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Renee Dubeau

Creative Nonfiction & Inspirational Shit

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relationships

How to Communicate Like a Big Girl, Because he can’t Read your Mind.

Imagine you are driving to work one morning on your usual route. You merge onto the interstate, and slide over to the left lane where you set your cruise control and stay for a while. You’re obeying all of the traffic laws- you have your seat belt on, you’re within the posted speed limit, you’re maintaining your lane just fine, your tags are current and your vehicle is in good repair. You’re doing everything right, so, when you see blue lights flashing in your rearview mirror, you’re caught off guard.

You pull onto the shoulder, put the car in park and roll down your window. When the police officer approaches, you have your license and registration waiting for him.

“Do you know why I pulled you over this morning?”

“Actually, no. I had my cruise control set, so I know I was not speeding…”

“No, you weren’t speeding. I pulled you over because you were driving your blue car in the left lane. Blue cars can only drive in the right lane.”

“What? That’s ridiculous! I’ve never heard of that before!”

“Well, it’s the law as of today, so I have to write you a ticket…”

“But, I didn’t even know that was a thing! That’s a dumb law! What difference could it possibly make what color my car is?”

“If you paid attention, you might know these things. Here’s your ticket.”

He hands you the ticket, and you go nuclear. Now you have to pay a fine for something you didn’t even know you were doing wrong, and you still don’t know what in the lemon-scented fuck the color of your car even has to do with anything. The next morning, you might want to pick a different route to avoid the interstate, or call out of work altogether.

The most frustrating part of this scenario is that you’re being held accountable for expectations that were not communicated to you. You’re learning the rules to the game one by one as you unintentionally break them – and they keep changing- so you never know what is expected.

And, so it is in relationships when expectations are not clearly communicated. We expect our partner to know what we want, what we like, where we want to go, what gifts to buy- without us ever giving them such information. Then, if they don’t meet our unspoken expectations, we get upset and make them feel like they have failed us, because they didn’t read our minds and do the thing we secretly expected them to do, but never asked them for. It’s bullshit- like getting a ticket for driving your blue car in the left lane- but we do it without even realizing it sometimes.

In Buddhist philosophy, we learn that attachment is the root of all human suffering.

When we have expectations that we do not communicate to our partner, the suffering is two-fold. Because we’ve got our heart set on a certain mystery thing, if they don’t deliver, we might be disappointed- even hurt. Our attachment to the thing we were expecting may make us feel like our partner doesn’t know us as well as we wish they did, or like they haven’t paid attention to the hints we’ve been dropping, or tuned into the telepathy we just know we’re sending them. When we don’t get what we want, we may sulk and express our disappointment. Then, our partner suffers because even though they didn’t know what we wanted from them,  if they tried to do something nice for us and we don’t appreciate it (because it’s the thing they chose instead of the thing we were secretly wishing they would do) they may feel totally dejected. They may feel like their best isn’t good enough for us, or that they can’t make us happy, no matter how hard they try.  This feeling is quite disheartening, and does not foster the intimacy and connection we are all looking for in our relationships.

Our attachment to our unspoken expectations creates suffering for everyone. This is why we must communicate with our partners, and learn to release our attachments and live in the moment.

I have the privilege of being a mommy to grown children. As they navigate their romantic relationships, I am honored that they often come to me for advice. Hands down, communication is the number one thing we talk about. Communication is at the root of almost every issue every couple has. Learning to express our needs, wants, boundaries, expectations, and emotions to our partners honestly and openly is crucial for the health of our relationships.

Most likely, this is not news to anyone. At the logical level, we understand that communication is important. So, why do we hold back? What keeps us from openly expressing ourselves and telling our partner what’s on our minds?

