to do some edits. I have many ideas and yet 2020 clouded my mind and, in some ways, diminished my joy in writing. Will what I have to say be important? Will my readers wonder if I am living in a bubble and have missed all the chaos of the year? Or will I just dislike the content of my own thoughts?

2020 invited me to do something different, less stressful than writing and yet creative and so I decided to create an Instagram page (@merrietherapy) where I would position my wooden unisex people into amusing thoughtful poses with tips that might inspire, increase coping, or add a spark of joy to someone’s day. At least that was my goal. I have to say I enjoyed this project and generated 100 different tips during the calendar year. My favorite one is the picture in this blog. Interestingly, I took this picture at my mother’s home. Her small, compact flower beds were, in fact, designed by me with flowers from my own perennial collection.

My mother (I call her “Mom”) is 82 years old and long past gardening. In fact, she has Meniere’s disease and can’t perform the ritual of bending and stooping which is so lovingly necessary to garden. So, I have worked in her flower beds from time to time trying to give her something lovely to look at as she leaves for, at this time of COVID-19, doctors’ appointments only. At any rate, I am a fan of the English garden and the seemingly uncoordinated and random look, with a variety of colors. 2020 saw the black-eye Susans take over one area of Mom’s flowerbed. So lovely.

It is true that one person’s idea of beauty is not necessarily another’s. It turns out that my mom does not like black-eyed Susans. When I mentioned how lovely they were this year, Mom said “I don’t like them, they look too wild.” Cue: stunned silence. No, she was not aware of my award-winning photograph and how I had proudly posted it on my Instagram page. “Mom, do you not get the English garden look?” I wanted to inquire, but I instead I only said, “I really like them,” to which she reminded me of her dislike.

Families can be hard. Moms too. I mentally resolved to redesign her flower beds, along with my life and my blogs. New goals, you get the idea. I made a plan which included moving many of the perennial plants back to my wild English garden. As it turns out, my black-eyed Susans had all but died out, so this, I thought to myself, “it will all work out fine.” I also decided I would find Mom some plants and flowers she would enjoy. I am not sure if I mentioned that, in my lifetime, my mother has never been a gardener or planted a single flower that I have known about, but she does enjoy nature.

It should be noted that I am not always in the habit of exploring my thoughts aloud with others, and I tend to strategize in my mind before I roll out a new plan, in this case, the plan about Mom’s garden as stated above. So, just as everyone in 2020 was doing, I was busy with many things including my work as a therapist. No, I hadn’t forgotten about the black-eyed Susans, I had just left them for another day.

I sometimes underestimate my mom. I went to see her a few days after our initial conversation about her garden. It seems she has become a gardener after all! She decided to sit in a chair with a pair of scissors and cut all the flower heads off of the black-eyed Susans…well, at least the ones she could reach. This looks like a very bad haircut. But there is also something amusing about it too. Perhaps she didn’t think I was listening to her. She seemed pretty proud to tell me, “I told you I didn’t like those. I trimmed them myself!” Good on you, Mom!

What is the moral of this story? People are different. As it turns out, I really like black-eyed Susans all crowded together and reaching for the sun with their ever-cheerful dispositions. My mom, on the other hand, does not like them. They feel too random and disorganized in her garden, and most likely in her mind as well. Things don’t have to be perfect, and that is really OK! Even though it could probably be better, I think I will actually post this blog. It’s about my real life, and what could be wrong with that?


He is an ‘Acts of Service’ Guy

I am a couple’s therapist. Working with couples who are struggling with connection is a rare privilege. Mostly, we all want to feel love and connection. When there is a disruption in our connection then our signals, our acts of love, to one another can be missed or even misinterpreted. For example, in my office a wife or girlfriend may say, “He never… (fill in the blank here).” The translation is often that he doesn’t do the thing that would make her feel most loved.

This couple is missing an opportunity for enhanced emotional connection in their relationship. She says she wants him to “really” listen to her, see all her hard work in the home, sit and watch a movie, maybe a chick flick, notice and tell her that she looks really nice in her new dress and maybe even buy her some flowers every once in a while.

He says, “What do you mean? I just waxed the car, I take out the trash, do the dishes, mow the yard, and I picked up the kids from school on Tuesday last week?” His list can go on…. but she dismisses him by saying, “Yeah, but that is the same stuff I do too!”

That’s when I sometimes say, “Oh, he is an acts of service guy.” She says, “What do you mean?” Or maybe, “Yes, I know that is one of those love language things.” The conversation may proceed with what all those acts of service really mean to him. Within her criticism of him lies one truth.

It’s not that he doesn’t want to please her; he does. He also knows he loves all the little things she does for him and so he wants to reciprocate. These efforts may represent the things he saw his dad do, or maybe never do for his mom. They take energy and effort and, in his mind… it’s for her. He doesn’t know that she isn’t recording his efforts as love driven; she thinks they are life driven. What he may be missing is that, while this may his love language, it is not necessarily hers.

There have been a lot of things written about the popular book by Gary Chapman called The Five Love Languages. If you have read it, then you already know the list goes something like this:

1. Words of Affirmation

2. Quality Time

3. Receiving Gifts

4. Acts of Service

5. Physical Touch

Words of Affirmation are the ways we say, “I appreciate you, you did a great job, thanks for your kindness, you are so important to me, I can see your value in our relationship by the way you did… (fill in the blank) and I love you for it.” For some of us this will make our hearts sing. We will feel seen and loved.

Quality Time is the way we spend time together and what that means to each of us. Perhaps we travel together and talk on our journeys, join in each other’s hobbies as a participant or observer, work on projects together, sit quietly in a room and read or watch television together. We show up in the relationship by doing what we feel makes that time “quality.” A husband might score big relationship points by watching what she wants to watch even if he doesn’t really want to know How to Lose a Guy in 10 days, why Magnolias are Steel, or what a Big Fat Greek Wedding has to do with anything.

