Don Paglia | Marriage and Family Counseling. Constellations Workshops


Tip # 95:

“Fishing is boring, unless you catch an actual fish, and then it is disgusting.” 

Dave Barry

Point well taken. Dave Barry is a very funny writer who often writes humorous, yet poignant pieces. I take his quote to indicate, besides not being a fan of fishing, he thinks life’s events are often not always what they are cracked up to be.

A great teacher of mine loved to say it this way: “Reality never rises to meet expectations.” I never cared for it when she would say this. But over the years I’ve found on certain occasions it fits all too well. I’d also say it this way; whenever we get something good we give up something else perhaps also good. Meaning: No decision we ever make is totally acceptable. There are always trade-offs.

Along this vein we tend to think of ourselves and others as either being negativists or optimists. Perhaps there is actually a third possibility: That of being a Realist. Fishing is very much about being out in the midst of glorious nature, which can be wonderful and breathtaking. It also means being out in the mists of mosquitos, and black flies, and getting sun burned, and also those times the big one gets away.

There’s the old adage about the cup being either half full, or half empty. What if the cup is just bigger than it needs to be?

Suzuki, the philosopher, said this: “Expect nothing and all it yours.” What he was promoting is that our expectations can foil our happiness and be the seed of disappointment. It is great, for instance, to pursue our goals with great efforts and commitment. The best approach is to also have zero attachment to the results. I call this being two-headed: to go after our goals with zest and at the same time not be attached to the outcome.

Whatever way you might take these various thoughts we’d be best to recognize we are always telling ourselves stories. We make up versions – our own perspectives – about everything that is going on. We usually make things up to suit our particular purposes/needs. So depending on what stories we invent we can end up feeling anything from being totally bummed out to being incredibly awed and delighted.

Spoiler Alert: The important thing is to remember we are the one making up the meaning. Whatever the story – concept – we make up, we need to realize that we are the ones making up these stories or concepts!

Fishing, like anything else, is what one makes it. So, here’s another quote. This one is from Henry Ford, the famous car maker, who made automobiles affordable through the invention of the assembly line production:   “If you think you can or you think you cannot, you’re right.”    

 We often predetermine outcomes of whatever we are up to by the belief we have going into the efforts to do any particular thing. I have people tell me all the time they don’t think their relationship can work. So when they finish telling this I tell them, “You’re probably right; it won’t work, not until you at least give up your negative belief.”

I’m also convinced that my stand with and for any couple does a lot for them arriving at a positive outcome. After a couple tells me their sad and/or tragic tale with the terrible things that they have been doing and of all the awful heartache they are experiencing, I am inclined to tell them that: Nothing you have told me would make me think that you cannot have a great relationship.”

Granted, they need to be willing to do the hard work. I also enroll them in a new possibility for their future. Where I am coming from is that our past does not need to predict our future. The past happened; but it is in the past. It may offer insight for arriving at better future.

Q: What can be the take away from that past?

What are you willing to do to make a better future?

Are you coachable?

In a recent article about relationships the author suggested that we use things that make us happy and successful in our work world, and apply the same things to our relationships. Similar positive results can and do follow. In other words, we usually know more than we think we know. We can apply successful practices from one or more area of our lives to an area where we are floundering.

With St. Valentine’s Day arriving this can be a great opportunity to check in on your relationship(s): be it your spouse, lover, child, parent, friends, neighbors, etc.

Here’s one example of applying successful work strategies to our personal relationships:

Treat your relationship like a new up-start business.

Bring that original excitement and energy into the relationship as though it is a new and fledging one. This would mean cutting each other some slack, dwelling on those things we love about the other, providing room to make improvements, and instituting changes that may bring about better results than what you were previously attempting.

It is a known fact that once we are in a relationship for a bit, much like at a steady job, we’re tempted to stop thinking about why we do what we do. We go into automatic pilot and start taking things and people for granted.

Psychologist Esther Perel, says that “the kinds of modern company structures which make work a knife-edge of possible gain or loss, held together by belief, effort, and creative thinking, are a better model for our love lives than the staid careers of an earlier moment in history.”

So instead of treating your relationship dully or with a same old same old attitude, why not treat it like a startup company? Even if you’ve been together for a long time take on a sense of newness and novelty. Look with fresh eyes. Look for possibilities yet to be explored and put to the side our jaded or cynical attitude.

My definition if a cynic is this: A cynic is a passionate person who has been hurt in the past and therefore no longer wishes to get hurt again.