Fear of vulnerability, for one. No matter how much we trust our partner, it’s always just a tiny bit terrifying opening up to them and revealing things that feel uncomfortable. We may fear judgement or rejection. We may fear that our partner will think of us differently because of what we’ve shared, and if they think of us differently, that might change our relationship. The great news is, vulnerability typically opens doors we didn’t know were closed. When we take that scary step and share our secrets with our partner, it gives them the opportunity to look at us with more empathy and compassion. When we reveal our humanness, it creates space for them to share their own humanity with us. And, as we share together, our connection grows deeper. We build trust, intimacy, and overall stronger, more resilient bonds through sharing with each other openly.

Feelings of unworthiness may also make us hold back in our relationships. Maybe a past relationship, or even childhood wounds, taught us that our needs and wants are unimportant or burdensome. Maybe we don’t feel like we deserve to have the good things we crave. We may feel selfish, guilty, ashamed- even embarrassed- to tell our partner what we really need and want. The only thing we can achieve by not expressing these things to our partners is resentment for us, and frustration for them. We have to trust that our partner wants us to be happy. They want to please us and give us everything we’ve ever wanted. But, when we don’t communicate what those things are, it leaves them in a constant guessing game- one that they rarely win.

It’s completely unfair for us to hold our partners accountable for expectations we’ve never expressed.

Sometimes, we don’t talk to our partners about our needs and expectations because we don’t even know what they are. We are all constantly learning, growing and evolving. Our needs, values, opinions, and desires may shift with us through the years. I think younger couples may have more difficulty expressing themselves because they are still getting to know who they are as individuals, and can’t communicate something to their partner that they are not aware of. They are learning as they go, and often times learn what they want and need by not getting it. This can create a volatile dynamic where each person feels like they are not heard or understood.

This is not unique to young couples, as older folks can also struggle with self-awareness. Some people jump from relationship to relationship so quickly, they never invest the time it takes to get to know themselves. This creates sort of a chameleon personality, where they are constantly shifting themselves to fit into a relationship with someone else, then blaming their unhappiness on the other person, when really, they are unhappy because they don’t know who they are as an individual. If we don’t know how to make ourselves happy, it’s impossible to teach a partner what we need in our relationship.

And, ladies, we have got to stop playing games with our guys. This is a big one I coach my kids on, but I definitely see grown folks doing this, too. When he asks you something like, “Hey, Valentine’s Day is coming up. What do you want to do?” If you respond with, “I don’t know, whatever you want to do…” you have to make an agreement with yourself that whatever happens after that will be exactly what you wanted, because it’s exactly what you asked for. If you are secretly hoping he will take you to that fancy steak house downtown, but you don’t tell him that’s where you want to go, you don’t get to be mad when he takes you to your favorite sports bar instead. If you want flowers, tell him. You want to go to a show, tell him. If you don’t tell him, he won’t know, and if he doesn’t know, you can’t be upset with him.

We have two choices: either communicate our expectations clearly to our partner, or let go of our attachments and let everything be a happy surprise. Of course, there are non-negotiable things in relationships like fidelity, honesty, and mutual respect. These expectations should be discussed, and are fine to hold onto as they are the backbone of our commitment to one another. Communicating honestly about what you need to feel safe and secure in your relationship will pay dividends as you grow together. This is a wonderful time to unpack your baggage with your partner. Talk about your past, your triggers, your fears and dreams. These conversations are the cornerstone of a healthy union and cannot be substituted with any amount of hot sex, common interests, or wearing matching outfits.

For the little things, if we practice mindfulness and stay in the present moment, we will not venture out into the future to decide how things should be before they happen. When we are present in each moment, and allow things to happen without trying to control everything, life can bring us beautiful surprises we never expected. We will meet our partner with more gratitude and appreciation, because we will be there with them in the present moment, instead of clinging to our expectations and feeling disappointed. Allowing our partners to be creative and give to us from their hearts keeps life fun and exciting. We may find that our partners think of things we’ve never thought of before. When our lovers feel engaged and appreciated, they want to do everything they can to make us happy. The more they give to us, the more we want to give back to them, and we live in a beautiful circle of generosity, creativity, and feeling loved, appreciated, and delighted. This is truly how every relationship should be.

