OLD LOVE LETTERS FROM YOUR PAST: GOOD FOR YOUR MARRIAGE.

keep old love letters

I’d forgotten all about them, so when my husband plunked down dusty, dirty old boxes for me to go through, I inwardly groaned at more work.  What I found caused me to turn off the TV, plop down on the floor, and get teary.

Some things are personal.  It’s okay, healthy even, to keep private some things, especially from your partner.  You disrespect all three of you by telling all, or worse: using an old relationship to make your partner angry or jealous.  What passed between you and an old love is about as private as it gets and ought to be kept that way – unless it’s an STD in which case your partner knows something anyway.

Here’s why those almost 50-year old letters are meaningful to my marriage today.

That was then.  Old love letters bookmark a time never to be recaptured.  Memories are wrapped in words that are still breathtaking, kind of like a favorite old movie watched over and over again.  That was long before kids and careers, mortgage payments and personal tragedies – all the water that’s gone under the bridge.  Anyone who’s tried knows wishing doesn’t make it so.  If you have the chance to go to a school reunion, take it.  It’ll make you careful about what you wish for and maybe keep you from trading one used car for another.

20/20 Vision.  How many times have we wished for hindsight?  Knew then what we know now?  Old love letters give you an opportunity to jump between realities; to see that your life has become far richer in experience than what it was then.  You wouldn’t make the same decisions today because you’re more knowing and because you know more, too.  Seeing clearly isn’t just about having new glasses; they only work when you wear them.  Maybe the past gets romanticized because it was so free of all we see and know today.  Most of what happened long ago was drama without impactful consequences; no wonder those were the best days of our lives.

An ego-boost.   Those old love letters described things that, ahem, were personal.  Very personal.  After reading them, I’m likely to dial up some oldies, suck in what I can of my tummy, and turn my best side to the mirror.  But, at 60 years old plus, I can’t see much of the hot-looking girl in the picture I hold.   Those letters dialed back the scale, dialed back the clock, and let me be Cinderella waltzing a horizontal dance with someone who’s not the prince of my heart today.  Part of what’s swoon-worthy are the words themselves – I can always be bought that way.  That I was described so beautifully made me feel beautiful every time I read them.  They still do.

Appreciation for today.  My high school years were spent in Hawaii – a place imbued with the honeymoon-like magic of new love – during the powerful and poignant Age of Aquarius.  Juxtaposed with rule bending and breaking was the rule-bound experience of Viet Nam.  But my memories, all these 40+ years later, pumped as they were by the unique history of the late 60s, are no less vivid and meaningful as anyone else’s.  Reminders of the past, like the letters I re-read, show me how much more I have to love now.  And even how much better at it I am.

Didn’t Want Him, Anyway.  Back then, love was pretty black and white; no mortgages, usually no kids, definitely no wisdom.  Today’s love, mature love, knows that love can be fickle and to keep it requires attention and effort.  If I’d gotten on a white horse (or in a VW van) and ridden off with my first love, the scenery would look nothing like it does now.  I like the bourgeois creature comforts most aging hippies fell for, too.  Honestly, while I would’ve made a few changes along this long, long way, starting over with the boy who wrote those heartbreakingly beautiful letters wouldn’t have been one of them.

Having moments of nostalgia and longing for the past are natural.  Keeping those moments alive is part of the romantic, fanciful, non-threatening part in each of us.  Humans are unique in the ability to fully remember the past.  But know that bringing it forward, unaltered, never works.

I finished reading the notes the other night, then broke down the dusty box and put it in the recycle bin.  The few I saved still whisper about what was and will get packed away until I again need to feel delicious.  The touching wish left behind is about gifting the past’s richness to my marriage today.

Kathe Skinner is a Marriage & Family Therapist and Certified Relationship Expert who shares with couples how to keep love alive and growing.  She encourages them to write love letters.  Kathe, and her husband, David, have been married nearing 30 years; their love is shared with cats Lucy and Petey, both of whom send messages in other ways.  In that dusty box Kathe found the first card ever sent to her by David; odd she kept it since it wasn’t romantic at all.

THE BUSINESS OF A TOGETHER BUSINESS

small business logo 1Coming on the exhausted heels of Black Friday, Saturday the 30th is Small Business Saturday®.

