Break Time’s Over

Let’s start with the most important thing: Today is launch day for my book, Dealing with the Elephant in the Room: Moving from Tough Conversations to Healthy Communication.

Today would be a great day to pick it up.

Or not.

The reason to get it today is that a strong launch gives a book more quick exposure, which builds momentum. If it’s a helpful book, it’s a chance to get it into more hands so it can help more people.

So, it would be great if you could:

  • Pick up a copy or three on Amazon or your favorite online retail outlet.
  • Share this post with your “tribe” through your social media accounts, and encourage others to do the same.

There is one reason, though, why you might want to pass it up:

You might already have it.

Here’s the scoop:

A couple of years ago, Revell published my book You Can’t Text a Tough Conversation: RealCommunicationNeeded.
It was a book about learning to communicate effectively when conversations get challenging and uncomfortable. But people read the title and thought it was a book about the evils of social media, and how it messes with our relationships.  Even the media interviews I did focused on technology, not communication.

People agreed strongly with that idea, but they didn’t need a book to tell them.

So they said nice things about it, but didn’t buy it.

I approached my publisher and asked if we could make a change in the packaging so it would be more accurate. They had already been thinking that direction, so they agreed.

The result? The book that’s launching today – Dealing with the Elephant in the Room: Moving from Tough Conversations to Healthy CommunicationIt’s a revised version of that original book. So if you bought that one, you might not need to get this new one (though it’s a little different).

But you can still spread the word . . . which I would deeply appreciate.

I just read through the book again. It’s been awhile, so I wanted to see what I said.

Here’s the interesting thing I discovered: It’s a really good book. In fact, I think it might be the most helpful book I’ve written.  When the focus was on technology, it was an OK book.  But now that the focus is on communication, it was a surprisingly helpful read.

If you’re challenged by tough, uncomfortable conversations, I think you’ll find some real help here. It’s full of practical tips and advice of what’s needed to build your conversational toolbox, and how to use those tools effectively.

Know someone who’s struggling in a relationship? This could make the difference for them.  It’s simple, it’s practical, and it’s proven.  It’s not stuffy (as evidenced by the cover).

So, this isn’t just about making a book successful (though that’s part of it). It’s about getting a tool in the hands of people who are stuck in their relationships.

——————–

That leads to the second part. I’ve been “on recess” for the most part over the past year.  There has been a lot going on – from job changes to multiple surgeries and a few other things that make life interesting.  So I’ve really missed connecting with you in this way.

But it’s time to come back.

There’s a new website coming in a few weeks (I actually hired an expert). It’ll be our “coffee shop” where we can connect about life.  I’ll be your barista, and you can drop in anytime.  I’m looking forward to that.

I’m also jumping back into this blog again. So, you can expect to hear something about once a week.  (If you’d like to receive these posts automatically, sign up at the top of this page.)  You’re going to help pick the topics.  It’s a dialogue, not a monologue.

And I’m working on the next book proposal. You’ll be part of the writing process on this one.

I also stuck my toes in the Instagram pool today. If you’re on there as well, we can go exploring together.

This “season” has helped me see how much I enjoy writing and connecting. So I’m looking forward to having you along on the journey. It’s a privilege, and I’m grateful that you’re along for the ride.

Now – go spread the word about elephants . . . and we’ll talk again next week!

How You Can Change the Nation in 4 Years

The US Presidential election is over.

There are millions of people who are extremely happy.

There are millions of people who are extremely discouraged.

This country was founded on the right to think and feel differently.  That means it’s OK to disagree with each other.  “Free speech” in a democracy has always allowed people to hold different opinions without forcing them to change their perspectives.

But that’s changed.

We’ve come to a place where there are only two options for dealing with people we disagree with:

  • We’re afraid of them.
  • We hate them.

We’ve lost that ability to still have healthy relationships with people who we disagree with.  We’ve lost honest dialog and conversation.  We’re talking more and listening less.

We’ve stopped loving.

Today, we begin a new season for our country.  It’s more divided than it’s ever been.  Tolerance is no longer about people thinking differently; it’s become about people villainizing others that they disagree with.  It’s magnified in the media, as divisiveness is seen as the new normal.

It’s easy to feel hopeless: “What difference can I make?  I’m only one person.”

But that’s the only way change ever takes place – when individuals start making different choices.

Want the next four years to look different?  It can . . . and it starts with individuals.

It starts with you. And me.

What if we found someone we strongly disagreed with on some major issue, and took them out for coffee?  Not to change their mind, but simply to have human moments with another traveler?

What if we looked at their heart instead of their opinions?

What if we saw them as someone with God-given value, instead of a project to argue into submission?

What if we just cared about them – period?

If we do it with one person, it can change that relationship.  When it does, it gives us both permission to try it with others.

It can spread – one relationship at a time.

Society isn’t changed by angry demonstrations where people try to out-shout each other.  It’s changed when we treat others in the exact way we would like to be treated.

It’s called the Golden Rule.  And it’s been around for a really long time, because it works.

Jesus said, “Love your enemies.” He wasn’t kidding.

Try it with one person on the “other side” of your perspective.  Just one.  Listen to them, love on them, and enjoy them in spite of their position. Agree to disagree, because the relationship is more important than the issue.

It’s the way for us – as individuals – to make a serious difference in society over the next four years, no matter what happens in Washington.

 

Share this with your “tribe.”  Try it yourself, then come back here and share the results.

You Can’t Rush Carrots

When my daughter, Sara was about three years old, she wanted to plant a garden.

I’ve always enjoyed planting things and watching them grow. Sara enjoyed being my helper as we watered and pulled weeds and harvested a little crop, so it made sense that she’d want to try it on her own.

“Carrots,” she said. “I want to plant carrots.”

I’m not sure she even liked carrots. But they were easy to grow and they were fun.  We could watch the green sprouts appear, then turn into a soft, dense plant.

At harvest time, the magic would happen. Yank out the green plant, and a bright orange carrot would appear.

So we bought carrot seeds. She dug a long little trench with her finger, then carefully and evenly spaced the tiny seeds.  She covered them with dirt, patted them down, and used her little watering can to give them their first drink.

Then she waited.

Every day, she would go out and check on her carrots. She made sure the ground was moist so the seeds could wake up underground.

A week went by. No sprouts.

Two weeks went by. No sprouts.

I’m sure it must have been discouraging, but we had talked about how long it would take for those sprouts to appear. She knew that it might be close to three weeks.

Every day, she would toddle out to the garden to check on her babies. I could see her out the kitchen window, standing with her hands on her hips as if to say, “Well? Are you coming up, or not?”

A few days later it happened. “Daddy! Come look!”

Sure enough, there were tiny spears of green that had broken through the surface. Her patience had paid off in a long row of green fuzz.

They grew quickly, and Sara kept asking, “Is it time?” I reminded her that the patience she used to wait for those little sprouts would be necessary before harvest.

But something was wrong.

The green tops at one end of the row were starting to whither. As the days progressed, it seemed like they were dying gradually, starting from one end of the row and moving to the other.

Was it gophers? Was it something in the soil? Was it some type of fungus or insect?

A few days later, looking out the kitchen window, I found the culprit.

