Loss of Love, Grief and Recovery
We've covered many factors that contribute to happiness and success, but when someone loses a love when a relationship ends or when a loved one dies, consideration of tryng to become happier or more successful in life typically comes to a dead stop. This section is intended to try to help anyone facing those situations to get back to being themselves again and moving forward to enjoying their own valuable life again.
Many of the topics below are excepted from my book Finding the Right Man for You: Dating Advice for Women, available in full as an Amazon ebook. See the Amazon book page for it for the many detailed topics and helpful suggestions it covers.
In times of stress, focusing on nature helps...
Dealing With Divorce
“Tranquillity is nothing else than the good ordering of the mind.” - Marcus Antonius
After going through a divorce, many women find themselves thinking about the “dating scene” again. A lot can be said about divorce and its causes, but you can come out all right on the other end and be a better person for it. That requires liking yourself for the person you are, or are working toward becoming, not beating yourself up over being divorced.
What things about you or your partner may have caused the relationship to disintegrate? By recognizing these things, you’ll be far less likely to repeat the same mistakes in your behavior or in the future selection of a mate.
It often takes two to cause a divorce, but that’s not always the case. As psychiatrist Dr. Gordon Livingston says in his best seller Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart, “It takes two people to start a marriage or relationship, but only one to end it.”
Time is needed to settle down, but it’s a good idea to start seeing other people again just to get back into circulation. Exercise caution, but don’t drag things out unnecessarily and miss a far better life you could have been having much sooner.
Divorce can be a growth experience. As Sharon Wegscheider-Cruse says in Life After Divorce: Create a New Beginning, “The majority of all divorced people remarry, despite reservations after their first marriages fell apart. Most people, in time, realize they are more capable of healthy commitment because of what they’ve learned through the divorce experience.”
Even though I was the one at fault for the ending of my first marriage, in the long run it has helped make me a better person. I certainly wouldn’t recommend it as a course for self-improvement. I caused a great deal of hurt, upset and disappointment that I’m sorry for, but it did force me to grow. Fortunately, my first wife met a very fine man and is happy. I’m also fortunate to have a wife who loves me, whom I met a number of years after.
After divorce, ex-husbands may also come into play. It helps if you can remain friends, or at least be civil, particularly if you have children and will be meeting at family functions. I know women who have helped their ex-husbands when they needed someone to transport them for medical procedures or even cared for them in a final illness. If someone is willing to do it, it’s a commendable thing. Once a marriage ends though, you have to look out for your own best interest. A woman told me it took her seven years to realize she didn’t have to feel responsible for her ex-husband. Old habits of devoted wives can be difficult to break. She believes it’s far better to use the time to plan your own future instead.
There are several important points to keep in mind. First, get an experienced divorce attorney to represent you in any proceedings and in any subsequent negotiations. When men are faced with paying alimony, some will look for any way they can to end it or minimize it. Neither party should take advantage of the other, but fair is fair. Don’t be like legions of other women who have faced years of struggle because they let former husbands unduly influence the process. Many women have just been far too trusting.
If you plan on living with someone, if you’re receiving alimony, it’s important to discuss it with an attorney in advance. It could eliminate an ex-husband’s obligation to pay alimony or could substantially reduce it. You should not risk losing your alimony unless you have a high degree of certainty that your new relationship is going to work. The matter of potential disability of your new partner should be considered too. If you give up alimony, depending upon income from your new husband or partner instead, if he becomes disabled, it could also put you in a bad position. That risk could be minimized with disability insurance.
In spite of these factors, if two people love each other, and there’s a strong probability that the relationship is going to work, they shouldn’t keep their lives together on hold indefinitely. It’s not healthy and doesn’t contribute to the growth and to the stability of a relationship.
A divorce agreement’s terms are negotiated. A good attorney will work to ensure that its terms protect you and give you as many options as possible. It’s important to recognize though that, in most cases, whatever you agree to in a divorce agreement is going to be determinative in the future.
For these and other reasons, it’s critical that you have experienced legal representation from an attorney who specializes in divorce law. Some women don’t get the representation they should because of their fear of how much it’s going to cost. Sometimes due to the wife’s economic position, a husband may have to pay all or a substantial portion of his wife’s legal expenses.
It is always sensible for a woman to have a consultation to determine what her rights are and to protect her short term and long term interests. The cost of an initial consultation is usually reasonable. At least by having one, you’ll know where you stand and can move forward more intelligently from there. That’s far better than flying in the dark or just listening to family and friends who lack professional experience. I wouldn’t rely upon free advice given by attorneys who are friends or relatives, who are not specialists in divorce law. Only take legal advice from experts.
Always make sure you see an attorney later if you are having problems with your ex-husband. Don’t try to resolve matters yourself. That’s where trouble can start and where you can be taken advantage of.
Don’t feel as if your ex-husband is “in the driver’s seat” because living together with a new partner could end your alimony. You have a strong card to play when you send the message to your ex-husband that he could keep paying alimony far into the future, if you and a committed partner keep living apart. It could be pointed out, that if he’s willing to acquiesce, he could realize a substantial, negotiated reduction in his payments. From his perspective, it might be better to pay $500 less a month, than to keep paying the full amount. It makes even a greater impact if put into annual terms: “That’s $6000 a year, Jack.” It can be an important motivation, particularly if he needs more money to foster a new relationship of his own. Sometimes there can be pressure on a man from his new partner, “You’re giving all that money to her Jack, what about us?” Some compromise can be a win-win situation for both sides.
