Making Time

Making Time

I think it’s fair to say that as we age, the list of responsibilities grows. Growth at work takes priority, as does marriage, children, home ownership, familial obligations, and continued friendships. The tightrope walk we all manage is rarely easy, and at times exhausting. My struggle has always been where to focus my energy when I know I can’t give 100% in every area (sorry, I’m only human). I know if I try to give everything to everyone I burn out quickly and become useless to all, so much of my time is prioritized.

Learning to balance did not come naturally or easily, but it has become more of a habit, so I decided to share what my process looks like:

1. CHECK IN WITH YOU: The first step is being true to myself. Am I feeling tired? Does that project deserve my energy? Am I doing this for me or for someone else? Learn to be authentic with your own needs. They are valid.

2: PRACTICE SAYING NO: As a culture, I think this lesson is becoming more and more important. Opportunities surround us every waking second, and saying yes to it all leaves no room for recovery.

3: PRACTICE SAYING YES: This goes back to knowing yourself. At the end of a long work day, sometimes the thought of meeting up with friends can feel like too much, but it is important to maintain face to face time. See the people you love and know how they are doing. Relationships that exist solely through social media or quick text check-ins do not have the emotional connectedness that fuels us as humans. I cannot emphasize this enough: SPEND TIME WITH PEOPLE YOU LOVE.

4: CUT OUT THE JUNK: We all have certain obligations we can’t throw away, but I am talking about the things we do out of a false sense of guilt. The “frienemy” you can’t shake? Stop making time for her. The underwater basket weaving class you thought would be fun but isn’t? Stop going. When there is hardly enough time for things you want to do, eliminate the things you don’t.

5. SCHEDULE “ME” TIME: This may seem impossible for some, but what I have found is the more time I give to myself (whether it be to work out, nap, watch terrible television), the more time I want to give to others.

These are the tools I use to maintain balance. What has been helpful for you? Feel free to share in the comments!

Photo via Flickr

“Conscious Uncoupling”

If you spend any amount of time online, you may be aware that there is a new trend in divorce called “conscious uncoupling.” Gwyneth Paltrow coined the term when she announced her split from her husband of ten years, Chris Martin. Her message stank of superiority. She concocted an image to appear as if this decision came after long discussions over eco-friendly glasses of red wine. Forget the passé divorces with hostility and hurt feelings, this is just a mutual decision to no longer exclusively be with one another. Just this morning, Jewel echoed this sentiment with the, “tender undoing,” of her own marriage. I take great offense to this new wave of happy dissolutions, and I am worried that there are not more people outraged by this. My problem is not that I don’t believe that they are telling the truth either–it’s that I believe they are.

What does it mean if we can now leave a marriage, not when we have hit rock bottom, but when we are bored? Both of these highlighted instances shine a light on an epidemic in our culture that we no longer believe anything worth having is worth fighting for. We now have admiration for couples who say, “It wasn’t that bad, we are still good friends and will continue to be in each others’ lives. We are simply choosing not to protect the one thing we took vows to protect.” Poof, it’s over. And what message does that send to their children? It says to me and most likely others who hear it that there is nothing sacred about marriage anymore. It says that when things are hard, don’t do them. What was once entered into after consideration, is now the reverse. We have unconscious coupling because there is no consequence to the exit. I am not anti-divorce, but I am anti-not trying. I often tell the couples I work with that my bias is for the marriage. I have yet to see a problem insurmountable, as long as each individual is willing to take responsibility for his or her own role in the problems. If you are still civil enough to “remain best friends,” (a quote from Hilary Duff’s press release regarding her divorce), why can you not be civil enough to look inward and find a way to consciously stay together for better or for worse?

Calling Advice Seekers!

As you may have read in the about me section of this blog, one of my goals is to offer advice in a “Dear Jacqueline,” format. If you’ve had any questions that you didn’t want to ask friends and family about, or weren’t satisfied with the feedback you got, feel free to send it to me!

All submissions remain anonymous, and you get to do a good deed by helping me fulfill a life dream. 

Email questions to: jacquelineplante.mft@gmail.com

 

 

Man Up

            Wedding season has officially begun (at least on my calendar), and it has caused me to reflect on the choices people make in choosing a partner for marriage. Whether we gravitate to bookish charm, tall dark and handsome, or laid back and silly, we all have certain characteristics we find more attractive. What we are attracted to is often deeply rooted in our early experiences, and in our brain chemistry. What I find charming might not do it for someone else, which is great, because competition for a stable mate can be rough as it is.

