Tag Archive | relationships

The Relationship Ferris Wheel: Part 4

This is the first part of a five-part series designed to help you build the intimate relationship you’ve always wanted. Though the process is primarily used in-person by a graphic facilitator, you can use the series and the accompanying handout to do it yourself, following along with the posts. It was developed by Martin Haussmann, one of the founding members of the Kommunikationslotsen consultancy, a German firm that created the bikablo technique.

That’s quite a story you’ve concocted for those people in that image at the center of your diagram. Think of how much work they did! Can you believe they made it through all the external forces that life threw at them? Recession, family, job, personal health…not to mention all the ways we self-sabotage relationships.

They overcame miscommunication. They managed their expectations. They took the leaps of faith – and yes, there’s always more than one – that were necessary to trust enough to reach that state of intimacy.

And you can see the work they did.

You’ve documented their journey with all the steps that form the spokes of this Ferris wheel. You’ve seen everything they did, every step of the way. Journaling. Counseling. Date night. Personal time. Check-ins. Supportive friendships. Whatever it took, as you look at the spokes of the ferris wheel, the steps get more and more clear…until really, they don’t seem very difficult at all.

Sure, “Develop a daily journaling habit can seem complicated at first. But really, it breaks down into three simple steps:

  1. Get a journal & pen.
  2. Prioritize a time during the day where they are accessible.
  3. Write something.

In fact, most of the tasks are harder mentally than physically. “Go to couples counseling can seem as simple as “Find a counselor, make the time, go to the session” but in reality there may be some more difficult steps involved:

  1. Internalize that counseling is not fixing what’s wrong, it’s more getting coaching so we can be even better.
  2. Run the risk of telling your partner you want this and perhaps having them feel that something’s wrong (see step 1)
  3. Trust the counselor when they say this is a safe space to express your feelings.
  4. Trust your partner that the things said in counseling will not be used against you in any way back at home…

Suddenly this whole counseling thing is a much bigger battle mentally than physically. And that’s fair! Grab some more sticky notes or write these things down on the diagram. Those people in the center did not get there easily; they did the work.

And Now It’s Your Turn.

We’ve been talking about “those people” in the center, who have reached the pinnacle of their intimate, trusting relationship, in the third person, because it’s always much easier to talk about and solve other people’s problems than your own.

Time to face reality: those people are you.

That relationship they have is the one you want. It’s also, now, one that you can have, because you know exactly how to get there.

The furthest parts of the ferris wheel are like a To-Do list; the next steps towards the best intimate relationship you can imagine are right there, laid out, one by one.

Get to it!

Next week we’ll tell you the Big Secret about this diagram and your relationship. It’s a doozy. But meanwhile, you have plenty to keep you busy for a while.

The Relationship Ferris Wheel Part 3

This is the first part of a five-part series designed to help you build the intimate relationship you’ve always wanted. Though the process is primarily used in-person by a graphic facilitator, you can use the series and the accompanying handout to do it yourself, following along with the posts. It was developed by Martin Haussmann, one of the founding members of the Kommunikationslotsen consultancy, a German firm that created the bikablo technique.

  1. Introduction
  2. Part 1 of this series
  3. Part 2 of this series

That is one fine image you have there in the center of your diagram. Whether it’s a Norman-Rockwell-magical-realism fine art piece or stick figures with boxy labels, it’s great as long as you understand what it means. That image represents an ideal, it represents an emotional state you’re working towards: intimacy. Shared vulnerability.

Those people in that image – one of whom is you, remember? If you forgot that part, you should take the time to add yourself in there – those people have reached a point that, right now, might seem unrealistic. Impossible. Ridiculous even to consider, if this online personal development guy hadn’t kept telling you to shoot for the moon.

But they made it. They are sitting there, right there on the page, in that idyllic state of intimacy and stability and yay!

Now. How did they get there?

I know, your first response might be “how the hell would I know?” But here’s the thing: you do.

