How often do you respond to your partner’s feedback?
Oh how I wish I had a dollar for every partner I have heard say to the other, “You knew I was this way when we got together.” Here’s the deal. Committing to a relationship is not an agreement to stop growing. Happy lesbian couples realize that each partner is expected to continue developing as a human being and improving as a partner. It’s how we humans are built. We learn and grow as we experience life.
Securing a relationship is not an invitation to stop growing. In fact, you might find yourself kicked to the curb if you are more attached to remaining the same than you are attached to becoming the best version of yourself possible.
When you fall in love, you fall in love with both the person you see in the here and now, as well as the vision you have for who that person will become. You are making an investment in your future, feeling solid about the person you are committing to today, yet anticipating that your relationship investment will grow.
Two key ingredients affect how you grow in the context of your relationship. The first key to personal growth stems from the personal observations, insights, lessons, experiences you have, and the work that you do to grow yourself. This might occur through intentional efforts such as completing a degree, advancing your career, staying physically fit, learning new hobbies, engaging in personal growth activities such as reading, journaling, or therapy. The choices you have to enhance your life are endless!
The second key to personal growth in the context of your relationship is through the observations, insights, lessons, experiences and the work that your partner invests in herself to grow.
Often, your partner will observe in you characteristics with which you are not comfortable. You may reject her observations and actually accuse her of being mean or insensitive. If you reject your partner’s observations and feedback, you are rejecting one of the most valuable gifts your relationship has to offer you.
Your partner has the capacity to see you in ways that no one else can. And when she communicates her observations, you have the choice to respond to your partner’s feedback and grow. Because of this front-row view into your life, your partner is able to mirror for you, parts of yourself that you do not always want to see. You may hear complaints such as: “you are too generous,” “you work too much,” “you need to stop drinking so much,” “you are sleeping too much,” but in reality, these observations are invitations to improve your life. When you respond to your partner’s feedback, you are accepting an invitation to grow.
These invitations don’t always come in nice envelopes; sometimes they are wrapped in emotions such as anger, frustration, and disappointment. If the delivery of this feedback is insensitive, it can be hurtful. Though the facts usually remain, there are areas of your life that are in dire need of improvement. You can resist out of spite, hurt, or anger; or you can grab a hold of this gift, the gift of honest feedback, and use it to improve your life.
The question I encourage you to ask yourself, when your partner makes a request of you, is this: “Will doing this add to, or take away from my life?” If the answer is “add to” then it seems like a win-win. What do you have to lose?
If you are struggling with the concept of what “taking away” from you means, you can ask yourself this question: “If I honor this request, you are accepting an invitation to grow and work to change in the ways my partner is asking me to, am I compromising a core value that defines who I am and what I am about?” This helps separate the things that you simply don’t want to do—like clean the house or take out the trash—from things that take away from your core values or your core sense of self, such as asking you to change your religion to hers.
Be sure to clarify the difference between something that doesn’t feel good, and something that is not good for you. If you choose to respond to your partner’s feedback, you are accepting an invitation to grow. changing because it is no fun or you don’t like to do something, then you are likely rejecting an important opportunity to become a better version of yourself!
Is your mind inclined toward judgment or did you develop an observing, curious mind?
Somehow, when I think about an observing, curious mind, I think about my childhood home on a cul-de-sac. I grew up in Bloomington, Indiana, in a large neighborhood, on a cul-de-sac. This was probably akin to today’s vinyl villages; only vinyl wasn’t a thing you built houses with then (even the three pigs knew that). My particular childhood cul-de-sac was a street that led to a stop sign, where you could either turn left or right to leave the neighborhood or continue forward to the other side of the same street, only to find yourself at another cul-de-sac. So, essentially, you could circle my street as many times as you wanted without ever leaving the neighborhood, just pausing to cross the street that could actually take you somewhere new.
Bear with me, this does relate to an observing, curious mind. As a parent, I can appreciate that cul-de-sacs are great for safety. There is rarely unexpected traffic because unless you live on that street, there is nowhere to go, except back from where you came. The neighbors who travel down the street can likely predict which houses may have a little fella chasing a ball into the street, or the three little girls speeding in and out of driveways, pretending to be Charlie’s Angels on their bikes (flashback, sorry). This makes a cul-de-sac much safer than a road that allows for new and unexpected traffic.
Cul-de-sac THINKING, however, is not so safe. When you have one way of thinking that leads to the same dead end, you will always end up in the same place.You cannot expand your mind without allowing in new information. Unfortunately, the illusion of safety that comes with cul-de-sac thinking makes it very tempting to lean into judgment, rather than observation. Judgment says, “I know.” Observation says, “I’m curious.” Observation allows us to take in new information, to notice things in new ways, and to consider changing our thinking about our understanding of things. The key is to develop an observing, curious mind.