I’d let your attorney handle this type of communication with your ex-husband. He or she is going to be able to negotiate better for you than you can for yourself. Remember, your attorney knows many legal details and possibilities that you don’t. Let experience work for you.
None of what I’ve said should be construed as legal advice. I’m not an attorney. Circumstances can vary marked from case to case. Only an experienced divorce attorney can properly assess your situation and advise you accordingly. Don’t try to do it alone. You’re only likely to make things worse.
Don’t let an ex-husband get in the way of a new relationship either. You may have already had enough problems with your ex. You don’t want to add to it by missing out on a much better life.
Dealing With Hurt And Anger
“If you are distressed about anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it, and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.” - Marcus Aurelius
Hurt is difficult to process. It can take a long time to do it. Don’t let an unrealistic focus on someone paralyze you. No one is worth that. The standard advice is to sit it out and not to begin dating for a while. But if someone is obsessing about somebody, or is hurting from a previous relationship, that needs to be ended. Seeing promising new prospects is a good way to do it. If a woman is thinking, “I can’t get ‘him’ out of my mind”, whether it’s someone a relationship ended with, or a man she’s obsessing about having, she needs to find a new ‘him’. When women start seeing that there is life on the other side, it goes a long way toward helping obsessions fade. You can’t have a better tomorrow, if you’re thinking about yesterday all the time, or about someone you’re unlikely to ever have.
If you have anger about a former partner, it’s not conducive to moving ahead either. In speaking of the importance of forgiveness, an expert featured in the excellent PBS series “The Emotional Life” said that some people are “relentlessly unforgiving” and are paralyzed by their anger. He said, “You can’t control what happened to you. You can only control how you feel about it.”
You might think “it’s easy for him to say, he doesn’t know what it means to be hurt.” I had a difficult time getting some relationships out of my head. Even after I did, I felt the hurt from it for quite a while. Finally, I realized I was only hurting myself with that kind of thinking. The key thing about hurt is that eventually we realize this and heal ourselves or get help doing it. The point is we would have been a lot better off if we had done it sooner. We should all just be a lot smarter about this and realize that we’re going to feel better about it eventually. Knowing that, we should resolve not to wait to let go later, but to let go now. I had a partial excuse for my behavior. I didn’t have anyone to tell me this when I was going through it. But you don’t have the same excuse. Someone told you – me.
As Lama Zopa Rinpoche says in How To Be Happy, “When there is no anger inside, there is no enemy outside…Without the good heart, it is impossible to get enlightened.” Don’t let hurt, anger, a bad heart and the past distract you from a promising future.
If you’re coming from a hurtful situation, tell the men you meet you have come out of a difficult relationship and need to take things slowly. A good man will understand and will try to help you.
Some women torture themselves for years over a past hurt or over not being able to have a man they want. It’s important in life to be stable and to be comfortable with yourself. Don’t base your happiness on anyone or anything.
If you’re suffering from a bad hurt, you may think you'll never recover. Whether you will or not is up to you. Living in the present will go a long way toward helping obsession with the past to stop. You'll start thinking about what’s to be gained, rather than focusing on things that aren't there anymore.
I know what I’m going to tell you next can be extremely annoying, particularly if you’ve been a victim, but it takes a negative and creates a positive out of it. It’s only with positives that you’re going to make yourself whole again.
It’s better when a relationship ends to move forward and to actually, or at least mentally, wish everyone the best. Lama Zopa Rinpoche writes, “When it comes time for a relationship to end, or even if your partner leaves you for another person, you can begin to transform some of your suffering by thinking like this, ‘Since I enjoyed being with my partner, why shouldn’t someone else have the same enjoyment? That other person is just as important as I am. Just like me that person wants happiness and doesn’t want suffering.’ ”
Isn’t that a far better way to rebuild the balance of your life than by being controlled by anger, hate or hopeless longing? Stay busy and don’t focus on the loss. Be glad instead for the good you did have in the relationship and whatever good you have going on in your life now.
Dan Gilbert, a social psychologist at Harvard noted in “The Emotional Life”, that “People recover from traumas faster than they think.” Similarly, a physician from Mount Sinai Hospital in New York asked former POW’s, “If you could have wiped out the POW experience from your life, would you? Almost incomprehensibly, most said “No”. They said “they learned things about themselves that served them well for the rest of their lives.” If they can do that with all the torture and privation they suffered, many times for years, we should take a page from their book and know that down the road what seems to be great relationship tragedy in our lives might well be the source of a far better future for us.
Don’t be a victim. Be a survivor. Stay grounded. Be at peace. As philosopher and lecturer Elbert Hubbard said, “A retentive memory is a good thing, but the ability to forget is a token of greatness.” That’s something that can benefit us in processing both hurt and anger.
Dealing With The Death Of A Partner
“Forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark.” - Philippians 3:13
There’s a different kind of hurt when someone loses their love to death. If it’s sudden, it’s hard to handle emotionally, and sometimes financially. It can also be the result of a long illness, which is draining emotionally and physically.
In Happiness, by Ed Diener and Robert Biswas-Diener, “research shows that when a spouse dies, widows exhibit a steep decline in life satisfaction, and only recover slowly. In fact, the death of a spouse can be such a serious hit to happiness, that it takes, on average, about five to seven years for life satisfaction to return close to the level it was when the spouse was still alive.” Of course, the authors cite average experience. Consequently, some women recover sooner. The length of a widow’s recovery is going to be affected not only by her personality, but by the quality of the relationship she had with her husband, the strength of her social network, her level of independence and her need for companionship.
