The Generous Husband

When considering the greatest acts of love imaginable this is not likely to be on your list. You might think of someone escaping a war-torn country to be with his love, or some woman defying her entire culture to share her life with the man she truly loves, or maybe you’d think of some couple who meets during a disaster and goes on to have a wonderful family. But you won’t think of this.

We think of Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia as diseases that impact much older people but by her late 40’s Karen was already showing signs that something was wrong, and soon she couldn’t even set a proper dinner table let alone run her life safely and effectively. By 50 they were making plans to get her into a home where she would be safe and well looked after.

Maybe the doctors and nurses were more prepared for it due to their experience. These brain diseases can attack various regions and often they’ll attack the ones involving our social comprehension. So people will become rude without meaning to, or they’ll say inappropriate things, or sometimes they’ll even do them. And sometimes, they’ll behave in ways that are far more complicated.

The home called. They had caught Bob’s wife in bed with another man. It was clearly sexual. A meeting was called. They trick is, the people involved were young enough that it was difficult to control their every move. More of these instances seemed inevitable. What did Bob and his daughter want to do?

What a thing to be asked. Do? What would someone do in such a situation? Both Bob and his daughter wanted some professional guidance but there is no guidance for a wife becoming extremely uninhibited and sexualised. No one else could consent on her behalf, and yet obviously no one knew if she was capable of consent if she needed it. And worst of all for Bob, his wife didn’t remember Bob or his daughter, and instead she thought she was married to the man she was sleeping with. Who imagines dealing with that at 50? Or is it worse for Bob’s daughter at half his age?

This can seem like an impossible situation unless you’re Bob and you’re in it. But Bob found a way through it. I’m sure it’s not easy, but it’s a route he can have faith in. Because Bob’s basically been told that this love and sexuality is an aspect of his wife’s disease. Even if they move her to another home, it isn’t likely to change. So Bob asked the only intelligent, loving question left. “Is she happy when she’s with him?”

I’m confident it was a very difficult answer to give him because it was overwhelmingly affirmative. Yes, she and the stranger she met in hospital appear to love each other very much and both seem happiest and healthiest when they’re together. Bob’s wife is happier and more alive if she is allowed to experience her love with another man.

Can you imagine the position Bob is in? Can you imagine that you’ve planned your retirement and just as you’re getting close to the point where you hit what you thought would be the easiest period of your lives together, instead you’re not only entirely forgotten about, but moreover you must actually approve of, and even in strange ways pay for, your spouse to have a powerful romantic and sexual relationship with someone else? Wow.

This is the height of love because what has Bob done? He’s put his wife’s needs before his own. He volunteers to suffer so that his wife may have peace and happiness. That’s as generous a love as we can have. Bob wants his wife to be happy, even if that means she’s happiest with someone else.

If Bob can do all this, then I’m sure the rest of us can do better than we’re doing. So let’s all take Bob as an example and, for the rest of this week, do your best to put the needs of your partner ahead of yourself. And while I do feel for Bob, I’m also happy that his spiritual courage has lead him to experience the greatest form of love that anyone can partake in. Because as daunting as it may be, we should all be more like Bob.

peace. s

PS You can follow the link above to hear Bob tell his own story.

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.

Living With Death

His death had rocked her hard. They had just started to talk about what retirement might look like in 10 more years–and then he was gone. I had just started working with her on her self esteem when she asked me to go to the funeral with her that day. She just wanted to feel a bit more solid. She faintly trusted me when I told her that even feelings this bad would eventually pass, like they all do.

His life had been pleasant if not exciting, so there it was at least a funeral where the sentiments expressed at the podium all felt sincere. Her part was made harder by the fact that none of her small family were able to make it over from Europe. She also hadn’t been here long enough to establish the deep sort of friendships that help one through things like this. His friends were great, but in truth she felt largely alone, with me being a strange exception.

When it came time to speak she stood there at the podium and she met her commitments, but she found the whole experience wracked and painful. She was grateful she wasn’t overly religious–the entire process had not taken long. She asked if we could walk. I too felt like being under a big sky. The whole day felt like a hug you never wanted. The feelings were too big for words for a long time, so we drive to the river valley and parked and headed down a trail.

We walked down by a little lake. Finally, she asked what she could do to stop the hurting. I looked at her genuinely confused. I explained that the hurt was the other side of the love. They were inextricable. If she took the pain away then she would have needed a history where she didn’t love her husband. It is possible to be relieved when someone dies, but this was not one of those cases.

I asked why she didn’t want the pain. She thought it was a bizarre question, which I realised from her perspective it would be. She’s just started with me, so she thinks she wants to increase her happiness and decrease her sadness, when what she’s really looking for doesn’t do that. It makes you feel the same way about your happiness as you do about your sadness. Rather than liking the good parts, you value it all.