Sara was kneeling in the garden, doing her daily inspection. She reached down to the next “healthy” carrot, yanked it out of the ground, examined it to see if it was “done” yet . . . then stuck it back in the soil.

She couldn’t wait. She had to know.  And in the process, it disturbed the growing process.

People are like that, too.

  • We want healthy relationships, but the other person doesn’t cooperate.
  • We want our toddlers to quit having tantrums.
  • We really want our teenagers to mature and act like humans.
  • We want our spouse to realize how much those little habits drive us crazy, and we want them to stop.
  • We want our friends to get through the things in life they’re stuck on.

But we can’t rush growth. If we try, we only get frustrated.

All of us are on a life journey. We know how hard it is to change ourselves, and wish it would happen faster. So why are we so impatient with others when they don’t make the changes that seem so obvious to us?

Because growth is a process.

So how do we handle our frustration with that process, in ourselves and others?

I think it’s a two-part perspective:

  1. Loving people (including ourselves) completely where they are right now.
  2. Not giving up on their growth.

If we miss the “loving” part, they become a project. If we miss the “not giving up” part, we lose our influence.

Green tops means we’re growing. But the bright orange takes time.

Got somebody you’re frustrated with? Tell them today that you love them. Tell them today that you believe in them.

It’ll help them grow a little taller tomorrow.

 

 

Don’t Let Your Crazy Person Ruin Your Holidays

Who irritates you the most?

Don’t overthink this . . . but who’s the first person that pops onto your radar that makes you frown instead of smile? I’m not thinking of public figures or politicians that drive you crazy (that’s another blog post). This is someone you know personally:

  • An overbearing friend.
  • An extended family member that you’ll see at a holiday meal.
  • A boss or co-worker that drains the energy out of you.
  • Your teenager who seems to be in the “pre-people” stage of development.
  • Your spouse – who changed since your married them.

Got them in mind?

OK – how do you feel when you think about them? If it’s negative, you might have given them control over your emotions. They can’t ruin your life unless you let them.

We have the ability to choose our how we respond in any situation. It just seems tougher when we see them often, like barnacles attached to the hull of an ocean liner.  We feel like there’s no escape from their craziness.

So how can you begin taking control? Here’s one simple place to start, and you can do it today:

  1. Write down the five things that bug you most about them. Seriously – write them down.
  2. Ask yourself if you can change those things. Probably not. It’s hard enough to change ourselves, much less someone else.
  3. Now write down five strengths that person has – things you’d be grateful for if the negatives weren’t there.

Those things that irritate us might be accurate. But focusing only on those things gives us a lopsided view of another person.

The best people have faults, and the worst people have strengths.

We need to see both.

stainsFocusing on the negatives is like seeing dark stains on a white sheet. When we focus on the stains, we don’t even notice the rest of the sheet.  The stains are real, but so is the sheet.

I’m not suggesting that we ignore the negatives.

But they lose some of their power when we see the whole person, not just their issues.

Will this solve the problem? Probably not.  But it can give us perspective.

Try it before they show up during holiday celebrations.

You might just feel a little more in control – and you won’t have someone else ruin your holidays.

 

How do you keep your sanity when others try to steal it from you?  Share below in comments . . .

How to Actually Change the World

When my son, Tim was about 10 years old, we went to a sporting goods store and tried on ski goggles. Each one had a different color lens.

The clerk suggested that amber-colored lenses gave the best visibility in poor weather conditions, such as fog or haze. When I put them on, the entire store became brighter and sharper.

The problem was that everything was yellow.

We tried on other pairs of goggles, and found that the color of the lens impacted how we saw things. Red goggles made everything red; blue goggles made everything blue.

Tim put on blue lenses, and I put on red. I saw a jacket on a rack across the room and said, “Tim – what color is that jacket?”

“It’s blue,” he said.

“Nope,” I replied. “It’s red.”

He looked at me like I was crazy. “It is not.  It’s blue.”

Finally, we took off our goggles.

The jacket was white.

kids-gogglesWhen we looked through those lenses, we were actually seeing the jacket in those colors. We believed we were right.  We couldn’t understand why the other person didn’t see it the same way, because it was so obvious.  We could have argued all day, trying to convince each other of our position.

But the lenses didn’t change the reality.

The jacket was still white.

Sound familiar? When we have people in our lives that we disagree with, we’re often on a mission to convince them that their position is wrong, and ours is right. We use logic and passion to explain why our position makes so much sense. We do it on Facebook and politics and marriages and work relationships.

They do the same thing with us.

How many times has your mind been changed in that way? Probably none.  We want to get our point across, so we say it louder or use more logic.

But as someone once said, “If I believe I’m right, do I really want your opinion?”

We’re not caring about the other person. We’re only focused on getting them to change and agree with us.

Everybody’s talking. Nobody’s listening.

On the other hand, think about a time when someone deeply listened to you. They didn’t agree with your position, but they let you talk.  They gave you a chance to share your position instead of forcing theirs. They gave up their agenda of changing you and switched to an agenda of caring about you.

They looked through your lenses.

How did that feel?

When we listen, it builds trust.

When trust is built, relationships grow.

When relationships grow, we feel safe looking through each other’s lenses. We can still disagree, but it doesn’t divide us.

It connects us – and opens the door for genuine dialogue.

Want to make a difference in the world today?

Talk less. Listen more.

Make it your mission to love somebody, no matter what they think.

Maybe they’ll do it back.

Are You Talking to an Extrovert or an Introvert?

A Simple Test

Fifteen years ago, you didn’t hear much about introverts.

Everybody assumed that extroverts had better social skills, and that introverts were shy and needed to be healed. It seemed like they were lacking the tools to function well in society.

But in 2003, Jonathan Rauch wrote an essay for The Atlantic that went viral (before we knew what that meant).  He said that introverts make up 25% of the population, but are among the most misunderstood and aggrieved groups in America – possibly the world.

He put words to what introverts were thinking, and started the dialogue. That was followed by Marti Olsen Laney’s book The Introvert Advantage: How Quiet People Can Thrive in an Extrovert World that showed how introverts had a distinct place in society.

  • Extroverts tended to think faster, but introverts think deeper.
  • Extroverts are like solar panels – energized by group interaction. Introverts are like rechargeable batteries – they recharge when they’re alone, which allows them to function in groups.
  • Extroverts tend to think by talking. Introverts think before talking.

In 2013, Susan Cain wrote Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. It quickly hit the bestseller list, because introverts were given a voice.  She told us that introverts had the strongest role in making a society solid, and they could make a serious difference in the world.

It’s a great book, if you haven’t read it. She’s the voice that extroverts are actually listening to, and her TED talk is a now a classic.

I’ve written a lot about introverts and extroverts in my books. As a practicing introvert, I’ve learned that we can actually celebrate the way we’re wired.  We have no desire to become extroverts, because it robs the world of our unique contribution.

Relationships get interesting when you mix and match temperaments.

  • Put two extroverts together, and the energy is nonstop.
  • Put two introverts together, and the connection runs deep.
  • Put an introvert and an extrovert together and it’s . . . well, interesting. If they don’t value the differences, they’ll be constantly frustrated with each other. If they learn to celebrate those differences, the potential exists for a world-class relationship.