While the love who died may be sorely missed, the problem a widow may face is loneliness. Some women cope by spending more time with family and friends and by taking up new interests. For some women, that’s enough. New relationships aren’t for everyone.
I had a wonderful and cheerful aunt who was widowed for years. She never remarried, although I'm sure she could have easily. She always seemed content with her situation and enjoyed spending time with her children and grandchildren. But other women have a loneliness and a longing that only having another companion can satisfy. There's a big difference between being content and "contenting yourself". If what you want is love and companionship, be open to possibilities. In the meantime, be peaceful with your current situation and fill your life with whatever interests you.
There may also be a wave of guilt about needing love again. There shouldn’t be. Your deceased spouse or partner had all the time allotted to him. Hopefully, you shared a good relationship. Keep those memories in that special place in your heart no one can touch. (Any caring new love will be respectful enough to help you honor that.) It’s hard to imagine that a loving husband wouldn’t want you to be happy again. If you’re thinking, “You didn’t know my John. He’d never want me to be with anybody else.” If that’s the case, he’d be being very unfair to you. He’s gone. You’re still here and deserve to have a life. Value the love you had. Remember the good times always and move ahead. You have to love your own life. You shouldn’t let it be controlled by anyone, including a love that’s gone ahead.
I would also not make, or feel bound by, any “promises” you may have made about not ever getting married again or a similar promise about who you would be buried with. It’s unreasonable of a spouse to extract such a promise from a partner and it’s an unwise one to make, if there is any possibility youmight wish to make a different choice later. Each partner should trust the other to do whatever he or she thinks is right when the time comes. No one knows what the future might hold.
For those with a religious belief, sometimes there is also a concern about, “What happens when I get to heaven? Who would I be with?” My mother was very wise and charitable person. I asked her that question once in my younger days. She said, “People shouldn’t worry about things like that. God will have a way to take care of it.” That was good enough for me. It’s also not sensible to worry about things you have no control over either.
Make the best use of your time. Make love part of it. You will probably be very surprised later to know you could be that happy again. Some women might say “I could never get married or have a relationship again. There will never be another John.” That’s true. There won’t be. He was an original. We all are. Seeking another relationship doesn’t just mean conducting a search for a clone of a deceased husband. It means your finding a different love with another man with praiseworthy characteristics of his own.
My father was married to my mother for 48 years when she died. He married a good, caring woman almost a year later. They were both happy for the next thirteen years until my father died at 87. So just because you’re in your forties or beyond, don’t think that you’re through and that having a relationship with a man isn’t possible. Don’t think about it as “the impossible dream.” Make the possible one happen. If my father and my stepmother could find happiness at 72, there’s still a whole lot of hope left for you.
One of my reviewers told me a story about a couple who met in an assisted living facility. They were remarried in their nineties and had four years together. The lady remarked, “Why should I sit here by myself when he could be with me… We’re good company for each other.” It almost brings tears to your eyes, doesn’t it? Talk about keeping hope alive! So please don’t think that you must be “washed up” if you’re in your sixties and haven’t fond someone yet. It’s never too late to find happiness.
If you’re widowed and lonely, give love another chance. If you meet the right man, he’ll make it easier for you to do it. You may both have memories, good and not so good. Together you can build a future. You’re not abandoning your former life and its memories. You’re adjusting to a changing situation and creating a new life for yourself.
Don’t think your heart only has so much room in it, so when someone new comes in, it has to push someone else out. Think of it as a huge, expandable reservoir that has room for all the love it can hold. As Zelda Fitzgerald said, “Nobody has ever measured, not even poets, how much a heart can hold.”
Don’t worry about what other people think. Sometimes children and friends get upset when a widow decides to date again. They don’t have the same perspective because of age or because they haven’t been through the same experience. It’s not their business, it’s yours. While they’re well meaning most of the time, they’re not the ones who have to take walks alone, eat alone, spend evenings alone or go to bed without the warmth and comfort of loving arms around them. Listen to your heart. You can be happy again.
Love May Be Closer Than You Think
Jardin des Plantes, Paris
“Like the ant-like tugboat with its scooter-like movements, with a strong engine that can maneuver around and push large ships, we have the power to accomplish great things, for ourselves and for others, far out of proportion to ourselves, if we give it our best efforts and stay flexible.” - Lawrence J. Danks
After you decide to look for someone to share your life with, the search and the wait can become discouraging. Sometimes women just give up. A new life might be just around corner. You have to believe. Keeping hope alive is a terrific motivator.
Many women have just given up too soon, haven't done what’s necessary, or haven't looked in the right places. The man you're hoping for could be five blocks from you, three towns away, in another state or in another country. You might meet him in a few days. It might take months. It shouldn't take years. Out of curiosity, I’ve looked at internet dating sites to see how many women I’d seen before were still there several years later. There were more than a few. Either they were highly selective (what their girlfriends would usually refer to as “picky”), not handling things the right way, or kept attracting the wrong kind of men.
Don’t worry about what happened before. Focus on the present. That’s what will make your future. I opened a fortune cookie a number of years ago, when things weren't going well. The little paper inside said, "Time and patience are called for. Many surprises await you". Your life can literally turn around with the right person, but it requires a positive attitude, application and perseverance. Many surprises may await you too.