If you think about it, you know exactly how they got there. You are the one who defined the bedrock, after all – all those fundamental principles. You are the one who had the imagination to put all of those things together into one beautiful scene in the center of the page. You know what it took to get there. Even if it’s only on a visceral level that you can’t quite put into words yet.

That’s ok. You can put them into words with a simple formula:

The How/What Loop

One of the fun management mantras is “the Five Why’s”. The idea is that for any task or requirement, you ask “why do we need this?” There’s some idea that if you run out of reasons, then maybe it wasn’t as important as you thought, or if it was, you at least have a thorough understanding of it.

I don’t know. Never really cared much for it myself. But the How-What loop, on the other hand, that’s useful!

It goes something like this: you start by asking: how did they get to that wonderful space of intimacy? And the answer at first will be in broad strokes, usually keyed in by the foundation words. Trust. They learned to trust each other.

Great. So then the second part of the loop kicks in: What did they do to learn that?

Again, usually the answer is a pretty broad stroke, or some part of things. They learned to communicate their feelings. Or they learned to be more responsible for their actions. Or they worked on overcoming the fear of being hurt by each other. It’s a lot of things, and you can draw each of them along the spokes of the Ferris Wheel (and feel free to add spokes as you go along until this looks like a Renaissance manuscript as pictured above).

You can see what’s coming next, right? Let’s take that third one: How did they overcome that fear? Now the answers might be more specific: they went to couples therapy. They did personal journaling. They embraced radical honesty. (Incidentally, I really don’t recommend that last one).

But let’s assume you go with the middle one: they did personal journaling. What did they do in order to do that journaling. They bought a journal. They got up early.

How did they get up early? They set their alarm.

At this point, you’ve reached a space where you can do exactly what they did. And with enough repetitions of the How-What loop, you can get there no matter what. When you get to a step that feels like it’s something familiar, something you could follow along with right now, then you can stop the loop and just write the steps along the spokes.

Relax; I’m not going to ask you to do any of the stuff. Yet. Just look at the image, and be prepared to write down the answers to these questions, as many times as it takes:

How did they get there?

What did they do?

The Relationship Ferris Wheel Part 2

The Relationship Ferris Wheel series is an exercise you can do individually or with your partner designed to help you move towards a more intimate relationship. You should read the introduction, and then Part 1, and maybe download the worksheet, before reading this post. 

Now that you’ve got a long list of the qualities of your Ultimate Intimate Relationship, it’s time to daydream. Time to make it as real in your mind as you possibly can. You’re going to have to imagine a scene – a snapshot, like a Norman Rockwell Painting, that totally embodies all of those characteristics you put into the foundation.

Choose Your Metaphor

Some things may be easy to imagine – for example, if sharing music with your partner is one of the things that you need, then it’s easy enough to picture the two of you playing instruments, or at a concert, or each of you listening to one earbud. 

Some things, though, will be more difficult to embody. How does trust look in solid form? What about dependability? Or care

Here’s a cue: body language and talismans are good metaphors. One person who did this exercise had safety and care as two things that she needed for intimacy. She always felt cared for when her partner would stroke her hair, and their home was always a place she felt safe, so she pictured herself in her living room with her head in her partners lap, his hand stroking her hair. 

Shared beauty was also an item in her list, so she also pictured herself wearing an outfit she felt pretty in and her partner dressed the way she liked (remember, this is your own personal fantasy). 

When you’re doing this exercise, give yourself time and the relaxation to make it fun – and remember that old saying, God is in the details. Keep filling in the picture in your mind, leaving nothing out, and being as extravagant as you want. Remember, symbols are fine – if financial security is important, go ahead and picture gold bars on the table. If physical health is important, give yourself the body you want as you imagine this one scene.

So Good You Can Taste It

What level of real is that? Well, there’s a common trope in science fiction and fantasy about teleportation. It’s sort of an unwritten rule (well, until they write it, at least) that a person can’t teleport into a place that they can’t visualize in their mind. They need to have a synesthetic feel for the location – not just where it is, but how the air feels, how it smells, the background sounds. 

