How Community is like a Garden Stake


A few years ago I planted lily bulbs. Lilies are among my favorite flowers. I was shocked when the bulbs grew into lily plants almost 6 feet tall! Then I was saddened when the blooms were so heavy that the plants dipped down almost to the ground. After a couple of years of this, I wised up and started using stakes to keep the lilies vertical.

This year my lilies were gorgeous, as you can see. Standing tall and proud, white and full of blossoms, they were a joy to behold. I have special stakes for them now, and as soon as the shoots appear, I gently wrap the stems around the stakes so that my lilies can hold their heads high. And then the torrential downpours came.


For whatever reason, one lily bowed its head beneath the weight of the heavy rain and collected rainwater. Instead of standing tall, it bent over, right at the point that the stake ends. bentlily

As I contemplated my sad bowed lily, I thought about community. The only thing keeping my lily upright and off the ground was that metal stake, which had been integrated into the lily’s stalk from the time it started growing this spring. Without that stake, the lily would be on the ground.

That’s what community does for us. When the rains come, community is what keeps us from falling down to the ground. Even if our heads are bowed in sorrow and we no longer have the strength to hold ourselves up, our community does the job for us. This is why I believe everyone needs a community of some kind: a faith group, a volunteer group, a hobby group, something. We all need a stake in our lives at some point.

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Don’t Make it Hurt Worse Than it Has To.

timetrade_logoIt’s been a stressful month or two for me. You may have noticed me talking about stress and busy-ness on my Facebook page. On top of running my business, my husband and I took on a renovation of our deck. We greatly underestimated the amount of time and work we needed, and a project we expected to be done by the end of May is now barely going to be finished in time for a big party on July 12th. Our personal lives have been stressful as well as we deal with changes within our community, not one but TWO new preschools for our daughter, and the end of life for one of our beloved cats.

But while I have been tired, frustrated, sore, and overwhelmed, I’ve by and large been able to avoid major suffering. Sure, I’ve cried a few times and lost my temper now and then. But I never tortured myself. At the end of the day, I’ve been able to put down my load, crawl into bed and sleep. I’ve been able to let the house be a disaster zone without any guilt. I’ve been able to face transition and loss without feeling regret. Why? Because I subscribe to the clean pain/dirty pain theory. Martha Beck describes it beautifully in this blog post. Basically, dirty pain is when we believe that a failure is about us, not about the world.

In my own life, I could say that I didn’t plan well when I planned the deck renovation. Instead of laughing at our mistake, I could easily shake my head at my lack of foresight and planning. I could blame myself for not doing more research and not getting more help from friends and family. I could see the deck renovation as a personal failure and beat myself up over it. Or I could shrug my shoulders and say, it is what it is.

Where are you allowing your thoughts to contaminate and increase your pain? Give me a call to learn how to clean up your thoughts!

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When Marriage Sends You Running for Cover: Stonewalling

Pulling again from Dr. Gottman’s excellent book, Why Marriages Succeed or Fail, I’ll be concluding my “4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse” series. These are four behaviors that can really harm a marriage: Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, and Stonewalling.

This week is all about stonewalling. architecture-22130_640









Stonewalling is shutting down completely, especially during an emotionally charged moment. Interestingly, Dr. Gottman’s research shows that men are more prone to stonewall than women, a statistic that I’m sure some of you are nodding in agreement with. But there’s a reason why men shut down faster than women, and it’s a physical one.

Dr. Gottman talks about emotional flooding, which is when the argument activates a physical response in a person: increased heart rate, blood pressure, sweaty hands, etc. And men reach emotional flood points much more quickly than women. So while you may still be just warming up, your husband may be completely flooded with physical symptoms that are reducing his ability to think or engage. As a protection measure, he shuts down and stonewalls the argument, allowing his body to return to a state of rest.

Now, just because stonewalling can be a protective technique does not mean it is a beneficial one. If one partner is emotionally overwhelmed, the best way to handle it is to simply say, “I’m overwhelmed and upset. I need 5 minutes by myself to cool off.” If your partner says this to you, agree! Both of you will get a chance to cool off and evaluated the argument.

Stonewalling is extremely detrimental to your partnership because it eliminates any possibility of resolution if one partner simply stops talking or physical leaves the room. If you are a stonewaller, you may believe that you’re simply being neutral, or showing self-control, but unless you are communicating, you are stonewalling. You need to explicitly say: “I’m not talking because I’m trying to control my temper,” or, “If you make me reply right now I might say something I’ll regret.” Then ask for a break to calm down physically before resuming the argument.