Louise Hay, the founder of the well-known book publisher Hay House, and famous motivational speaker, asks audiences, “Do you love yourself?” She’s in her eighties and said her eighties were “the best decade of her life.” Almost every reader of this book is younger than that. Take a page out of her book. Love yourself. It’s harder to find someone to love you if you don’t love yourself in a positive way first.
Moving Forward To Find Love and Romance
Things can get better, and even more beautiful and wonderful than you ever imagined. In How To Be Happy, Dammit: A Cynic's Guide To Spiritual Happiness , Karen Salmansohn provides sound advice to help women get unstuck. She reminds us how we needed a whack to get us going at birth, and how we need one many times after. She says ultimately they provide for our growth. If we look at “relationship whacks” as things that will ultimately improve our lives, it can give us encouragement to press on. That means taking positive action, what’s called “putting plans under your passions”, not just hoping for the best.
Ms. Salmansohn notes further, "Some plants are only meant to last for a certain season or for a certain time. If you try to make them live longer, you will be a bad gardener." Recognizing a relationship was good while it lasted, but that the time had come for it to end, can inspire us to move forward to find a better situation. One of my reviewers told me, “Easy to say, but hard to swallow.” I didn’t say it was easy. I know that from experience. But it’s important to accept it, if you don’t want to stay stuck.
Sometimes it may seem somewhat cold, incomprehensible and insensitive to a partner when the other person leaves a relationship and starts looking again. Anyone who loved the people they were with, as I did, didn’t forget the feelings they had, they just had to be transformed so everyone could move forward to find a life that was hopefully going to be better for them.
But I Put So Much Time Into My Relationship Already
“When faced with doing something or nothing, I always choose to act.” - Colonel Joshua Chamberlain, famed Civil War officer
Don’t flog yourself for the time you already spent in a relationship, which may now seem to be “wasted.” Perhaps some of it was, but much of it probably provided companionship, intimacy, shared interests and quiet walks together. Things you both grew from in one way or another. It will help your long term growth, even if it only taught you what to avoid next time. Look for the best possible scenario for your life. Don’t just settle for someone because you have been in a relationship for a few years.
Here’s a good test. Ask yourself, “What’s the worst thing that could happen if I end this relationship?” The answer is you might have a hard time finding someone better, or maybe even as good. Many women don’t give themselves enough credit though. If you’re a reasonably attractive, loving person with a good personality, men will notice you if you put yourself in the right places. In the long run, isn’t it more sensible to have a better relationship, even if it takes a while, than staying in one you already feel isn’t working the way it should?
All our experiences have led us to where we are now. Renowned management consultant Peter Drucker said, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” When a relationship ends, the only way you can have a better future is to take control. Find a caring man who will treat you with respect, who you can communicate with and who feels right for you. Those are the things that count.
Fear To Move Forward And Being Stuck
"The world is full of lonely people afraid to make the first move." - The Green Book
“Fear of failure, humiliation, or making mistakes keeps us from accomplishing extraordinary things. Push through your fears and grow.”
- Andy Andrews, Mastering The Seven Decisions
One of the things that stop women from moving forward is fear. As Karen Salmansohn notes in How To Be Happy, Dammit, "All too often fear stops you from going where you need to go.” She provides a memorable story of a "Dope on a Rope". A king allowed a criminal to select his death by hanging or by facing what was behind a large, menacing steel door. The man chose hanging. As the rope was put around his neck, he asked the king, "What was behind the door?" The king said almost all the prisoners chose the rope, rather than facing the fear of the unknown. The king told him freedom laid on the other side of the door. If you’re willing to take the risk, something good can come true for you.
It takes courage to change things. Ms. Salmonsohn says, "If you're lonely, the longer you keep doing what you're doing, you'll keep getting what you've always been getting...You are a prisoner of your past and it'll stay that way until you do something to change it...What you seize is what you get." Stop doing what's not working and fearing to try things that "aren't you". Make some bold moves instead.
Where there's life, there's hope. Watch "Under the Tuscan Sun". It's a sweet movie and it’s very hopeful. The same applies to "Something's Gotta Give" with Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton. It's funny, but touching at the same time. Give yourself renewed hope.
Deepak Chopra in Reinventing The Body, Resurrecting the Soul speaks about the importance of love in our lives, “The desire to love and be loved constantly urges each person forward. When the desire is most alive, we seek the most from life. When that desire flickers out, life becomes static…Countless people prefer to exist without love because they are too afraid to risk whatever comfort they have; others have failed in love and feel wounded, or have grown bored with someone they once loved. For all these people, love has come to a stop, which means that an aspect of the soul is numb.”
As long as someone is afraid to change, nothing new is going to happen. But why settle for less? You wouldn’t do it if you were shopping, so why would do it with the rest of your life? “Boundaries try to convince us that risks are too dangerous. In truth, risk-taking is desire coaxing you to reach for something new…People who avoid all risks are making a devil’s bargain. In exchange for limited fulfillment, they gain safety. But that safety is an illusion. The reality is that they are stuck, immobile… Learning that risks are positive, that they allow you to grow, is an important step”, says Dr. Chopra. He says the answer to everything is “letting go.” That’s what provides the space for growth.