That’s what you’re going for when I say: picture a scene that embodies this idea of a relationship. Picture it in so much detail that you could teleport there if you were a character in a comic book. Every part: the floor, the ceiling (or the sky), the sound of your partner’s breathing, the way their skin reflects the light (or holds the shadows). Every part of it.

Then you’re going to draw it.

Don’t Panic!

I’m not asking you to draw it in that much detail! That’s the advantage of having this be a personal exercise: no one ever has to see it. And you can just draw the things that will remind you and represent the details you’ve already got in your mind.

The first time I did this exercise, there were literally stick figures with scribbled-in pants and shirts in my drawn image. That’s ok; when I looked at them, in my head I saw the detail of the fabrics, the fasteners, my partner’s hair. The image is simply representative.

Or, y’know, you could make it very detailed. There are a lot of things out there that you can use to create some pretty amazing art. Whatever you decide, put it in the center of the Ferris Wheel diagram. It should be easy to see how all of those words in the foundation lead up to that beautiful captured moment in your imagination where everything about intimacy is right there.

And yeah, I get that your next thought may be But that’ll never happen. That’s ok. You’re right; that’s an idealized scene.

We’re just going to get you a little bit closer to it, ok?

The Relationship Ferris Wheel Part 1: Building the Foundation

Alright, now you have your pen and your paper (and maybe the printout) and you’re all set to create your own Relationship Ferris wheel. Just so you’re aware, this exercise is going to “build” the structure all the way from basic foundations out through the supports and finally into fun little swinging seats of direct action at the edges.

But first, we have to start. We have to build the base of our Ferris wheel, and like any good foundation, it’s built out of only the finest materials.

What are those materials? That’s something that only you can answer, my friend. We’re building the Ferris Wheel of Intimate Relationships, right? So tell me: what do you think are the important parts of an intimate relationship?

Parts is Parts

If you’re like most people, you’re going to come up with some pretty generalized concepts:






There’s nothing wrong with that; it’s true that these are important things in a lot of intimate relationships.But if stop with these big generic concepts, you’re kind of cheating yourself of the process. For each of those big-idea words, let me ask you a follow-up question:

What does that look like to you?

When you say “trust”, is that I trust my partner to come home to me every night, or I trust my partner to serve on the board of my LLC, or I trust my partner to care for my puppy when I’m on vacation? Those are all different kinds of trust. Imagine a situation – or three – which illustrates what you meant when you put “TRUST” in the big rhombus-looking shape at the base of the template. Feel free to illustrate it with a little picture if that’s easier – as long as you know what it means, that’s fine (if you end up showing this to someone else, like, say, a potential intimate partner, you can always explain the picture and they’ll think you’re extra cool because artsy). 

Do that for each of the big-idea words, and don’t let yourself be limited by reality. Remember, we’re building this foundation out of nothing but the best materials, and that means that you put in not what you think is fair, or realistic, or achievable – you build that base out of what you really want.

If any of the words give you trouble when you try to illustrate them in the framework of an intimate relationship, it’s possible you – like a zillion other people – got caught up in some kind of Disney buzzword bingo when it comes to relationships. We’re told, over and over again, what it is that “proves” love and intimacy: She won’t respect you if you don’t make this much money, He will think you’re a slut if you wear jeans that tight, Remember, nothing says I love you like a diamond from Our Jewelry Emporium.

Give yourself a little time to think about those words that you’re having difficulty with, trying out different ideas of how to explain what they mean to you when it comes to your Ideal Intimate Relationship. But if you can’t think of anything…go ahead and take it out. Cross it off. Remove it, because this is your intimate relationship and nobody gets to tell you what needs to be there.

Now, Go Wild

Ok, now that you’ve gotten the hang of those five-dollar words and how they manifest in your Ultimate Relationship of Beautiful Intimacy, let go of the big concepts and get selfish. Get silly. Think of things that aren’t in the big self-help books but that are what you really, truly want when you think of an intimate relationship. 

