I recently read an article from the Dec 29, 2012 issue of the Chicago Tribune headlined “Brave New Year”. It may be a little late for traditional New Year resolutions, but I was struck by some of the suggestions as being a little different (quirky?), innovative and potentially useful. While they are aimed at individuals, we believe that they have a potential benefit for marriages. Our experience is that when we are successful at improving ourselves or are at a better space in our personal lives, we also become better and more interesting partners to each other. We have more to share with each other and it leads to fruitful and interesting interactions. After taking a break from writing her reflections and prayers for married couples during the holidays, Rita seemed restless and little down. Then she started writing again and I could see her perk up. It is good for both of us – she involves me sometimes in looking for ideas and often shares her excitement about something she has written. When we decided to start a blog (Living Together in the Word) featuring her reflections, I got further involved in proofreading and creating/maintaining the blog.
Here are some of the suggestions in the article that caught my attention. I think they are easy to implement and have the potential to surprise you with the way they can help to build good self-esteem. They may also give you interesting experiences to share with your spouse.
Accept imperfection: Including (and especially) when it comes to our kids, says Brett Berk, early childhood expert and author of “The Gay Uncle’s Guide to Parenting” (Three Rivers Press). “Whether selecting a preschool, a pair of pants or a head of broccoli, contemporary parents are a bit too precious about things being precisely just so,” says Berk. “Wanting the best for your child is admirable, but it’s healthy for everyone — parent and child alike — to learn to deal with eccentricities. Our greatest, and most unanticipated, lessons often come from exploring and integrating a response to the quirky and unexpected.” — Heidi Stevens
I see this one as a stress reliever. When you get used to it, you may find yourself sharing stories about imperfections, especially your own, and being able to laugh about them.
Talk to strangers: I’m going to talk to more people. Not every day (way too anti-social for that) and obviously, with safety in mind. The target will be two times a week. Asking for a decaf Americano will not count, nor will “thank you” (I should be saying that anyhow). When someone has a great hat, I’ll tell her it’s great. If his dog is adorable, maybe he needs to hear that. If I’m looking for a good restaurant in a new neighborhood, why not ask people who look as if they live there? The rebuff, the smirk, even the glare are all risks I’ll learn to take for thicker, more cheerful skin. For good advice (and not just on this topic), go to Gretchen Rubin’s website, The Happiness Project, happiness-project.com (type “conversation with a stranger” in the search field). — Renee Enna
While both of us are introverts, we have done this in restaurants, sometimes with other patrons, sometimes with our server, in airports and in stores. As a result we have great memories of many very interesting people. We have the strong impression that they left us with some good feelings and memories as well.
Establish boundaries: I’ve recently discovered the benefit of establishing boundaries when it comes to coping with people who are toxic. Dr. Judith Orloff, a psychiatrist and author of “Positive Energy” (Three Rivers Press), told me, “If you have energy vampires around you, which are people who suck the energy from you or do you wrong, don’t get into that unhealthy dysfunctional exchange. It could be just constraining yourself and not going for their bait when they engage. Then they become less interested and will move on to someone else.” We have a choice about whom we spend time with and why. I am going to make a better effort to choose wisely in 2013. — Jenniffer Weigel
I have learned that when confronted by people who bait me, weigh me down, or try to get me involved in destructive arguments or force me to defend myself, I can stay calm and walk away without the turmoil they tend, sometimes intend, to produce. Because of who Rita is she has a great amount of compassion and easily becomes other people’s confidant. She has also found constructive ways to establish boundaries.
Do things badly: One of my most enjoyable experiences this year was learning to draw realistically, something I’d never really pursued because my mom is an artist and I’m not super-talented. I’m still no Picasso, but as it turns out, I am someone who takes great joy in creating a recognizable image: the process, the product, the (slightly) more sophisticated way I now see the world. For instruction, I turned to the terrific book, “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” (Tarcher), by Betty Edwards. I also started to swim laps in 2012, which I love, despite the fact that my breast stroke is maybe one step up from the dog paddle. Now I’m wondering what else I might really enjoy doing badly. Knitting sweaters? Speaking Spanish? New worlds await. — Nara Schoenberg
This is my favorite of these suggestions. It is easy for most of us to avoid trying things that have always looked interesting to us because we are afraid that we won’t be able to do them well. Here is an invitation to jump in and give yourself the chance to be a little bit adventurous without serious consequences, if it doesn’t go well. This goes well with the suggestion to accept imperfection. I don’t know about you, but we often find that the disastrous (at the time), , embarrassing, expensive experiences that are very stressful at the time become stories that we enjoy telling and laughing about later. This is an invitation to a little adventure.
We hope you will find something in these suggestions that you will try and that will make you feel good about yourself and a better, more interesting partner for your spouse.
For a reflection and prayer for married couples, based on daily scripture readings, go to Rita’s blog Living Together in the Word.