As most men will agree, the only thing more bracing than Black Friday shopping is more shopping. This isn’t big-name, big-box stuff.   Small Business Saturday® encourages consumers to SHOP SMALL®.   American Express developed the program as a way to help small businesses market themselves.  While the financial giant’s small biz bolstering is less than selfless, it’s still very cool to encourage spending of which 52% stays within the community.

If you’re a small business owner, like I am, it’s sometimes not so cool to be a business partner with the person who’s also a romantic partner.

1.  Wear another hat.  Lots of relationship problems arise from mixing what are two very distinct entities.  Keeping the purpose of each is absolutely necessary to keeping them both alive.  For example, a business can’t thrive when one partner is trying to undermine the other as a way of “getting back” after a fight.

2.  Keep clear goals.  Is it the purpose of the business to create loving, relaxed time together?  Hardly.  Likewise, it’s deadly to a romantic relationship to bring rude customers, money worries, or business planning into the bedroom.  A top agenda item needs to be agreement on what each of those relationships look like.  Especially who you will look like as a businessperson as opposed to a partner. Who gets to be on top?

3.  Don’t fight in front of customers.  You don’t have to actively argue in front of other people for them to know that something’s wrong. Want customers to walk out?  Bring tension into the room.  However, it’s easier said to keep from having animosity leak out your pores when you’re angry with each other.  For couples who work together having communication skills that work is essential.  If you don’t have ’em, get ’em.  To your accountant; investing in communication classes might even be a deductible business expense!

4.  Leave your children out of it.  It’s often convenient for small business owners to have their children around their business.   What’s especially off-putting is when those kids have roles within the business.  Personally, I don’t want the house cleaner’s eight-year-old doing the vacuuming or playing hopscotch on the tile floor.  Whenever there’s a personal face on your business, treat your customers professionally.

5.  Be professional, not personal.  There’s a line that some business owners cross when it comes to customer relations, especially when the relationship is with one of the business’ owners and not the other.  Giving discounts, freebies, sharing personal information, can set up tension among owners and customers to say nothing of how this kind of practice crosses business and home thresholds.

6.  Remember who you are.  Family expectations start early and run deep.  Both partners need to be absolutely clear about themselves: who they are; what they want for themselves, each other, and the family; and the relative role a family business plays in their lives.  If you inherited a business, be clear on whether you both want in or out.  I’ve counseled partners together and separately about the destructiveness that business can cause to togetherness.

I’m not kidding when I say that learning communication skills isn’t just for a marriage.  Make continuing conversation part of your business plan.  Success in one sphere is intimately tied to the other.  Separating the two will always challenge you.

Kathe & David Skinner have been business partners for the past 14 years, beholden to Being Heard, a business dedicated to teaching and coaching romantic relationships.  They were romantic partners first, married for over 27 years.  They’ve learned, through some prickly times, to keep the two relationships separate.  Kathe is also a Marriage & Family Therapist in addition to be a Certified Relationship Expert.

WOMEN’S LIB IS A LIE

Speaking from a disabled woman’s point of view, living the “lib lie” in relationship simply doesn’t work.

The “lib lie” I’m talking about is putting career before relationship, being damned if I’ll make cacciatore, or being complimented for how I look.

Where was my head all these years.  I’ll tell you where: in the conference room, the kitchen, and in front of the mirror.

Truth be told, I like making cacciatore — and being appreciated for it.  The same as anybody would, including guysfishy.  Liberation doesn’t stop at individual freedom; its true worth is in how liberated our partnership is.  Oh, stop — I’m not talking about three ways.  See, if one partner realizes cultural or family baggage enough to detach a bit from it and the other partner is clueless, the relationship’s pretty lopsided.  But hey, some partners like their partners a tad underdone.

Clueless for real or clueless pretended, either path leads right back to a problem that’s repeated itself for generations.

Sherod Miller, co-founder of Interpersonal Communication Programs, defines a healthy relationship as the collaboration of two strong people “bridging” to each other across a committed lifetime.  Paula Derrow, writing in The New York TImes, calls it “leaning in together”.  Writing recently about her marriage in The New York Times, Paula describes a marriage right out of Home Depot.

A do-it-yourselfer, her marriage to another do-it-yourselfer spanned two states.   Their finances were separate, and so was ownership of their separate homes.  Except for weekends, each lived a separate life.

Talk about distancing.

When Paula was laid off from her job as a writer, she had reason to need her husband in very real ways, one assumes for the first time. Lying awake, the writer struggled with questions about her independence, whether she could afford to continue living separately, and whether her husband was encouraging and supportive only as a way to get her to come live with him and cook up a cacciatore.