Example? In the movie Truly, Madly, Deeply Alan Rickman and Juliet Stevenson have a lovely bit where they play and sing the song The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore together. It’s a silly little bonding moment, it doesn’t embody any of those big five-dollar words (unless you included play in your list, and yeah, you probably should have, that’s ok, there’s time). Admittedly, it’s a fictional story – but that particular moment in the film (nope, it’s not on YouTube, you’ll have to watch the movie) absolutely speaks about intimacy

And maybe “my partner needs to be able to sing harmonies on cheesy love songs” is something that has always been what you secretly wanted in your ideal intimate relationship. Or climb Mount Kilimanjaro. Or must accept that the eleventh doctor is always the best, even if I haven’t seen the most recent incarnations. Again, there is nothing too silly or petty or unrealistic. Put in your ultimate dreams, your absolutely most-secret never-admitted fantasies and such.

Remember, no one else has to ever see this document.

You’ve got a week. Use the template, and come back to it every once in a while, looking at what you’ve written, adding things in as they occur to you (don’t take things out unless, as noted above, they feel more like you should want that concept rather than authentically wanting it). 

Build your foundation strong. It’s a great way to get back in touch with that inner romantic, the one you were before reality came crushing in.

I’m not saying you’re not still romantic. You devil (wink). But it helps sometimes to go back to the days of dreaming and wishing, and it’s going to be a great basis for the next step: the Core. 

The Relationship Ferris Wheel (Introduction)

This is the first part of a five-part series over the next few weeks describing a process used primarily in graphic facilitation. It was developed by Martin Haussmann, one of the founding members of the Kommunikationslotsen consultancy, a German firm that created the bikablo technique.

Relax. That doesn’t mean you have to draw.

It also doesn’t mean we’re going to keep going around and around in circles. What we’re going to do is use a simple framework that (kind of) resembles a Ferris wheel (hence the name). And while the process itself is useful for working out many kinds of work, the part we’re going to particularly focus on – because, that’s right, this is a Love post – is relationships.

Particularly, over the next month I’m going to bring you through the bloggish equivalent of an “Intimacy & Relationships” workshop that Natasha and I have presented before in live settings. While we have a big chart that I draw fun little pictures on, everyone in the class has their own worksheet that they can use to add their own text (or fun little pictures) to.

You get that too! You can download a PDF version of it right here

“I don’t need no relationship workshop!”

I get it, I get it. Every single aspect of your intimate relationships is perfect. It’s exactly  the way you want it, and there’s not one thing that could stand any improvement. I’m sincerely happy for you! You can either just skip the next month of Friday posts here, or maybe just follow along to check out the process of the “Ferris wheel” and apply it to some other part of life that isn’t quite as hunky-dory as your relationships.

For the rest of us – and yes, it’s definitely an “us” – there may be another level of resistance, or even a litany of protests something like this:

  • Dealing with emotional stuff makes me uncomfortable
  • I’m worried that if I rock the boat, things will get worse
  • It’s not like a bunch of little pictures will change anything anyway
  • My emotions and I made a deal: I don’t bother them, they don’t bother me.

That last one is something a person in the workshop actually said to us. I shook my head and walked towards him, telling him earnestly: “The emotions? They lie.”

“What Does an Intimate Relationship Look Like to Me?”

That’s the question to keep in the back of your head as you go through this week. What does “intimate” mean, anyway? What qualifies as a “relationship”? If you were the one deciding what a good intimate relationship was for you (spoiler alert: you are), what would that involve?

Next week we’ll be taking the first step towards building our Ferris wheel. By the end of the four weeks you’ll not only know the answer to that question, you’ll also know what can help you get that relationship for yourself, and even better, you’ll know exactly what you need to do next to move closer towards that goal.

It’s going to be great. With fun little pictures, too.

Rest Stops on the Relationship Road

Breakups are hard.

Even good breakups are difficult — the ones where you both say “hey, this really isn’t working, let’s stop wasting time and energy and it’s agreed upon. Because any relationship that has ventured far enough into intimacy to where a break-up is possible did so with the hope of something. A hope of deeper connection, or security, or support, whatever it was, at the point where you stop trying to make it into that thing there is a sense of loss. A door closed, a possibility that is no longer.

