Rules of Life’s Road

Rule 1: Choose to accept what you cannot change by changing how you think about it.

  1. To accept does not mean to stop caring, but to cease trying to change someone else.
  2. To accept is not to cut yourself off, but the realization that different is not bad.
  3. To accept is not attempts to control, but the acceptance that the outcome is not in your hands.
  4. To accept is not to blame others, but to make the most of yourself.
  5. To accept is not to take care of, but to care about.
  6. To accept is not to fix and make right, but to be present and supportive.
  7. To accept is not to judge, but to allow another to be an imperfect being.
  8. To accept is not arranging the outcomes, but to allow others to create their own future.
  9. To accept is not to abandon, but to allow another to face reality.
  10. To accept is not to deny, but rather not to intervene.
  11. To accept is not to rationalize and explain, but to admit and correct your shortcomings.
  12. To accept is not to worry about the future, but to take each day as it comes and cherish yourself in it.
  13. To accept is not to criticize others, but to be the person you are meant to be.
  14. To accept is to fear less and to love more.

Rule 2: Forgiveness is choosing not to remember the wrong or hurt against your mate.

Forgiveness is a contract made with yourself not to charge the offender with the offence from that point forward. Second, forgiveness is a commitment made to yourself to live in the relationship with the offender from that point forward just-as-if-they had never done the offence against you. Third, when you think of the offence, forgiveness reminds you that the offender is not guilty anymore and the thought is put out of your mind. Fourth, forgiveness is not something that you feel or necessarily want to give. It is a commitment which you carry out faithfully regardless of how you feel or what you want.

Rule 3: No one is more invested in your success and happiness than your mate. Your mate is not your enemy.

Every living thing is in conflict. The soil attacks a fallen seed to bring about decomposition. The seed struggles to use the same soil to germinate and produce a plant like the one which spread the seed. If the seed wins the conflict, it will sprout and push its way through the soil and into the sunlight. The very sun it seeks will burn the life out of the plant if it does not receive enough water. On the seedling struggles, fighting off disease and all other elements to reach maturity and spread its seed so that the cycle may begin again. The conflict is necessary to test the strong to make them stronger. Only the strong overcome the conflict and live to spread its seed.

Relationship conflict is likewise necessary if the couple is going to develop a bond strong enough to overcome the elements of life which would destroy it. Couple conflict reveals changes each must make in order to transform their thinking from “I,” “me” and “my” to “we,” “us” and “our.” This is difficult because we naturally think in the singular and assume that others should view life as we experience it. These clashes force the couple to learn to resolve their conflicts or the relationship will be destroyed. The foundation for the resolve of conflict is to remember that out of all the people in the world they could be with, they chose each other. No one is more invested in their success and happiness than their mate.

Rule 4: Life is more than the ways you see and experience it. You look out on life through the lens of your life experience which is slightly distorted.

Perspective is how we see ourselves in relation to the people and circumstances that surround us. A perspective gives a three-dimensional view of two dimensional objects, scenes, or circumstances. Perspective brings other relevant issues into relationship with the present situation in order to give us a wider frame of reference.

If all we are able to see in a conflict is our own issues and needs, we have a two dimensional point of view. But if we are willing first to seek to understand what the other person needs and wants, this understanding will provide the three dimensional point of view which will make resolve of the conflict possible. The people in our life have a reasonable basis for their perspective on the issues in their life. We often reason differently about the same issue but that does not make one person wrong. In order to resolve differences, understanding the reasonableness of the other person’s perspective must be gained. This mutual understanding provides a basis for resolving conflicts.

Rule 5: Conflict is resolved, not from arguing facts, but from seeking to understand each other’s point of view.

Each of us looks out upon the world through the lens of our experience, knowledge and perspective. What we see and understand is our reality. It isn’t until each is willing to go to the other person’s point of view, that understanding is gained. At the point that we gain understanding, we are able to empathize with the other person’s experience. It is then that we can say with sincerity, I now understand your point of view. Understanding the other person’s point of view does not cancel out our point of view. It simply gives our point of view greater perspective and our insight greater understanding and empathy. When understanding and empathy are brought into the conflict, the potential for resolve is increased.