Richard Bach’s classic, Jonathan Livingston Seagull asks, “How will I know when my work is done?” The answer is: “If you’re still breathing, you’re not done yet.” Remember that with a relationship. It doesn’t matter how old you are. It doesn’t matter what you’ve been through already. There’s still time to change and to make things better. As the well-known evangelist and motivational speaker Dr. Robert Schuller said, “Plan to live to be a hundred.” It doesn’t make any difference whether you actually do or not. What does is making plans, taking time constraints away and keeping a long term perspective in mind.
You can’t “think” loneliness away. You have to act on it. Some of you have probably been reviewing the situation for quite a while already. Doing something about it in the present is the only way it’s going to change. Happiness can be there for you, but you have to move toward it. Sometimes things work out much differently than we ever could have imagined. That certainly has been the case for me. It can be for you too.
Are You Just Stuck, Hoping For The Right Man?
You don’t drown by falling in the water. You drown by staying there. No woman who’s lonely needs to stay that way. Only you can break the cycle by going out on dates again. All of us only get so much time. If you've wasted plenty of it already, don't waste any more. As the renowned British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli said, “Life is too short to be little.” If you’re living a “little life”, make it bigger and more fulfilling. Just ask: “What am I doing with myself?” If you’re not pleased, you need to do something about it. As Dr.Gordon Livingston says in Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart, “Any change requires that we try new things, risking always the possibility that we might fail… I often ask patients, “What are you saving yourself for?” Now’s the time.
You might be thinking, “How can I go forward after what I've been through, or am going through now? A woman told me, “Sometimes you know you did the right thing by ending a relationship, and even if I had to do it over again, I’d do the same thing because it was the right thing to do, but I’m still lonely for a partner. Life’s not always easy is it? Whatever your situation, step by step you’ll eventually heal yourself and develop a more positive mental attitude. Eventually, if you really want to, you’ll find the man you’re intended to share your life with.
Enjoy the balance of your valuable life as much as you can. This isn't a dress rehearsal. This is it. Use the advice here, from helpful websites and books, the support of those you trust, and counseling to help you. Dr. Richard Besser, Senior Health and Medical Editor at ABC News, said that “talk therapy” is the most effective method for dealing with mild to moderate depression. If more serious matters need to be addressed, a therapist would be able to make that assessment and could suggest medication or other forms of intervention. Help is always available in some form if you need it, but you have to ask.
Handling Stress and Self-Doubt
“Don’t be afraid to be who you really are. Don’t be a false self.” - Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life - James Hollis
It can be stressful trying to find the right man. If you can address some of your stress, you'll make yourself happier in the interim, and be a better companion. In an excellent small book, Undress Your Stress by Lois Levy, she provides a wide variety of entertaining and helpful thoughts to combat stress: Laugh, Meditate, Breathe Well, Write, Take A Bath, Groan, Scream, Sing, Cry, Exercise, Dance, Talk With Yourself, Talk To Someone Else, Pray, Waste Time, Go Outside, Go Home, Get Enough Sleep, Take A Nap. Put her suggestions on a “grocery list”. When you're stressed, pick one and do it. Getting stressed is only going to make you feel worse, may possibly affect your judgment, and will put you farther from your goal.
Keep your mind still. Don’t think about your situation too much. Just keep moving ahead with a plan. As Malcolm Forbes said, "Venture nothing, and life is less than it should be." Treat your situation like a “gap analysis” in management : Here’s where I am now and there is where I want to be. The intervening space is the gap. What steps do I need to take to bridge the gap?
Do you ever question yourself: “Maybe I’m not enough?”, “Maybe there’s something wrong with me?”, and similar thoughts. Know that you’re more than enough. We can all use some improvement. Where we see the need for it, we should take steps to bring about positive change. But getting down on yourself only makes you feel lousy and gets you nowhere.
In The New Earth, Eckhart Tolle provides an excellent guide to always knowing you’re enough, just the way you are, “Do not attempt to be more than you are but simply yourself. Don’t worry about protecting your image or trying to build it, just be yourself. Be the natural and spontaneous me…Give up defining yourself – to yourself or others. ‘I am enough just the way I am, neither superior or inferior to anyone. True self-esteem and true humility arise out of that realization.”
No matter what happens in life, we should never think of ourselves as “a failure.” Having failures doesn’t make us a failure. It only makes us people who haven’t succeeded at something. Whether someone loses a love, can’t find one or loses her job, it’s always important to see yourself as “Jill or Sue -The Worthwhile Person.” You always have intrinsic value, no matter what happens in your life. Nothing lasts forever. It just seems that way sometimes. When it seems as if things can’t get any worse, remember the only direction from there is up! It’s even more critical to realize that sometimes when we think things can’t get any worse, we find out we were wrong. Don’t worry about how much worse things might get. Just deal with what you’re facing. Know it always has the potentiality to change, if you help the process along.
Smile too! Let those eyes twinkle and you’ll sparkle. One of my reviewers suggested, “Catch yourself smiling in the mirror or store windows. A smile allows your inner beauty to rise to the surface.” The women I’ve cared about in my life are beautiful from the inside out. It made the outside look all the more beautiful to me. In spite of what you hear about what men want in a woman, like most women, decent men want substance. And when you look in that “Mirror, Mirror on the Wall” tell yourself, “Hey, I might not be the fairest of them all, but I’m still pretty damn good!” Never forget that. Ever. No matter what happens.