And that’s unfortunate, because in order to get there in the first place, things had to change. Why can’t they change the other way?

Escalators Go Both Ways

Think about it: first you are strangers. You don’t know each other, because you haven’t met yet.

Then things change, because you meet. At that point you have become acquainted, which makes you acquaintances, and you may or may not like each other. Whether you do or not really doesn’t matter, because it’s not based on anything other than conditioned responses, biases, and good-old-fashioned biological imperatives.

Because you don’t know each other yet. But you may decide it’s worth finding out more, and so things change again. Maybe it’s dating, maybe it’s friendship, maybe it’s working together on some project, maybe it’s all three. But again, it’s a gradual thing, full of I never knew that about you and wow, me too! and thank you for sharing that.

If you’re into what’s known as “the relationship escalator”, the analogy is that things keep taking you higher. I’m not a fan of that metaphor, myself, because of the hierarchical nature and the way our society tends to equate height with virtue.

I’m also not fond of it because there’s this idea that you’re traveling up smoothly and that’s all good…but never an acknowledgment that escalators go down, too.

Taking a Journey of Love

Let’s try a different metaphor. Let’s call it the Love Road. When you start on the love road, you’re coming out of a comfy house — maybe it’s a prior relationship, maybe it’s your parents’ home, maybe it’s something else — but you find someone to go on the road with you, and in the beginning, the only shelter you have is the Car of Acquaintance. It’s a very easy thing to get in and out of, it can go a lot of places, but you don’t really spend a lot of time in it, and when you do you’re pretty alert for dangers.

Maybe at a certain point you decide it’s worth making a stop on the road to relax a little more. Maybe this is a tentative date, like pitching a tent overnight at a campground, or maybe it’s a more fancy place like a resort, but either way it’s just a temporary bit of fun, not a place you’d stay forever, or something sustainable. That’s when we’re putting our best face forward, trying to impress our partner but also trying to hide the imperfections that we fear will alienate them.

At some point we have to leave the resort, and get back on the road…but if that short respite was fun, it’s natural to think “Maybe we could do more of that…longer?

And that’s when you (in this metaphorical journey of love) rent a place together — you’re in a relationship, you’re not quite at that big commitment phase, but this is making a shared space together. Maybe it does get to the point where you have enough security that you have a relationship house together, built to include closets and basements and cubbies to store the things you only take out for special occasions.

With any luck, you’ve built well, and you can stay there for a long time.

But no matter how well you build, nothing is forever.

Moving Relationships to New Homes

At the risk of making the metaphor even more ridiculous, people have to move for any number of reasons. Maybe rent got too high. Maybe the house has three stories and they can’t go up the stairs. Maybe the climate is no longer suitable. Whatever the reason, people have to leave their nice houses.

The question is: do you leave and go your separate ways, forever on the road? Or do you find another place to live?

Either one is a valid decision. Sometimes it’s not smart to try and maintain a giant mansion with servants and more rooms than you can count. Downsizing sometimes improves the quality of life, or the quality of a relationship, with the knowledge that some people are much better lovers than partners, or friends than lovers, or acquaintances than deep friends.

I guess the idea I’m trying to promote here is that instead of looking at tents and hotels and apartments and houses and mansions as better or worse than each other, maybe look at them as each good for a particular kind of experience. And the journey of love is a long road with stops at all kinds of domiciles, and just because you’re in one doesn’t mean you won’t end up in another at some point, and that’s ok.

If you have the privilege of being able to pick out the experience you want to have, don’t hamstring yourself by assuming that any change represents loss.

Change is change. And a lot of whether it’s bad or good depends on the metaphor we choose.

The Boundaries of Love

This is one of those trick titles – click bait, of a sort – that bloggers come up with so they can pull an “ah-ha!” later. The truth is, way back in high school, reading too much Richard Bach and Leo Buscaglia and Alan Watts and late-era Robert Heinlein, I came up with the idea that love is boundless. Love is infinite. Love has no limits.