Rarely do facts matter when a relationship is in conflict. What always matters is how each person in the relationship is experiencing the conflict. We tend to fight about facts, but the real issues are our feelings and needs. Facts distract us from the feelings that make the conflict heated. The more we argue about facts, the further away from the issue we are drawn. At the point that we begin to listen to the other person’s feelings, we will begin to understand their needs. Conflicts are rarely over facts. Conflicts arise when our needs are not met and our feelings are hurt.

Copyright 2011 Orville E. Easterly All Rights Reserved –Do not copy.

When Marriage Needs a Mulligan*

It started out so well.  From the time their paths crossed, they were drawn together with a force they did not want to resist.  Dating led to engagement and on into marriage.  The honeymoon raised some warning signs but love and passion quieted the nagging concerns.  The first year of marriage, consumed by work, social engagements and learning to live together distracted them from the unsettling tension signaling trouble ahead. 

During the second year life became more routine opening the way for the growing concerns to come into focus.  Passion declined sharply, replaced by a sense of ought and obligation.  The spaces between their togetherness widened and filled with frustration and indifference.  The conviction that the marriage was a mistake was no longer framed as a question, yet the implication was unthinkable.

The confirmation of pregnancy in September seemed to infuse the marriage with new meaning and a sense of purpose.  The growing life diverted their senses away from the fragility of their relationship and on to preparation for the baby’s arrival.  In May, a new cast member arrived on life’s stage, commanding attendance and attention. 

Fatherhood, exciting at first, dissolved into the realization that an intruder had taken over his home and commandeered his wife’s attention, interest and affection.  Motherhood filled a hollow place in her life where uncertainty, frustration and anger had darkened her days and filled her nights with forboding.  The love she needed to give now had a place to live while the love she longed to receive swept through her without reserve. 

The cold distance between them widened as indifference numbed the sense of loss of the bond the passion filled early days promised.  The child became the fulcrum and the gravity which held the couple together while the hunger for the warmth of a nurturing relationship gnawed at the fragile fibers of their commitment.  The dream of being loved unconditionally and sharing the journey through life seemed unattainable while a feeling of being trapped financially prevented them from uttering the words separation or divorce.  Yet they both knew they could not go on indefinitely in this state of emptiness and disappointment.

Neither could bear the thought of living apart from the child so they consulted with a marriage therapist from whom they learned that marital love is not a noun but rather a verb.  Happiness is a deviation from the norm, not the standard condition of life.  The norm of life is contentment; a state of being that is neither bored nor infused with excitement.  They learned that feelings come unbidden and leave without warning and therefore are not reliable indicators of reality.  We feel passion and are driven by its power but we do love in spite of how we feel or what we want at any given time.  Feelings follow and reinforce the loving action.  A healthy, mutually satisfying relationship is built on commitments based in the needs of the relationship and fulfilled with actions and attitudes rising out of the foundation of self-control.

Both believed that the marriage was a mistake and wished out loud that they could start over without penalty.  He explained that in golf a poor drive from the tee may be replayed without penalty.  The therapist responded that a mulligan is not the same as a new game.  It simply allows the golfer to continue the same game as if the first drive had not happened. 

What the couple wanted was to wipe out the marriage as if it had never happened and take a different course.  This cannot happen in life.  Once a marriage is formed and a child is born, a mulligan, a restart, is the best for which a couple can hope.  As in the game of golf, however, the mulligan stays in the minds of the players.  No matter what the player with the mulligan scores in the game, everyone remembers that the score is always one stroke higher. 

Should the couple go on to divorce the marriage remains a fact in their lives and the child will tie them together as long as they both live.  In life, a divorce is forever part of a person’s history and current resume. 

A mulligan in marriage is not a divorce but rather a place where the couple is able to stop, learn from their past mistakes, draw a line separating them from their negative past and design a marriage which is mutually satisfying, healthy and growing.  Then, with the help of a marriage therapist, build a new marriage in which both wish to live.  This is how the marriage mulligan works.