I won’t say where Paula Derrow’s head was, but to come to the realization that her marriage was about the two of them together, not separately, is, to put it charitably, wrong-thinking.

More than most, those of us with disabilities, invisible or not, have had to come to terms with the lie that we can make it on our own.

The poor state of the world economy has left millions out of work, stressing personal worth and identity.   With so many jobless, you’d think social perception about being unemployed would’ve changed; it hasn’t.  Role expectations die hard.

Changes in the social order are happening all around us; role-turbulence is no longer reserved for the disabled or marginalized others.

These days, anyone can become marginalized.

Relationship’s great test is how to be together without losing oneself; how to get from one place to another while travelling together.

Kathe Skinner is a Marriage & Family Therapist and Relationship Coach specializing in work with couples whose relationship is affected by invisible disability.  Like most of her generation, she has been powerfully affected by the Women’s Movement of the 1960s and 1970s and has had trouble integrating that independence with the sometimes-limitations of multiple sclerosis.   She and her husband David live in Colorado where they teach couples to collobate their way to happier relationships.  Read more about she and David’s Communication Workshops at http://www.BeingHeardNow.com.

CHOOSING TO BE DISABLED.

Even if the claims that candy causes behavioral problems are anecdotal, one thing is for sure:

An American diet full of sugar is a significant cause of childhood obesity.

But it tastes so darned good.

The Centers for Disease Control report that 1 in 6 children between the ages of 2 and 19 is obese. Aside from the psychosocial aspects of being bullied or having no date for the 8th grade dance, there are significant health risks.

Like asthma, high cholesterol, high blood sugar, cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, and, as researcher Ashleigh May says, mental health problems.

Sugar induces tolerance, meaning the more you eat the more you need to feel satisfied. What’s recommended for children’s sugar intake is a mere 6-9 teaspoons a day while what’s consumed is at least 4 times that, Halloween candy not included.

At some point, people can make choices about how their lives unfold; whether or not choices are made is harder to pull off than it is to suggest.

Most of us who are disabled, invisibly or not, wouldn’t choose disability to be part of our lives. How horrifying is it that some obese people have that option and choose otherwise.

Although she was a chunk-of-a-baby, Kathe Skinner didn’t grow up that way. A Marriage & Family Therapist and Certified Relationship Coach, Kathe specializes in working with couples, especially those when invisible disability is part of the relationship mix. She and husband David reside in Colorado with their two cats, Petey and Lucy. Lucy and David could stand to pass on a second helping of kibbles.

INVISIBLY DISABLED OR NOT, 5 GOOD REASONS TO REVAMP YOUR LIFE

659894f27914674cc2dbb0523225d056If you’re like most of us, change is uncomfortable.  That applies whether we’ve asked for the change, or not.  Change can be as small as changing your haircolor or as big a deal as moving across town or across country. Some adults mimic Peter Pan’s Lost Boys, adamantly insisting they won’t grow up. If that’s you or someone you care about, check out five good reasons it’s a good idea to view change as a relentless part of being alive:

  1. Gain Perspective:  I’ve got an old pair of glasses I wear around the house.  While I’m used to them and they’re comfy, the truth is that I’m limited in what, and how well, I see.  Not seeing clearly what’s in your life is like a horse wearing blinders.  True, you remain focused on one spot, but the trade-off is how much gets passed by.  What comes to mind is the professional focused on business success who complains, years later, about the unattended soccer games and school plays.
  2. Freshen Up:  Habit is soothing; knowing what you’re doing and how to do it takes away our fear of appearing incompetent.  What’s left out, though, are new experiences.  Meeting new people, going to new places, trying something different are examples of keeping our brains engaged.  Brain science suggests that people who remain engaged stave off the negative side-effects of aging.
  3. Grow Up:  The 60s are gone, so are the 90s.  Even if those were the best days of your life, those days don’t reflect your world as it is now.  If  time-travel was possible, seeing what lies ahead would be an interesting and fun exercise.  Many cinematic characters have been given this gift — Jimmy Stewart in the classic Christmas film “It’s a Wonderful Life”.  What would you learn from a trip to the future?  And what would you have to change now in order to assure it? So what’s stopping you?
  4. Get What You Want:  Have eyes set on a certain job?  A new car?  A life partner?  When plans are made to acquire what we want, change is prominent in the mix.  For example, attracting a partner may mean you have to work on issues that are getting in the way, like trusting the opposite sex. When the burden of old thoughts is released, the domino effect of change starts in motion.  The effects include being more comfortable in your own skin, smiling more, being more positive about life.  Your changes affect everyone else in your life.  Everyone.   Amazing, huh?
  5. Keep What You Have:  When partners say, “That’s not the person I married!”, I say, “Good!”.   Aside from Bunny-Love-Sex, who would trade how the years have forged a new and different partnership?  Adding children, for example, insists on change from an “I” stance to the “we” stance of co-parenting.  All relationships insist on good communication and flexibility in order to be ready for change.  Without it, no relationships can grow,

