When Love Falls Apart

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One of the most painful things that can ever happen is when love falls apart.  When the relationship you’ve invested your time, presence, trust and love in goes downhill, when memories of the way you were in the beginning come rushing in like a lifetime ago, and when you compare the beginning of your relationship to where it was at the end, the experience of loss and grief can be very raw.  Things left unsaid are crumbled on the floor, unimportant, neglected, like lost flyers blowing in the wind.  It’s depressing, I know.  We’ve all been there at one time or another.  The pain of starting over – picking, even scraping, yourself off the floor – only to act as if you’re ok with life without the other.  The process of detachment is unbearable at times but a fact of life.  It’s a process that you must go through to get back on your feet again.  This could take a lifetime for some.  So many times, we want to make excuses for why the relationship isn’t working in order to prolong the inevitable end.  We know the end is coming, and Lord we know it’s going to hurt.  We put on blinders to avoid facing the uncomfortable truth: it’s over.

I remember the beginning of the end of my first marriage when I knew that something didn’t feel right to me.  I hoped that as time passed the feeling of contentment that I so desperately wanted to feel in this relationship would come, that this was just an adjustment period that everybody goes through.  It was only through talking to my married girlfriends (and a panic attack at Costco) that I realized that this wasn’t the case for everyone.  This wasn’t how it was supposed to feel.  And I knew it was over when the voice inside my head became loud and clear, as painful as that was to face, that the two of us deserved better.  

Sometimes, it’s not the holding on that makes us strong. Sometimes it’s the necessary letting go.  Letting go so that you both have a chance at real, lasting love – the kind that feels right – equal partners on this crazy journey called Life.  The one where you can see yourself together on the porch, in rocking chairs, watching the sunset sipping Long Island ice teas.  That’s the way I see the man I’m married to now – the father of my two beautiful babies, and the greatest love of my life.  Believe me, the uncomfortable truth that it isn’t working is hard to swallow.  In my case, I did love my first husband to the best of my ability at the time.  A part of him will always be with me. But that doesn’t mean I was meant to spend the rest of my days with him, and deep down I knew that.  When you experience times like these, you ask yourself the question – do I rip the band aid off in one fell swoop, or gradually? Either way, you can’t escape the pain. 

And sometimes love isn’t enough.  My clients get so disillusioned when I say this to them.  It’s true though. You never stop loving the ones you once did, it’s just that the love changes over time.  All the cards need to be in place for a long lasting relationship that goes the distance – timing, goals, chemistry, respect, love – did I mention timing?  What I know now is that there are different types of love.  You can have more than one love of your life.  And if you’re anything like me, you need to experience different relationships to figure out what you want and need, and what you DON’T.  Take your time to figure out the difference between the type of love you cherish, that teaches you about love; and the one where you can see yourself growing at every stage of your life with this person, wanting to act out of love daily, come what may. This is the type of love you deserve, and nothing less.

Great Expectations

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One of the things that I am constantly checking in with myself about is my expectations of people, places and things.  I mean, life is challenging when things don’t go our way. When a friend gets mad or acts indifferently, when a relationship ends, when the money we invested goes to waste, when we are passed over on a promotion, or the coffee we ordered to go has too much cream and not enough Splenda®, we feel disappointed. Things going wrong is a natural state of life. It happens to all of us, but why do we get so upset about it? 

Why is it that we suffer when our expectations are not met? The thing is, the trouble is in having expectations in the first place…that in itself brings on the suffering. Especially when what we “expected” doesn’t happen. It’s self-harm really, when we do something expecting a payback, reciprocity, or a reward for our efforts. The second we don’t, we’re left feeling slighted, wronged, taken advantage of and unappreciated.  What we don’t realize is that the suffering could be avoided if we didn’t have expectations at all.