As much as we might wish our lover could read our mind- they can’t. They can’t do it anymore than we can, and it’s not fair to expect them to. We have to be big girls and tell our guys what we want- in the bedroom, our communication styles, what our love language is, the level of commitment we desire, where we like to go, what we like to do, what our deal-breakers are- it’s our job to make sure our partner knows all these things and more. Initiating these conversations, hopefully, will allow you to learn about your partner as well, so you can give to him all the wonderful things he gives to you.

No one wants to play a game they can never win. Our unspoken needs and wants, and our attachment to them, might make our beloved feel like they’re getting a ticket for driving a blue car in the left lane. Eventually, they’re going to want to park that car and go get on the bus where things make sense and the rules are predictable. But, if we can be brave and communicate our expectations and desires, we create opportunities for our partners to get it right every time. When we set our lovers up to win, everyone wins.

 

Photo Credit: EIF PCUSA

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Kids are Resilient, and Unicorns are Real.

My kids are incredible humans. They’ve been through a lot in their lives, which has shaped them into kind, compassionate, wise young people. My son and I were up late the other night talking about relationships, when he said something amazing to me.

“I don’t want to settle, mom. I see how happy you and Matt are, and I want that kind of love. I want to wait for something like that.”

His sweet words brought tears to my eyes, and I realized that he has watched me come full circle.

My kids had a front row seat for some of the worst years of my life. One of my greatest regrets as a mother was that I stayed in a toxic, broken marriage for many years longer than I should have. I was weak, depressed, lonely, disengaged, and hopeless. I felt trapped. Lost. I wasted precious years believing that I deserved to be miserable, and wore my wedding ring like shackles, all the while believing that I was doing something good for my kids. I didn’t want them to be from a broken home, then I realized that it was even worse for them to be living in one.

I hated the example I set for my kids. Having grown up in a home full of dysfunction and abuse, I knew that unhappy parents couldn’t raise happy kids. I really wanted to give them the healthy, happy home I wished for all my life. I wanted to give them the mother I needed when I was small. I wanted to model a healthy, loving, supportive marriage for them.

Instead, I allowed things to happen in our home that never should have. I avoided our problems, just like my mother did, just like I always said I wouldn’t. I was little more than a doormat for most of their childhood, unable to stand up for myself or for them.

I felt like a failure.

When I finally left his father, my son was twelve. He watched me twist in the wind, hollow and afraid. I thought leaving would be the key to my happiness. I didn’t know that just beyond our picket fence was the wilderness I would have to wander through to find a version of myself I could stand to look at in the mirror.

My kids watched me claw my way through returning to the workforce after nearly a decade of being a stay at home mom. They watched me pull myself out of the pit of my own self-loathing, go to therapy, and learn how to love myself, express my emotions in healthy ways, and find my voice. They watched me become empowered, confident, and free. Magically, we all began to heal and adjust to our new normal as a family of three.

Mid-metamorphosis, I took an intentional year of celibacy and solitude. I put a ring on my own finger, and I dated myself. I spoiled myself rotten with little gifts. I bought fresh flowers every week to keep on my kitchen table. I tried new things, met new people, traveled alone, took myself out for solo movie nights, and fancy dinners in pretty places. I took all the time, attention, energy, and love that I would have poured into a relationship, and poured them into myself . I got to know myself without the expectations and opinions of others, and let go of years of pain. I discovered interests and talents I didn’t know I had. I started building the life I wanted to live with intention and purpose, instead of letting life happen to me.

When I emerged from my chrysalis of self-care, I was a completely different person.

I didn’t think I would ever get married again. I was prepared for a long happy life with a herd of shelter cats in our modest home with a small library in it. I think in our culture we assume sometimes that single people are lonely. I was never lonely. I was active, engaged in a community of wonderful friends, volunteering, practicing yoga, dancing, becoming a published author, advancing in my career, and going on all kinds of adventures. I was finally happy- happy with myself, and happy by myself. The last thing I wanted was to fall down another rabbit hole to hell and end up in another miserable marriage.

