I have a really good friend, Solomon, post Masters of Love on his Facebook Timeline the other day. The intro states: the secret to love is kindness; those who show an interest in their partner’s joys were more likely to be together.
Well, of course, this peeked my interest and I had to read the article.
As I read, thoughts came up and I wanted to write a response on his Facebook page. When the desire is that strong, I need to stop and ask the important question, “What’s your motivation Phoenix?”
At that moment, my motivation felt manipulative. It was like I wanted my former spouse and his spouse to “hear” what I had to write. Like I had these wise words that they could gleam insight from and miraculously all the issues in our relationships would dissolve away, like sprinkling sugar in tea. I was the warm tea that would melt the sugar, so it wouldn’t taste so bitter going down.
Uh, wait. Wouldn’t it be better if I was the sugar?
When I start questioning my thought process and I believe there may be some manipulation involved, I need to take a minute to really evaluate what’s going on. A lot of times, I’m not aware that I’m manipulating and it’s Rafiki who usually calls me out when I’m doing it.
It was at this point I realized I don’t need to make my response public, I just needed to text Solomon.
So, I started a draft text. It got longer. And longer….
I realized I was once again writing and processing something that not only felt important to me, but that would be important for others to hear too. I wanted to touch more people and help guide them.
Maybe I do want to post this on his Facebook page after all?
It was then that I remembered, “Duh, Phoenix! You already have a place to help others. Your very own website.” How we forget such simple things I will never understand.
Instead of posting on his Facebook feed, I will reach out to my Fledglings. I mean, what a perfect Wednesday Share Day post this would make.
And yet, again, the more I wrote, the more I realized that this needed to be a blog of its own. I wanted to add my experience to a great article.
So, today’s blog is a letter to Solomon about his posting of Masters of Love.
(Note: I might suggest that you read the article before reading my comments. I mean, just so you understand what I’m talking about. I know, I know. That’s asking for a lot. It’s really good. Trust me!)
My good friend Solomon,
I contemplated leaving a long reply to your post or if I should just send you a text instead. I needed to first ask, what is my motivation? I don’t believe the motivation is selfish. I believe that there are others that can learn from my mistakes. And if what I have to say can help another person grow and heal, I’m going to take the risk and post it here. I apologize in advance to you and those reading this on your Facebook page about the length of my post.
(When you receive the link to this blog via text, you will notice that I did not post this on your timeline. Thank God! Imagine how long it would look as a reply.)
Thank you so much for sharing the article titled Masters of Love. I really like the principles that John Gottman uses for helping couples and parents. His Marriage Minutes newsletters are some of my favorite.
On our initial meeting with our legal advisor and therapist, my former spouse and I had to review a set of ground rules followed by making a list of our individual future goals. The ground rules were to help keep us amicable and the future goals were to find the best collaborative agreement we could design that would benefit both us and our girls considering what each of us wanted for our future lives.
Our guidelines before we started included learning about the The Four Horseman:
Four Horseman of the Apocalypse
– The Gottman Institute
Let’s just say, I had mastered all four and used them in my personal arsenal to manipulate and get what I wanted, not caring who I hurt along the way. It took many years to break through the denial about how I acted, and it has taken an incredible will to change habits that were so embedded in me and so destructive, not only to my marriage, but to my girls and to myself.
I’ve accepted that I will forever be a “work in progress” and even though I will stumble at times, I’ve learned how to catch myself more quickly and more importantly, not remain squirming on the ground as a victim.
Solomon, there are two parts of this article that resonated with me; “bids” for connection and how one responds to good news.
The “bids” for connection made me think about Checklist for Helping Your Traveling Spouse Feel Loved – Takeoff to Landing.
When I read The Pilot Wife Life’s blog, my first thought was, “That’s my Love Language! That’s what it used to be like when my former spouse and I were dating.” As I read further in the article I reminded myself that it was my betrayal, my deceit, my actions that created the pain that caused my former spouse to withdraw from me.
When I finished reading the “checklist”, my mind had replaced, “that’s my love language” to guilt and the belief that I have no right to ask for love to be expressed in this way. To ask for that means I expect to be care-taken, something that I was constantly reminded about through my recovery and couple therapy.
And, as you know, I still struggle with expressing my needs and wants. Just like trying to figure out what’s manipulating, I can’t seem to figure out what’s the difference between asking for needs and wants, setting boundaries, and when I’m expecting to be taken care of.
How sad it is that instead of trying to learn the difference, I instantly deny my inner child to ask for what he wants and needs most; connection when he’s on the road.