So, how can you tell if someone is an introvert or an extrovert?

eye-contact-1Pick up Cain’s book or read Rauch’s article and you’ll gain a wealth of wisdom on the topic.  They’re a great overview to understanding the differences.

But here’s one simple thing you can do to test it out in a conversation.  It’s not foolproof, but it’s an interesting place to start.

The next time you’re sitting across a table from someone at Starbucks or a restaurant, observe their eye contact.

  • Extroverts usually make really good eye contact with you while they’re talking, and tend to look around more when they’re listening.
  • Introverts tend to break eye contact when they’re the ones talking, but give solid eye contact when they’re listening.

Why? Because we make eye contact when we’re comfortable. 

When an extrovert is talking, she’s in her “sweet spot.” It’s what she does best, so it’s natural to focus her attention on the other person.

When an introvert is listening, that’s her unique sweet spot for the same reason.

Like I said, it’s only a place to start. Observe someone for a while, then talk together about it.  Ask them to do the same for you.

Isnt’ that what healthy conversation is based on?

Paying attention to each other, and talking.

Sounds like a good reason to go to Starbucks . . .

How Will You Be Remembered?

I lost at Monopoly.

And I loved it.

Last weekend, our 11-year old granddaughter, Averie spent the weekend with us. We rotate having all three grandkids, and it was her turn.

It was an amazing weekend.

We finished a jigsaw puzzle.

She and I went to Starbucks at 6:00 AM, and sat outside and just talked while the sun came up. Then we went out to breakfast.

We went to a home and garden show.

She and Grandma made a “spa day,” then worked on sewing a skirt together.

She baked. She drew.

Then we played Monopoly.

monopolyMost people either love Monopoly or hate it. In our extended family, Averie and I are the only ones who really like playing it. She got out the board, set everything up, and the three of us sat down to play.

She managed to buy every property on the cheapest row – from Mediterranean Avenue to Connecticut Avenue. She quickly put up hotels on each property.  They must have been really nice hotels, because I stayed at all of them multiple times.

I managed to buy every property on the most expensive row – from Pacific Avenue to Boardwalk. I couldn’t buy hotels because I kept spending my money to stay at Averie’s hotels.

Averie won. Grandma and I lost.

It was awesome.

Partway through the game, Averie told us about playing a video version of Monopoly with a friend. She described all the things that happened that were unique.

“When you land on “Go to jail,” a big cage slams down over you,” she said. “Then a crane picks you up and carries you across the board to the jail square.”  She described how different characters move across the virtual board, and the cool things that happen when you draw cards.

It sounded great, and I’d love to try it with her. It would be fun to play it like that and see the clever things they’ve built into the game.

I thought about that for a few minutes, and realized that I’d still rather play the board game.

  • When you’re playing a video game, you can still talk – but you’re looking at a screen.
  • When you’re playing a board game, you can still talk – but you’re looking at each other.

I realized why I love playing Monopoly so much that day – because of the dynamics that happen between the people who are playing.

Whenever Averie made a good move, she would glance up at us to see how we were reacting.

We made eye contact. We laughed.  We talked.

We were playful about our facial expressions, acting frustrated when someone hopped right over our best property.

We were being entertained by each other, not distracted by animation.

I spend my life looking at screens. I’m looking at one right now while I’m writing this.  For many of us, it’s our default setting.

Screens aren’t bad. But someday when I’m gone, I don’t want Averie’s mental image of me to be where I’m looking at a screen.

I want her to remember me looking in her eyes.

Producers of video content know exactly how to grab our attention with the right kind of graphics and movement and content. It’s not that it’s bad – but it can easily distract us from what matters most in our lives.

Goethe said, “Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.”

We focus on the things that we love and value the most.

Where are you looking?

How will the most important people in your life remember you?

Maybe it’s time to play Monopoly with someone who means the world to you . . .

What Cows Can Teach Us About Tough Conversations

I don’t know much about cows, except that they seem really peaceful when I see them on the side of a hill munching grass.

Low stress. No hurry.  They’re just enjoying being cows.

But they don’t like rain.

The other day, I read about a rancher in a Midwestern rural community who has hundreds of cows. His cows roam freely over miles of pastureland, and they lead pretty comfortable lives.

At certain times of the year, cloudbursts come through on a regular basis. They only last about five minutes, and they move pretty slowly.

But the cows don’t like those mini-storms. So they try to run away from them.

The problem is, cows don’t run very fast.

The storms don’t move very fast.

So the cows run along with the storm, and they get soaked a lot longer. If they just stood still, the storm would be uncomfortable – but it would be over a lot quicker as it moved over them.  By running with the storm, they prolong the pain.

Relationships are like that.

When there’s something uncomfortable that needs to be addressed, we don’t look forward to it. We put off talking about it.  We procrastinate. We hope it’ll just get better.

The longer we put it off, the more it grows – and the worse it becomes.

By putting off the tough conversation, we prolong the discomfort.

We run with the storm.

It’s uncomfortable to deal with tough issues when they first surface, but it’s the best time to address them. If we wait, it always gets worse.

Issues that are procrastinated on are always magnified.

Cow runningAre you dreading a tough conversation? Now’s the time to make it happen.

Don’t be a cow.

Don’t run with the storm.

Deal with it now, and it you’ll get past it more quickly.

Maybe it’s time to mooooove into the conflict.

(Sorry – couldn’t resist.)

For Women Only . . .

"I Wish He Had Come with Instructions"

Over the years, we’ve bought a lot of do-it-yourself furniture. It’s become a familiar process:

  • Open the box
  • Look for the instructions
  • Lay out all the pieces
  • Try to follow the instructions
  • Get frustrated
  • Eat cookies

The instructions read as though they were written by someone who had never seen the actual pieces. Their “step-by-step” process becomes more like “stop-by-stop.”  We think, If I stay focused, I’ll figure it out.

But it doesn’t happen.

Women – does it ever feel like the same thing is true of men? You find one you like, and the picture on the box looks promising.  But when you look inside, there are no instructions.

“That’s OK,” you think. “He comes preassembled.” You won’t need to figure out how to put the pieces together.

But it’s not just the instruction manual that’s missing. There’s also no operation manual to describe how he works:

  • You can’t find the power button.
  • He turns on all by himself at random times and turns off suddenly when you least expect it.
  • He usually seems to work OK, but there seems to be no way to control him.

Most of the time he does what you expect him to do. But there are those unexpected times when he doesn’t cooperate.  You think he’ll help with the housework, but instead he plops down on a couch and plows through a bag of Cheetos while watching people run around a field on a big screen.

That’s when you notice the warning labels on the box that you overlooked:

  • “Fragile” (he needs an ego boost to keep functioning)
  • “This end up” (if he gets upset, he doesn’t work right)
  • “Batteries not included” (he runs out of energy at the worst times)

So, what do you do when there’s no operation manual? You end up writing your own.

Most women have experienced something similar with the men in their lives. So they talk to each other, trying to figure out what their men are thinking. But without knowing exactly what’s going on in a man’s mind, it becomes an exercise in futility.  They write their own operation manual from their own female frame of reference.  It’s what they know.

That can be dangerous, because those male differences can be seen as problems to solve. I’ve seen a number of books that focus on two approaches:

  1. Fixing those differences
  2. Coping with those differences

Both of those can be unhealthy.  They ignore the fact that differences are essential for a relationship to grow and thrive.  That’s the third option:

Embrace the differences.