If your partner is stonewalling you, then stop the argument. I suggest saying something like, “Hey, I don’t think we’re making any progress. Why don’t we both take a 10 minute break to calm down and then pick up the conversation?” Then, when you’re not arguing, talk to him/her about the stonewalling behavior and ask how the two of you can avoid it in the future.

Not sure if you use stonewalling? Schedule a chat with me and we’ll figure it out!


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When Marriage Sends You Running for Cover: Defensiveness

Pulling from Dr. Gottman’s excellent book, Why Marriages Succeed or Fail, I’ll be posting about the “4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse” for the next 4 weeks. These are four behaviors that can really harm a marriage: Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, and Stonewalling.

We are in Week 3, which is all about defensiveness. Defensiveness is warding off attacks both real or perceived. Wait, so if your spouse is coming at you with contempt or criticism, are you not supposed to defend yourself? Good question.

When you are being attacked with criticism or contempt, it is healthy and appropriate to stand your ground and defend yourself. However, healthy defenses consist of setting boundaries, enforcing consequences, and making requests. Being defensive in the sense Dr. Gottman is discussing is much more along the lines of acting like a 7th grader.

For example:
Your spouse yells, “Would it have killed you to put away the clean dishes from yesterday? I have to do everything around here.”

An appropriate response might sound like this:

  • “That’s an unfair generalization. We both work hard. I apologize for not putting the dishes away, but I don’t appreciate your attitude.”
  • “I will not have this conversation while you are yelling. When you are ready to talk in a normal voice, we’ll discuss the dishes.”

A defensive response would sound more like this:

  • “Ha! If you even did half of the housework I’d think I’d died and gone to heaven.”
  • “You said you would put the dishes away!”
  • “Oh yeah? Well, would it have killed you to put gas in my car today?”
  • “You are so anal retentive about the dishes. They’re clean, it’s not like we’re going to get cockroaches if clean dishes sit out.”

Defensiveness is being preoccupied with your own innocence, rather than standing up for yourself or trying to resolve a disagreement. Don’t fall into that trap!

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When Marriage Sends You Running for Cover: Contempt

Pulling again from Dr. Gottman’s excellent book, Why Marriages Succeed or Fail, I’ll be posting about the “4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse” for the next 4 weeks. These are four behaviors that can really harm a marriage: Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, and Stonewalling.

20978011_sThis week we’re looking at contempt. Contempt is disrespect, scorn, dismissal, etc. Criticism leads easily into contempt: As we find fault with our spouse, we lose respect. At first, our husband is just incompetent in the kitchen. And then he becomes just incompetent. And then every time he fails, we grow more and more dismissive of his efforts and contempt blossoms.

So what’s the difference between contempt and criticism? Your intention. Criticism is generally motivated by frustration and the desire to improve your spouse. Contempt is motivated by the desire to hurt your spouse.

What can we do to uproot the weed of contempt from our marriage?

  1. Get rid of all abusive language. This includes name calling, generalizations, and bad talking our spouse when s/he’s not around.
  2. Avoid all mocking humor or sarcasm. Humor can be a veiled or not so veiled form of contempt, so to be on the safe side, avoid all mockery and sarcasm.
  3. Actively look for the positives. Make a spouse gratitude journal, in which you record each day 1 – 3 things your spouse did that you are grateful for. Even if they are minuscule, like “Today spouse didn’t fart at the dinner table,” or “Today spouse and I didn’t have a fight,” every little piece of appreciation will benefit your long term relationship.
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When Marriage Sends You Running for Cover: Criticism

Pulling again from Dr. Gottman’s excellent book, Why Marriages Succeed or Fail, I’ll be posting about the “4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse” for the next 4 weeks. These are four behaviors that can really harm a marriage: Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, and Stonewalling.

This week is all about criticism. According to Dr. Gottman, criticism is “attacking someone’s personality or character – rather than a specific behavior – usually with blame.” Criticism is not about unacceptable or incorrect action: it is about a person being wrong, bad, or inadequate. This is why it is so harmful to relationships.  This is one of those behaviors that can begin innocently enough, and then become a destructive habit.

I get it. The first time your spouse washes your whites with your darks and you get all gray underwear, it’s still fairly easy to offer healthy feedback. “Please, remember to separate the whites from the rest of the clothes.” But the fifth or sixth time it happens, it’s much easier to say, “Why can’t you ever do the laundry right? I’ll just do it myself from now on!” Criticizing someone is much easier than offering constructive feedback, and when we are tired or overwhelmed, we go with the easy option. As we do this day in and day out we create a vicious cycle of criticism as communication, which is very destructive to our partnership, no matter what kind of marriage style we have (volatile, validating, or avoidant).

