“Calm seas never produce skilled sailors”
I did something pretty painful the other morning. I looked in the mirror. Not the typical “good enough” glance I give myself every morning to be sure I wiped the toothpaste off my chin. I mean I really took a close look. I knew I used to have a chin and my hair seems to have a little more frosting than before. And where in the world did that stray hair come from? Nothing ever grew there before!
Sometimes looking in the mirror can be a really horrific experience. The mirror does not lie. In fact, sometimes it will save your life. How many times have you heard people tell the story of finding a spot on their face that looked suspicious? That early detection may have saved their life.
I had a lady tell me one time that she and her girlfriends get together often to “vent” about their husbands. I listened patiently and then asked some important questi
She was really taken back by this suggestion and smiled at me like I was nuts. “Of course not. What kind of friend would do that?”ons. “So after you vented (which is code for ‘criticize’), do any of your friends challenge you to change your behavior?”
“A good friend,” I suggested. I continued, “Do any of your friends challenge you to do the right thing regardless of what your husband does?”
“I don’t know any girlfriend that would do that?”
“So what is the value of these friends?”
Now let me pause the drama here to let you know she had a problem with being overly critical of her husband and never praising anything he did right. In fact, she was a lot like a yappy dog that never shuts up. If she did give him a compliment, it was followed with “but”. That was her introduction to a litany of complaints that may include his failure to draw her bath at the right temperature or leaving a dandelion in the yard for the second week in a row.
So back to the drama… I suggested to her, “I think you need some new friends.”
“There aren’t any girls like that.”
“Get new friends.”
“What kind of friend would actually encourage someone to change their behavior?”
“A good friend. Get new friends.”
Some of us love to only look into the distorted carnival mirror that make us look 30 pounds lighter and 6 inches taller. Reality is sometimes hard to take but a good mirror can help us see that piece of spinach in your teeth and questionable mole on your neck.
That is the benefit of a good friend. When they are around you, they make you better, not worse. Of course you don’t want them telling you all your flaws. However there are times when good friends will challenge you to rise above the circumstances and put your best foot forward. They will help you consider what might be going on in another person’s life that may be challenging you. They won’t let you get away with bad behavior, whether you think someone deserves it or not.
What kind of mirrors do you have in your life? I hope they are good mirrors. Regardless, I am still going to get a carnival mirror for my bathroom ;).
I am just convinced that some people think that walking out their marriage with a critical, negative bent toward their spouse is actually making their marriage better. If their spouse would just sweep the
floor this way, do the laundry like they were told, shop at the other store or listen to their unsolicited instructions on doing life more intensely, their lives together would be filled with bliss. They can recount 100 things their partner does wrong and needs to correct and cannot verbalize 10 things their partner does that was good. Somehow, this is supposed to create a loving atmosphere at home? Not even close.
What causes people to be so negative; that encourages them to use their perceived “God given gift” of criticism; and to follow their criticism with control? It does seem that criticism attaches itself to control at the hip. Let me suggest a few possibilities. First, they believe that they know how to run the universe better than anyone else. Their way of doings things is best and when someone suggests or does something different, it is met with resistance. They really do believe they know better than anyone else. It is not a matter of a preference. It is a matter of the right or wrong way of doing things and they know what is right or wrong.
I remember a man who was so frustrated with his wife because she would never make enough vegetable soup so that they could freeze the left overs. He would let her know in no uncertain terms hi
s disgust with this pattern of hers. “I know,” I said. “If she would just do life your way it would all be better.” He agreed and then he realized that I was being sarcastic. He did finally get the po
int but not until his wife quit making the soup altogether.
Second, they are filled with anxiety because they believe that if it is not done their way, the world will come to an end. The mountains will crumple, the seas will flood, and the sky will fall. They have figured that the way they do things are somehow keeping the universe in balance. Any disturbance of this balance will be catastrophic.
Third, not only do they know how to run the universe, but they are responsible for keeping it going in a positive direction. They fear being out of control and failing at their job of being Master of the Universe. That is why they walk around with their clipboard and stopwatch making sure every little detail meets their specifications. They cannot fall asleep on the job so they have to maintain their hyper-vigilance.
Last, people become hyper critical of their spouses because they really are afraid of letting them get too close. Maybe they are afraid of intimacy so they throw up quills to keep people away. I am not sure why they decided to get married but I do see them begin to unconsciously push their spouse away with their spirit of discontent. They say they want to be close to their spouse but their actions speak louder than their words.
So, for all those people who have control and critical issues… give it a rest. Control is an illusion anyway. Take it from a recovering controller. When you leave this earth, it will still spin without you. So just learn to relax a little and enjoy the ride. You will be a lot more pleasant to be around. That will probably have more of a positive influence on the atmosphere of your marriage than all your attempts to control the universe.
Raising children is probably one of the most challenging jobs I have ever had. I have backpacked over mountains, survived three-a-day football practices in scorching heat, and I have swum out of frigid rushing waters to safety. All of these experiences pale to the amount of energy and time that I have expended as a parent.
However, that was what I signed up for when I decided to be a parent. I might not have realized all that parenting entailed, but once I held my first child in my arms, those responsibilities began. If I did not feed, clothe, hold, protect and play with this child, it would not thrive and he may even die. It never crossed my mind to deny what both of my boys needed to become mature and fit. As parents, Janice and I made decisions on what was best for the boys; not what I wanted or what she wanted; what was going to help them grow.