When I was getting ready to write my latest book, “I Wish He Had Come With Instructions: A Woman’s Guide to a Man’s Brain,” I went to the bookstore to see what had already been written.  I found two categories:

  • Books written by women about how men think
  • Books written by men giving advice to women

I decided to fill the obvious gap – a book about a man’s brain, written by someone who’s lived in there for a long time.

My wife, Diane started me in the right direction. “There are too many books written by men telling women what to do,” she said.  “Men don’t know how women think, either – so they shouldn’t be giving them advice like that.”

Bechtle_Instructions.inddSo, in this new book, I’ve chosen to simply be a tour guide. I’ll take you on a journey of a man’s brain so you know what’s going on.  I won’t tell you what to do.  I’ll just show you the scenic lookouts and the switchbacks on the trail and the toxic waste spots to avoid.  I’ll just walk with you on the journey.

It’s an understanding manual, not an instruction manual.

It was a fun book to write – and I think it might be my favorite. It’s gotten some great reviews already, and I’ve had some pretty energetic media response during interviews.

Now, it’s your chance to find out for yourself . . . and I’d love your help getting the word out, so others can benefit.

The book launched this week. The first couple of weeks is important for the success of a book, because it shows how much interest there is in the book.  The more “buzz” that takes place initially, the better the chance of it taking off.

Since you’re the people that have allowed me to have good conversations with you every week or so, I’d like to ask your help. Here are some things you can do as part of my “team:”

  • Buy a copy for yourself (you can purchase or download it here), and maybe an additional one for a friend.
  • Rank it with “stars” on Amazon. (Yeah, I look at those, too when I’m buying things.) Add a short review if you’re so inclined. That also applies to Barnes & Noble, Goodreads, etc.
  • Let people on Facebook, Twitter, etc. know that you’re reading it. Add a cat video to capture their attention.
  • Share this blog post with others and invite them to join our discussions.
  • If you have a blog, post something about it there. If you use guest posts or author interviews, I’d be happy to drop by. If you do book reviews, I’ll get you a copy to give away. We’re in this writing thing together, and I’d love to help you out.
  • Donate a copy to your church or public library. Or put it in your dentist’s office so people have an alternative from reading a copy of Reader’s Digest from 2006.

Let me know your thoughts as you read. I’d love to hear your input, especially how it helps you understand the men in your life.

And if your man reads it, that’s OK. It could make for some interesting discussions!

Thanks – just know how much I appreciate the chance to connect through this blog every couple of weeks. Soon, you’ll see a new website and a new approach – so stay tuned!

Don’t Forget to Remember

When Diane and I first got married, we didn’t have a lot of money. We lived in a tiny house in Redondo Beach, California.

Tiny, meaning 450 square feet. That was it.  It’s what we could afford.

It was a fixer-upper, and we saved rent by agreeing to do some repairs and restoration ourselves. We worked together to put in a lawn, paint the house and install flower beds and plants.

It was a lot of work, but we didn’t care. We were in L-O-V-E, and we did it together.

The house was only a few blocks from the beach, so we’d often walk down there in the evenings. It didn’t cost anything, and we could just hold hands and talk.  We couldn’t afford to go to the movies or out to dinner often – but that was OK.

We were just grateful to be together.

CansFor our wedding, someone had given us several large, heavy boxes for a gift. When we opened them, they were filled with dozens of cans of food – but someone had taken all the labels off.  “What a clever gift,” we said.  We laughed because it was so random.

We tucked those cans away in the top shelf of our kitchen cupboard, wondering what we would ever do with them. At least up there, they were out of the way.

But in that first year or so of marriage, there were more than a few times when we ran out of money and the refrigerator was empty. So we would select three cans, shaking them to guess what was inside.  We would set them on the table with a can opener, and say grace over them – thanking God for our meal.

Then we opened them.

It wasn’t unusual to have a meal of canned peaches, beans and olives.

I don’t think we would ever go to a restaurant and order that combination. But we always remember those meals – not because of the randomness of the food, but because of the gratefulness we felt for provision.  It was there when we needed it, and we never took it for granted.

Next week, we’ll celebrate our 39th wedding anniversary.  There have been ups and downs in every area of life – but we’ve worked hard to stay grateful.

All of the cans in our cupboards have labels today. When we plan a meal, we know exactly what’s coming.  There’s something comforting about that.

But it’s not nearly as exciting.     

At the beginning of a relationship, most people have more time than stuff.

Later in a relationship, most people have more stuff than time.

Stuff isn’t bad. But it’s easy to take it for granted when we have a lot of it.

Time is good, because it’s where we live. But it’s easy to let time get crowded out by stuff.

Maybe it’s good to think back to the beginning.

  • What was your relationship like when you had more time than stuff?
  • How is it different now?
  • What choices could you make to find more time in your relationship?
  • How can you become as grateful for the present as you were for the past?

Now, there’s a dinner topic . . .

The World’s Quietest Book Launch

Today, I’m breaking all the rules.

I’m launching my new book without fanfare. No parades, no book tours, no carefully-orchestrated campaigns.

I’m ignoring the many promotions I receive about how to make your book a New York Times bestseller by following someone’s program.

It’s a quiet launch, not a noisy one.

And I’m doing it on purpose.

Writers are often introverts, but they’re told they need to become extroverts to get the message out. If you don’t have a big launch, nobody will notice.

There are a ton of books being released each day that are clamoring for attention in the marketplace, and they’re all shouting, “Hey! Buy me! Buy me!” Success comes to the one who yells the loudest, who makes their voice heard above the others.

It’s true. I’m taking a risk.

But this time, I’m choosing to announce this quietly. I’m letting you know in a casual conversation at Starbucks, not in a stadium with a Jumbotron screen.

That’s the relationship we have. It’s a real one, connecting quietly through words.

I want to respect that.

There’s a reason for this quiet launch – the title of the book.

bookToday, my newest book is available in bookstores and online retailers like Amazon. It’s called You Can’t Text a Tough Conversation: #RealCommunicationNeeded. It grew out of seeing people talking less and texting more, and seeing what the shift to electronic communication has done to our relationships.

I love technology. I’m not villainizing it. But technology is a tool. A tool is something we use to do a job better than we can do it without the tool.

Real relationships need real communication. Technology is a great tool when it enhances our communication, but dangerous when it replaces it.

This book is written to get our relationships back, and protect them in the future.

It’s about restoring human moments – face-to-face, eyeball-to-eyeball, voice-to-voice. It’s about talking first instead of texting.

It’s about how to control our technology instead of being controlled by it.

So . . . it makes sense to launch a book like that through real conversation rather than a commercial campaign.

Let’s do this. Ready?

The Official Book Launch

  1. My new book comes out today. I think you’ll find it helpful.
  2. Please buy a copy and decide for yourself. You can click the following link to find it on Amazon: You Can’t Text a Tough Conversation: #RealCommunicationNeeded (it’s also commonly found in grocery stores, airport bookstores, etc.)
  3. Read it.
  4. If you like it, take someone to Starbucks and tell them about it. Or buy them a copy. If you don’t like it, let me know – I’ll refund your money. Seriously.
  5. Share this launch on Facebook or other places where you hang out with friends – so others can experience a quiet launch. Maybe they’ll find it refreshing.
  6. Review the book on your personal blog or Amazon. Be honest about it – people need to know what they’re getting.