            With some of these thoughts in mind, I indulged in some Real Housewives drama, and couldn’t help but think of this when one husband was targeted for being “too into the women’s drama.” He was being called some pretty derogatory names, and his manliness was called into question. I couldn’t help but wonder what his wife felt in hearing that, and how she regarded his “manliness.” I certainly didn’t feel his actions were respectful to the women he was interacting with, and that got me thinking about what being a man means to me.

What makes a good man:

            He is respectful: A real man knows how to convey his opinion in a way that leaves room for discussion, and does not belittle  

            the person he is interacting with (man or woman).

            He has good character: He doesn’t follow popular logic or opinion, and knows that often the right choice is the hardest.

            He shares: In a relationship, a man takes ownership of his feelings and is responsible for them; he does not blame.

            He seeks support: Life can be hard. A man knows this and is not afraid to reach out when he needs another hand.

            This list is by no means comprehensive, but there were certain things I left out, that to me do not convey manliness. A real man does not have to be physically strong, only mentally. A real man does not have to get wasted, but he does know how to relax. A real man does not have to have children, but he takes care of them when he does.

Feel free to comment with what manliness means to you.

 

If you are in need of therapy, or know someone who is visit www.jacquelineplantetherapy.com

Parenting

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I’ve come across several articles recently on the topic of parenting. This morning my cousin posted a link to this one on Huffington Post, in which the author discusses the idea of making long-term parenting decisions versus short-term. She writes, “What makes my children happy at age 10 or 15 is somewhat different from what will make them happy at age 25, 30, 40 and beyond.’ She is absolutely right. I can vividly remember times where I thought my parents were being so unfair. Right before high school, they decided to pull me from public school, and place me in an all-girls Catholic school, where I knew no one. I truly believed this was child abuse. I was 14 years old. At 26, my outlook has changed significantly. I cherish, not only the quality education I received, but the psychosocial growth that occurred in having to step outside of my comfort zone and create new relationships in a new environment. This skill serves me well on an almost daily basis–therapists meet new people often, and have to create relationships very quickly. I had to build that muscle, and it was very uncomfortable in the beginning.

I imagine that was not easy for my parents. The whines of a 14 year old girl can be bone chilling, and they had to put up with a lot of complaining. They did not back down. They knew that at 14 I was not capable of making long-term life decisions, and they did it for me. They were parents who parented. Nowadays it is not uncommon to hear a parent give in to a child’s demands. Parents emit fear in front of their children, and worry constantly about their child’s present level of happiness. I can tell you that there were several months where I was unhappy. Nothing about starting over is easy, but I got over it. The short-term unhappiness was far outweighed by the long-term benefit of the choice they made to hold firm. I learned disappointment and fear, but I also learned that I can start fresh, I can make new friends, and that no matter how hard it seems in the moment, things always get better. I don’t know that I would be the same person without having gone through that journey.

It seems that the fear based parenting takes place today because the parent-child relationship is primary. Parents put the wants and needs of their children so high that they forget about their own needs and the needs of their partners (if they are lucky enough to have a partner in parenting). Any threat to the parent-child relationship is a breakdown of the primary relationship, and that can be frightening. Who will mom turn to if she has not continued to cultivate the relationship with dad? She needs the child’s happiness as validation, which is an unhealthy place to parent from. I can speak from experience in saying that a child’s happiness is not a reflection of good or bad parenting. The overindulgence that leads to daily “happiness” is what also leads to lack of coping skills in the real world. If we want to have trust in the future generations, we need to know that they can handle a multitude of emotions without having a breakdown, or without having to turn to medication. Strong parenting, and life experience will facilitate that.

 

If you are having trouble with parenting, feel free to reach out: www.jacquelineplantetherapy.com 

Photo by Mindaugas Danys via Flickr

Open Mouth–Insert foot. Why we can’t take back hurtful words.

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Lately I have been working more predominantly with couples, which I am loving. I get to observe the intimate dynamic between two people, and find out what makes their partnership unique. I often begin with the “How did you meet?” question, because it gives me a glimpse into the brighter times of the relationship, and takes some of the pressure off of the, “we had to come to therapy” vibe. I am amazed at how the recollection of happy memories can often be a catalyst for change in the moment. I can almost hear the couples’ thoughts: “We were happy once; we can be happy again.” Nothing makes me happier as their therapist, than the moment hope is achieved.