This rings especially true when it comes to things like work, romantic and interpersonal relationships, gift giving and investments. When what we expected to happen doesn’t, it can be heartbreaking and disappointing, at times even maddening. But what is more difficult is when we act out of the goodness of our heart, then get disappointed with the results, when what we thought would be an exchange isn’t.  When in the back of our mind, or subconsciously we’re thinking “I’ll do this in exchange for that,  I’ll love you and you’ll love me back. I’ll work hard and my efforts will pay off,  I’ll give you this and you’ll appreciate me.”  When none of those things happen, the disappointment comes rushing in,  it’s only then that we realize we had an expectation all along.  And If you’re left feeling resentful like me at times, it could be a sign that we’re giving too much of ourselves, but more importantly, maybe to the wrong people.  But also it’s important to keep in mind that it’s human nature that we tend to treat others the way we ourselves want to be treated. After all, the Bible teaches us to treat our neighbors like ourselves.  But what it doesn’t say is that our neighbor will reciprocate our good nature.  The truth is, sometimes we act because our hidden agenda is that we want a return on our investment.  This is where the inevitable suffering comes on like a tidal wave and the hurt feelings set in.

So how do we become better decision makers when it comes to people, places and things and our expectations of them? In the Yoga Sutras, one of the key philosophies is to take action, and let go of results accepting whatever the outcome is without judgement.  In following this principle, we are guided to check in with ourselves prior to taking action by asking the question beforehand, “how will I feel if I get nothing in return?” If we’re honestly ok with no reciprocity in our heart and mind, than we should go ahead and do it. On the other end of the spectrum, if we know it will hurt us if we don’t receive the response we are hoping for, hold back and wait until it feels good or right.  But, let’s make sure we always check in with ourselves to find out what our agenda is. You see we can’t control anything other than ourselves. So do yourself a favor and the next time you do something, ask yourself this question- How will I feel if I do this without the outcome I want?  That will will prevent a lot of suffering for us all.

Antisocial Media?

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Where is the balance between connecting with people and egocentric behavior? Studies have shown that more people look at their own social media pages than they do others’. Talk about a waste of time – this narcissistic behavior is toxic. The temporary feeling of being accepted sets you up for pattern of behaviors that seeks outward affirmation to either improve your self worth or completely crush it.

 For example, If you find yourself constantly checking your status to see how many likes or views you have, could this be a sign that maybe you’re seeking outside affirmation from something very short lived?  Before you know it you’re re-posting an update, seeking the same validation – that instant gratification – the rush. It feels good in the moment, but is hard to keep up with. So you post something else. This endless cycle becomes addicting after a while, doesn’t it?  

To be fair, maybe it goes deeper. It’s about the message, the purpose. I have friends who use their social media to inspire, create, provoke thought, promote awareness, network, and ultimately, help others.  Similar to the reasons that I write this blog.  It’s not so much about the writer, as it is the reader. Mark Zuckerberg gets it.  He’s changed his mission on Facebook to encourage people to give diversity of opinions in order to move forward together in this day and age and to unite people in meaningful ways that are not focused on the self, but the whole, and to bring the whole together in a way that matters.  The importance here is being honest in asking the question for yourself, why are you doing this? Who are you doing this for?  And is it aligned with who you are and what your mission is? 

If we’re truly honest with ourselves is social media today really just a means to reconnect and communicate? Or is there something else going on that is focused on the ego? And is your need for affirmations a sign that you’re lacking from something really important – self love.  But how do you tap into that source? That state of self-assurance? What is it that prevents us from filling our lives with true purpose and meaning? Not the superficial kind that focuses on accomplishments, appearance and accolades.  I mean, where do we turn to feed our soul? And why do we seek outside affirmation rather than look inward for the answers, truth and the happiness we seek? 

Your connection to your Divine self is an opportunity for growth, and quite frankly, it’s beneficial in the age we’re living in. For you, this may be nature, music, volunteering or service, whatever deity you seek or worldview, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, or a venti double shot espresso with cream and 2 Splendas…(judgement free zone here) and it doesn’t really matter.  In my life, what fills me is yoga aka “my church,” Jesus, my family, and my Keurig.  The point is in finding something that allows you to be the best version of yourself so that you don’t turn to validation to tap into the uniqueness of who you are, with others, and in your relationship with self.  But it’s different for everyone and don’t worry, we can still be friends. In fact, it’s our differences that open up a dialogue for greater understanding and to see that there are more similarities than differences between us.

 

 

10 Things I’ve Learned from 40 Years of Living

FullSizeRenderFor my 40th birthday, my husband and I took our two kids to my favorite summer spot. I felt so lucky to have the people I love the most around me—a reality I had all but given up on because I lost hope that what I always wanted would not come to fruition. Let me explain:

I was divorced by the age of 29, and after years of dating men that never amounted to more than casual relationships, I succumbed to the fact that I would end up childless and married to my career. I met women like that before: successful, beautiful “higher-ups” who chose careers over family. But that wasn’t the case for me. Having a career was only second to my dream of becoming a mother. In fact, I remember telling a friend in high school that if I wasn’t married with children by age 26, my life would be over.

