Family

How to Handle Grief During the Holiday Season

The holiday season is SUPPOSED to be full of cheer.

But if you’re grieving a death, a loss, or a major change, you may not feel “up” for the falalala hoopla.

There are two strategies that have been shown to be very successful at navigating grief during this time of year, and using one or both can help you cope when everyone else around you is in the holiday spirit.

The Parable of The Whipped Cream

I had this realization about Thanksgiving, and it’s kind of a metaphor for SO MUCH!

Have you ever had one of those times where you just have to push and get through, in order to get to the reward at the end? Well, that’s what I’m talking about! (for me, it’s kind of like how I feel about the Thanksgiving meal).

“I Want a Divorce.” Here’s What He Said That Made Me Realize It Was Over

It turned out to be our last session with the marriage counselor.

 

He said, “There are lots of things I love about Courtney. She’s smart, she’s pretty, she’s kind. I like that she has goals for her career. I find her interesting.”

 

The therapist responded, “I understand that you love a lot of things about Courtney. But I sense there might be a disconnect. The things you’re mentioning aren’t the things Courtney has said are important about herself. Strip all of those things away, and at her core, Courtney is a person with a deep need for connection. The other things about Courtney aren’t really who she is, deep down. Deep down, who she is is a person with a deep need for connection.”

 

My husband looked at her and said, “Yes. I know. And I love her in spite of that.”

 

In spite of that.

 

He loved me in spite of who I was, deep down.

 

That was the moment I knew what to do. And even then, it that painful moment, I knew he wasn’t a villain in this story. This was the guy who admitted to downing a soda in his car on the way home, in order to have a few minutes of energy to try to talk to me after a long day of work. We were both trying, but we were still miles away from middle ground.

 

Since that day, I’ve heard a lot of people say “never change who you are for someone else.” It makes me wonder. I’m now in a fulfilling, equally-matched marriage of many years. But between that day in the therapist’s office with my ex, and my happy life now, I’ve learned a lot about change.

 

I’m worried about the expression “never change who you are for someone else,” because I think it’s been misunderstood. I think lots of people interpret “never change who you are” to mean “don’t change, don’t compromise, just keep doing exactly what you’ve always been doing and if your partner doesn’t like you the way you are, they’re a jerk.”

 

That’s a mistake.

 

Instead, I’ve come to realize there’s a fine line between not changing your BEING, but being willing to change your habits and behaviors.

 

I encourage couples in conflict to try to identify whether or not they have a clash of habits and behaviors, or a clash of personalities. If you have truly incompatible character traits, you may not be able to have a marriage that feels healthy and fulfilling. But habits and behaviors can (and often should!) be changed for people to be compatible partners. You just have to know the difference.

 

Compromise in an a relationship is necessary. For a healthy marriage, be willing and happy to compromise about habits and behaviors. But know that you shouldn’t, and probably can’t, compromise who you are deep down.

 

How to Handle Back-to-School Scheduling Without Losing Your Cool

After a long (maybe too long?) summer break, it’s time to get your kids back to school. Hallelujah! But the first month of school is prime time for stress around your house, as everyone tries to shake their lazy summer habits and jump right back into the busy-ness of the school year.

 

If your family is stressed and high-strung the first several weeks of school, here are some chaos-management techniques to help your family actually ENJOY the transition of the new school year:

 

 

Use the Plus-20 Rule

Everything takes longer than you think it does. And when you’re talking about getting back to your rigid schoolyear schedule, that goes double. Build an extra 20 minutes into every single commute, mealtime, and bedtime. I’ve found that when I’m getting into a new routine, 15 minutes isn’t *quite* enough of a buffer, but 30 is too long. Try making room for 20 extra minutes per activity in your schedule, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised when you get there on time. (You can also adapt this rule for projects and test studying, too! Give yourself an extra day per major assignment. Everything takes longer than you expect when you’re getting back into the swing of it.)

 

Hire the Professionals (0r the Semi-Pros)

When I was teaching my son to drive, I had a realization. I should NOT be teaching my son to drive. Somebody else should! If you have high-stress, conflict-inducing activities in your household, like math homework, parents shouldn’t be the ones to oversee that activity. Hire a professional math tutor, get a college kid to come oversee homework two nights a week, or maybe staff the job out to a math-whiz friend who owes you a favor. If you and your kids get into the habit of arguing now, this early in the school year, that’s a tough habit to break as the months wear on. Your kids are bound to be more respectful to anyone who isn’t you. So hire someone else to help with whatever the worst stuff is at your house, and enjoy the peace that follows.

 

Institute Work Hours

When I was growing up, we had “homework time” – it reached up to 2-3 hours a night once I was in high school. Depending on the age of your child, designate Work Hours time that’s just for work. If they say “I don’t have homework tonight,” great! They don’t have to do school homework, but they have to work on something. It can be a book, a project, or just a general interest. Anything but TV, phone, or video games. Adjust the age upwards as they grow. And EVERYONE in the family participates in Work Hours, not just kids. This way, you’re modeling the diligent behavior you want to see, and you’re giving your kids less of an excuse to zip through their homework and grab the remote control.