Nothing I’ve learned since then has disabused me of that notion. I love four (yes, four of my daughters with a compassion and care that is undiluted by the fact that they’ve given me (at last count) two grandsons, both of whom I also love just as much as the daughters. I also love my friends, I love my work, I love this blog, and I love my polyamorous partners in more ways than I can count.

Love? No limits at all.

And yes, I can also go on and talk about how there are other things that do have limits. Money, time, energy, resources, attention — those are all finite things that are often mistaken for love and end up being the subject of any number of dramatic stories, both true and fictional.

This isn’t about that.

Loving Sacred

No, this is about a particular way you can remember to express love: boundaries. A boundary is exactly that: a place where something is divided by something else. Sometimes these boundaries are simply for matters of preference, such as my boundary of too much broccoli on my plate. Other times they are out of necessity, such as the boundary I have about Indian food.

That latter one is a good example of a boundary that is unfortunate, because I really enjoy the taste, color, and smell of Indian food. Unfortunately, and without exception, every time I eat it my digestive system expresses it’s displeasure in very unpleasant ways.

That’s the thing about boundaries: they are always there for one reason or another. And one of the best ways to let someone know you love them is to treat them with respect.

Sounds easy, right? Sometimes it is, especially when it’s a boundary you share, or one you understand. But what if you don’t? What if the boundary makes no sense to you? What if it seems like no big deal?

Well, you can cross the boundary, and see what happens. Maybe something bad (sorry, I’ll be in the bathroom for the rest of the evening). Maybe nothing at all — except that the person whose boundary you ignored knows that you do not respect it.

That’s the thing about dividers: they are used, sometimes, to create a space that is private. It’s unfortunate that often we have this idea that the word is synonymous with “secret”, but I’d like to suggest that you replace that with the word “sacred”. As in: a boundary is a way that the one you love has set apart a sacred space, and the way you can show your love is by not only respecting it but protecting it — as Pablo Neruda put it, being “the guardians of each other’s solitude”.

Hearing the No

The thing is, we’re used to boundaries being trampled all the time, by everybody around us (the fact that I’m writing this on a crowded plane, trying to keep my elbows in as I type is a visceral example). With most boundaries, we become toughened to the experience; if we don’t, they manifest as a phobia or anxiety (what’s really nifty is when we don’t recognize this consciously, and our subconscious goes to extreme lengths to arrange life so that the boundary is kept).

This gives us all an opportunity to show our love for each other by not being one of the boundary crossers. For that matter, you can not even be one of the boundary pushers. You can be one of the people (all too rare, I’m afraid) who can hear the no.

It’s a difficult thing in a culture where there’s a bestselling sales book called “Getting to Yes”. Where phrases like “playing hard to get” give people the impression that “no” is a malleable thing.

Here’s a thought: how about pretending it’s not? How about, when someone says no, you simply say “OK.” It’s an unusual enough tactic that it may confuse people at first. But you’re giving the gift of love by respecting the boundaries and helping protect the sacred spaces of people you care about.

It’s a simple, but profound thing. Want to give it a try?



Should We Take a Break? Or Have a Fight?

My parents are wonderful, but there’s one key area where they let me down in my development.

They never fought.

I’m pretty sure this is not because they never disagreed, but rather due to some sort of “Not in front of the children mentality. I understand that motive; seeing parents argue or even fight (I’m talking words, not domestic violence) can be very stressful on young brains.

However, by not ever fighting in front of me, I also never got to see them resolve a fight. I never saw the dance of love and anger, where you grudgingly give in to the needs or wants of a partner. Or the kind where you suddenly realize you’re both on the same side. I never got to see one parent apologize for saying something in the heat of the moment. I never got to see forgiveness. I never got to see reconciliation.

That messed me up. Big time.

Learning to Fight

What that meant was that I internalized: people who are in good, long-lasting relationships don’t fight. So what happened whenever my girlfriend and I had a fight?

We broke up.