Judgment is choosing to go straight at the stop sign, leading you right back to another cul-de-sac. Judgment, or the stories we make up, keeps us closed to new information.
For many, the pain of what we know feels safer than the illusion of pain that accompanies the unknown. For example, many people stay stuck in unsatisfying jobs, relationships, friendships, houses, cities, etc… because they fear they will not find something better; or worse yet, that they aren’t worthy of more. This is an example of a judgment that keeps people stuck. This is what people in pain do. They engage in cul-de-sac thinking. They think the same thoughts over and over, convincing themselves that their pain is unchangeable. How do we know what we don’t know? How do we know that there are no more rewarding jobs (or occupations, for that matter) that can support us well, or ways to improve our relationships, or our location, etc? We don’t. We just convince ourselves we do.
What would happen if you turned left or right at the middle of those two cul-de-sacs, and actually left the neighborhood? (Go left and you’ll head toward my best friend Kirsten’s childhood home, go right and you will find the YMCA – both very healthy choices). Choosing a new direction requires you to ask yourself a different question. Instead of viewing your pain as a permanent situation, you receive it as it is intended – as a signal that something must change for you to find relief. You do not pre-judge what needs to change; you simply open your mind to the possibilities.
Notice what brings you pain. (“I hate my job.”) Pain is the signal from our self, to our self, that something needs our attention. It is wise to be grateful for our pain because it offers us the contrast needed to know what it is we desire. Pain is not the focus though, it is the signal that tells us where to point our attention.
Identify your desire, which is always the opposite of your pain: (“I love my job.”) You start with what it is you desire. If what bring us pain is, “I hate my job.” Relief is found in the opposite of this. The goal on the opposite side of, “I hate my job,” is, “I love my job.”
Lastly, find a question that directs your brain toward positive problem solving: (“How can I love my job?”) You will notice that this question is not, “How can I find a new and better job,” or “How can I get great benefits.” This question is OPEN. The question does not presume anything, it simply asks about the ultimate desire – to love my job. This question can only be found by turning left or right at the stop sign in the middle of the cul-de-sac.
There are so many thoughts to think all of the time. (Nope, that is not a Winnie the Pooh quote). The beautiful thing about thoughts is, we actually get to decide what we think. Try it. You don’t have to think what your mind is thinking about. You don’t stop the thoughts you have, you simply choose something else to think about. What questions are you asking yourself? Do they direct you down a road that ends in a cul-de-sac, or does it open you up for new information and new answers? Staying open to new information is an essential relationship skill (read more here about healthy relationship goals).
Last week, I was teaching this concept of thinking with an “observing mind,” rather than cul-de-sac thinking, to the staff of Cass and Company, a progressive hair salon in Avon that invests in the happiness and well-being of their stylists and staff! (Amazing, right?) In my session with them this month, we were discussing the importance of “building an observing mind.” While discussing how observation is power and judgment is a weakness, one of the stylists shared a story about a time in her life when all she did was observe. The stylist, Lina, came to the United States from Lithuania many years ago. She shared that when she first came to the United States, all she did was observe. Her whole goal was to learn and understand the American culture. She had no assumptions about anything. In fact, she said, she was more inclined to believe she knew nothing, so she was 100% open to everything. Jokingly, she said, “Now that I’ve been here for so many years, I know everything.”
Wouldn’t it be interesting to approach every situation we are in with the curiosity of a visitor to a new country? How would we see people, places, and things differently if we assumed nothing, judged nothing, focused on the facts, and stayed in the moment? That is what an observing mind does.
I’ve always heard, Knowledge is Power, but it seems to me, Curiosity is the real power. Whatever you do, be open to taking a left or a right if you find yourself headed toward a cul-de-sac.
Have you ever seen a couple compete to be the kindest, not to be right?
I didn’t think so. Sadly, It’s more common that we see the following type of interaction. She was telling a funny story when she was interrupted by her partner who wanted to correct an insignificant detail in her story. (Not that it changed the story). Frustrated for being interrupted, she rolled her eyes and continued with the story.
Have you ever been around a couple like this?
Often in relationships, we like to be right. Sometimes it feels like a win. And yet, how can that be – if we are right, the one we love must be wrong. Does it really feel good to believe that someone we love is wrong? Either we both win, or we both lose. It’s never one of each.
Often in relationships, we like to be right. Sometimes it feels like a win. And yet, how can that be – if we are right, the one we love must be wrong. Does it really feel good to believe that someone we love is wrong?
Here’s a challenge for you: compete to be the kindest, not to be right.
When did you last think to yourself, I‘m going to allow her to have her opinions without having to insert mine? When did you last censor yourself to ensure that only loving kind words crossed your lips? When did you last go out of your way to do something that made her feel loved, or special or a priority, or important, or valuable to you? Leave her a love note, just because. Offer to rub his back, just because. Take her to that fancy restaurant you don’t really like, just because she does.