But, then, I met Matt. As hard as I tried to analyze and over analyze everything he said to find the lies, there weren’t any. He was genuine and kind. When he made a promise, he kept it. When he said he would do something he did it. When he said he would be somewhere, he always showed up. It was super weird. I had never seen anything like it.

Matt is the quintessential Southern gentleman. As it turns out, chivalry is not dead. He opens doors, he pulls out chairs, he holds a strong arm across my chest when the car comes to a sudden stop, he treats people with respect and goes out of his way to help when there is a need, he calls me Beautiful like it’s my name. He’s an amazing dad to his daughters, and has become a huge part of my kids’ lives as well.

As our relationship grew deeper and we peeled back the layers of our lives and began to mesh them together, I realized that I had waited my whole life for him. He is the gentle, loving father I wished for as a little girl. He is the attentive, affectionate, sweet, supportive man that I wished for all the years my soul atrophied in the hands of a man who couldn’t love me. I had lived my whole life believing that my expectations were unrealistic– that kind, loving, honest men didn’t exist. Then, I met Matt, who is basically a unicorn, and my wishes came true.

I can honestly say that my relationship with Matt is the first healthy relationship I’ve ever had with a man. We come to the table as equals, we communicate effectively, we support each other in everything we do, we work hard together, and oh my gods do we play. Life is fun, and exciting, and we just seem to get better and better together. I never thought I would get married again, until I saw how wonderful a marriage could be if you find the right partner and invest the time and attention it takes to cultivate a happy life together.

I still regret that I wasted so many years being unhappy, and that I wasn’t fully present for my kids. I wish I had given them the best of me, and a better example. But, I am so grateful that they got to watch me fight for my life and become the woman I was born to be. I’m grateful that with my husband-to-be, I can show them an example of a strong, healthy marriage now. Truly, knowing that my son finds our relationship worthy of emulation is an honor. It makes me feel like I finally got things right.

I’ve heard children of divorce say that they will never get married, because they don’t want to live through the hell they watched their parents suffer, or put their own children through the pain that comes from unraveling a family unit. It makes my heart happy to know that my children are resilient, and that our divorce didn’t destroy their desire to find love and make families of their own someday.

In 78 days, my sweet son will walk me down the aisle, where Matt will be waiting with our daughters. Matt’s dad will read some pretty words, and tell us to exchange rings, and we will promise to love and cherish each other until we are parted by death. I will make that promise and mean it with my whole heart. Because, if life has taught me anything, it’s that unicorns are real, and when you find one you keep it and take really good care of it. Marriage can be tricky, and life is never certain, but when you have a partner who is willing to get in the trenches with you and help you find your way back out, you do everything you can to meet them with the same level of compassion and commitment.

It is my hope and wish that seeing the changes in me, and the contrast of my life today as compared to a decade ago will help my children find their own unicorns out in the world. (I’m pretty sure my daughter already has.)

I want them to love themselves enough to enjoy their own company until their perfect partner arrives to elevate them and take them to that next level of happiness and fulfillment in their lives. I want them to experience honest, unconditional love and mutual respect. I want to continue to show them what a happy, healthy marriage looks like, and how to work with their partners to make all of their dreams come true.

I’m grateful for every experience that brought me to this place in my life, where finally, I feel like I’m giving my kids an example I can be proud of. I hope that if nothing else, they can look at my life and see how powerful it is to invest in yourself and make necessary changes. When we do the work to become our best selves, we attract the right people to help us continue growing and evolving. And when we find that perfect partner, literally anything is possible- there are no dreams too big when you find your unicorn.

 

 

 

Photo credit: PxHere

 

 

 

 

 

Are you looking for Love?

We  sat across from one another, ordered appetizers to share, and just started talking. We talked about the day, and plans for the rest of our busy week. We talked about the house we’re building, and plans for our wedding next year. We talked about the kids, and all the good stuff they have coming up. We fell into our own little world talking, laughing, and enjoying a few uninterrupted moments together.