I explained that she chose an identity of a woman who’d lost her husband and it hurt. I felt that was suitable. If the universe gave you the capacity to experience emotional pain like that, I suggested that the death of a beloved loved one was maybe the most suitable time possible to get that feeling out of your quiver of feelings.

I was sorry the pain was stabbing, but that’s how that feeling operates. Far from living wrong, I thought the pain was a sign of her health. She seemed to be right where one would feel it was appropriate or natural for her to be. When she asked what she was supposed to do with the pain, I told her to feel it; to know it. I told her that the more she understood it, the more valuable she would be to people in similar situations in the future.

I explained that knowing the pain didn’t make it worse, it made her wiser. Crying at the death of a loved one is wise. So is being stoic if that’s how you naturally unfold. The point is, of course there would be a reaction of some kind. Accept that. And know that it won’t last. That it’s just the suitable feelings for the context, just as a raincoat suits rain.

She told me that simply knowing there was no answer had actually taken a layer of suffering away. I explained that what she had removed was the illusory layer of suffering that her mind layered over top of the pain. Now that she had gotten rid of the voluntary stuff, it made it easier to handle the mandatory pain. Plus she felt stronger, which was a nice feeling.

It’s going to take some time for her to go through this. She’ll do it in stages as everyone does. She would need build a new mindset to be a single woman with new challenges. And then one day someone will really need her, and she’ll know just the right thing to say to them and they’ll be so relieved, or maybe grateful. And then she’ll realise that this experience is what taught her the wisdom she shared. Our cracks truly are where our brightest light escapes.

Don’t offer resistance to painful experiences. They pass more quickly with less resistance, and you can learn a great deal by travelling through them. Some are simply awful, and if you’re experiencing one right now I am so sorry and I love you. But you too will get through it, and you too will live to laugh again. But in the meantime, you’re going to be collecting some of the most hard-fought wisdom a person gets in their lifetime. Big hug.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.

Love in the Trenches

They were out at the lake. The husband had just yelled at his wife for how how dissatisfying he found his lunch. He barely tasted it, choosing instead to storm back down to the lake and take another shot at fixing that stubborn boat engine. The very liberated daughter had watched the whole thing and she clearly was not happy.

“Why would you let him talk to you that way? If Ray ever spoke to me that way I’d show him the door.”

The mother just smiled as she picked up her husband’s uneaten food. She sat at the counter and ate it herself while they talked. “Ray’s way to be angry is to get quiet and cold. Honey, if I left your father every time he was upset we would have been divorced hundreds of times over.”

“All the more reason! Why do you let him treat you like that again and again? You didn’t raise me to be weak like that.”

The mother took a moment before speaking. “You’re right, we didn’t teach you to be weak. But what’s your definition of strong? He was one of the few liberated husbands when we were young. He cooked for you kids, he helped with school work, and he always made sure there was a roof over your head even if he really didn’t like what he was doing for work.”

“That’s 20 years ago! If you’d made him behave back then you probably wouldn’t be dealing with this now.” The daughter was very piqued.

“He’s not a child. And how exactly do you make someone behave? Withhold affection? Make demands? Fight with him? Why would withholding, demanding and fighting do anything for a relationship?”

“Mother! You just made him a incredible quinoa salad and he insulted you! He could at least appreciate that you made it for him!”

The mother pushed her meal aside and she went to the fridge and she started to make a sandwich. “Your father doesn’t like quinoa, you know that. When he was at the peak of his career I used to complain about him not being home enough.”

“Well he wasn’t.”

The mother returned to the fridge for more ingredients. “He wasn’t successful to spite me. Why would I criticise him for something I was proud of? Aren’t you trying to get a promotion right now? Do you see that as an attack on your relationship with Ray? Of course not. You’re trying to succeed at being a good professional, like we raised you to be. It’s a sign of respect to others to do your job well. You know your father always says that.”

“He still shouldn’t talk to you that way.”

The mother stopped and looked at her daughter for a long moment before speaking. “I’m not sure what ‘shouldn’t’ means. Your Dad was in pain. I was just being compassionate. I’m not a pushover.”

“What pain?! He wasn’t in pain! He couldn’t get the stupid boat motor working and so he got angry at you, like he always does when something breaks.”

The mother went back to finishing the sandwich. “Your father prides himself on being able to fix things, it’s what made him look capable in front of his Dad. He feels like he’s letting his Dad down, or he’s not being a man, if he can’t fix something. He’s always been like that.”

“All the more reason for you to tell him it’s time to stop.”

The mother smiled. “I might do that if I could figure out a way to stop getting mad at him. Demands don’t fix relationships honey. Love does.”

“Love doesn’t yell at someone for making them quinoa.”