* A second chance to perform a certain move or action

 Copyright 2011 Orville E. Easterly All Rights Reserved –Do not copy.

If It Is Unsafe to Tell You No . . . I Cannot Tell You Yes

If it is unsafe for me to tell you “No,” what happens if I do?  If it is unsafe for me to tell you “No,” and I tell you “Yes,” what does my yes mean?  If it is not safe to tell you “No,” does it matter to you what I think, feel, and want?  If what I think, feel, and want does not matter to you, how do you think I feel about my life in this relationship?  If it is unsafe for me to tell you “No” then you do not care what is important to me and cannot love me, so the relationship is all about you and has nothing to do with what makes me a person.

What kind of a person makes it unsafe for others to tell them “No?”  The answer is not difficult or complicated.  This person is self-absorbed.  This means that the only feelings, wants, and needs that are important to them are their own.  This person feels angry, threatened, abused, and misunderstood anytime they do not get their way and they tantrum.  Picture a toddler throwing a fit because the child did not get their way.  Why do they do this?  They are punishing the one who denied them.  They believe that if they make the one who denied them miserable enough they will get what they want. 

Does this describe your life circumstance?  Does your mate make it unsafe for you to say “No?”  Are you afraid to assert yourself and say what you think and feel, or do you go along in order to avoid your mate’s anger and verbal assault?  If this describes you in your marriage, help is available.  Call a marriage and family counselor in you area and learn how to live with dignity and self-respect.  –Dr. Orville Easterly

 Copyright 2011 Orville E. Easterly All Rights Reserved –Do not copy.

Maintaining Your Balance in Uncertain Times

Life is uncertain and hard.  Yet, life at its most difficult is liberating and good.  It calls us to our best and most determined self.  It separates us from our stuff so that our true self is able to emerge.  It enables us to differentiate that which is of lasting value from things with temporary satisfaction.  It separates the overcomer from the ones who are overcome.  It weeds out the weak and tests the strong to make them stronger.  It is impartial neither aiding nor opposing anyone.  It requires us to overcome the odds to survive and greater odds to thrive.  We must master ourselves to rise above our circumstance, and experience being truly free.                                                               

We are more than the total of all that we possess.  We may have a sense of this truth during good times but it takes trying times to cause us either to rise to our best or to slump into a self-indulgent belief that our life is harder and sadder than everyone else’s.  Contrast and comparison to others distract from the mastery of self and divert creativity and motivation from the challenge to overcome and to thrive.  We are not as compared to anyone.  The ways that we are similar pale in contrast with the ways we are unique. 

Each of us stands alone facing the task of navigating the blustering winds and the swirling currents of life around us.  How then do we manage stress and worry?

Exercise the Power to Decide:  Our course through life is determined by the decisions we make.  While influences beckon us and try to alter or shape our direction, it is our decisions which set our course.  Ella Wheeler Wilcox summed this up saying,

One ship sails East,
And another West,
By the self-same winds that blow,
‘Tis the set of the sails
And not the gales,
That tells the way we go.

Take Nothing Personally:  What others do may cause us pleasure or pain but the decisions we make are what separate us.  When the words or behaviors of others wound us, the immediate tendency is to react with words and behaviors which cause equal or greater pain.  This is unfortunate because such reactions give the other person the power, in that moment, to determine what we think, feel and how we will behave.  The rudeness or cruelty of the other person is not about us.  It is about the other person.   We are impacted by their behavior but not the cause of it.  If we respond to our desire to counter attack, we look and behave like the offender.  We join their misbehavior and become part of the problem.  This is taking as personal that which is not.  We are temporarily the object of the other person’s misbehavior which is unpleasant but it will pass unless we join the other person’s misconduct.  