That’s it.

I might not sell as many books this way, but that’s OK for this one. I’d rather have the word spread through conversations than coercion.

I might do a traditional launch in the future. My next book comes out next summer on August 1, and I might have trumpets and prizes and airplanes carrying banners (the topic lends itself to that).

But for now, enjoy your day. Get some coffee and curl up with a good book for a while.

Enjoy the quiet.

———————————————————————————

“What a fantastic book!  Mike Bechtle is not only entertaining and compelling, his advice is rock-solid and practical.  Anyone who is serious about having healthy relationships – at work or on the home-front – will love this book. Don’t miss out on Mike’s message.”
 
Drs. Les & Leslie Parrott
Authors of Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts

 

Virtual Coffee

Writing can be a lonely task. You do it by yourself, because you have to think.

Speaking is anything but lonely. But it’s short-lived. You stand in front of a group and interact with them for 8 hours, but they leave at the end and you’re alone again.

I make my living doing both.

It’s not a bad gig for an introvert.

friendsI love the speaking days – especially the chance to connect with people one-on-one during breaks. But constant interaction can be draining, and I’m usually pretty drained by the end of the day. I recharge on my drive home – alone.

On writing days, I love the chance to think and process ideas. I often don’t know what I think about something until I write about it. My ideas take shape during the writing process. (That’s happening as I write this; I don’t know how it’s going to end yet. I almost always get a surprise ending!)

But I’ve also learned that I need human interaction on writing days. If I don’t have it, I can get stuck in my own thoughts or get too introspective.

Going out for coffee with a friend is probably my favorite thing to do.

And maybe the most important.

When I have coffee with a friend, it’s a chance to get outside my head. I get to explore their life and their thoughts and their passion and their ideas. I always learn things I didn’t know before, and get to feel like we’re sharing life together.

When I come home and start writing again, all my thoughts are different. Interacting with a friend hits a “reset” button in my brain, even though we weren’t talking about the subject I’m writing about.

We were made to do life with other people.

We communicate through email, social media and even phone calls, and it can be a great way to connect. But something different happens when we’re face-to-face, relaxing over a cup or a meal: We have what Dr. Edward Hallowell calls a “human moment.”

Human moments refresh us. They restore us. They remind us that we’re . . . well, human.

If you’re one of the people I have coffee or a meal with, you need to know how much it means to me. Doing life with you gives me the ability to write and speak. It keeps me from being alone and introspective.

It also gives me a different perspective on blogging.

Most of the blogs I’ve read are people sharing their ideas with other people. That’s not a bad thing, but it can feel one-sided. The blogs that seem to have the biggest impact are the ones that feel like you’re having coffee with them – virtually.

Those blogs don’t seem to be about teaching; they’re about connecting. It’s about the writer laying a few thoughts on the table, and readers responding with their thoughts. It’s a true conversation, not a monologue. It’s real, and it’s vulnerable.

It’s about mutual curiosity.

It has the scent of a human moment.

Connecting through a blog doesn’t replace human moments. It’s a way for thousands of people to feel like they’re actually having an intimate conversation at Starbucks.

That’s what “comments” are for. It’s not something to stroke a writer’s ego because they get lots of comments. It’s a chance to do what we would do across from each other at a table: notice each other, hear each other, respond to each other.

It reminds us that we’re not alone. There are other people working their way through life, and we get to encourage each other on the journey.

I can’t have coffee with all of my readers. But I’m grateful we have a chance to connect in this way.

Thanks.

Go find a real person to have coffee with today.

They need a human moment – and so do you.

 

I’d love to hear your thoughts, and so would your fellow readers . . . comment below.

 

 

 

 

 

14 Top Tips for Your Best Year of Marriage Ever

One year from today, your marriage could be better than it is now.

It’s not a matter of willpower, trying to “be a better spouse.”  It’s not avoiding tough conversations or trying to ignore the things that bug you.

It happens when you’re intentional about your relationship.

It’s kind of like investing. 

Some people buy stock that looks promising, but only check them once a year to see if they’ve made money.  Other people study the market consistently, analyze their investments, and make corrections to maximize their return.

Your marriage is the greatest investment you’ll ever make.  It’s not “day trading.”  It’s “buy and hold.”  The more you pay attention, the greater will be the return.

Awesome marriages happen by design, not by default.

So, what can you do in the next 365 days to get the greatest possible return?

1. Attend a marriage conference together. People pay for classes to improve their fitness, correct their golf swing or learn a hobby or skill. Why not invest in a solid seminar or coaching to learn how to improve your relationship or communication? My wife’s parents went to a marriage seminar at their church when they were in their 70’s. I love that.

2. Pause before responding. We’ve all said something hurtful during conflict that we regretted. Develop the habit of pausing during tough conversation and choosing your words carefully. Always ask yourself, “Is what I’m about to say really the response I should give?”

3. When things get tough, don’t quit. A good friend told me, “When you’re in the middle of a pile of manure, you feel like giving up and going back. But it’s the same distance to get out if you move forward.”

4. Give your spouse more attention this year. Count up (seriously) how many hours you spend watching TV or working on your hobbies, and how much time you spend eyeball-to-eyeball with your spouse. Do a little bit less of the first ones, and a little bit more of the last one.

5. Treat your spouse better than anyone else in your life. “Familiarity breeds contempt.” It’s a cliché, but tends to be true. It’s easy to take each other for granted over time. Keep pursuing your spouse the way you did when you were first dating, and never lose the sense of wonder.

6. Don’t compare your spouse with others. Your neighbor’s grass always looks greener when you’re viewing it from your own yard, because you only see the green tips of the blades. All you see looking down on your own lawn are the bare spots and the weeds. There are a lot of nice lawns out there, but there’s only one that belongs to you. Take care of it, and it will flourish.

7. Don’t insist on being right. There are a lot of battles that aren’t worth fighting, because they take energy away from the ones that need our attention. Learn to disagree without disrespect.

8. Give each other a 15-second kiss daily. I read about this a few months ago, and found it valuable. You can’t rush through it, and it reminds you to slow down and reconnect.

9. Set financial goals together. Money is often the biggest source of conflict between couples. When emotions rise because of money issues, use them as a trigger to get help. Determine to face finances as a team, rather than letting it divide you. Go through a good book or course together, with the goal of unity.

10. Pay attention to their day. Develop the habit of curiosity, wondering what their day was like. Don’t just say, “How was your day?” Take the time to explore the journey they’ve been on while you’ve been apart.

11. Surprise them occasionally. Do something unexpected for no reason or holiday. Drive out before they’re awake and bring home their favorite mocha so they have a treat when they wake up – or wash their car when they’re not looking.

12. Don’t complain to friends about your spouse. That’s sacred territory, and needs to be kept between the two of you. Talk with your spouse, not about your spouse (except when it’s positive).

13. Hang out with people you admire – together and separately. It’s true that we become like the people we spend the most time with. Find a couple that you want your marriage to be like, and simply do life with them occasionally. Do the same with your individual friends.