Each time our server stopped by to check on us, he lingered, joining in the conversation for a bit. He was a sweet young man, bursting with enthusiasm. He spent a few minutes at our table telling us stories about the restaurant business, and some of the crazy things he’s seen people do.

When it was time for us to leave, he asked if he could give me a hug. He looked at me earnestly and said, “Hold onto what you two have. I see so many unhappy couples come in here. They spend the whole time on their phones ignoring each other, or they argue the whole time and it’s super awkward. But, I can tell y’all really enjoy each other’s company. I can feel the love over here, and that’s really special.”

His kind words surprised me. I thanked him and gave him a hug.

After a year of cohabitation, blending our family of six into one functional unit, co-sleeping, co-mingling finances, and planning the next phase of our quickly changing world- we still dig each other. We communicate well, we treat each other with kindness and respect, we play like kids, and plan wild adventures together. Life is truly wonderful– so much so that strangers can see it in a few stolen moments together at a local chain restaurant.

That’s the thing about love: when it’s organic, pure, and real–  it’s unmistakable. It’s undeniable. When we see it, we can’t help but smile. When we’re near it, the vibration is almost palpable. And, with all the shitty things happening in the world right now, isn’t it refreshing to see love instead?

If you pay attention, it’s everywhere.

Love lives in the corner booth where the happy couple is planning their wedding, and also in the coffee shop where three college students make a pact to pass that calculus class together.

It’s in the eyes of every little child who is innocent and unaware of the atrocities that surround them every day. It’s in the hands of moms and dads who work tirelessly to make a nice life for those little ones, and the hearts of the grandparents who treasure the days  that slip by too quickly.

Love is the string that ties us together through distance, years, and change.

If you listen closely, love is the subtle humming in the background of all the noise in the world. If you can be still and silent even for a moment, you can hear it. It’s always there.

Love keeps the earth on its axis in times of war, tragedy, disaster, plague, and pain. It gives us a reason to fight through our hardest days. It keeps us reaching out for connection, looking for purpose, and creating everything beautiful in the world.

To love, and to be loved are the greatest gifts we can give and receive. Not just romantic love, wonderful as it is. Unconditional acceptance, the kindness of strangers, friendship, philanthropy, and passion for anything that makes the world a better place are all rooted in love.

Love is the force that drives positive change. Change in society, like greater equality and social justice begin with our capacity to love others. It’s the antithesis of fear, hate, judgement and discrimination. Love inspires us to reach beyond the familiar to experience new cultures. Love dissolves barriers built by ignorance.

All self-improvement is a product of self-love. Every good decision we make, every effort to become happier, healthier, and more authentically “us” begins with our ability to love ourselves. This is nearly impossible in a culture so determined to tear us down and make us feel insecure or inferior. To love ourselves is to accept every part of who we are, to embrace our perceived flaws, and make peace with our pasts. True self-love means unconditional self-acceptance. It’s speaking to ourselves as we would a dear friend- using words to encourage and not harm. It’s carving out time to do what we love. It’s taking care of our mind, body, and spirit in the way that only we can.

When we see love in the world, it is a reflection of the love that lives inside us. We recognize it effortlessly, because we are a literal embodiment of it. It’s the force that make our hearts beat and our lungs breathe.

I stopped by the grocery store on my way home that night after dinner with all of this swirling around in my brain. A woman stopped me in the frozen foods aisle to compliment my tattoos. We talked for a few minutes about local tattoo shops and the meaning of all the pieces of art on our bodies. She hugged me when we said goodbye.

These brief moments of connection- the server in the restaurant, the stranger in the store- these are expressions of love for humanity. People are hurting. We have more technology for connection than we ever have. But, we’re more lonely and isolated than ever before. We are inundated with images of violence, and sound bites of fear. The world is a harsh, scary place. There is much uncertainty, and despair. Just beyond the distraction of it all, love is still there. It radiates all around us. If we’re looking for darkness and doom, that’s what we will see. But if we look for love instead, it will find us over and over again.

Photo: Pexels

 

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