As adults, when we want something, and everyone in a relationship does, what we all want most is acceptance, attention, approval, affection, appreciation, freedom and security.
Unfortunately, we often go about getting these things in all the wrong ways.
We complain when we don’t get appreciation, “You didn’t even notice that I painted the entire exterior of our house, rebuilt the engine in our car, cooked a 12-course meal, and mowed the lawn while you were at work today.”
We distance when we don’t get attention. “Honey, I’ll be late tonight – don’t wait up.”
We pick fights when we don’t get affection. “You never touch me anymore.”
We accuse when we don’t feel a sense of security. “Why are you late?”
We withhold when we don’t get approval. “Nothing. I’m fine.”
We deceive when we don’t feel a sense of freedom. “I wasn’t out with my friends, I was working late.”
If this describes you, I have one question for you:“How’s that working for you?”
Behind every complaint is a desire. Try this handy little trick. Every time you find yourself about to say something hurtful, do something cold or unfeeling, throw out some “fightin’ words,” or anything else not covered by the umbrella of kindness, challenge yourself to identify the good thing that you do want. Think about what you desire.
Instead of complaining, say “I’d love to show you some things Idid today because it’s important to me that you know how muchpride I take in our home…”
Instead of distancing, call home and say, “Any chance we can spend some quality time together tonight if I can cut out of here on time because I want to feel connected to you again.”
Instead of accusing or fighting, say “I’ve missed you, and I’m glad you are here now.”
Instead of withholding or deceiving, be honest. Tell him what you are feeling, tell him what your desire is. Let him in. You didn’t partner with him to shut him out.
If you set your sights on being the kindest, most thoughtful, affectionate, appreciative, accepting and approving partner, I guarantee that your relationship will be a happier place, even if your partner doesn’t change one bit.
Happy Lesbian Relationship Strategy Four: Close the Exits
Relationships sustain on the energy, time, and shared resources that each partner contributes to the partnership. The relationship is nothing but a container to hold these contributions. Without your express involvement in a relationship, there isn’t much to it. Therefore, to sustain a happy lesbian relationship (and of course any relationship), you must be sure to close your exits.
Imagine your relationship is a car. The container that holds the energy, time, and shared resources and contributions to the relationship is your gas tank. If there is a leak in the gas tank you will want to close that up. The same is true for relationships.
Obviously, we need friends, hobbies, social outlets and opportunities to move in the world with independence and freedom. However, there is a difference between doing this in a way that ADDS to your relationship, and doing this in a way that TAKES AWAY from your relationship. To “close the exits” means that you refuse to make choices that take-away from your relationship.
Closing the exit may require you to set clearer boundaries with your families of origin, so that your new partnership is the priority. This may require you to address your addictions to food, drugs/alcohol, sex, and work. You may need to lessen or eliminate your involvement in friendships with people that distract or tempt you away from your partner. You may need to step away to your compulsive need to check Facebook and to put your phone down and spend more time in conversation with your partner.
In 1997, author don Miguel Ruiz wrote “A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom” that he titled, “The Four Agreements.” His agreements are as follows:
Be impeccable with your word
Don’t take anything personally
Don’t make assumptions
Always do your best
I like that he came up with a succinct way to really target powerful behaviors that have the potential to influence your choices in a way that keep your life on track.
If I had only four things that I could use in this life to guide all of my choices and decisions, these are the agreements I believe will hold me to the highest standard
My four agreements would be:
Know your truth
Accept your truth
Live your truth
My agreements are obviously influenced by the work I do, and the damage I see when people do not know, accept and live their truth. I also come from a place of believing that all people are fundamentally good. It is only when we deviate from who we really are that we find trouble and engage in troubling behaviors. My definition of a deviant is someone who steps away from who they really are. Are you a deviant? It’s not too late to change your course.
KNOW your TRUTHTo me, there is nothing more powerful than accessing the truth of who we are. To do this we must lose the stories others have of us. “She’s so forgetful,” or “She’s afraid of commitments,” or “She’s not smart, but she sure is pretty,” etc. We must also lose the stories we’ve made up about ourselves. “I’m not good enough.” Or, “Once people get to know me, they will discover I am not as _______ as they think I am.”
One of the hardest parts of stepping into our truth is that we must be willing to take risks to disappoint those we love. These stories prevent us from accessing our truest self. Who are you without any stories, stereotypes, assumptions or other limiting thoughts? What would you be doing differently in your life (big and small things) if you were not worried about disappointing someone, anyone?
ACCEPT the TRUTH
When we access our truth, our next challenge is to accept it. Sometimes we discover things we are not comfortable with. I know that when I realized I was attracted to females, I didn’t want this to be true. I was in middle school. And I was gay when gay wasn’t cool. I spent years trying to make it not true. By rejecting my truth, I denied my gifts, I distanced from those I love, I convinced myself I was defective. This, my friends, is not the path to freedom. What are you denying or refusing to accept about yourself? What are you afraid to be, that you already are? What are you afraid to feel, that you already do?