“That’s right, love doesn’t. He knows I made it because you and Ray were coming out. Your father just told me is that he’s feeling a long way from feeling good. That’s the problem, not whether he likes quinoa. My job isn’t to demand that he like the food you and I like it’s to love him when he feels unlovable.”

“He yelled at you!! Why would you be helping him!! It should be him crawling back up here to apologise to you!”

“Crawling?” The mother smiled at the thought. “Your father’s having his version of a tough day. He stayed too long trying to fix the boat and now he’s really hungry and he came up to eat and found something he finds totally unsatisfying. He gets angry when he’s hungry. That’s just being human.”

The daughter notices the sandwich. “You’re making that for him!”

“He’s hungry. I’m just being practical. He’s in a better mood after he’s eaten. When I’m menopausal and screaming at him for no reason, these are the things he remembers to help balance things out. You see him upset about quinoa. I see a man I care about having a bad day; a man who’s proven himself over and over for all of us.”

“Your expectations are too low.”

“I’m trying not to have any.” The mother picks up the sandwich and starts for the pier. “Sweetheart, you guys just had a baby. You’ve been exhausted and your hormones are going wild. I’ve seen you be pretty mean to Ray, but ninety percent of the time he just takes it because he loves you.” The daughter chases after her.

“That’s a baby! How can you compare that to a boat motor!?”

“Pain is pain. It doesn’t matter whether you broke a foot or a leg.” As they near the water we can see the daughter really cloud over. She is harbouring a lot of anger toward her father. The mother stops and addresses her before walking onto the pier where he and Ray are working.

“Honey. Again: your father’s problem is that he’s suffering. I’m not going to debate whether he deserves to or not. What makes a marriage isn’t weighing whose suffering is worse. I can think about me and what I want, but does he really look like he’s got much to give right now?” Just then the father hurls a wrench angrily onto the pier. The mother kisses her daughter on the cheek and walks out onto the pier and offers the sandwich. He half-heartedly thanks her, but he seems a bit embarrassed.

Later that afternoon he does get the boat going. After a nice steak dinner he suggests a boat ride. Ray suggests, “Should we head down to Half Moon Bay?”

The father walks to his wife’s side and puts his arm around her. “Diane likes the view down by the promenade. I thought we’d go down there.” The mother turns to the daughter, winks and smiles.

Later, while the father and Ray do the dishes, the mother sits down for a tea with her daughter. “Ray might go under soon and we all know it. Every business like his is struggling in this recession and he just had a baby. If that happens you can kick him while he’s down and demand that he do the impossible and undermine his confidence. But after 35 years of marriage I can tell you, you might find that you’d get where you’re going quicker if you just made him some sandwiches instead.”

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.

A Reasonable Relationship

1011-relax-and-succeed-the-happiest-people-i-knowWe must abandon our hopes and expectations and trade them for reality if we hope to flow better and with less resistance. Particularly now more than ever, everyone is on guard 24/7 with people jumping on them the moment they slip; use the wrong word, make a false statement, or even display an emotion that the other person chooses not to approve of.

It’s no wonder people feel on edge. There have never been more things in this world that are unacceptable. We are all judging each other quite harshly and we’ll always have a defence for how our judgment is actually valuable, even though it’s us in our personal reality that’s having that experience, not others. Two people can stand at a party listening to someone they just met and one can hate them and one can love them. Our judgments aren’t the world, they’re just ours personal thought-created reality.

As a perpetrator you know this as blame. As a victim you know this as a lack of acceptance. But that’s a cycle you’re participating in and you have total control over it. These feelings emerge directly from thinking about what you have and then comparing that to what you got. You not only judge and separate, you compare and value things, so you’ll say things like, “But that’s not as bad as the time you….” It’s like it’s a competition of who behaves better and there’s some scoreboard somewhere.

1011-relax-and-succeed-its-easy-to-judgeIf your spouse comes home from work angry every single day then they either need to change their job or change their attitude. But if they come home from work and they’re occasionally upset, your job isn’t to explain to them what acceptable is, nor is to demand that behaviour immediately and yet that’s what most people do. “Don’t yell at me! I’m not your damned boss!”

You know what? In the fictitious made-up-of-our-thoughts world of social mores and good behaviour you’re right; they are acting out of sync with what most of us have defined as the healthiest behaviours or reactions, but the healthiest somehow became absolutes. They became expectations, then demands, and then eventually we go past behaviour being unacceptable to where actual people are deemed unacceptable. It’s why everyone works their entire life to just try to get one parent–even if they’re dead!–to respect them.

Everyone’s desperately trying to get back to acceptableness, to connection, to love. The sometimes angry spouse is made unacceptable at work, they come home to seek some solace and instead they are told they are unacceptable there too. And we wonder why marriages fail.