Take Not Yourself Too Seriously:  Tough times touch everyone like a rising tide lifts all boats.  Some are better prepared for the tough times while others, already in difficult straits, seem to be overcome by the difficulties sweeping their direction.  Tragedies, loss of health, death of a loved one, loss of a job, the destruction of a divorce are illustrative of individual gauntlets to run.  For some it feels like the world has turned on them and they anguish, “Why me?”  They believe that they alone have been selected to endure this great suffering while others appear to be untouched by such grief.  Life is indifferent.  Falling rain differentiates not who will get wet.  A tsunami washes over all in its path.  An earthquake shakes and destroys all under its power.  An epidemic attacks everyone vulnerable to its poison.  Rather than wallow in the despair of tragedy and loss, look up and seize the opportunities that tragedy, difficult times and grief offer you.  There are opportunities in every crisis or tragedy for those with eyes to see them.  Many have eyes but do not see and ears but do not hear.  It takes eyes willing to see to recognize that loss is a preparation to gain anew. 

Your life is a journey.  The present circumstance will pass.  The past is an asset for reference.  The future is yours to define and create.  It is potential waiting to be formed.  But life is clay molded and shaped either by bitterness and defeat or wisdom and courage.         Dr. Orville E. Easterly 

Copyright 2011 Orville E. Easterly All Rights Reserved –Do not copy.

When Sex Was Good

When the relationship was new, being apart was intolerable, telephone conversations lasted hours and all thoughts concerned the next time they would be together.  Thoughts anticipating their next meeting fill the waking hours and their dreams at night.  Passion brightened the day and illuminated the night.  Love making was urgent and filled with a longing which could only be experienced.  Everything was fun when together and inadequate when apart.  Focused on each other the activity was secondary, simply a vehicle to express the joy of the relationship.  But as time passed the relationship matured and the activity became primary demoting the relationship to second place or lower.  Now their discussion concerning what to do focuses more on the activity than being together and conflict casts a painful shadow over their togetherness.  She feels ignored and second place to his interests which do not include her.  He wants more time with his buddies and feels confined.  Love making is decreasing in frequency and becoming less passionate and more routine. 

What happened to the passion which brought them together?  Passion is a feeling produced by erotic hormones which come unbidden and leave without warning.  It requires the sense of adventure and the conquest of a new relationship, whereas love is a commitment to another which is fulfilled with the best that is in us no matter how we feel or what we want at any given time.  Love is action saturated with an attitude born of commitment and expressed in loyalty and respect.  Love, expressed with devotion and the skill developed from intimate knowledge of the other, produces a passion which is renewed throughout the life of the relationship.  If passion in your relationship has diminished and conflict has increased, help is available.      Dr. Orville E. Easterly

Copyright 2011 Orville E. Easterly All Rights Reserved –Do not copy.

The Parenting War

It is a never ending war over who has the right plan and method to parent the children. Each parent is sincerely confident that the other is wrong and must be stopped or the children will be ruined. Meanwhile, the children craftily play one parent against the other in order to get what they want.

Here is one play in the playbook of managing your parents. Tim tells dad that mom is unreasonable. She never lets him do anything even when he has his homework completed. He wishes that mom would be as reasonable as dad in these matters. Dad feels good hearing this because his wife frequently tells him that he has no sense when it come to parenting and managing the children. She sees him as another child she has to manage.

Tim continues and runs the next part of the play. He tells dad that tonight is an example of how unreasonable she is. He complains that he has his homework and his chores done and simply wants to go to Sam’s house to play and will be home by 9:00. Dad falls for the ploy and states that he doesn’t see anything wrong with him going to Sam’s if he has his homework and chores completed. Tim thanks dad and tells him that he is the greatest and dashes off to tell mom that dad said that he can go to Sam’s house and be home by 9:00. Mom erupts and tells Tim that he isn’t going anywhere and stomps off to confront dad. This is Tim’s que to get over to Sam’s. After all, Dad gave him permission. Experience has taught him that his mom and dad will be fighting about this long after he is home and in bed.