Easier Than You Think
Easier Than You Think was written by Richard Carlson, well known for his best seller, Don't Sweat The Small Stuff. He writes simply and provides helpful advice. Some of his tips can help you through troublesome situations. (Comments in brackets, here and elsewhere, are mine):
· Change always happens. It's just a matter of when. (Whatever happened, it was time for it to happen. It's all going to be all right eventually: “It all works out in the end. If it isn’t working out now, you haven’t come to the end yet!)
· Make change. Don't just wait for it to happen to you. (Be the initiator, not a passive observer.)
· Have a great day, unless you have other plans. Your thoughts can make all the difference. You be the choice maker.
· I won't go there. (Every time a troubling thought pops up, say to yourself, "No! I'm not going there anymore." With practice, it helps get problematic thoughts out of your head.)
· Focus on what is most productive every day.
· Everything happens for a reason. Don't look back! (An outstanding book with charming illustrations is Don't Look Back by Mary Engelbreit. It’s hard to find in stores now, but may be found as a used book. It’s a real gem. It can help anyone who’s looking backward to look ahead again.)
· Try to do something that makes a difference every day. (It puts your own problems into perspective and helps you to feel better and to act more positively.)
Finding The Right Man (or Woman)
"The Kiss" - Rodin
“This is my beloved and this is my friend.” – Song of Solomon
There are many men you might be able to have a good lunch or tennis match with. Finding one to share the rest of your life with takes far more consideration. The characteristics shown below are found in many men of all ages, despite some women’s opinions to the contrary, based on a very limited number of experiences they’ve had. Even if a woman has had a dozen relationships, that’s an infinitesimal slice of the universe of available men.
When someone keeps missing pitches and striking out, it’s time to take a look at how they see the pitches and how they’re swinging the bat. We’ll mention more about that in another section. Sometimes the problem women have is with the men they’re selecting in the first place. It may take work to find one who has the characteristics you value in the proportions you want, but they’re there. In later sections, I’ll discuss how to find them.
How It Often Starts
I saw a powerful and highly educational exhibit called “Body Worlds 2 & The Brain” at The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. It showed the bodies of real people who have been “plasticized” in many forms of display, from a man hitting a baseball to a petite, entrancing ballet dancer.
While on the surface it might sound sort of sick and not something that anyone would run to see, it was a highly informative, positive experience. The people whose bodies were used donated them to benefit scientific education. It enabled visitors to actually look inside bodies with the skin removed to see all the bones and internal organs, and to witness the impact of smoking, excessive alcohol consumption and the results of various forms of disease.
As you might expect, my wife wasn’t exactly looking forward to seeing a display of dead bodies, but she came away awed as I did. It’s something I’d recommend to you very highly if you ever have an opportunity to see it. It featured many clear explanations and memorable presentations of things that are mysteries to most of us. It provided a new appreciation of our bodies. It wasn’t at all “creepy” or simple exhibitionism, as some might expect.
So what’s this got to do with love? One of the exhibits said this:
“Heart beat extraordinarily fast?
Butterflies in your stomach?
Shivers down your spine?
Smiling at everyone you meet?
The diagnosis: Madly in love.
The exhibit was titled “Love Struck.” That’s how it can all begin. The larger question though is, “How will I end?” Or alternatively, will it endure? Being “love struck” isn’t a lasting phenomenon, as science will attest to. We have to work our way through the euphoria that a promising new relationship brings and ask ourselves some hard questions about whether the relationship is going to be good for us down the road.
Here are some of the lasting characteristics you should look for in a man (or woman), if you want a relationship to last:
Honesty and Truthfulness
When evaluating a man, this should be at the top of the list. If a man isn’t honest, the rest of it doesn't matter. Otherwise, how do you know when he’s telling you the truth and when he isn't? This is the foundation relationships are built on.
If you have a long distance relationship, one where your guy travels frequently, or one where you live apart for substantial periods during the month, you really need to be sure about this. You don't want to be made a fool of, or miss other chances you could have had, while he's stringing you along pursuing opportunities of his own. Similarly, you should be invariably honest and trustworthy with the man you have an interest in. He deserves the same degree of assurance you want.
Openness and Communication
Openness is something to look for. It’s important to determine the quality of communication you’re going to have in a relationship. You shouldn’t have to pull things out of a man regularly. There would most likely be other things you weren’t successful in pulling out. If you feel you’re getting frequent resistance to learning what you’d like to know about a man, find someone else. Good communication involves good listening skills too. When you talk does he listen? As famed philosopher Paul Tillich said, “The first duty of love is to listen.”
If the communication doesn't flow easily, it’s not going to work. A woman who was divorced from her husband told me a big mistake she made was trying to think for her husband, then tailoring her actions based upon what she thought he wanted, or what she thought was important to do for him. She said, “Talk to your partner about what each of you are really thinking and feeling. You don’t want to feel stifled and resentful.”
Communication should be easy, not work. You don't want to spend the rest of your life looking out a car window while you're riding along, when you could be having good conversations with someone more engaging. If you love each other and have things in common, there should be plenty to talk about most of the time.
When you’re together, do you genuinely enjoy each other's company and have fun? Can you spend a lot of time together effortlessly? Do you feel calm and peaceful around each other? That’s the way things should be.
Can you “be yourself” when you’re together? If you are on edge and uncomfortable most of the time, something is making you that way. A little bit of nervousness and trying to get a sense of each other early on isn’t unusual, but with time you should feel more at ease. If you aren’t, try to identify why and talk about it. If it can't be resolved, I’d keep looking.