The same is true for my marriage. When Janice and I married, before we had children, a new entity was born. This entity was “us”. We began to make decisions on what was best for the “us” which meant that our own selfish desires were set aside. It was no longer about me or about her. It was about growing and maturing the “us”.
The same amount of energy and time that we naturally expected to spend on our children was just as needed on the “us”. We needed to play, spend time with each other, nurture, learn to make decisions together and much more. My selfish desires had to be bridled and redirected.
I never lost my own identity nor did Janice lose herself. We found another identity that was greater and more powerful than either one of us was separately. A friend of mine tells a story of him sitting across the table with one of his mentors. This mentor’s wife had just passed away. This man said, “I will miss her deeply, but I will miss even more what we were together.” He missed the uniqueness of their “us”.
I am amazed at how many couples when asked how much time they spend nurturing their relationship, shake their head in shame and disbelief. When you decided to get married, you signed up for a journey in developing a brand new entity. It takes a lot of time and energy. If your marriage was a child, would it be on life support right now? It may be time to reevaluate where your efforts are going.
Please don’t end up like many couples who spend so much of their focus on their children that they ignore their marital relationship. One of the highest divorce rates is among couples married 25 years or more for this very reason. Remember, you signed up for it. It might have been more than you had expected. But just as you wouldn’t discard your child because he/she was too much trouble, you must not discard your marriage either. It is just as valuable.
This is a big question! I would imagine AARP magazine is filled with articles on how to thrive at this time of your life. In those articles you might find hints like:
- Find a new hobby
- Make new friends
- Join a club or church
- Spend more time with grandchildren
I personally like each of these and have begun to do some. But let’s slow down the “Stay Busy” train just for a moment and consider something a little deeper. Why might you get grumpy in the first place? What is going on inside or around you that would cause you to be such a prickly pear? Let’s consider a few possibilities.
Unresolved pain. I am not talking about the dull throb you still have from the knee replacement. I am talking the kind of pain that comes from dreams unmet, relationships lost, and hopes crushed. These kind of pains can linger for a very long time and chip away at even the most positive of attitudes.
Examples of this kind of unresolved pain are legion. A child that took a wrong turn and has not returned; a marriage that was destroyed and dissolved; an injury or illness that turned a life upside down; or a failed career or business are just a few possibilities.
When you planned your life out when you were in your 20’s, these were not on the schedule. Yet, when they happen, one’s resilience is challenged. You recognize what you have control over and what you don’t. You are faced with letting go of the things you had no control over and learning from them all.
What you really need to be careful of is when the pain gets stuck in the mire of resentment or negative self-talk (I’m a failure, not good enough, worthless, etc.). This will rob all joy from your life and it is probably the #1 reason why old people get grumpy.
The solution: Identify and resolve the issues. Put a name to whatever is still in your gut and put it to rest. It is slowly killing you from the inside out. LET IT GO.
Loneliness. It used to be said that women had a larger social network than men, so men would end up more alone than women as they grew older. While the statistics will continue to prove this as true, my experience is that even women today are finding themselves with fewer friends with which to enjoy their retirement years.
I use to laugh at the group of old men sitting in the restaurant taking up space sipping on their coffee one day a week without miss. Then I realized how important that time is for them. They probably have known each other for years from working together, going to church together, or even graduating the 6th grade with each other. It doesn’t matter how they found each other, the fact that they gather and laugh together is priceless.
As I recall some of my favorite times in my life, it was when I was with a bunch of guys just having fun. The float trips in Arkansas; the weekly breakfasts with some of the guys I was working with; the nights sipping wine and laughing with the Johnnie and Janie, Cathy and Rusty. We need community. We are built to be with others.
Solution: Connect, join, and initiate contact. Find people to do life with and refuse to allow yourself to be that isolated person that comes out of their house only to check their shadow once a year.
Selfishness. It is all about you. Poor you. It is about your aches, your pains, your disappointments. Do you notice that in the conversations you might have had with others that you end up high jacking it to focus on you?
Get out of yourself! Listen deeply to others and make it all about them. Volunteer at the hospitals or other agencies that serve others.
I knew of a lady in her 80’s that every holiday since her husband died, she would get extremely depressed. Then one Thanksgiving she decided to help serving meals at the Salvation Army. That same Christmas she wrapped Christmas presents at a local agency that was preparing to give them to less fortunate children. These service projects changed this older woman’s life. She began to make it about others. Joy revisited her again.
Negative Attitude. This might be when the thinking habits of a lifetime really begin to become glaring. Are you a negative person or a positive one? Before you answer that, ask the people who are around you most about how they see you. You might be surprised by the answer.
Turn off the news. Read the comics. Listen to uplifting music (60’s hits were great).Take walks, talk to people and smile at everyone. Be playful with the child in the next booth. Little things can help us shine light into our own dark souls as well as in others. You might not be able to keep a bird from flying over your head but you can keep it from building a nest in your hair. Don’t let negative thoughts put up an occupied sign in your brain. Sweep it out and replace it quickly with something positive and beautiful.
If you email me at email@example.com. I’ll be glad to give you a part of a book from Dr. Daniel Amen that he has given me permission to share. It is called ANT Therapy (Automatic Negative Thoughts). You may enjoy it.
Hopefully you will find some help here on how to avoid being that grumpy old man or woman that no one wants to be around. I would love to hear what advice you would give if asked the same question.