To Swat or Not

Have you noticed that children are born wild?  They come into this world needing to be housebroken and domesticated.  They are self-centered, demanding and unaware of their parent’s needs and desires.  They sleep when they want to sleep and impatiently demand to be fed when they are hungry. When their bottom is wet or dirty, they fuss and fret until someone tries to change their diaper. They then fight against the effort of the person trying to restore their comfort.

When they learn to toddle, the world is their playground and everything must be touched, tasted and, if possible, shoved into their mouths, noses or ears.  Food is simply another thing to touch, taste and throw.  They learn quickly that most things shoved or dropped from a highchair go “thump” and they cannot get enough of this amazing game.  When the object thrown from the highchair is their bottle or sippy cup, they demand that someone retrieve it promptly so they can throw it again.

Children must patiently be taught that food goes in their mouths rather than smeared over their faces and plastered to their hair.  To housebreak them, the parents must be patient and must anticipate the moment when the child is about to relieve himself in order to get the child onto the potty chair.  This interruption of the child’s moment of relief is initially met with indignant fussing and frustrated yells and cries.  Sitting on a cold seat instead of eliminating comfortably into their warm diaper makes no sense and they battle to get off of the chair and to be left alone while they finish the job.

All civilized behavior and manners must be learned.  Asking for a toy that another child has rather than simply yanking it away is inconvenient and usually results in rejection.  Some children cannot understand why biting and hitting are not accepted behaviors when they work so well.  These are not bad children with bad habits.  They did not learn these behaviors from other sources and then practice them into habitual actions.  These behaviors are inherited knowledge.  They go back through the millennia to the time when our species learned to survive against overwhelming odds.  During those critical years, our forebears had to react instantly to aggression on any level and fight for their lives, run for their lives, plead for their lives or play dead.  Whatever they needed had to be taken with cunning and brute force or they did without.  The rule for survival was to kill and eat or be killed and be eaten.

Our forebears survived and thrived.  Each new level of existence required that they fine-tune social behavior to make it safe to coordinate their actions in order to benefit mutually.  The instinct to take what was wanted or what was needed had to yield to learning to negotiate for mutual advancement.  Hitting and biting had to be eliminated in favor of resolving difference by non-violent means.  While our civilized order has advanced over this bumpy road of social development to the present era, the impulse to revert to these primitive behaviors is still powerful in all of us.  Yet, we must teach our children not to do what comes naturally, but rather to learn the social niceties which will enable them to live successfully in our ordered society.  The task of the parent is to teach the child to share, to cooperate, to help others, to ask permission, to clean up his mess, to potty in the toilet, to say “I’m sorry,” not to hit, not to bite, not to take other peoples things, not to throw things and not to scream and cry when he does not get his way.

If we are to teach such advanced behavioral patterns to our developing children, we must first master our own primitive urges and responses.  Which of these primitive urges and responses are still active in you?  Under what circumstances do you feel justified in hitting another person?  How often do you share, cooperate, help others, ask permission, clean up your mess or say you are sorry?  If any of these impulses are active in you it is not because you are bad, but rather because you have not mastered the social skills you need to achieve mutually satisfying relationships.  This is one of the core issues which limit some parents’ abilities to discipline their children in a non-violent manner.  It seems to be easier and to bring faster results if they hit and scold the child.  What they do not realize is that the inherited instinct to survive causes the child to see the parent as a frightening aggressor rather than a safe, loving protector.  Notice that when a child is hit and yelled at in anger the child will run for their life, fight for their life, plead for their life or fearfully submit to the frightening person hurting them.  This child does learn to obey to a certain extent but they also learn to conquer by intimidation and force rather than to negotiate in peace and cooperation.

The purpose of punishment is to cause pain.  The purpose of discipline is to teach and to mentor.  This takes time and patience.  In our rapid paced world, time and patience seem to be egregiously wanting but they are necessary if we are going to discipline rather than punish.

Copyright 2011 Orville E. Easterly All Rights Reserved –Do not copy.

Why is Marriage So Difficult?