So the next time your spouse does something that irritates you, think before you speak. Will your words address the specific problem, or attack your spouse?

Like what you’re reading? I highly recommend you buy Dr. Gottman’s book!

Why-Marriages-Succeed-or-Fail (3)


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Two Surprisingly Stable Marriage Styles

We all know how marriage is supposed to work. When there’s a conflict, you either have a big dramatic blow up and are miserable until one of you gives in. At that point you make up with good sex. Or maybe you have a conflict, and you both go your separate ways, and comedy ensues until one of you comes around and admits the error of his ways. Or you have a harmonious relationship because the wife dominates the marriage and the husband is slavishly devoted and fearful of her.

Oh wait, I’m sorry, I’m talking about TV marriages, of course. In real life, we all know that there’s only one way to work out our differences: have a long, in-depth conversation until both people feel validated. Then rationally work out a compromise or solution. Fights with screaming are bad. Avoiding fights is also bad. Your marriage will never survive if you don’t learn to fight properly.

Wrong again! According to John Gottman, there are three stable marriage types, which have their own distinctive conflict resolution style. John Gottman is a recognized expert on marriage, and I personally recommend his book, Why Marriages Succeed or Fail. So without further ado, here are the three types he describes:

  • Validators: These are the couples that our culture admire. They are the “by the book” gold standard. They use lots of communication skills to hash out every disagreement.
  • Avoidant: These are those couples that never fight. People often find their relationship suspicious and warn that if they don’t fight, their marriage will fail. However, according to Dr. Gottman, these couples simply value harmony over being right or winning. This can be a very stable type of marriage.
  • Volatile: These are the couples that fight loudly and passionately. They want to get their way or win the fight and are willing to throw domestic harmony to the wind. They may be unpleasant to be around, but their marriage can be just as stable as the avoidant couple.

So what kind of marriage do you have? Are you passionate and volatile, fighting and making up all the time? Are you quiet and peaceful, letting things go because you’d rather have harmony than disagreement? Or do you like to talk things through until everyone has said everything there is to say? Wear your style with pride! Don’t let society or TV or even O Magazine tell you what kind of marriage you “should” have.

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6 “Natural” Tasks that should come with Instruction Manuals

  • black-31056_640Breathing:
    It’s very easy to find articles all loudly proclaiming that we don’t breathe properly. But how can that be? Breathing is one of the very few activities that we are born knowing how to do. Well, the basic problem boils down to technique. Our lungs are large, and when we don’t move our diaphragm (or belly) while breathing, the lungs aren’t filling with air. Here’s an article about how to breathe deeply.
  • Recovering from Illness: allergy-18656_640
    Yep, we don’t know how to recover from being sick. I got a bad sore throat Wednesday evening while cooking dinner. By the time I put my daughter to bed, my nose was so congested I couldn’t breath. What did I do on Thursday? I got up, got my daughter to preschool, and then promptly slept for 2 hours. Now, I know not everyone has that luxury, but it was a sacrifice for me. I could’ve used those 2 hours to accomplish countless tasks. Instead I gave them over to recovery from my sore throat. REST is essential for recovery, and most of us don’t give ourselves permission to spend a day in bed allowing our bodies to heal.
  • Sleep:
    I hate everyone who is asleep right now...

    I hate everyone who is asleep right now…

    I’ve already written a blog post about 6 ways you can improve your sleep today. Did you read it? If so, did you implement any of my methods? If you are having trouble with sleep, and a doctor has ruled out medical issues, then you may need to change some of your habits. Don’t wait! Make one small change each week and see if things improve.

  • hands-344759_640Sex:
    Yes, sex. I bet most of you can remember your first experience with sex, and it wasn’t very much like the movies, was it? We have been sold a big fat lie when it comes to sex, and now the issue is shrouded in mystery. For more information, I recommend Laurie Watson’s YouTube videos. There are lots of resources out there that can help you improve your sex life without embarrassing the heck out of you!
  • Breastfeeding: baby-21167_640
    A friend of mine once called breastfeeding the most unnatural natural act, and I agree with her! Learning how to breastfeed your baby without pain and frustration can be very challenging – not for all women, but for most. As it happens, I depended heavily on my actual breastfeeding manual, the Womanly Art of Breastfeeding. Another fantastic resource is the La Leche League.
  • Motherhood:
    This is definitely one of the hardest tasks I have ever taken on. I read books and blogs, and talk to other moms. Sometimes my husband will ask me a question about what to do and I just shrug. It’s liberating to admit, hey, I don’t really know. I think the best thing to do is find parents who have adult children you like, and then ask them to mentor you.