Cynics shut down and become resigned. The approach to take is to speak to the cynic’s original passion. It may now be buried and repressed, but not gone. Perhaps you are the cynic that needs to be spoken to from your original passion. Time for some self-talk. Yes, you might get hurt again. But you might not. Life is a risk. The difference between living and merely existing has all to do with the difference between taking risks in life vs. always playing it safe. Ask yourself, what is the worst thing that could happen? Is this so terrible? Plus the worst isn’t likely. In either case if you can handle this worst case scenario, then go for it!

You’ve probably learned some things from those previous times where you got hurt; things that may have even made you smarter and wiser. You can utilize these lessons learned to this time improve your odds. You are smarter now. You survived and are still alive!

How sad it is to have died without ever having lived at all. So go out there and make some new mistakes!

You can also do a cost vs. payoff analysis with what you are considering. I am a great proponent of asking for what we want. Ask, ask, ask, ask, and ask. You increase your chances of getting what you want so much more by asking than when you remain silent and expect others to guess what it is you want. We are not mind readers.

Some people have this terrible rule: If I have to ask then it doesn’t count (or count as much). This is such a crazy way of thinking. You’ll be amazed at how often others want to do what it is you are looking for, and all you have to do is ask them.

Some couples have little or no sexual relationship to speak of simply because neither one knows how to ask. Each party makes up a story and then goes off to his/her corner feeling disappointed and hurt. Each stays on their side of the bed feeling lonely and rejected. What would it take if one started things up by moving his or her toes over to the other’s toes? What if a non-verbal message was delivered that communicated, “Hello, I am over here, available and yearning for your physical touch.”

I once told an older married couple to arrange for them to go separately and meet at a local hotel bar, have a drink or two with each other while pretending that they’d never met before. Have fun flirting and hitting on each other as if they were just meeting. Then end this encounter in the hotel room they already booked for the night. In other words, have an affair with your spouse!

Married couples make a huge mistake when they stop dating once they are married. Keep the love life alive by breathing life into it. I know couples that take a quarterly overnight getaway during the year. Remember when you first met; when you started dating? Recall your original goals when you first got married. Dust these off, renew them, and if need be, create newer ones. Brainstorm with your partner creative strategies for overcoming whatever are the difficulties in your current life. Many are a result of the pandemic. They are challenges, may have little to do with dislikes for one another, and call for some flexibility and imagination.

Most couples marry six or seven times over the life of their relationship; ideally with the same persons. That’s because you are not who you were when you were first dating, or got engaged, or even when you were initially married. Each stage has different tasks. Renew and recommit to grow into your present stage. Figure out which one you are in and decide how you can have a more vibrant union along the on-going marital journey. Making time for more fun is a biggie and will go a long way in whatever stage.

Here’s another idea:

Use more positive statements than negative ones in response to each other. Popular author and couple’s researcher, Dr. John Gottman, found that there needs to be a 5:1 ratio: meaning that for a healthy relationship there has to be five positive interactions for every negative one. That magic number can be hard to achieve when you and/or your significant other grate on each other.

In order to increase the positive interactions, recall why you first got together. Find things you have always liked about one another. Then, instead of dwelling on the annoyances and upsetting issues, highlight these admirable features.

A fun exercise is to take turns flooding your spouse with one after another thing you love about your partner. Have the listening partner sit in a chair set out in the middle of a room. Then the speaking partner walks around the chair as he/she states various admired things – qualities, behaviors, characteristics, and appreciations. As the speaker keeps circling the chair they will become more animated and energized. Go several minutes. Then, have the listener now become the speaker, and the speaker now become the listener.

Here’s a final thought:

All people are either, in a crisis, coming out of a crisis, or headed for a crisis. This is meant to let you know that things are not as bad as you may seem to think. It is part of being human. And you are no different from a billion other married people or the billions of people in this world. What the fundamental problem really is is that we lack perspective.

When we love someone we do things for them because we love them. And we want them to know we love them. Besides doing things for the other, we tell each other we love them. Regularly. Not just on the day we got married or on an occasional romantic get-away. Mature and responsible married people tell and do these things often – even when we might be in the midst of some upset or hurt or we’re feeling angry (what I call being in a snit). In other words we don’t allow ourselves to withhold our love, rather we love unconditionally.

Our perspective is EVERYTHING. Choose a better one; one that works for you and keep building upon it. It is not always easy, but it is really that simple.