Marriage and long-term relationships are exacting. They require hard work and great effort to do well. They start out with such promise. A man and woman meet and experience an exciting attraction to each other. They arrange an informal date to get acquainted and soon they cannot bear to be apart. The thought of the other produces a thrill anticipating their next meeting. Everything is fun when they are together. Little things that would normally annoy them are overlooked and do not matter. Each is thoughtful and attentive to the other. They feel like “soulmates” even anticipating the other’s needs and desires. They talk to each other hours at a time never running out of interesting things to say.

Soon, it is understood that they are exclusive to each other. With this commitment, an unsettling feeling of vulnerability begins to grow. Maybe one loves more than they are being loved? Could it be that the other is secretly playing the field in case this relationship does not work out? Secret tests enter the dynamics of the relationship in an effort to gage the commitment and the depth of love in the other. Joy takes on an edge of insecurity and suspicion. Apparent innocuous questions which are designed to investigate pass between them. Exciting anticipation of being together is replaced with the need to be together to know where the other person is and what they are doing. The little things which were overlooked become occasions to vent the uncertainty and insecurity building between them. Fun and inspiring anticipation are replaced by angry fights and passionate making up. Misery functions as a drug tying them together.

If this describes your relationship or your marriage, get help now to bring back the passion and joy which brought you together. If you live in the Sacramento valley, we at www.marriagecounseling.com are here to help.

Parenting: No Simple Task

familyIt’s conception and the takeover begins. Menses ends. Life becomes seasick and the waistline swells signaling that life will never again be the same. Pregnancy, surprise or sought after event, forever changes the landscape of the couple’s life. A brand new person is in the making preparing to tackle the challenges of overcoming the odds of life in order to survive and greater odds in order to thrive. The parents, in wonder, listen to the little heart beat and feel the baby kicking and moving. The newest member of the family is quickly becoming the center of attention as life begins to revolve around its preparation to enter this world. What can be compared to the sweetness of a new born infant? Its shrill complaint after its lungs fill with air announces that the arriving accommodations are not what was expected and things had better improve. Now, the takeover is complete. Every need of the child is anticipated and provided promptly. The variations in its cries and sounds are quickly understood and responded to without hesitation. New mothers and fathers must learn quickly. Experienced parents respond to the takeover knowing what is ahead.

A long series of life-cycle tasks lay in front of this infant. Each life-cycle task must be mastered in order for the child to successfully begin the next life-cycle task. This child has approximately 19-20 years to master the art and skills required to live successfully as an independent adult. The parents are the mentors, teachers and practice dummies of the child. The goal is for the child to become an independent, self-directed, intelligent, wise and responsible adult. This is no simple task for the parents who frequently could benefit from some coaching in the art of parenting. If you need assistance in dealing with the challenge of parenting, give us a call. We want to help.

The Porn Trap

We are natural voyeurs. We never seem to tire of watching other people. Our inveterate curiosity tempts us to snoop and gossip. But nothing holds our interest as firmly as the shape of another person’s body, especially the opposite sex and specifically the female form. Women look at other women and feel superior or inferior. Men look at women and lust.

Herein lies the inherent basis of the male’s vulnerability to pornography. He is designed by nature to be visually attracted to the female form. It is this attraction that brings a man and a woman together to become a couple. But this is not where it ends for the man. Being bonded with the woman of his choice does not relieve him of the desire to look at other women and imagine having sex with them. Pornography provides the opportunity to digitally fulfill this curiosity and, if unchecked, lure the man to the physical fulfillment of his lust.

Does the fact that the desire is natural permit the man to indulge his lust? The answer is no. The desire to look at the female form is insatiable and irrational. It is driven by the most primitive part of our brain where the sense to survive is stored. It is impersonal and detached. If indulged, it will weaken the man’s bond with his mate and decrease his sexual desire for her. Researchers have discovered that the effects of repeated exposure to standard, non-violent pornography increases the man’s callousness toward women; distorts his perceptions about sexuality; devalues the importance of monogamy; decreases satisfaction with his wife’s sexual performance, affection and appearance and raises doubts about the value of marriage. If pornography has intruded into your relationship, there is help for you at www.marriagecounseling.com.