14. Value the differences. That’s what attracted you in the first place, and what brings the richness into your relationship. If you both felt exactly the same way about everything, one of you would be unnecessary.

Having the best year of marriage ever won’t happen by accident.

It happens by intention.

Whether your marriage is solid or shaky, make the investment.  You can’t always guarantee what the return on that investment will be.  But there’s one thing you can be sure of:

If you don’t invest, there will be no return.

Start investing intentionally.

Start today.

It’s your best chance for the best year of marriage ever!

A Better Approach to Relationship “Issues”

My wife and I had a disagreement last week.

It was about money. (It usually is, right?)

It started a week earlier, and we shared our feelings about the issue.  But we couldn’t find a resolution, so we put it on the back burner for a while.  Then we got busy and didn’t talk about it, even though it was smoldering in the background for both of us.

Until Sunday, when it resurfaced.

People don’t usually argue about things they have in abundance.  Diane and I have never had strong emotions about air.  There seems to be enough to go around, so we’ve never argued about it.

But when something we need becomes scarce, it gets our attention – and our emotion.  If we were trapped underwater, air would be the only thing we would think about.

We need money.  Not tons, but enough to do what needs to be done.  When it’s limited, it gets our attention.

When those strong emotions come up in any relationship, it’s easy to let it become a wedge between two people.  The issue comes between us and pushes us apart.  People begin fighting about it, trying to determine who’s right and who’s wrong.

The issue divides us.

But there’s a better way:

We need to put the issue on the outside, so it pushes us together – not between us, where it pushes us apart.

The issue always shows up between people – right smack in the middle.  When that happens, the other person becomes the enemy – the problem to be solved.  So two people that care about each other start fighting each other instead of fighting the issue.

We need to fight the issue.

Issues come up in every relationship, so we can’t wish them away.  So what should we do when they show up?

  1. Remind each other that the relationship is important.
  2. Point out that the issue is the problem, and that we need to attack it together.
  3. Express emotions genuinely, without attacking the other person. Stick with “I’m feeling this” instead of “You did that.”
  4. Realize that the issue might not be resolved quickly. But commit to working on it together.

Diane and I sat in the car and talked through our emotions and how we perceived the issue.  But we reaffirmed our care for each other and our relationship.  We realized it wasn’t a matter of who was right or wrong; it was a matter of staying connected so we could attack the issue together.

We still haven’t resolved it.  But we still like each other.  We’re in this together.

Issues are sneaky and deceptive.  They always try to convince us that they’re not the problem.

They’re lying.

Always make the issue the problem, not the person.

Relationships are a team sport.

Move the issue where it belongs, and you can work as a team.

It’s the healthy way to deal with issues.

Dog & Cat

Reviewing Your Family on Yelp

1“I’ve been a regular for a number of years with John. In those early years, he met all my expectations of a husband.  But my recent experiences have caused me to lower my ratings, because his customer service seems to have disappeared.  I married him because he was the strong, silent type; now, he never talks to me.  I admired his strong convictions about the things that bugged him in society; now he just complains about the things that bug him about me.  Unfortunately, I can no longer recommend him as a husband.”

2“You would think that after 3 years, a person would learn from their mistakes and correct them. But Tommy still seems more committed to his own interests than the happiness of others.  His performance as a toddler is consistently declining, his social skills have become self-centered, and he has little commitment to our family structure.  It’s sad to watch 5-star potential disintegrate to a 2-star review.  We’ll keep him for now, but we’re disappointed.”

3“Uncle Joe? He’s crazy. But we made it through the last holiday without him causing a scene.  That’s a miracle – and it might have been a fluke – but it’s enough to add a couple of stars to his rating.”

People go to Yelp to see what other people think about restaurants and services. If the reviews are good, they might consider using that service.  If the reviews are bad, they avoid it.

We all have our “default” restaurant – the one we keep going to when we can’t decide where else to go. It’s familiar, it’s comfortable, and it’s safe.  Maybe it’s not the greatest food in the world, but it’s pretty consistent.

Some days the food might be a little off or the service a little shaky. But we know the place well enough to realize that it’s just a bad day for them, and it’ll be better next time.

But if someone makes a first-time visit on that bad day, they’re incensed. They demand free food, won’t pay the bill and write a scathing review on Yelp as soon as they get to their car.  They want to punish the restaurant and protect others from the same fate.

Yelp familyWhat if there was a “people” category on Yelp, where we could critique our family and friends?

What would we write?

Would it reflect the realities of long-term commitment?

Or would it be an impulsive reaction to a frustrating conversation?

When we talk to others about our spouse, kids or relatives, it’s like a Yelp review. What we say shapes their opinion of that person.

It’s easy to share our family frustrations with others, hoping they’ll reinforce our position. But it’s not fair to the family member, because it only gives our perspective.

I’m wondering if there’s a guiding principle that applies here, whether it’s a restaurant or a relative:

  • If our review is positive, we should tell the person (so they get the encouragement) – and also tell others.
  • If our review is negative, we should talk to the person about it – and nobody else.

Thoughts?

 

 

Why We Need to Clarify Expectations

Years ago (back in the 70’s ), I picked up four boxes of old magazines that someone was getting rid of. By “old,” I mean from the ‘60’s.  There were travel magazines, food magazines, business journals and a few random topics thrown in.

I was just starting to write professionally, and thought it might be a good source of ideas. I figured that I could just look at the table of contents to see what had been written, and get ideas that might be interesting to pursue.  I wasn’t going to copy anything – in fact, I wasn’t even going to read the articles.  I just thought I’d use the article titles for inspiration.

There were probably 100 magazines in each box, so I had about 400 total.

Those boxes sat in my garage for years.

I had great intentions, but never opened the boxes.

My wife said, “Why don’t you throw those away? They’re just taking up space.”

“No,” I said. “I’m going to get to them someday. I just haven’t had time.”

A couple of years later, we moved to Arizona. The magazines moved with us.

Eleven years later, we moved back to California. The magazines moved with us.

Ten years after that, we had a yard sale. Diane said, “Why don’t you sell your magazines?”  I started the same excuse I had given for over 20 years.

But she continued: “Put a price on them that you’d be comfortable with. If they sell, you have the money.  If they don’t, you still have the magazines.”

It made sense, though it was hard to part with them. I felt like there might be buried treasure in those magazines, and I hadn’t captured it yet.  But I agreed to the plan.

I took the four boxes out to the driveway, opened them and marked “25 cents” on the box. I figured that if I sold 400 magazines for 25 cents each, I’d make $100.

I went in the house for about 20 minutes. When I returned, Diane said, “I sold your magazines.”

“All of them?”

“All of them,” she said. “Somebody bought all four boxes.”

“How much did you get?” I asked

She handed me a dollar bill.

I had written “25 cents” on each box, meaning that it was the price of each magazine. She thought it was the price of each box.

So I was a dollar richer, and had space in my garage. She had done exactly what I asked her to do when I put that price on the box.  But I assumed she understood what I meant.

pool soapWhen anyone tells us something, it’s easy to take their words at face value. But that can lead to misunderstanding and disappointment later.  I’ve learned that it’s always healthy to ask for clarification instead of assuming I understand.