            Sometimes things are not so lovely, lovey dovey, easy. Boo, more work for me. (Kidding!) The more challenging aspect often has nothing to do with the problem a couple comes in with (she spends too much, he is a slob, someone had an affair). It has everything to do with how the couple is speaking to one another. John and Julie Gottman observed this at their institute, and were able to predict with great accuracy, which couples would stay together, and which would end in divorce–strictly based off of the ratio of positive to negative interactions. I watch that play out on my couch, when I see couples choosing their words vs. vomiting them.

            So often one partner will bring up an example of a horrible threat to leave or a cutting statement such as, “I never should have married you.” The perpetrator of the hurtful words usually comes back with the retort: “I didn’t mean it,” but once the words are out it is too late. How is someone supposed to forget those words were spoken? They have become a scar on the relationship–even when treated it still remains. A constant thread of doubt in the mind of the recipient. Doubt is crippling in many ways, but it is relationship kryptonite.

            Consider the use of words in any relationship, and consider them carefully. The ones spoken in anger may not hold truth, but they cannot be taken back and they will hang in the air forever. 

Photo credit: Paul Reynolds via Flickr

Dream(e)scape

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            The past few weeks I have been thinking more about dreams and what they mean. In school we learned a multitude of theories on dream interpretation, and Adler’s dream theory always stood out to me. Adler believed that dreams were a representation of our most immediate needs. In trying to put that theory to use, I could only remember the dreams where I would drink gallons of water without feeling quenched. I don’t know if that dream is common for other people, but I would inevitably wake up feeling parched, and I would head to the kitchen to satiate my thirst.

            One interesting Jungian theory poses the notion that all of the people in dreams are a version of the “self.” When we have negative reactions to the person in our dreams, it is often a part of ourselves that we detest or shun. This aspect of our personalities was generally shunned by our parental figures, so we try and shame it away in order to avoid the continuous punishment or rejection of caregivers. As I write about this I imagine the reaction of my readers to be somewhat polarized. Those of you with secure and loving attachments might see this theory as overly reaching, and those of you with a traumatic history might find it spot on.

            In any case, regardless of the theory, I find dreams fascinating. Proof that just because our body shuts down does not mean our brain does. Whether the dream is cathartic, frightening, pleasurable, or mundane, the experience of being transported to a subconscious realm is a great opportunity for reflection. I think most of us have dreams that we can recall quickly, even those who do not remember dreams nightly. I think we are lucky to watch these limitless movies, and the glimpse we get into ourselves might just provide us with some insight. 

Photo by epSos.de via Flickr

Moving On vs. Giving Up

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Option 1:

  • Suck it up
  • Deal with it
  • Just get through it
  • Wait it out
  • Give it time

Option 2:

  • Move on
  • Put it to rest
  • Let it go
  • Give up

 

            Take a moment to consider the options. Which one is more appealing? Which one sounds better? Which one would you be more likely to advise to friends or family? Does one option have a better connotation than the other?           

            Part of the human experience is encountering negativity, be it in a job, a relationship, an interaction. We are given the opportunity to choose, as some eloquently label: flight or flight. Some moments are not choice, they are instinctual; but what happens when the timeline is extended, and the situation is not life or death? It is slow agony or the idea of defeat. Which is better?

            I couldn’t give a blanket answer because is varies by situation. I have given input on friends’ relationships, and in some instances I see reason to work at it and get through the hard times (fight) and in others I would say run (run far, take your things, don’t ever go back). But too often I see people whose ideology is one or the other. They will fight in every given situation, or they will flee from any hardship.

            Neither extreme is acceptable, and it often carries a large amount of judgment. Often the judgment is a projection of that person’s own unhappiness. Her own inability to leave a bad marriage or his own lack of accountability.

            Sometimes this plays out in couples with a lingering fight. One or both partners refuse to come to a compromise on an issue, or rather issues continue to be swept under the rug, but never resolved.