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Meet Cannot Chameleon!

Cannot Chameleon

Cannot Chameleon

Awww, isn’t she beautiful? Cannot Chameleon is my own personal lizard brain. I learned about the lizard brain from both Martha Beck and Cynthia Bourgeault. It’s a biological brain structure, and it is responsible for almost all our worries and fears.

I’ll skip the neurology lesson, and go straight for the application. The lizard brain is constantly sending you survival messages and while there are many variations, those messages can be boiled down to two main thoughts:

  • You don’t have enough
  • You’re in danger

All of our fears, worries, concerns, irrational actions, and emotional triggers can generally be traced back to these two messages. The bad news is that these messages are constantly broadcast and cannot be stopped (as discussed in Steering by Starlight). The good news is that we can learn to effectively handle these messages.

The answer is not in positive thinking, or resisting those thoughts, or denying them. Your brain interprets these messages as essential to your physical survival and will not just ignore them. Instead, you must strip the messages down to the core and then soothe your lizard. This is why we name our lizard brains, so we can soothe them.

So when Cannot Chameleon comes out, ready for battle, and screams at me: “DALE IS GOING TO DIVORCE YOU!” I don’t ignore her, or try to put a positive spin on her message. I smile at Cannot and mentally embrace her. I thank her for her concern for my marriage. I then invite her to relax under the sun lamp that I’ve just turned on and go back to sleep. Gradually she feels the warmth penetrate her skin and goes to sleep, and I am able to go back to my life. It is only at that point, once Cannot is soothed, that I turn to the content of her attack and rationally evaluate it. What is the state of my marriage? Do I need to be concerned? Or did Cannot Chameleon base her worry on the fact that Dale forgot to give me a goodbye kiss that morning?

Want to learn more? Come to my May Retreat, where we will be learning all about our inner lizards. Or schedule a call with me to learn more!

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The Beginner’s Guide to Time Thieves

Time thieves are those lovely little critters that sneak into your schedule and make it impossible for you to complete long term projects or pay attention to your big priorities. The good news is that you can kick time thieves out of your calendar! The first step is to identify the time thieves lurking in there. Here are some of the time thieves I’ve had to battle.

1. The Squeaky Wheel: It’s true that the squeaky wheel gets the grease! As I’ve been going around the Triangle teaching about Priorities, I’ve talked a lot about how urgent tasks steal time from important tasks because they are squeaky wheels. And yes, we do need to attend to those squeaky wheels, but we also need to give attention to the other wheels! If you have 15 minutes, check out my video for tips on how to do just that.

2. TV Streaming services: Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, get behind me, you time thieves! You innocently sit down and think, “Hmmm, maybe I’ll check out this Parks and Rec show that everyone is talking about.” Three hours later you look up in a daze and wonder where the time went! Save the marathons for special times – like pregnancy bed rest, surgery recovery, a sick day, or a very special date night. Otherwise, decide BEFORE you turn it on exactly how many episodes you’ll watch.

3. The Shoulds: These are the external expectations that steal time from your day. You should cook. You should have a clean house all the time. You should get up early to exercise/meditate/read the paper. You should look sexy/confident/put-together every day. You should volunteer at your kid’s school. You should work late most days. You should respond thoughtfully to every Facebook post you read. You should spend time maximizing your LinkedIn profile. When you find yourself short on time, look at your to-do list and figure out whether the item comes from your own desires or the expectations of others. Then ignore all the items that are from external expectations! Schedule a free consultation with me to learn more about how to do this gracefully.

4. Smart Phones/Tablets: Oh my goodness, these are tempting, aren’t they? Glennon Melton at Momastery just wrote a great post about the addictive qualities of our Internet enabled devices. We check the weather and then glance at our Twitter newsfeed. We find a super fun game and suddenly we’re addicted. We look up one simple fact on Wikipedia and get lost clicking through from one related link to another. As with TV streaming, decided in advance how much time you’re going to give to this toy. Since most of them have timers, you can even set a timer as soon as you turn it on!

Have you done battle with these time thieves? Can you think of others? Please share!

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