Receiving Gifts – how could anyone lose on that one? Some of us love a gift. It says, “You were thinking about me and spent time to choose this gift just for me; I feel special and loved by you.” However, gifts that are given as a substitute for time spent on the relationship or as an “I’m sorry” for act that has caused pain may not meet love language criteria. If flowers are purchased and they disrupt the budget, they may not be viewed with the intent they are given.

Acts of Service is the love language of action. I want to show you my love by doing things for you. This gift can be underestimated by the receiver and over estimated by the giver. If he is an “acts of service guy” and you don’t get it, there will be a miscommunication. When I understand the true meaning, I may choose to adjust my view and my response to this love language.

Physical Touch is just that. Touch is linked to brain development in infants. It connects and grounds relationships. Perhaps you enjoy being touched, holding hands, giving or receiving hugs, being kissed hello or goodbye. Many clients talk about touch as the glue in their relationship. This is often especially true of men who express and receive love through physical connection.

In my practice, I have found that many people have one or two primary love languages and that, often, we show others our love language and miss the opportunity to know or demonstrate their love language. I often talk about ‘participating in the happiness’ of others, and one way to do this is by learning about their love language.  Here are some ideas:

*Read the book: The Five Love Languages

*Take an online survey

*Identify your love language

*Identify the love language of your person

*Talk about love languages

*Make intentional efforts to love your person using their love language

Relationships are hard work. To maintain a sense of connection and closeness requires purposeful focus. Speaking the love language of our person is one way to stay connected and add value to our relationships. It’s worth a conversation, and once you know what makes the heart of your person sing, you will be even more inclined to honor them in their love language.

Couples Therapy Goal setting Intention Relationships

Where Do I End and You Begin?

A cat and dog nervously befriending each other

We all need relationships. Family, friends, and intimate partner relationships drive our universal needs for love and connection. Even if we have been hurt hundreds of times, we will still long for a relationship where our needs for love, connection and acceptance are met and, hopefully, where we can meet the needs of another. How do I know where I end and you begin? Healthy relationships need boundaries to create safety and allow for growth. Healthy boundaries share these qualities:

  1. Being able to assess trust in the relationship
  2. Knowing my limits in relationships
  3. Emotional Safety
  4. Physical Safety
  5. The freedom to be myself

Trust is a key feature in healthy relationships. Depending on our life experiences, we may, or may not trust easily. This may have worked well for us or it may have allowed us to be hurt by others. If you have struggled in this area, it may be helpful to think of trust as a gift that is earned slowly. About new friends you may ask yourself ‘Does this person act in a trustworthy manner? Is this person known to be trustworthy by others including family and friends? Is this person honest and how do I know the answer to that question?  Does he/she talk negatively of others?’ Honest assessments will help us to make better decisions about who we choose to trust.

If we struggle with trust in relationships this may be linked to personal needs for safety; this can be especially true if we have experienced trust violations.  We may feel that we can only trust ourselves and that others will ultimately let us down or betray our trust. A general sense of mistrust will lead to feelings of disconnection, isolation and loneliness. Finding persons we can trust will enhance our lives and is a worthwhile effort.  Sometime, working with a therapist can help us restore our ability to trust others.

Time is a factor for long-lasting and trusted relationships. You cannot rush the process.

We might ask ourselves, ‘How do I define myself in relationship with you? Where is my place and how do I hold it when we are together so that I don’t lose myself in this relationship?’ We want to be treated with dignity and respect. One way is to use limits for myself and for others. These are road signs that tell others to stop or to proceed. Examples of limit setting may be:

  1. I can decide how much or how little time I spend with you.
  2. I can say no with or without explanation.
  3. I cannot talk about this subject, but I am grateful for your support.
  4. I do not want you to share the contents of this conversation with anyone.
  5. I would like to receive hugs, or I would not feel comfortable being touched.

Perhaps the most disheartening thing about limit setting or use of boundaries in relationships is when others do not respect them. I always encourage my clients to have a plan that they may follow if others cannot respect limits or boundaries. Each of us is responsible for maintaining our boundaries. For example, if you are not treated with dignity and respect, you could:

  1. Restate the boundary perhaps using different language. This is sometimes called the “broken record” method.
  2. Use an “if-then” statement, e.g. “if you continue to raise your voice with me, then I will hang up the phone.”
  3. Leave the conversation, leave the physical space you are in together, or ultimately leave the relationship.

Don’t underestimate the value of acting on the limits that you set for self and others.

Emotional safety is another important feature in healthy relationships. It means we can share our feelings, be assertive, and be interdependent with one another. Mistakes can and will be made without shaming or being shamed. We can be different and that is OK.  We can be sensitive to each other’s feelings and have empathy for them.

Physical safety in relationships is about making physical boundaries clear to others. How much physical space do you need when talking with others? Studies show that the average is about three feet unless that person is a trusted loved one or friend and then the distance may be less. Physical safety boundaries respect the rights and needs of self and others. They utilize compromise and negotiation in the relationship and include asking permission to touch others when their boundaries may be unknown to us.

In a healthy relationship we get to be our authentic selves. What a relief!  We don’t have to hide our thoughts.  We can share our emotions and be open and honest about our needs. We can see the value in others even if they have different views and needs in relationships.   

We all need relationships.  While no one can do or be the perfect other, healthy relationships continue to evolve and bring us a sense of belonging and connection. Author Donald Miller wrote, “When you stop expecting people to be perfect, you can like them for who they are” Now, that is my kind of friend!