1011-relax-and-succeed-being-with-someone-doesnt-meanBut what if instead of judging everyone, we just stayed aware of what’s happening? And what if our aim wasn’t to be right, or to have expectations of being treated a certain way, or to get someone to see it your way, and what if our aim was peace? What if in every situation we only asked, what would make this situation better? Not the person, the situation. Depersonalise it.

Obviously this does not extend to someone allowing people to beat or regularly mistreat them. We don’t want a bunch of weaker people just being slaves to stronger ones. But in most relationships people aren’t getting physically beaten or even emotionally scarred by big problems about big issues. Most relationships die the death of a thousand small cuts.

If we have peace as our objective the scene plays out this way:

“If I have to work another day for that idiot I’m gonna kill myself! He gets me to spend 90% of my day on the thing he asked me to do and then later he bitches at me because some entirely different thing didn’t get done. There’s not three of me!! What the hell does he expect me to do?! And what, I’m supposed to read his mind?”

1011-relax-and-succeed-when-another-personThe person approaches with warm, open physical language and maybe embraces the person. Maybe they shrug you off, but you’re not judging their reaction, you’re seeking peace. You just shift their thinking away from their boss and onto something more peaceful and positive. And keep in mind, sometimes that’s just silent, genuine compassion. Trust me, they’ll see it in your eyes.

“Oh I’m sorry he put you through that. That’s a terrible feeling. I remember feeling like that when they transferred me to accounting.

This breeds connection and empathy. They feel you hear them; that you understand. You’re now sharing the pressure they’ve been feeling so it immediately feels better. Keep in mind, it might take four tries to get there. But you can’t see it as trying, these have to be very honest responses each time in that moment. Those responses will come naturally if you don’t think about what you want (better behaviour) and instead think about what they need (to feel cared for), because one will naturally lead to the other.

You can’t argue people into reasonableness and you can’t argue them into a good mood. You cannot conduct a relationship in the world of thought because we feel the world as an emotional experience. You have to help the world feel good. A good marriage is just two people who always want the other person to feel good. If you look at almost any marital problem, it’ll be because someone is placing their fears ahead of the other person’s joy. We can do that for a short time, but you can’t make a marriage of that.

1011-relax-and-succeed-patience-and-kindnessStop trying to be right. Start understanding that you give your spouse the same challenges they give you, just in different ways. Take your next lineup and use it to meditate on how you like being responded to when you’re upset. Then consider your partner and ask yourself what their version of that is; maybe you want to your feet massaged and they want to go out for dinner. It doesn’t matter which love language you use as long as it fits the person you’re dealing with.

Ask yourself what makes you feel better when you’re down or feeling victimised. Look at your past and how you’ve reacted to your partner in a similar situation and be honest enough to ask if there would have been a tactic that would have worked better. Because in many cases marriages don’t break up because the people changed, they end because they people developed too many judgments and they traded those for their compassion.

Relationships should be founded on compassion. Before anything else, you should just basically care that that person’s life experience is rewarding. There’s no better way to improve a relationship than to think about the other person instead of yourself. So ask yourself, the next time your partner is upset, will you contribute to them feeling better, or will you judge them and make that harder?

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organisations locally and around the world.

The Friday Dose #128: Loving Relationships

1008-fd-relax-and-succeed-what-destroys-an-intimate-relationshipI’ve written about it many times. You can’t ask another person to create a great relationship for you. Those things come from the inside. If you’re always in a state of want, if you always have something you need from that person then who are you to them? You’re a burden. But you weren’t a burden when you were falling in love. You were practically willing to be a servant!

1008-fd-relax-and-succeed-to-come-upon-love-without-seeking-itWeird isn’t it? It’s counter-intuitive at first, but not after some meditation. If we’re always asking others to live for us then they are forced to defer their own life to lead the one we claim we need. But if I’m a servant I’m always helpful and worthwhile and valuable. If I’m so picky about how the house looks for company that I torture my family with anal-retentivity then is the beautiful home really valuable at all, or is it now just a source of abuse?

Some people have huge insecurities that lead to jealousy, leaving partners having to live their entire life in their partner’s fearful context when that’s not their own context. It is literally a form of being a prisoner. All actions are dictated by that identity. The same with people with tempers. If your spouse blows up the moment something goes wrong then you stop living your life and you just start trying to make sure nothing goes wrong, even though that’s inevitable. It’s a life on eggshells.

It is not other people’s jobs to live to your script. No one made you the screenwriter, director and producer of the film of all of our lives. We are not co-stars in your movie, our jobs are not to get things the way you want them. We are individuals and we have hopes and dreams just like you and they’re just as important as yours. Healthy partners don’t ask, they offer. We can all take turns at being unhealthy, but if someone lives their life in that state then that is not their partner’s problem to fix.

Have a great weekend everyone.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organisations locally and around the world.