Here’s a simple approach:

  • Someone tells us what they want.
  • We respond like this:
    • “OK – when you say __________ , what do you mean?”
    • “Can you tell me more about that?”
    • “What, exactly, are you thinking?”
  • We summarize back what we heard: “So let me make sure I have this right. What you’re really asking is _______________; is that correct?”

That gives them a chance to clarify to make sure you’re on the same page. It also shows them that you were listening.

Try it with someone at dinner tonight. See how it goes (and let us know).

If I had done that a few years ago, I might be $99 richer.

 

 

The Marriage Investment

I sat in the front row last Saturday at my son’s wedding.  Tim and Lucy stood before us, promising to love each other no matter what.

Lucy’s parents sat across from us on the other side.  I wondered what was going through their minds as they gave their daughter to this young man.  I couldn’t ask because of the language barrier.

But I could see in their eyes the trust they had built in Tim during a six-year, long-distance courtship.

He had flown to Guadalajara to ask for their permission to marry her.  It’s not common for a 33-year old man to do that, but he wanted to do it right.  He respected them enough to ask.

As I looked across the courtyard at her dad, I’m pretty sure I knew what he was feeling.

It was the same feeling I had years ago when Brian asked me if he could marry my daughter.

Wedding silhouetteWhen Brian took me out for coffee, I knew it was coming.  We sat outdoors on metal chairs next to the noisy parking lot, and he talked more than usual.  He played with his coffee cup, but didn’t drink anything – so I knew he was nervous.  It was a warm evening, but I sensed that he was sweating more than I was.

I loved that boy.  Still do.  And I’ll have to admit, it was fun watching him squirm a bit.

Finally he asked.

I don’t remember exactly how he asked, but I remember how I responded.

“Brian,” I said, “I just want you to know what you’re asking for.”

He got really quiet.

“Let’s say I started investing my money.  I studied how it worked, and learned about the market.  I invested a little bit every day, and was always careful to make the wisest investments possible.  I kept track of my portfolio, and kept adding to it for the next 20 years or so.  I wanted to get the greatest possible return on my investment, so I followed it carefully.  The economy would go up and down, and I never knew what would happen – but I made adjustments during those times to make sure it would pay off.”

I continued: “And let’s say it worked.  After all that time, my portfolio had grown to be worth a fortune.  The value to me was great, because I had put so much energy into it.  I had become wealthy.”

Brian kept listening, and wasn’t playing with his cup anymore.

“Now, you come along and say, “Hey!  I really like what you’ve done with your money.  Can I have it?  I’ll take good care of it!”

I asked, “What do you think I’d be feeling?”

He knew where this was going.  He said, “You’d have to really trust me enough to handle it, and care about me enough to give it away.”

“Exactly,” I responded.

“I don’t have that kind of financial portfolio.  I’m not wealthy.  But I’m rich, because I’ve invested in my daughter for two decades.  The payoff has been huge.  She’s my portfolio, and she’s worth more to me than you can imagine.”

“That’s what you’re asking for.  You’re not just marrying my daughter because you love her.  You’re asking me to trust you with my investment and hand it over to you.”

We talked for a while longer.

I said “yes.”  Brian started breathing again.

Almost fourteen years later, I’ve seen that it was my best investment move ever.

That’s what I saw in the eyes of Lucy’s dad last weekend.  He’s poured his life into his daughter, and he’s rich because of it.  Now, he’s trusting my son to manage his portfolio.

It won’t be perfect.  It won’t be easy.  But my son is a good manager of emotional investments.  This is the first time he’s had a chance to use those investing skills in a marriage relationship.  He and Lucy will work on that portfolio together.

He’s keenly aware of the value he’s been trusted with.  And he’s shown himself to be trustworthy.

It’s a reminder to me of the portfolio I was given 37 years ago by my father-in-law.  He trusted me, and I’ve worked hard on his investment.

When the payoff comes, everyone wins.

I love this type of investing.

How’s your portfolio?

How Mayonnaise Can Save Your Marriage

There’s a glass bottle in our cupboard that contains homemade salad dressing. It’s a combination of olive oil and flavored balsamic vinegar that we pick up at a local specialty shop. The owner showed us the appropriate ratio to use to get the best results.

Whenever we put in on the table, the oil is floating on top of the vinegar. We have to shake it up to get it to mix. But we have to drizzle it over the salad quickly or it separates again. Sometimes it mixes well, while other times it still seems to separate again the moment we stop shaking it.

I figured it had something to do with the different types of vinegar. There had to be something that made some mix better than others. So I did a little research.

In the process, I learned a new term that I had heard, but never understood: emulsification.

I turns out that when you shake the oil and vinegar mixture, it breaks the liquid into tiny droplets. The droplets aren’t really mixing; they’re just hanging out temporarily, like people who just walked into a crowded event with thousands of people.

It looks like they’ve combined. But eventually, the droplets rejoin their friends in small groups and the liquids separate again.

But there are things called emulsifiers that can slow that process down considerably. Emulsifiers are different types of food you add to the mix that keeps those droplets separated longer. They work at the molecular level (which is why it’s off my radar – my high school chemistry teacher suggested I find a career in writing).

It turns out that certain herb-based vinegars blend better, because they coat the molecules so they don’t reattach as easily. That’s a simplistic perspective, but it explains why some salad dressings stay mixed longer than others.

But my favorite discovery was egg yolks. One description said that the molecules in egg yolks have sort of a head and a tail. One end is attracted to water molecules, while the other end is attracted to oil molecules. So they act as a bridge between the two to hold them together. It’s kind of a chemical matchmaker to keep totally unique types of molecules connected.

imagesMayonnaise is a great example. If it didn’t contain egg yolks, it would separate in the refrigerator over time. But with the yolks, it’s filled with tiny matchmakers that hold the whole thing together. That’s why we don’t have to stir mayonnaise each time we use it.

OK, maybe mayonnaise isn’t the healthiest thing in the fridge. But it’s a great metaphor for relationships.

Here’s my take on it:

There are “salad dressing relationships” and “mayonnaise relationships.”

Salad dressing relationships consist of two unique people trying to blend together. They live in the same bottle, and they’re trying to become one. But their different temperaments, personalities and interests drive them apart. They try to find common ground, but end up irritating each other. Over time, they get used to it and take each other for granted.

They’re together, but living separate lives.

Mayonnaise relationships have the same unique people trying to blend together. But somehow, it works. Their relationship is stable, even in the middle of the tough patches in life.

They have emulsifiers.

What are the emulsifiers that make the difference?

  • Unconditional commitment – Something powerful happens when there’s an atmosphere that says, “You’re stuck with me . . . I’m not going anywhere.” Those are phrases that need to be verbalized often, not just assumed.
  • Courtesy – The closer a relationship becomes, the more important it is to monitor respect for each other. Courtesy is the “golden rule” in practice, valuing others in the same way we want them to value us.
  • Mutual benefit – When conflict comes or we need to solve a problem, it’s healthy to look for solutions that benefit both of us.
  • Ownership – Healthy people take ownership of their emotions. If we blame someone else for the way we feel, we’ve given them control of our emotions. We can’t stop the feeling, but we can decide how we’re going to respond.
  • Identity – Marriage is a team sport – a single unit made up of two unique individuals. They each make a unique contribution that’s distinct from the other members of the team, but they work together to accomplish a common purpose. The strength of any relationship is the distinctness that each individual brings.