I think we broke up (and got back together) over a hundred times just in the year and a half we dated in High School (my choir teacher, no joke, suggested my senior solo should be “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” by Paul Simon). So naturally we got married right after high school, and separated and reunited probably a dozen or so times before finally calling it quits for real, two years and four kids later.

It took another decade for me to learn that real people in real love can have real arguments and it doesn’t mean the relationship is over. It was another decade or so before I began to learn how to have those conversations constructively.

That’s a long time, and a lot of heated voices, regretted words, and even tears and slammed doors on occasion. I’m still not perfect, by any means, but Natasha and I know now how to respect the feelings of anger without projecting them or internalizing them, how to talk about “contributions” rather than “blame”, and most of all, how to give each other (and sometimes even ourselves) space to cool down.

The Wisdom of A (Grown) Child

Like any adult with an awareness of his own screwed-uppedness, I was worried that I had passed this trait on to my children. But a conversation with my Eldest Daughter gave me hope. I was giving her a ride to work, and she mentioned that she hadn’t seen her boyfriend since the night before, when they fought.

“Yeah, it was just a misunderstanding,” she said. “The music was loud, and he couldn’t hear me explaining why we needed to leave, and so he was just upset.”

I began to offer the typical paternal advice (worse when the pater is a personal development blogger, lemme tellya) and she stopped me. “Nah, it’s cool, Dad,” she said.

“I talked with him this morning, and said ‘Hey, do you wanna fight? Or do you wanna take a break?’ He knows this is no big thing. So he said ‘Break,’ and I said ‘Cool’ and now I’m going to work. It’ll all be good by the time I get home.”

I was speechless. I don’t think she even realized how happy she made me. My daughter knows how to fight. Where I may have failed to teach her, I have succeeded as a cautionary tale.

If you don’t know how to have a constructive disagreement with your partner, it might be worth practicing (we’ll even give you a framework). In the meantime, though, just try to remember what it took me decades to learn: just because you’re arguing, doesn’t mean it’s over.

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How to Marry Well

Once again I am letting my personal life dictate the direction of my writing. Tomorrow my middle daughter is exchanging wedding vows with her partner of many years.

It’s a triumph in many ways. There’s the simple joy of “My daughter survived long enough to fall in love and get married, and the larger triumph of the work she and others did to overcome the bigotry of our red state to get the right to marry the person she loved, regardless of their sex or gender.

There’s also a lot of joy in the coordination going on to arrange the celebration. Many of my dearest friends are helping pull off this shindig, and it is providing the many branches of two fairly complex family trees a chance to work together to make this a joyous event.

The Voice of Experience

I have the opportunity to deliver a toast at the event. My immediate reaction was to fall into “Dad” mode, trying to encapsulate the benefit of all my wisdom and experience into a glib and succinct few sentences that would guide them both into a lifetime of uninterrupted wedded bliss.

Then my habit of self-reflection tuned in, and laughed a blunt Who the hell are you to be giving advice on marriage?

It’s a good point. I’m not married now. I’m quite happy not being married now. Aside from the occasional glance at the couples-privilege built into our tax and legal system, I have no desire to be married.

Part of that is because I’ve had more than one “failed” marriage. I put that word in quotes because it’s kind of like saying I’ve “failed” at being seven feet tall, or “failed” at remaining twenty-five years old. When you set unreasonable expectations, “failure” becomes the only option.

What actually happened was that I was married, and there were some really great things that came out of that time, and there were some really difficult things that happened, and at a certain point the “marriage” was no longer serving our life’s purpose. At this point, everyone involved is happier than they were then, so it’s a good thing, right?

The Joyous Work

Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment.
– Bob Packwood

Now, before I sound fatalistic, I definitely have things I wish I’d done differently. Or, to put it into a more constructive frame, memories of times when I now realize that I could have made different choices. It’s with the understanding that the person I was then made the best decision he could have in that moment – and second-guessing it now doesn’t help at all.

That’s what it comes down to, though: choices. The more you have, and the more time you have to evaluate what the likely results are, the better chance you have at happiness. I could perhaps make that into some useful advice: constantly make the choice to work at the relationship.