So many of my clients are experiencing something similar—-where what they dream of isn’t lining up with what they have. I sit in my chair pondering my response: “I’ve been there. I truly understand.” Sometimes I say it, sometimes I don’t, depending on how helpful I think it may be.

The truth is that I do understand. Nothing in graduate school or working in this profession can ever replace real life experience. When I tell you that part of my success is due to wisdom gained from 40 years of personal experience, I’m not kidding. But even if I were to share what I’ve learned with my clients, they’d still be better off finding the lesson their own way.

So let’s review 10 Things I’ve Learned from 40 Years of Living—just for fun and since I’m in the giving mood!

  1.  Stop trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. If it’s not working, it’s best to move on.
  2. Know your worth. Don’t look to others for validation; rather, get to know the value and beauty you have from the inside out.
  3. Find God, whatever that means to you.
  4. Be grateful for the family you have. They are gifts because they teach you what to do and what NOT to do by their example. You have a lot to learn from each other. Get to know their experience which may explain why they do what they do, and what makes them who they are.
  5. Settling down by no means means you have to settle. If it doesn’t feel right, trust that. Refer back to #1.
  6. You’re more beautiful than you even know. Learn to love who you see in the mirror. Take a look at your eyes: they are a gateway to your soul. Take a good look and realize how amazing you are. There is no one just like you on Earth. Let that sink in.
  7. Actions speak louder than words. No matter how intoxicating words might be, if they are not aligned with the action you’re seeing, then let go.
  8. Your physical and mental health are important, so take care of yourself.  This is all tied into self-love and self-esteem.
  9. Choose your tribe wisely. Looks aren’t everything; they can be deceiving. The most beautiful people are not so much on the outside as on the inside.
  10. Love what you do for a living. If you love it, you’ll never work a day in your life. You’ll eventually make money doing it, and you’ll never give up.

 

 

The Ebb and Flow of Relationships

Today, couples are too quick to give up. Perhaps it’s due to the throw-away mentality that enables the old to be replaced with the new.  We’re talking relationships here: true love, not technology.   So how do you recharge your relationship in this fast paced environment? Communication is the key. And not the text messaging kind but the face-to-face, in-the-quiet and privacy of your own home kind, where it’s just you and your partner. Just the two of you. Like it was in the beginning. 

Couples walk into my office hoping to improve their relationships. Many have been married for years while others come in for premarital counseling, hoping to work out the kinks before making the most important commitment of their lives.  The overall theme tends to have something in common—namely, that these couples feel they are drifting apart. They turn to me for answers, seeking guidance and a desire to reconnect. 

“Valentina, I really want to work on my marriage,” one male client said to me. “What is the first step?”  I told him what I tell all my clients seeking couples counseling: “The first step is to make sure you and your partner have the same goal, which is to work on your relationship.”

Couples counseling fails if one partner has one foot out the door looking for excuses to leave, while the other partner is committed, grasping to keep the relationship afloat by doing 90% of the work.  That’s the bad news.  The good news is that there is hope for couples who are equally committed to making it work. Having a mutual desire to stay in the relationship is the first step; now they just need the tools for success.  

Meeting my couples for the first time is a delicate experience. They are desperate and skeptical.  I don’t blame them.  Inviting a third person into your private life is no easy task. But this is what I do, so with empathy and understanding, I welcome them into my office. I talk about the ebb and flows of a relationship, that the feeling of drifting apart is, in fact, normal sometimes.  I see a sense of relief on their faces. There is hope.  

Drifting and reconnecting is a couple’s dance that marks long-lasting relationships.  Like the ebb and flow of the ocean waves, this is nature’s way of teaching us an important lesson. Let me explain:

In the beginning of a relationship when you are deeply in love, you want to do everything together. But as the years pass, you go back to your own interests and hobbies, giving each other more space than before. This is actually a healthy thing to do, especially when two people are whole within themselves and don’t need each other to fulfill their happiness. This rhythm of coming together and then having some space is natural, like the ocean laps against the land.  With patience and understanding, you can anticipate the reconnection without the fear that the drift means it’s over. Actually, it’s par for the course.