 

How to Redefine Success After Life Throws You a Curveball

This is the story about one of the most humbling experiences of my life, and what I learned from it.

After you’ve lived through a tough time, it’s easy to want to get “back to normal.” But often after a difficult experience, your old goals are obsolete.

Here are 2 important considerations to help you redefine your relationship to success (and redefine success itself!) and start achieving again, no matter what you’ve been through!

How to Respond When a Loved One Says “I Have Depression.”

What should you say when someone you care about admits to having depression? It’s hard to know the “right” way to respond, but what you say in that moment really matters.

If someone you know starts this conversation with you, here are a few pointers on how to respond in a helpful and loving way, that continues the conversation and supports your friend or family member with depression. Armed with a few of these phrases, maybe you’ll be a little less apprehensive about saying the “right thing.”

This may be one of the hardest conversations you’ll ever have, but it’s also among the most important.

 

“Here’s How I Saved My Marriage” (The Best Marriage Advice I’ve Collected)

I used to think “saving your marriage” was only for dire situations. That “marriage saving” was like last-ditch, life-support, right-after-the-marriage-counselor-and-before-the-divorce-attorney kind of work.

 

And then I grew up.

 

Saving a marriage is like saving a bicycle tire that isn’t brand new: it probably needs to be pumped up regularly. It may even need a patch. If you know how to save your marriage, you can save it BEFORE it becomes an emergency.

 

One Panic At a Time

 

The first marriage lesson I learned was my sophomore year in high school. That was WAY too early to start thinking about marriage advice, but TV star Paul Reiser’s book Couplehood had come out, and somehow I ended up with a copy as a gift. I still remember, all the way back to February of 1995, the advice Reiser gave about being upset in a marriage. He said only one member of a couple can be “up a tree” at any time. Only one of you can be upset, frustrated, or just plain losing it. And if your partner is “up a tree,” as he called it, then you have to stay on the ground and be the rational one.

 

I was just starting to experience, at the time, how easy it can be to freak out when your partner is upset. Their frustration feeds your frustration in a big ugly loop, and suddenly you’ve both lost your cool and pffffft! There goes the healthy relationship. (It’s as easy as that when you’re 15.)  As an adult, my husband and I both have been able to cultivate really calm reactions when the other person is freaking out – it’s almost a little unnatural, but it helps us keep the situation from spiraling out of control. One person up a tree at a time, like Paul Reiser said.

 

You Don’t Win Without Him

 

My mentor and dear friend, Lee, is in her 90s. With the life she’s lived, she’s offered me lots of great advice over the years, especially about running my speaking business. But she gave me one warning that really stuck with me: don’t get too big for your britches, or your marriage will suffer.

 

She told me about how, early in her career, she was so proud of succeeding on her own. In her day, women running businesses were an exception, not a rule. Clients were flying her all over the world, and money was coming in. She told me she was getting treated like a star on the road, and when the applause ended she came home to her husband, she couldn’t shake the expectation that she was still The Star. Her husband felt ignored, unloved, and taken for granted. And she didn’t even notice until he warned her to change or he was going to leave.

 

“You BOTH have to win, for it to be a good marriage,” she told me. “Every success of yours, you have to thank your partner, because it’s shared. And if you don’t see the role they played in your success, you aren’t looking hard enough.” Every success is shared.

 

Stop Worshipping At The Altar of Quality Time

 

I’m on the road a lot, which is where I was when I heard this next bit of good advice. I was talking to some audience members after one of my presentations about being excited to go home and spend time with Jamie, my husband. I said “what I really need is some quality time.” Her response surprised me…

 

“Quality time is great,” she said. “But we’re all so obsessed with quality time that we don’t’ realize TIME when we have it. Don’t wait so long for quality time that you miss opportunities for ANY time.”

 

I realized she was right. That nighttime Netflix “Office” binge isn’t time I ever thought of as “quality time.” It’s too short and too late for deep conversation or fun activities. But I can either replace it with something I value more, or turn it into an intentional bonding experience with Jamie (we’re currently going with the latter, and keeping a running list of new inside jokes thanks to the Dunder-Mifflin crew). Thanks to kids, jobs, dishes, and life, you may not get a lot of dedicated quality time, so stop waiting around for the perfect moment and just make meaning out of the moments you DO have.