Kathe Skinner is a Marriage & Family Therapist and Relationship Coach working especially with couples experiencing the effects of invisible, or hidden, disability.  As a military brat, growing up changed scenery more than for most.  As a child, she remembers seeing the black and white television production of Peter Pan.  Trying to fly off her bed became a months’ long obsession.  She lives her grown-up life in Colorado with her husband David, and their two cats; in a world of change, Petey and Lucy ground them.  More about Kathe and what she does can be found at http://www.BeingHeardNow.com.

LOVING

Love at its most true is not afraid to be hard. ~ Whitley Streiber

Love at its most true is not afraid to be hard. ~ Whitley Streiber

Married, in a relationship, or single, life is often ungovernable.

Through disability, chronic illness, divorce, break-up, deaths big and small where do we find respite from difficulty?

When can we stop being courageous?

So many of us lean on love to give us relief from life’s chattering.

If love were so one-dimensional, though, if all loving did was give us rest, would it still be lustrous?

What is easy, quantifiable, predictable soon loses our interest.

Whitley Streiber put it beautifully, “Love at its most true is not afraid to be hard.”  I agree (even if he is talking about aliens.)

Kathe Skinner is a psychotherapist and relationship coach, specializing in working with couples whose relationship is impacted by invisible disability and chronic illness.  Married to David for over 26 years, they live with kitties Petey and Lucy in the Front Range of Colorado.  Are there aliens cruising the skies over her home?  She thinks the logic is irrefutable.

HEALTHY LOVE AT THE U.S. OPEN

The U.S. Open, the last of the tennis year’s four majors, is powering its way to the finals, and I’m psyched.

Tennis is an intense human drama that showcases the psychology of winning — belief in self, winning through intimidation, body language, gamesmanship, positive self-talk, courage, and reaching deep past pain and fatigue to tap the will to win.

It’s not surprising as a couples therapist I would remark on the irony of tennis’s scoring where zero (“love”) literally means “nothing”.  The phraseology’s origin is unclear.  Some cite the similarity of a zero’s shape to an egg (the French word is l’oeuf) while it’s also been said that “love of the game” or playing for love is what’s being referenced.

Apply tennis’ meaning of love to relationships’ meaning.  How incongruous to say that love is nothing!  That a feeling that surpasses everything, that defies explanation, and that transcends other emotions in its saving grace is nothing. Unlike tennis, healthy couples love doesn’t count winners or losers, nor does it strategize another’s defeat.

Love doesn’t take sides.  The best duos are dynamic for years, honing skills through practice practice practice, all the while getting closer and closer. Relationship longevity is the result.

The problem for many couples is knowing what to do to have things be better between them.  After all, what they’ve done so far often makes things worse.

Both partners absolutely need to learn the basic skills that account for fruitful communication.  Without it, a relationship’s foundation is incomplete, shaky, bound to crumble under the weight of all that happens in a couple’s life together. Couples have many choices when it comes learning communication skills.  Along the Denver/Colorado Springs corridor one example is the Couple Communication Workshop offered by Being Heard, a program unique in having a husband and wife team as instructors.

In a beguiling contrast to singles competition, partners in doubles — two partners competing against each other — is very much like romantic love.  Togetherness has great purpose and meaning; there’s a full and expressed range of emotional intensity that includes joy, disappointment, and frustration; and having your partner’s back is the way it’s supposed to be.

Kathe Skinner specializes in couples work as a psychotherapist in private practice.  These days the only tennis ball in her life belongs to the dog next door. Married for 29 years to David, another fan of “love”, they live in Colorado Springs with two hooligans cats who couldn’t tell a Venus from a Serena.

Copyright, 2015

Being Heard, LLC