Monthly Archives: May 2015

The Business of Marriage

The Business of Marriage

Imagine this if you will. A guy named Joe opens up a restaurant near your neighborhood. Not only is it your favorite food type, it’s absolutely fantastic food. Joe is a phenomenal chef. The prices are fair and the service is good. You try out the restaurant, enjoy it immensely and decide to go back on a regular basis.

Joe is a great success. So much so, that he decides to open up a second location and a third. You’re happy for him. On the other hand, it now means that Joe isn’t spending quite so much time at the first location. You can’t count on him coming out to the table each time to ask you about your meal. But when he does, he promises you that the place still bears his name. “You can trust him,” he says.

And at first, everything seems normal. But after a while, you start to notice that the servers don’t seem to be as friendly as they used to be. They aren’t familiar since many of the more seasoned crew have gone on to the other locations. The new staff doesn’t know you. You have to tell them what you want each time, unlike the original team who used to bring you your drinks as soon as you sat down because they already knew your favorites. You start to feel resentful for having to leave a tip for unexceptional service.

Sometimes when you go in, they are even out of your favorite dish. They don’t seem to be as prepared for the crowds. You try and alter the time you eat getting their earlier and earlier in hopes that you can enjoy your meal. Sometimes it works but usually it does not.

And the more time passes, it doesn’t even seem like you get the same quality of ingredients or consistency of preparation. It’s almost like you don’t even know this place any more.   You begin to patronize Joe’s place less frequently until you stop going all together.

You entered into a contract of sorts with Joe. And when Joe stops delivering what you felt you had agreed to, you are ready to pull out of that contract. Who wouldn’t?

This metaphor very closely resembles many of the stories I hear about marriage. I see relationships very much like a business contract that two people enter into. They make agreements based on their individual desire to receive certain benefits of marriage. As long as things stay exactly the same everyone is happy. The only problem is nothing ever stays exactly the same. Especially marriage.

Kids come along. Jobs come along. Extended families, illnesses, deaths, financial challenges, purchasing homes, relocations and the list goes on, comes along. Not to mention the fact that what we desired originally also changes. And some years into the marriage, people find themselves frustrated that they aren’t getting enough benefit for the price they feel they are paying. Sometimes they feel blatantly ripped off.

It’s easy to look at your partner like “Joe”. How he or she is no longer keeping their end of the bargain. And perhaps that is accurate. If that is the case, are you justified in just dining across town without bringing the problems to the attention of the owner to see if they might be resolved? Joe may not be aware of the issues and while that’s not your responsibility, it is impacting your dining experience. Perhaps some honest but constructive feedback could help Joe maintain the success he strived for from the beginning.

But its also worth considering that you might be the “Joe” in the relationship. Have you lowered your standards because you are taking for granted that your partner must be okay with the changes if he or she is still hanging around? Do you make justifications of why you no longer have to give your partner what you used to? You may be a whole lot busier than you were in the beginning and have less energy, but simply assuming your partner doesn’t want or need the same level of interest in him or her that they used to get, could be a very unfortunate path. Even if you can’t keep that pace up, it still requires a renegotiation of that original contract and some empathy for your partner, rather than, putting in substandard ingredients and hoping they won’t notice. Or worse still, not caring if they do.

 

This week, how about taking a look at key relationships and ask yourself if you are giving what you agreed to when you said “I do.”

 

 

 

Let’s be honest

I’ve referred to a book before called Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez. It’s an old book that I still highly recommend. While the exercise the authors prescribe is annoying and tedious, it is incredibly illuminating. It will make you take a hard look at how you spend your money. I mean really spend it, rather than how you think you do and equally useful, how much of your life are you giving up to support those expenditures.

I did the exercise formally a number of years ago. I was divorced, going to and paying for school. I discovered that I was spending about $2400 per year on Starbucks. Yes $2400 American dollars; that was not a typo.