 

Your Marriage Isn’t Your Dumping Ground

 

The final lesson is one my husband, Jamie, and I learned ourselves the hard way. It had been one of those days. One of our rescue dogs had barked and lunged at another dog on the trail. I had warned Jamie earlier that he wasn’t choking up on the leash enough, so when the dog acted up I immediately launched into I-told-you-so mode. That afternoon we’d run ourselves ragged with work and chores, until it was time to feed the dogs AND make dinner AND put away the dishes, at which point Jamie snapped at me that he couldn’t reach the dog bowl because I had opened the dishwasher in the way. I was about to snarkily respond about how easy it was to just SHUT the dishwasher when I realized…

 

We were taking the stresses of the day and basically making them the other person’s fault. We were tired and busy, and we couldn’t snap at anybody ELSE in our lives, so we turned to the person closest to us and made it THAT person’s problem. Which is a great way to build animosity. The fact that my life is stressful isn’t my husband’s fault. 99% of the time, he makes my life easier, not harder. So it’s not fair to make him my dumping ground for all the blame of the stress I’m carrying around.

 


 

Your marriage doesn’t need white knight on a horse saving, it just needs a gentle, nudging reminder saving. What are you doing to pump up your marriage every once in a while?

 

 

 

This Was the Moment I REALLY Became a Mom

After battling cancer several times in my 20s, I thought I’d never be a mom. But in May of 2011, all that changed with one phone call…

…but not the way you might expect.

What NOT To Say To a Grieving Friend

When a friend is grieving, you want to be there for them. You want to help them. You want to make them feel better.

 

As a three-time cancer survivor, I’ve spent a lot of time around grief and loss. In my nonprofit work with survivors and others in grief, I’ve heard many of the same phrases used time after time – phrases that are supposed to be comforting, but end up being frustrating to the person grieving.

 

Many of the things that come out of our mouths when someone we know is hurting are actually meant to make US feel better, not them. We feel uncomfortable watching them cry or be upset, so we say things we think will encourage them to feel happy instead of sad. But that’s like using a fly swatter to stop a Lear Jet!

 

Here are 4 common phrases you should avoid saying to a friend who is grieving:

 

“It Will All Be Okay”

 

Most of the phrases on this list minimize grief, in some way. This particular phrase grates on my nerves, because it also sounds like the person saying it has a crystal ball. In reality, life will likely be “okay” for your grieving friend, but it will never be what it was. It may never feel quite as full. Or as secure. When you say “it will all be okay,” what your friend hears is “you won’t miss <whatever or whoever it is> that much anyway.” Your friend isn’t yet at a place where it’s all okay, so allow them to process their grief in their own time.

 

“Everything Happens for a Reason”

 

I really struggled with hearing this phrase after my friend Ruben died. If you’ve heard me tell the story of Ruben, you know he was full of life and had just married his true love, Jen, when he passed away. When people said “everything happens for a reason,” it felt like they were saying “Ruben was meant to die.”. In my life, I have experienced many gifts that have come from bad situations. I believe that we can find meaning and hope in even the worst of grief. But I can’t pretend to know the reasons why difficult things happen. I think, facing loss, people want to believe they know something, because feeling powerless is uncomfortable. But it’s not the time or place to school your grieving friend on the mysteries of life.

 

“I Know Exactly How You Feel”

 

Empathy is a beautiful thing. When we’re hurting, one of the most powerful gifts we can receive is someone who just “gets it” to be with us. If you’ve understand your friend’s grief, you’ll be able to support them in a way few others will. But… in my experience, most people who say “I know exactly how you feel,” are the very people who don’t know exactly how I feel. The people who know how I feel say something else, like “I get it. I’m here with you.” Real empathy doesn’t require a comparison.

 

“God/The Universe Doesn’t Give You More Than You Can Handle”

 

This phrase is similar to “Everything happens for a reason.” It presumes the speaker knows the inner workings of life’s great plan. It’s meant to be a compliment, telling your grieving friend that he or she is strong, but it runs the surprising risk of coming across as a guilt trip. For example, I know a woman who lost her son who heard this phrase, and it made her feel like “Do they mean it’s my fault? If I hadn’t been so strong, this wouldn’t have happened to me?”

 

 

These phrases to avoid all have one thing in common: they’re meant to provide perspective to a person grieving. But you can’t give perspective to a person grieving – they can only come to that perspective in their own time. There are no magic words to make them stop crying and say  “you’re right! It’s not as bad as I thought!” Grief doesn’t work like that. In fact, the old Stage Model of grief, originally developed by Kubler-Ross, has been proven incorrect. Grief comes in cycles and waves, there is no linear pattern.

 

So don’t try to say anything meaningful or deep. Just be there. That’s the best thing you can do.

 

 

 

What Healthy Relationships Reveal About the Nature of Change

“I can’t change who I am for you!”

If you’ve ever felt pressured to change yourself to be in a relationship with someone, you’ve experienced UNHEALTHY change. Do you know the difference between healthy change for a healthy relationship, and unhealthy change?

In relationships, some change is natural, normal, and good. But some change is bad, and a partner who requests certain kinds of change is a red flag. Learn the difference between the two kinds of change in a relationship, and what healthy, resilient couples know about the nature of change.