Any type of aggressive behavior, including a man's being openly sexual early on when you aren't in agreement, someone who’s rude to you or others, or someone who’s restrictive and controlling, are good cause not to keep seeing someone, particularly if you’ve made it clear already that you didn't like it.
An important part of chemistry is how things work in everyday life together. When you talk about things, are you on the same wave length most of the time? Being loved means being understood. When problems come up, can you talk them out together and deal with the challenges life presents without having him go off the wall or go to pieces? Since you can’t go out all the time, how are things when you stay at home, eat dinner, watch television, play games, read or listen to music together? In a broader sense, how does it feel “playing house” with him, whether it includes a sexual relationship, living together full or part time, or not.
“Actions speak louder than words” isn’t a well known axiom for nothing. No matter what a man says he’s going to do, examine his actions. They’re far more important. If a man tells you he loves you, but he’s doesn’t show you proper respect, doesn’t stay in regular contact, or is consistently late, there’s a disconnect.
Pay attention if behavior isn’t what you want. If it’s not consistent with what you want, it should be cause to re-evaluate your relationship. He’s supposed to be putting you first. If he can’t put his best foot forward when you’re dating, can anyone think it’s going to get better after you get married or start living together?
Women sometimes make excuses for a man’s behavior: “He’s very busy working” or “He didn’t have time to call.” If there is a truism in life, it’s this - people find the time to do the things they really want to do. If he’s not calling you, most likely it’s because he doesn’t want to. If he’s not showing you proper affection and respect, don’t expect it to get better later. If you don’t think a guy is treating you properly or taking the relationship seriously, you should move on.
Gordon Livingston has years of personal counseling experience. In Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart, he summarizes why promising chemistry can later go awry, “The ways in which people come together and choose each other place a great emphasis on the potent combination of sexual attraction and sort of an enlightened self-interest that evaluates the other person on a series of qualities and achievements: education, earning potential, shared interests, trustworthiness, and philosophy of life. Each person’s assessment of a potential mate using these standards creates a certain set of expectations. It is the failure of those expectations over time that causes relationships to dissolve.”
This is good to know, so you and your partner can guard against this type of problem. You also need to evaluate, as best as you can, whether the man you choose is going to be someone who, by his nature, is likely to stay the course on these things.
Interests, Attitudes and Aspirations
Explore his interests and what he’s looking for in life. See if you’re on the same page, not only with interests, but about general attitudes and the future. You don’t have to match on everything. What you’re looking for are “deal breakers”, e.g., you’re looking for a partner to spend a substantial amount of time with and he tells you he plays golf everyday. You want to spend more time traveling. He doesn’t like to travel at all.
The PBS series “The Emotional Life” made the important point that relationships are aided and happiness is fostered when couples share new and challenging activities together. You might wish to assess what your quotient for that would be with a prospective partner, whether it involves traveling to new destinations, taking on the job of remodeling a home, playing challenging games or hiking in unfamiliar terrains together.
Commitment and Companionship
Does his commitment seem real and deep? How is he as a companion? Research has indicated commitment to one another and companionship were the two most important characteristics found in lasting relationships.
Regarding commitment, is it ok with you to continue seeing each other, but living separately? If that’s what works for you, it’s fine. It seems to work for some couples. It would never work for me. A shared life of love and a lot of togetherness is very important to me. But what's important to you?
If what you want is a committed relationship with a man leading to marriage or a solid commitment to live together, don't waste time on guys who are reluctant to go there. In the long run, he wouldn't be happy and you wouldn't be either. If a man wants a freer life, that's ok, but if that's not what you want, find someone who shares your dreams and don't lose any more time out of your life.
Do you work well together on things, including household stuff? If there are children, or are going to be some, do you think you’ll be able to cooperate well raising them? Raising stepchildren can provide additional challenges to a relationship. Is that something you can handle or want to handle?
Consideration, Appreciativeness, Kindness and Unselfishness
Notice whether he seems to be trying to please you or himself. Look for kindness. Gordon Livingston in Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart says of qualities to nurture in ourselves, and to seek in our friends and lovers, “at the top of the list would be kindness, a willingness to give of oneself to another. This most desirable of virtues governs all the others, including a capacity for empathy and love.”
What you’re looking for is selfless giving --- a man who gives and expects little or nothing in return. Those who are truly kind don’t look upon giving as a negotiated bargain, namely, “What do I get out of it?” You probably want to do things for your man simply because you love him and for no other reason. Being kind and considerate demonstrates that. Look for a guy who does the same. Is he appreciative of what you do for him? Does he show it and say so too?
In How To Love, Gordon Livingston notes, “…power in any relationship depends on kind of a win/lose negotiation in which we gain at someone else’s expense. This also leads to the concept of compromise as an essential element of the negotiation. Neither party is expected to get everything they want, which dovetails nicely with the “nobody’s perfect” idea that is an article of faith among those in bad relationships. In fact, the kind of negotiation that is intended to produce the best outcome for ourselves at the expense of others is the very antithesis of love, that emotion that places the needs and desires of another at the level of our own.” (In my mind, it should be even higher than our own.) Look for the kind of man Dr. Livingston describes when you’re looking for someone to spend the rest of your life with.
When the opportunities present themselves, watch how he treats others and refers to them: his former spouse(s), your children and family, his family members, store clerks, servers, and others he encounters. If he treats them like dirt, or talks about them that way, somewhere down the line when the heat dies down, you’ll be likely to get the same treatment. Avoid trouble. Leave now. You want “what you see is what you get”, not an actor playing a role.