            There is a large distinction between moving on, and giving up, and there are times that moving on is the right answer. It is not giving up if you have given your all, and the limit we each have within us is allowed to vary. There is also a distinction between sticking it out and being stubborn. There is a case for buckling down, but after hitting your head against the wall for so long you have to know when the time is up. All things have a season after all. Not everyone has an easy time recognizing these distinctions, but finding a way to differentiate and allow for discussion of both sides is healthy and shouldn’t invoke feelings of failure or negativity. Consider what your past looks like, and whether these extremes have worked, and if they haven’t, make a commitment to work on change. 

Photo Credit: John Shedrick via Flickr 

What Happened to Balance?

The other day an article caught my eye that talked about why people lose friends in their twenties. It talked about transitions that occur and priorities that change. I found myself relating to the article in some ways and opposing it in others. If my life is shifting, surely others’ are as well, and it seemed like a lack of understanding was at play in regards to the most common losses. Friends who suddenly enter relationships and stop talking to friends = not a good friend. Not a good friend because she has not yet learned the subtle art of balance. I think the twenties are the perfect opportunity to cultivate this little used practice, because as responsibilities mount, the juggling act of everyday life is only going to get more difficult, and one of the best antidotes to stress is good social support.

            Friendships are not the only facet of life in which balance is difficult. As the global market shifts, there is a higher priority on work, and deciding on a career path. The decisions that are made regarding where to invest time career-wise are increasingly difficult, and often made at the sacrifice to personal time and family time. I have never heard a person openly admit that his or her career is a priority over relationships, but actions speak louder than words, and the choice is made with extra hours, taking home projects, and carrying the weight of stress through the front door. There is little room left for connection in those moments, and what is allowed for can be forced sure to time constraints and hidden resentments.

            I see the anguish in making the decision to find balance. Whether you are a woman being encouraged to “lean in” or a man trying to make it one step further, the choice to prioritize life-work balance can often come at a cost to career longevity or mastery. There can be a lot of fear associated with the strive towards both, but the outside message is always very clearly telling us that career, prosperity, and wealth should be at the top. Judgment is associated with different decisions, and attacks are made towards so-called “lazy” stay at home parents who aren’t “working.” Men who make this decision are praised and emasculated all at once. Somewhere along the way deciding to have enough but not too much became threatening, and the expectation became to all at once have a six-figure salary. No more time to work to the top, but to instantly be at the top, with enough money to vacation in Monaco, but hardly the time to do so.

            In many ways, the presentation of options has created more stress in that we can easily make the wrong choice. Rather than choose one or the other, we are attempting to choose everything, and there is often sacrifice to full commitment. I am sure you’ve heard it said that you can’t give 100% to everything, something will suffer, and I agree with that statement. When you are making decisions, ask yourself what you would like to have suffer, and I encourage you to attempt more balance and to recognize the power of being able to say no. 

New Year

            If, like me, you have spent any amount of time online within the past two weeks, you have undoubtedly come across Top 10 lists and resolutions, and pros and cons for the new year. I have never been very big a new year’s resolutions for a few reasons. First, I do not like to start something I won’t finish. Generally by the time I remember I (cringe to type) “should” come up with some type of goal, I don’t have much time to come up with something clever or creative that will truly benefit my life. Secondly, I live my life with goals. It doesn’t take a date on the calendar to remind me that life is lived in perpetual motion, so I am often addressing the stagnant areas of my life and choosing a way to reset the momentum. Lastly, it feels de-motivating in a way, to be limited to a resolution on the new year. If I decide that I want to learn a new language in October, but I know that might make a good resolution, I am more likely to put it off until January 1. By the time January arrives, I don’t feel the pressing urge I had in the moment to learn that language, and suddenly it becomes something that never happens.

            So rather than waiting for my fresh start tomorrow, I decided to write this short post today. I don’t want to be negative to those for whom resolutions work. I just want the pressure of “major life change” to dissipate slightly. I think people are more motivated to complete something they want to do rather than something they have to do. If now feels like the right time for it, more power to you, but I encourage reflection before action. Chart your trajectory and determine if the path looks good. That is where more time is spent.

            And if you were curious, I do not have a “resolution” per se, but I do have goals that I am currently working on. The first is my self-care. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and making more time for fitness has made a marked change in my approach to work, so it will be something I continue into the new year. And second is this blog. It was an idea for so much longer than it has been a reality, and I plan to reverse that. I have found a great source of joy in utilizing this medium, and through constructive feedback and support, I plan to continue with weekly postings for as long as possible.

            So thank you for 2013, and see you in the new year.