The article you posted reminded me of something you and I have talked about many times before. It was, what I’ll now call, A Mother’s Premonition. Almost twenty-five years ago the mother of a past girlfriend told us, “You want to be a doctor, you want to be a pilot, and you both want to have a family. I don’t know how you can do all that and still be happy. Something’s going to have to give.”
My biggest struggle in my career has been being away from my family. I used to feel jealous when they were doing things without me. That pain of being left out was agonizing.
Today, I feel blessed that I can provide my girls the opportunity to have meaningful memories with their mother. I’m grateful that my career has given them this opportunity, rather than holding onto the resentment and anger I had because “my career took me away” and I felt as if I was missing so much of their lives.
Because of my career, my daughters have always had their mom present in their lives.
I may be surrounded by incredible co-workers and friends when I’m on a trip, but I still feel lonely. I crave being home more when I’m gone than the longing I have to soar through the clouds when I’m stuck on the ground. I didn’t look to the sky when I was grounded for 20 months as much as I look at pictures of my family and check my phone for texts when I’m away only for a week.
And speaking about texts and phone, I never thought that texting was actually “bids” for connection. Boy, did I whine about that in couple’s therapy eight years ago. “You never respond to my texts or tell me about what’s going on when I’m gone. You’re distant. You tell your friends everything, but I don’t get any insight into your life.”
Of course, I have now learned (especially dealing with complaining teens), the more one moans, the less someone wants to do what the other is asking. And the less one responds, the intensity of the wailing increases. A circular awkward dance that’s hard, if not impossible, to break away from. No one’s happy with this arrangement.
See, I’ve always thought of texts more like “hooks”. “Hooks” sounds manipulative, like one is trying to catch a fish then, once caught, they throw it back in the water only to wait until they want to fish again. This analogy has such a negative feel to it. “She hooked me again only to throw me back in the water and leave me hanging” or “She’s not taking the bait and wanting to converse with me.”
When I see texts as “hooks”, I make it about me and my story becomes my wife didn’t do something to appease me.
However, “bids” is so much more gentler. It’s more like, I desire to be seen and I desire to be heard. I would like to be acknowledged by the person most important in my life. It’s that wanting to feel loved, worthy, and enough. That you are always in their thoughts.
Yes, I know, we all need balance in our lives. Too many “bids” becomes overwhelming and I’m definitely guilty of that one!
I love this quote from the article:
For example, say that the husband is a bird enthusiast and notices a goldfinch fly across the yard. He might say to his wife, “Look at that beautiful bird outside!” He’s not just commenting on the bird here: he’s requesting a response from his wife—a sign of interest or support—hoping they’ll connect, however momentarily, over the bird.
So many times, I wanted to share my life when I’m on the road. And so many times, when my former spouse was busy being a single mother and completely exhausted by the end of the day, she didn’t have the energy to respond to my “bids” for connection. And when they weren’t reciprocated, my childhood beliefs, the stories that percolated around in my head, about being invisible, unimportant, and a burden, became the justification of lashing out sideways.
Hurt people hurt others and I hurt the one I loved most.
This was my pattern prior to recovery. This was my pattern prior to separation. This was my pattern during divorce. My pattern has always been to throw blame outwards. “If only” became my mantra, never looking at my own part in the process.
Unfortunately, when I realized that my reacting and my actions were a big part that caused the deterioration of my marriage, I ended up not changing, but turning what I learned all the way around. I went too far in that regards.
Instead of transformation, I became a victim.
I absorbed all the blame. I beat myself up and shamed my inner child for “never getting it right”.
I did to me what was modeled by my parents and my grandparents. I squashed my inner child’s right to have a voice and I believed the message that had been told to me since I was a little child; “kids are seen but not heard.”
I had learned that I have no right to ask for my own needs to be met and, as mentioned earlier, I still find that I parent myself in this way.
Solomon, your article pointed out the pattern I’ve been aware of but alas has kept alluding me. As I’ve learned to become more adept to my own emotions, I’ve noticed that it’s about day four when I’m away from home that I feel off. This is when my inner child is struggling for connection. This is usually when the “bids” that seemed responsive on the first few days start to dwindle away.
I’ve also noticed that the response to the “bids” I used to get from my girls when they were younger, now go completely unnoticed as a teen (as they should). Oh, those days when I would come home and two little girls would scream at the top of their lungs grabbing at my pant legs. Today, it’s asking a lot just for them to look up from their phones. In fact, they are more like, “Dad is such an annoyance. It’s not cool to hang out with him.” And, at times, I still find it difficult to keep the hurt inner child in me from reacting to those comments.
I always come back to recovery. It’s my automatic go to.
I used to turn to my addiction to stop the pain, but these days I’m grateful for the tools I have to care for myself when I feel off. I’m grateful for my male friendships, that I can lean onto when I’m struggling. I’m grateful for new nuggets of insight to help me process what’s going on within me.