Regardless of the cause of any hurt you may have, any man who has a sincere interest in you will take the time to get to know you better and be respectful of your heart in the meantime. He’ll want you to heal, and will help you by talking things out when you want to. Naturally, the time frame has to be kept within reason. He wants to live a meaningful life too and doesn't want to put things on hold indefinitely. In the end, if he’s the right one, it may make you love him all the more because he was kind and considerate to you when you needed it. You’ll have the opportunity to return the favor somewhere down the road. Being there for each other is important during a dating relationship and certainly afterward.
Flexibility and Adaptability
Life is long. New situations present themselves in any relationship, often things you could never envision. How flexible is your partner in dealing with sudden changes? Can he bounce back from such situations and help you when you need it? Is he the kind of person who can deal with losing a job or a significant amount of income, or having to move? What about arguments? Is he willing to talk things over and to “get over it”, or does he carry a grudge around and sulk for two days. That’s something you don’t need and something I would avoid. A situation like that isn’t likely to improve and will most likely only get worse over time.
Is he reasonably organized and neat about his person and how he keeps his living space. If you’re neat and organized, you’re not likely to want to reside daily with poor personal appearance and hygiene, clutter, indecision or chaos. On the other side of the coin, if he’s a real “neat freak”, that might cause a problem too.
Your Listening Skills
When a man says something like, “I can be really selfish sometimes” or “I have a very bad temper”, or someone who knows him well says something similar about him, pay attention. It’s easy to be starry-eyed and to ignore information like this when you shouldn’t. See if what you subsequently observe about the remarks confirms them. After the fact, some people in relationships will tell you they should have paid more attention to clues like this. I should have a few times.
Does he take proper care of himself physically? If he doesn’t, is this something you want to buy into? After a commitment is made though, that’s something that goes with the territory. If you love someone, you take care of them when they need it. You would hope for the same.
Sometimes age comes into play. If a man is ten or fifteen years older for example, a woman might reason she doesn’t want to risk potentially “becoming a nurse”. However, sometimes younger men might need care, while an older one may never need it. Women should realize that even though they might be younger than a man, they could ultimately be the ones who need care. None of this is predictable. I’d be inclined to give this some consideration only if a man has an already existing health condition or has current habits that would suggest future health issues.
Does sex bring you closer? Does it seem like a natural extension of the love you feel for each other? Is the sex the kind you want? Do you find it physically and emotionally satisfying? Is your partner a kind, patient and caring lover who puts your needs first? Can you talk about sex easily with him? It’s something that should be discussed frankly.
Family and Friends
When you get involved in a serious relationship or get married, a man’s family and friends often come with the package. Sometimes it’s a real blessing. You get a larger family and more friends. Other times it could be a deal breaker.
Stability and Dependability
Can he be a rock when you need one? We should all stand on our own two feet, but sometimes life throws us a curve and we need someone we can count on to be objective and dependable. You want to be the same for him. Does he understand what your needs are and do his best to show he loves you by trying to meet them?
It’s sensible to look for a man who can provide the type of financial stability you want too, but the man you’re thinking about living with everyday needs far more than that. If it comes to a choice, I’d suggest going for less in the finance department to get more in the man department. Naturally, having both makes it all the more inviting. Anyone who looks for a man solely to meet financial needs, or is only searching for someone who “has a lot of money”, is likely to have a great deal of time to repent.
Further financial matters to be evaluated are a man’s credit history and debt status, how money will be managed and who’s going to manage it. To protect your own credit, keep your credit accounts and bank accounts separate for a while. It’s also sensible to discuss a budget, so you can see if you’re going to be able to make it together financially. Arguments can arise about financial matters even before a couple starts living together. When it looks as if there can be big trouble, that’s something that needs to be evaluated.
Will your partner stand by you financially to help you when you need it? Evaluate whether your prospective partner is generous or cheap too. There’s nothing wrong with trying to save money, but you want it to fall within the bounds of reasonability. You don’t want to live an unnatural life with a miser. If a man isn’t willing to spend money for the benefit of a woman he says he loves, where is he going to spend it? Sometimes the response is that there’s a need to “save for the future.” That makes sense, but couples should have a decent everyday life in the meantime.
Your Partner and Your Happiness
To know whether a man (oe woman) is the right one for you, ask yourself some happiness questions:
· What’s your idea of happiness? Can the man you’re considering be a significant part of helping you find it?
· Can you see yourself spending the rest of your life with this man and being happy about it? It’s critically important to look beyond just having a few good years together.
If you can’t see the man you’re dating as the answer to these two questions, it should give you pause to re-evaluate the situation. Ask whether changes in your relationship can help or whether it’s time to value what you had, call it a day and move forward to find someone else who can help you answer those questions with a strong affirmative.
Is He (She) “The One”?
I’ve always been very fond of Elton John’s song “The One”. If everything else seems right, some of its romantic lyrics sum up how you may have found someone that you can build a future with:
“And all I ever needed was the one
Like freedom fields where wild horses run
When stars collide like you and I
No shadows block the sun
You’re all I’ve ever needed
Baby you’re the one”
Oscar Wilde said it was important to “Keep love in your heart. A life without it is like a sunless garden when flowers are dead. The consciousness of loving and being loved brings a warmth and a richness to life that nothing else can bring.”