They say that the only things that would survive a nuclear blast are cockroaches, Spam and Velveeta cheese.

I wonder if mayonnaise would also be on that list.

I wonder if my marriage would be on that list . . . and I think it will, if we add the right ingredients.

 

What would you add to your marriage to make it last?

The Kid Whisperer

We babysat our grandkids last night. It’s one of our favorite things to do, because we get to spend time with little people that we adore.

Usually it’s fun and games. But sometimes issues that come up requiring discipline.

And I’m always amazed that I rarely know what to do.

I’ve been a parent for 35 years, a spouse for 38 and a grandparent for almost 10. I’ve written three books on communication, and have two more on the way. I should have this figured out. But more often than not, I don’t have a clue.

It was a little thing last night. The youngest grabbed a paper that was important to the oldest. A tug-of-war started over it. I told him to let go. He didn’t and the paper ripped.

I thought, “OK, what do I do?” I helped the oldest tape the paper back together, but wasn’t sure in the moment how to handle the infraction from the youngest.

So I did nothing. He escaped without consequence, and I didn’t talk to the oldest about what she was feeling.

Not a huge issue in the scheme of things, but it got me thinking about “The Horse Whisperer,” “The Dog Whisperer,” and “Super Nanny.”

Redford horse“The Horse Whisperer” was a late ‘90’s movie where Robert Redford calmly and patiently won the trust of a wild horse and turned it into a strong but compliant animal. He started by simply sitting nearby and watching it for days at a time, connecting quietly until he built trust.

I remember thinking, “How could someone simply sit and stare at a horse for hours at a time?” (At the time, my wife suggested it was the same reason she could sit through a movie and stare at Robert Redford for hours at a time . . .)

“The Dog Whisperer” was a TV show where Cesar Millan would enter homes where undisciplined canines had destroyed any sense of order and serenity. The owners had given up. But he would walk through the door, looked the dog in the eyes, make a simple gesture with his hands and gain instant compliance.

“Super Nanny” was a British woman named Jo Frost who tamed kids who were totally out of control. She would come into a home when parents had given up hope, and provide logical, effective discipline that produced angels.

I’m not sure of the exact statistics, but I estimate that I have no idea what to do about 90% of the time. Even when I’m just having coffee with a friend and they tell me about some family situation they’re facing, I have nothing to tell them. I’d like to be profound, but I often draw a blank.

The thing that’s attractive about the three people mentioned above is that they always have answers. They’re confident. They write books about their techniques, suggesting that if we follow their advice, everything will be perfect.

They never say, “Wow . . . I’m stumped on this one. Good luck!”

Sometimes, that makes the rest of us feel like schmucks – especially when it comes to kids. We’re loving parents and grandparents, and would give our lives for these little people. In many ways, we do.

But in real life, scripted answers don’t always work. Kids are fluid. Just when we think we have them figured out and know what to do, they come up with another angle that catches us off guard.

I’m here to celebrate the majority.

We don’t have to be perfect parents. These kids don’t come home from the hospital with instructions and a warranty. We figure it out as we go, feeling inadequate and wondering if we’re ruining our kids.

Our kids won’t turn out perfect, no matter what we do. If we expect that, we’ll be disappointed.

We need to accept our imperfections, admitting them while striving to grow. We need to “be there.” We need to love unconditionally. Our kids need to see how we negotiate life when it’s uncertain.

We need to give ourselves grace.

The Super Nanny was 33 years old when she started the show – and she’s never had kids of her own. I read today that nine years later, she’s thinking of starting a family.

Please, please make it a reality show where we get to see the real moments where her kids don’t know her reputation. We need to see how she handles the moments where she’s out of resources, low on energy, high on frustration and simply at her wit’s end. We need to see her handle a toddler who strips naked in the grocery store, asks “why?” for the hundredth time or washes his dad’s cell phone in the toilet.

If it’s true reality, she won’t be perfect – and we’ll be OK with that.

In fact, it might become our favorite show – because we’ll have a genuine look at what to do when life happens.

How about you . . . ever feel inadequate at your parenting skills?

Which are Better – Morning People or Night People?

It’s 5:13 AM.  I’m sitting by an open window and it’s dark outside.  The air is cool; the coffee is hot.  In a few minutes, the horizon will hint at a sunrise.

It doesn’t get much better than this, I think.

I love mornings.  Even on the days I’m not working, I’m up early.  I don’t want to miss the stillness, and the “firsts” – the first sounds of birds waking, the first rays of light, the first movement in the streets. 

It feels like a fresh start.  No matter what happened yesterday, morning gives me hope.  It’s like a “do-over.” It has the potential to be a great day.

My daughter, Sara is also a morning person (though it’s tougher now that she has three little kids).  When she was growing up, we’d get up early every Saturday morning, sit on the couch before anyone else was up, and talk for hours.  It was our time. 

It was awesome. 

Not everyone shares my joy, however.

morning and nightMy son, Tim is a night person.  It’s tougher now, because he manages a restaurant and often has to be there between 5:00 and 6:00 AM to open the store.

When he was little, he would sleep in until we woke him, and would fight his early bedtime every night.  He absolutely loved nighttime – the later, the better.  I never understood the attraction.

One year, we took a family vacation to Hawaii when the kids were in their early teens.  Sara and I would get up to watch the sunrise and grab some juice or coffee. 

Tim wanted to sleep in.  We would wake him up, but he was pretty grumpy.  We’d go for an early breakfast, but he wouldn’t talk.  He barely ate his food, slumped over his meal and disengaged from conversation.

I thought it was because he was a teenager.  I was concerned about his attitude, and felt like he was just being rude and rebellious.  I was worried about our relationship.  I tried to connect, but nothing happened.

I tried to “fix” him.  It didn’t work.

He was perceptive enough to know what was happening.  One morning, he mustered up enough energy to form a few words.  He put his head up, looked me in the eye and said, “Just give me two hours.  Don’t talk for two hours.  We’ll be fine.”

And we were.

I would feel the same way if somebody tried to engage me in conversation late at night.  I didn’t understand, but I came to appreciate it.

A few years later, Tim gave me an unusual gift for Father’s Day.  He made a certificate that said he would take me to a midnight movie.

I said, “Hey!  I thought you were supposed to give gifts that people actually want!  A midnight movie?  I’ll fall asleep!”

“Take a nap,” he said.  “You’ll be fine.”

I really wasn’t looking forward to it, but he really wanted me to go.  So I took a nap.

It was an action movie, so I actually stayed awake through the whole thing.  We walked out of the theater about 2:15 AM.  There weren’t very many people in the theater, so we stood on the street by ourselves.

It was quiet. 

It was peaceful.

It was amazing.  I had the same feeling I do when I get up at dawn.

He stood quietly for a minute, staring into the dark quietness as if to just take it all in.

“This is my world,” he said.  “I wanted you to see it.”

I saw it.  I felt it.  And I loved him for sharing it with me.

I don’t think I’ll ever be a night person.  And I’ll always prefer mornings – like I’m doing right now. 

But I don’t debate which is better any more.  I don’t have to be right.

I’ve just learned the value of looking through someone else’s eyes.