I still must battle the “Lonely Demons” that pop up in my mind and I’m grateful that instead of attacking the ones I love, I can put my energy towards snuffing out the fires on those false stories that threaten to consume me.
I’ve seen the pattern, but I have not been able to understand it. This article has given me new awareness and insight that I can learn and grow from.
The Easiest Way to Improve Your Relationship
– The Gottman Institute
The other part of your article that rang true was how we respond with kindness, especially when we’re responding to good news. I realize that not only did I use Gottman’s Four Horseman as weapons, I also mastered “passive destructive” and “active destructive” responses in my marriage.
I thought I was being kind and yet I was continuously told that my actions did not match my words.
I never got it.
It’s all in how we respond and the examples in this article showed me truly how unkind I was to my former spouse when she wanted to celebrate good news.
I believe humility is the not only the ability to admit our mistakes, but also not to point fingers and blame when we mess up. It’s not to find excuses and justifications, but to just say, “Crap. I screwed up.”
Courage then is the strength it takes to dig deep into our core issues, to re-break the bones, so we can heal properly the next time around.
It’s painful and the fear of the unknown can be overpowering.
It’s something we must do in order to Rise from the Ashes.
However, before we do the work, it’s important to once again go back to that one word; motivation.
What is our motivation for doing the work?
When my objective was focused on reconciling my marriage, I kept a scoreboard on what my former spouse was and wasn’t doing right. I held anger and resentment if her work didn’t match what I was doing. I was working hard, and, in my mind, she wasn’t doing her part.
I had one goal, do everything I could to “fix” us, not realizing that I needed to work on me first. There was no us as long as I kept pushing her to heal from the past the way I wanted her to heal.
We all change and grow on different timelines. I had an agenda and I expected her to be on mine.
God, grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change
The Courage to change the things I can
And the Wisdom to know the difference
I needed to change for me, not expect others to change to make me feel better.
I needed to change for me, not expect others to change to make me feel better. Click To Tweet
When my motivation was to heal and grow myself, to learn how to nurture and love my inner child, I learned that who I became directly influenced all aspects of my life, not just my primary relationship.
In fact, it’s more important that I work towards bettering myself not to “fix” my marriage, but so that I can be more relational with others. The ones we are closest to see our most hidden flaws. We may shine to other people in our lives, but if we took those hidden smudges that only a few can see and rubbed them clean, imagine how much more we’d sparkle to the rest of the world.
I now have tools to parent my daughters during the teenage years, I’m a better co-worker, I’m a better friend, and I have an empathy towards people that I never truly had before. It’s like I was a horse that had been wearing blinders and they’ve finally been taking off.
I now see the entire world before me.
And, like a horse, I will still get startled and rear my legs. I will still experience the emotions of fear that makes me want to bolt. I know there’s a bit of a bucking bronco in me and that if I’m not careful, I still have the power to trample over the people I love.
It is me who must comfort myself. It is me who needs to tame my own fears. It is me who needs to stop the bucking when it starts.
I need to make sure I’m safe for others to ride.
I need to learn to love myself, so I can be safe.
And that includes learning how to establish boundaries. Part of loving me is learning how to ask what I need and want. I need to allow Little Phoenix to truly believe he is worthy enough to ask and yet be strong enough to accept that he may not get what he’s asking for.
That is the next step in my journey.
I believe we reach a point in our lives where our childhood issues become thorns in our adult lives. We have a choice. We can either learn how to remove the scab and heal those wounds or we can just let the puss and infection fester underneath. If we don’t address these hurts, they will eventually eat us alive. As we get eaten alive, we end up consuming those closest to us.
Thank you for giving me more insight on the things I still have yet to work on.
We all have the ability to rise from the ashes. The question is, do we have the courage to first walk through the fire?
We all have the ability to rise from the ashes. The question is, do we have the courage to first walk through the fire? Click To Tweet
Thank you, Solomon, for our weekly hour or more chats these past few years. Thank you for your candidness, your vulnerability, and your willingness to explore both of ourselves on a deeper level. Thank you for listening when I needed someone to lean on. Thank you for allowing me to hold you up when you were struggling.
And thank you so much for allowing me the opportunity to see “the other side.” Your personality mirrors my former spouse and your experience has allowed me an insight as to how my actions may have made her feel. You’ve helped me realize how much I made my issues about me and your perspective has been instrumental in my healing.
I know where your faith lies. Nevertheless, I truly believe our crossing paths in college, (can you believe – almost 30 years ago?) was a Higher Power moment. You’re not only a friend to me, you are my brother.
Love you man!