But that word – work – doesn’t sound very joyous, right? Love and marriage and relationships are just supposed to flow naturally because love, right?

That’s the advice. That’s the thing that I’d love to tell my younger self, but failing that, the thing that I want to tell my daughter and her wife:

Marriage is a skill. Like anything else, you will only get better at it through deliberate practice, reflection, and work. Don’t ever think it won’t be work – but it will be joyous, satisfying work that will feed the soul.

Yeah. That’s about it.

What advice would you give a newly married couple? Let me know in the comments, and I promise to pass them on to the Brooms (Bride + Groom = Broom, obviously) and maybe even give them a blog post all their own!

Why I Love Natasha

Full disclosure: this is a birthday post for my partner. I’m pretty sure I say some stuff that is somewhat generally relevant, but the post is pretty much for her, so feel free to skim or skip.

There’s an old toast that goes something like this:

Here’s to the women!

We adore them for their beauty,

Respect them for their intelligence,

Admire them for their courage…

…and love them because we just can’t help ourselves.

When someone asks me why I love my partner, Natasha, that’s the idea that keeps coming back to me.

I met her when we were both with other partners, in different states and stages of our lives. At the time I was impressed with her physical abilities (it was an aerial dance workshop) and also with her flirtatious sense of humor (which I later found out from her friends was peculiar to my presence – and that’s an important point I’ll come back to).

Later I was impressed with the way she was able to assist me every time I came back to present a workshop in her area. She had a way of devoting her entire attention towards the service and success of the task – and for a former military man like me, that’s an intoxicating attribute. Our friendship deepened over the years into eventual long-distance dating.

That’s probably one of the best things that ever happened to us, because it meant that we spent a lot more time inside each other’s minds rather than enjoying the more physical aspects. She became a trusted confidant and friend long before she became a lover and partner.

Now she splits her time between working as my personal assistant and pursuing her own passion at IntentionAtHome and as a leader of the Madison Women of Leather. I get to watch her iron resolve (honed by years of work as a nanny) as she attacks the internecine politics of community, see how she rises to the tasks I require of her, and enjoy and support her own blossoming entreneurship.

But None of That Matters

What I have noticed is that when I’m around Natasha I tend to work harder at being the kind of person that I feel she would like. The kind of person she deserves. She brings out aspects of me that are like superpowers, that I don’t know that I’d be capable of without her support. And by support, I mean her belief in me. She’s the first person that has given me a glimmer of what it feels like to be loved not for what I can do but for who I am.

(And I say “glimmer” only because I still haven’t internalized that belief. But give me another couple of decades with her, I think she might win me over.)

That Doesn’t Matter Either

Remember how I mentioned that when I first met her I had found her to be flirtatious? And that her friends had told me that was very unusual?

There’s something – biological, chemical, psychological – that triggered that instinct in her when I’m around (I can’t say that it triggered it in me; I tend to be flirtatious by nature ever since the age of five).

Here’s the thing: she’d met other good presenters. She knew lots of very smart, intelligent, handsome, and successful people. She’d been in – and was in – relationships with all the joys and sorrows that one would expect.

So have I.

None of that is what keeps us together. None of that is what we mean when we say “I love you”.

No, it’s simply that we do, in fact, love each other. Not because of any list of accomplishments, or physical traits, or attraction or goals. All of that is fine, yes, and quite fun (especially the attraction part) – but all of that waxes as wane, as inconstant as the moon. The picture I’ve painted above is the highlights; there were a lot of lowdarks, too, but they are part of the shared history now, with psychological scars like badges of honor from battles we’ve won together (or at least survived).

What doesn’t change is the fact that I can’t help but love her. I know; I’ve tried not to, in some of my more idiotic moments. I can’t put a list of reasons to it that makes any sense, because you could find someone else with all those same reasons and they would not make me feel the way I feel when I look in Natasha’s eyes.

I’m really fortunate to be able to share her (REDACTED) birthday. I hope you, my dear reader, find even a fraction of that kind of luck in your life.