LIVE your TRUTH
When we live our lives closely aligned to the truth of who we are, we find joy. Joy is the result of alignment with our truth. Joy doesn’t lie. When we are joyful, we are accessing our most fundamental, truest self. Joy is not fleeting, like the pleasure of a good movie, a favorite food, or the purchase of a new Vespa. It is an enduring sense of satisfaction and positive energy about our life and about our self in this life.
By accepting our truth, the path is clear to live authentically and happily. By accepting the truth that I am a lesbian, I was able to stop apologizing for who and what I am. Eventually, I even learned to celebrate and enjoy my identity. This is where the power is – the power is in the truth. When we make peace with the truth of who we are, we are free. We can go about our lives without apology, and in this, there is much for which to be grateful.
As you journey toward a life that is aligned with who you really are, make time to experience gratitude along the way. Anytime you experience life in a way that pleases you, pause long enough to give thanks. My favorite definition of gratitude is that it is like saying to the universe, “More of this please.”
Recently I opened an email in which I was asked, “How can I balance being true to myself while pleasing my partner?” That’s what we all want to know, isn’t it? How can I be in a relationship without compromising who I AM?
A relationship is an investment. In fact, I believe it is the most valuable investment we will ever make. We are essentially offering up ourselves to share with another person, believing that by doing so our life will be better. In order to have something to invest, though, we must acquaint ourselves with what we have to offer someone. This requires knowing who we are, what our needs are, and who we want to become in our lifetime. No small task, right?
The good news is that investing ourselves in a relationship has many rewards when we invest wisely! By combining our strengths with our partner’s strengths we are essentially expanding the resources from which we can both draw as we navigate life. Typically the strengths we have to offer are complimentary. For example, one partner may offer spontaneity and fun while the other provides security and stability.
Sounds good, right? So why does being in a relationship seem more complicated than that? Well probably because of a thing called the Power Struggle. This is a natural, healthy stage in relationship development that occurs when each partner works to establish his own identity within the relationship. The power struggle begins when differences start to surface. And herein lies the challenge. How do I maintain my independence and personal integrity while being a good partner?
In OUTstanding relationships, the question is never, will I be able to get my needs met? The question instead, is, what needs to happen so that we are both able to get our needs met without taking away from our relationship? The difficulty of course, is determining what exactly your needs are, (not your wants, mind you – but your needs which support your highest good!) We must evaluate the requests made of us by our partners, and determine when they are in our best interest and when they are not.
Cindy thinks her partner is controlling because she wants her to stop smoking marijuana. Is that controlling? Or is her partner tending to her most precious investment: her relationship with Cindy?
Kara says her partner wants her to open up and share her feelings more freely. Kara says she resents her partner’s sudden interest in her being more open and shouldn’t have to change who she has always been just to please her partner. Is Kara exercising self-care, or is she rejecting her partner’s invitation for her to grow?
Ed says his partner wants him to stop going to therapy because therapy is for the weak-minded. Is Ed’s partner making a healthy request, or possibly acting out of fear for the unknown of what might happen if Ed goes to therapy?
Often we confuse our highest high, with our highest good. Our highest high is that which feels good, at any cost! Our highest good, is that which moves us closer to being the person we want to be. In fact, behaving according to our highest good doesn’t always feel good. Take Kara for example. Because she is not used to sharing her feelings, it is scary and very uncomfortable for her to open up. Her fears and discomfort automatically makes her think it’s not a good thing for her to do. However, the pain involved does not mean it is not in her highest good, it simply means it is difficult. Just think about exercise! If we waited for working out to feel good, we might never run or lift weights! Likewise, just because something feels good, like smoking marijuana for example, doesn’t mean that we must cling to it in order to be “true to ourselves.”
Knowing the difference between our highest good and our highest high is critical! Now in Ed’s case, his partner wants him to stop going to therapy. He has decided it’s time to really explore why he’s unhappy. Therapy is an exercise in self-care for him, and because doing so does not take away from their relationship, Ed may have to confront the issue with his partner as an act of self-care.
Couple’s with OUTstanding relationships don’t confuse their partner’s healthy requests with efforts to change or control – they know that their partner is simply tending to her most precious investment: the relationship she shares with you.
What has your partner asked of you lately? Is this request something that will ultimately add to your life, or take away from your life? Is his request in line with the person you want to be, or does it conflict with who you want to be? Are you open to your partner’s healthy requests?
Your challenge, should you choose to accept it is to list the top three requests that you commonly hear from your partner, friends, and other loved ones and identify one thing from that list that you can start doing differently today.