Now, truth be told, I’m still spending that on Starbucks. In fact, now that I’ve bred a couple of little green label addicts in my own home, the dollars may be a little higher. But here is the difference: I can actually afford to spend that now. Starbucks is about the last known major vice for me and I have no plans of giving it up soon-Although there have been a few windows of time in recent years when for a number of reasons, I’ve done without it for a few weeks or months at a time.

In my earlier life, I really didn’t think about what it was costing me. I only saw the 4.00 expense in the moment and thought it wasn’t “that bad.”

But this post isn’t about money or Starbucks. It’s another about time. From recent posts you can conclude I am feeling pressured about the lack of enough time in my day, as I’m confident, many of you are as well. So I started using the Robin and Dominguez approach to look at how I was spending time.

I have been aware for a while now that email is a major drain on me. Along the way I had subscribed to a number of crafting blogs. I’ve since eliminated all but one. I’ve also become far more efficient with using my Junk mail folder. I can now scan in a few seconds what used to eat up minutes at a time in my day. I’ve started planning meals a month in advance to try and reduce both shopping time and the waste that comes from a lack of planning ahead. But this is the interesting find for me:

There is a little word game app on my phone. While I did succumb to candy crush back in the day- I escaped at a much faster rate than most do. I’m generally not that susceptible to game apps in general. But word games can hook me. I used to play 7 little words. It took about 3 minutes of my day to do the daily puzzle and I was done. I learned a lot of words that way. It was under control- I was content.

And then along came Word Scramble.

It takes only 2 minutes for a round of Word Scramble. I started playing it while I was in line waiting for something. Then I started playing it at night just before drifting off to sleep. Then I started playing it…. Well you get the picture.

One feature of the game is “stats”. So I recently looked up my stats. I don’t know how long I’ve been playing Word scramble, but I know that I’ve played nearly 1200 rounds. I’ll do the math for you- that equals 40 hours. Sure, it’s only 2 minutes a time but its 40 hours of my life gone. Just like a measly 4.00 cup of coffee turns in to 2400.

And this is how a life gets away from us. It’s easy to see the big things that come into our world. They come with a large announcement and a party. But it’s the accumulation of all the little waves that take us further and further adrift into a sea of chaos.

How about taking some time this week to look at the little ways that you may be unproductively losing time. If, like my Starbucks decision, you are okay with the consequence and you know where it fits- enjoy. On the other hand, if it is causing you to feel like it wasn’t worth what you spent, consider a change.

 

Do you have the time?

I’ve been doing a lot of un-scheduling lately. I’ve unscheduled my weekly network meeting. I’ve unscheduled my weekly accountant meeting. And with great heaviness, I even unscheduled my monthly card making group despite the fact that I enjoy it immensely.

Back when I was in school I sometimes had a conversation with someone who would say something like “I’d love to go back to school too, but I just don’t have the time.” It used to tick me off. I refrained from saying something unkind like “Oh, how unlucky of you that you haven’t been given 28 hours to every day like I have!”   But instead, I smiled and thought to myself about the number of things I had chosen to give up so that, I could use my standard 24 to get school on the schedule.

When others played on the weekends, I wrote papers. When others rested in the evening, I went to class. When others ate lunch, I read a book. I’m neither a martyr or a superhero. I simply made a choice because I wanted the pot of gold I thought lay at the end of the rainbow. It made me neither better nor worse-simply attached to a goal I was willing to work towards.

A number of years ago before anyone and everyone called themselves a life coach, Cheryl Richardson wrote a book called “Take time for your Life.” It’s still a relevant and terrific book. Richard’s strategy is to take things OUT of your life before adding new things in. Simple, but not always easy.

Most of us are collectors. And, most of us operate out of habit. Once a habit gets in place (unless it’s eating well or exercising), we have a hard time letting go. Even after only a couple of weeks, we can get attached as if it looks like we were genetically programmed with the behavior. Think I’m exaggerating? How often do you check Facebook or Email?