There Is something so beautiful about sharing your life with the right partner. The good and bad times that you encounter bring you closer together when you face the storm. The way you trust and love each other in the beginning can be recaptured (with work) as time goes by. Your love is so special and unique; you could never replace that type of love with an updated version. Again, these are all normal feelings. Most long-lasting relationships drift apart. The key is in reconnecting.

So how does one do that? What is required is one partner who rings what I like to call “the alarm.”  One of you sits the other down and says something like,   “Honey, I feel like we need to spend more time together.” Or: “I miss you. I love you, let’s reconnect.”  Talking to each other and acknowledging that there is a drift is essential. Perhaps, it’s more simple by scheduling a weekly date night over a glass of wine to talk about the week ahead. Once you’ve done all that, call me.  

 

A Shade of Grey

I often ask my young clients to try on a pair of over-sized blue shaded sunglasses.  They are pink, obnoxious, funny.  The children are asked to describe what they see.  They look at me in wonder and amusement and begin to identify the details around them: the room is darker, the furniture has changed hues; I look pale and gloomy.  Then I ask them to take them off and compare the difference: the room is all of sudden filled with sun light; I am less gloomy, they are happier, things are more real.  I have them discuss times when things appeared “darker” to them at home, school and social settings.  I give them coping skills about how to walk through those uncomfortable feelings that arise within them.  Stories are shared about being bullied, academic underachievement, missing their parents’ attention, to name a few.  They sit with those feelings, work through them with me and begin to heal; they consider different perspectives and take a greater sense of responsibility for their choices.  Exploring alternative possibilities in an age appropriate- manner, they gain self-esteem and awareness, and best of all have fun!

Delving deeper, I begin to wonder how we as adults perceive the world around us through our own pair of dark sunglasses—how, through our own misperceptions and misinterpretations, our actions and reactions are misconstrued, too. Our choices are often based on them.  It’s okay, though; it’s never too late to change.  Phew!  However, if you think it’s easy, think again.   Try challenging your own perceptions of the world around you for one day and you’ll see how hard this truly is.  The good news is that it’s pretty empowering, yet humbling at the same time (once we realize that the only thing in our power is ourselves).

If we dare, we can begin to explore our own emotional blockage that impacts our behavior and understand its origins.   Looking back at the patterns and themes throughout our lives, we experience different faces, places, and situations:  yet somehow the same challenges continue to re-occur. It’s as if we’re replaying the
soundtrack of our life over and over (and over) again.  But why? Is this a coincidence or an opportunity for growth, change and healing?  And right when we think we’ve learned the lesson, another challenge pops up always testing our ability to grow.  The only way out, is to walk through; and the only way through is by going in. Whose job is it to do this? Yours.  Believe me, it’s hard and uncomfortable. At times, it’s humiliating, but also a gift!  We get the chance not only to surrender to what is, but we free ourselves to our highest potential and begin to make choices based on our truth, clarity and compassion–not only for ourselves, but for others.  Each of us has our own journey, our own story, our own triumphs and struggles, our own inner child.  Allow yourself to look back and smile; laugh at all the silly things you’ve done and still do.  It’s healthy, builds character and humility.

But seriously: how can we ask a child to be responsible for his/her own actions and behavior without truly having done so ourselves?  Perhaps some of you have and always do.  Awesome!  As role models, leading by example is a great way to provide a sounding board to assist not only yourselves, but your children. If they can do it, then so can you!   They need you as much as you need them.

Have you ever considered the possibility that your children are at times your teachers?  That each time they trigger you, they are there to help you work on the things you can change about yourself?  Taking it one step further, what if everyone in your life, today, is a teacher:  husband, wife, lover, boss, colleague, friend, an ex…Whoa, right?  Perhaps it’s not so black and white, but a shade of grey; you take turns at playing the teacher/student role.  It doesn’t have to be either/or, but rather both/and.  Seeing it this way brings me clarity.  I have nothing but gratitude for all my “teachers”.  The ones that have pushed my buttons the most are the ones who taught me the greatest lessons about myself.  Thank you!

A little food for thought: the next time you see your child, consider sharing an apple together.  Life is in session; you might as well live and learn from it.