Schedule fillers can creep in without much notice. I’ve started to watch a little TV in the past couple of months- something I rarely did in the past. But something had to go out. So far its mostly sleep and housework. But there is a limit to how little one can participate in either of those. Summer is coming and I want to spend some time at the pool- hence the unscheduling from paragraph one. This much I know is true: all any of us are ever going to get is the standard 24. Are you spending yours the way you will look back and feel good about?

I’d like to leave you with two quotes about time from guys a lot smarter than me:

“All we have to decide is what to do with the time given to us” J.R.R. Tolkein

“The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it” Henry David Thoreau

 

Decide and spend it wisely

Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger

 

I had an unexpected complication in my first pregnancy. What started out as a nagging backache in my 11th week turned into a pinched nerve. I was getting ready for work when the pain literally dropped me to the ground. I somehow hobbled to the bed where I called my husband, barely able to speak and ended up going to the hospital by ambulance. I stayed in the hospital for 3 days while they tried to figure out what to do with me. Eventually a pain management doc started me on steroid injections which lasted several weeks outpatient.

In the first two weeks after the hospital the pain was really intense. I never slept more than 2 hours at a time. Frustrated one night I asked my husband “What if it’s like this the whole time?” He replied “Then it will be like this the whole time.” It was as if I expected him to come with an different answer because I wanted one. On another night in a sleep deprived stupor I exclaimed “I’m an American! This can’t be happening to me!” Brilliant- I guess only 3rd world countries are expected to have pain. Eventually the pain subsided. I was lucky.

A few years ago I met a young woman who had chronic headaches. I don’t mean take two aspirins and call me in the morning kind of headache. Rather, they were headaches that left her debilitated. Any kind of fluorescent lighting or screen light from electronics caused her considerable pain. She was forced to drop out of school.   After a couple of years she began to have some success with a variety of new treatments. It was hard to find hope when no one understood the cause much less the cure.

More recently I met Joyce who came to see me at the suggestion of her physician. Joyce has been coping with an excruciating pain which, at its peak left her housebound. She has tried every treatment she can find, both traditional and non-traditional. For the past several months Joyce has received relief through a medication intervention that has made the pain bearable, but it is far from gone.

Unlike my own experience of believing that if I could just use my national status or reason my way out of pain, Joyce, a very spiritual woman says that the pain has only strengthened her relationship with God. It has been educational, enlightening and frankly, beautiful to watch Joyce process her experience.   While it has been a journey for her, I will fast forward to the present resolution in the interest of brevity for this post. To state it succinctly, Joyce has moved from praying for the pain to be gone, to praying for the strength to use the pain as a tool to do whatever it is that God would like her to do in this world. Joyce has expressed that this reframe has enabled her to feel more empowered and less victimized by her circumstances.

I’m fairly confident that no one will read this post and hold up their hand to say “give me some pain please so I can grown stronger.” I think Joyce would really appreciate a vacation from her pain so she could get a good nights sleep that she hasn’t had in a very long time. But like many things in life, we don’t choose circumstances or pain that comes at us. Sometimes we do, but often we don’t. What we can choose is what we will do with it when it arrives.

I chose to become indignant. My first client chose to be focused on searching for a cure. Joyce tried both of those routes, but settled on a third posture. To find a way to keep living even with her pain, but even more importantly, to see it as purpose rather than ­­­­­persecution.

There is a wonderful little book called “Intoxicated by My Illness by Anatole Broyard. After learning he had terminal cancer, Broyard decided to use the metaphor of drunk as a way to describe how his illness afforded him the opportunity to fully live with whatever time he had left, without any inhibition or prohibition. In essence, he became “intoxicated” by the illness allowing him to do and experience every ounce of life in his remaining time. Broyard’s wife had to finish the book for her husband as he passed prior to its completion.

As author, Geneen Roth writes “Real people feel some kind of pain every day of their life. Living hurts, dying hurts.” And the Buddha says “Pain is inevitable, suffering is extra.” Which will you choose when pain, physical or psychological knocks at your door?