What keeps healthy relationships going?
It’s not communication, breakfast in bed, or quality time (although those are all very good things). It’s not an even balance of date nights and curling up to watch Netflix (also a very good thing).
It’s two qualities. Two qualities that, in conjunction, help fuel healthy relationships.
No, it’s not just paying for the date. Or driving to their side of town. It’s much more than that. It’s a heart and mind mentality of ‘Give first, expect second.’ It’s you before me. It’s about having a generous spirit.
Like school, there are levels to the generosity mindset. See if you can spot yourself in the hierarchy.
Elementary Generosity: Give.
Giving can take many forms. It can be giving of your time: calling someone, texting someone, carving out time each week to spend with them, or acts of service (like washing their car, picking up the dry cleaning, etc.). It could be giving financially - investing resources such as paying for dinner or for theater tickets. It could be physical touch. It could be emotional generosity, where I decide to be vulnerable with you and share something that I struggle with, or something challenging from my past. It can be a gift of mental investment - thinking of the person throughout the day, thinking of ways to bring them joy or pleasure, and then acting on it. At the end of the day, Elementary Generosity is giving something of yourself to the other person - your time, resources, body, emotions, your mind.
High School Generosity: Give What You Expect to Receive.
If you want words of encouragement, heap them on your partner. If you want hard work and loyalty from your direct reports, start by getting in the trenches with them and advocating for them with higher ups. If you want more open and honest communication, be the first to initiate. If you want warmth and kindness, lead the way in removing a critical and judgmental attitude.
I want you to think about either a professional or personal relationship that is currently on the rocks. Chances are, your expectations and needs feel unmet, therefore you’re stalled. The car is not going anywhere. Time to add the fuel of generosity. What are you hoping to get from this person? Patience, investment, attention, vulnerability, respect? Lead with it first. Give to that person what you expect to receive.
University Generosity: Give What the Other Person Wants.
Whew. This one is hard. I once was dating someone who bought concert tickets to one of his favorite musicians. When he invited me to the concert he said ‘I was thinking of you when I bought the tickets.’ Truth is, if he was thinking of me, we’d be seeing John Mayer who was in town at the end of that month. Does she prefer to phone calls to texts? Call her. Does he want to pick the movie tonight? Let him. Does she like romantic gestures? Give them. Does he like a well-planned date? Thoughtfully plan each step of the way with him in mind. If she mentions a show she want to see, for the love of all things holy, buy the tickets!
There’s something so attractive about someone who does something for you that you know they would never do on their own. It speaks of sacrifice, which is the ultimate turn on & respect-builder. Selfish people are a dime a dozen; if you can step out of yourself and really see the other person, what they want, and be able to give it to them, that is next level generosity. And watch them light up like a Christmas tree when you do. Trust me, the joy on their face will fuel your desire to continue in this vein.
Summa Cum Laude Generosity: Give What the Other Person Needs.
You may want something from someone. They might want something from you. But the deepest & most mature level of generosity asks not what you or I want, but what the other person needs. The other person may want encouragement, but in this instance, they need hard truths delivered in tough love. They may want space, but actually need presence (or vise versa). They may want to see you tonight, but they really need the rest. They may want guidance, but really need to work through something on their own.
Summa Cum Laude Generosity requires knowing a person so deeply as to know what they need. It requires seeing a person and their needs independent from you. It requires the willingness to break rapport and take some relational risks, because you care more about the person than the state of the relationship. You have to risk being dead wrong and the other person being upset. You have to risk being spot on and the other person walking away. Give not what you or they want, but what they need.
After generosity, reciprocity is the second piece that fuels relationships.
You have a generous spirit, but are they reciprocating?
Evaluate someone’s worthiness to be in your life by the benchmark of reciprocity. Reciprocity is the practice of exchanging things with others for mutual benefit. In relationships, reciprocity is the mutual exchange of investment - both parties are equally contributing to the health of the relationship when it comes to effort. The word reciprocity comes from the Latin reciprocus which literally means ‘moving backward and forward.’ I like this definition; it reminds me of basketball. I take the ball down the court for a while, dribble it a bit, and then pass it to you and you have it for a while. A mutual backward and forward, a give and take, equal effort on both sides.
Are other people (friends or partners) matching your level of investment? If you are moving through the various levels of generosity with someone and they are not reciprocating, it’s time to either talk (with them) or walk (away). Generosity is too precious to be wasted on ungrateful recipients. It is a rare gemstone for which people will do backflips in all manner of relationships, so don’t cheapen it by carrying on with those who aren’t reciprocating. Wisdom is discerning if reciprocity is present; bravery is being willing to walk if not.
Relationships are a two-sided coin: Generosity is your job, Reciprocity is theirs. Generosity without Reciprocity is abuse; Reciprocity without Generosity is brutality. Both are needed for relationships to work.
Have them both and your relational tank will be full.
Have them both and you'll be connected to yourself & others in a way never thought possible.
Have them both and you'll never run dry.
How to Take Back Control When Your Day Spirals
We all get them.
The days that start by stepping in quicksand and end with a giant piano falling on your head.
I call these Scary Scuba days.
As in, I’ll need a professional Scuba diver to excavate me from the layers of tiny terrible tragedies and repeatedly inconvenient things that have transpired today.
Today I’m going to show you how to not just cope, but emerge victorious on these kind of days.
But first, a bit on my most recent Scary Scuba.
A fresh, thick blanket of snow covers the ground as I prepare to leave for work. The exit from my deck is not salted/paved, but I figured, NBD I have my Sorrels. I also thought it was a good idea to bring my gym bag to work. I’ll just catch the bus. Hindsight.
I struggle down the stairs with my lunchbag, purse, gym back, and big puffy coat. As I close the gate, the bus that I was hoping to catch leaves the stop. The next one arrives in 20 minutes. I decide to walk to the train.
None of the sidewalks are paved so the 10 minute walk is an exercise in how-high-do-I-have-to-lift-my-boot-in-order-to-avoid-tripping. But it’s okay, i’ll get a seat on the train. I always do. All will be well. Hindsight.
Train arrives and there are no empty seats. I stare at a few of the ‘men’ near me, to see if they will give up their seat for the lovely lady with lots of stuff. Nope. At this point my arm is tired from carrying all the bags, so I have no choice but to put them down on the floor of the train… which is coated in a slushy grey paste from everyone’s wet boots. Oh well. Atleast all of the important stuff is protected from the slush. Hindsight.
I approach my stop only to realize that my favorite winter scarf (forest green, beautiful) - which I had taken off and put in my lunch bag - had fallen out during the ride and unto the slushy floor. It is no longer green.
I arrive at my desk and expect my laptop to be present. It had crashed the week prior and the technician assured me that the part would arrive by Friday and he’d have the computer back on my desk Monday morning. Alas, my laptop was still absent.
I try to work on the loaner computer, but it’s missing a key program I need to do my work. I phone the technician and he comes over to install it. The installation is unsuccessful because the computer is too old to receive it. He has to download a ‘package’ to the computer that will make it receptive to the new program. He completes this process and still the program doesn’t open. He returns 45 minutes later with a new loaner. He installs the program, but it’s an older version that doesn’t have some of the features I need. He then has to upgrade it to a newer version.
You get the idea. It was a terrible day.
Usually by this point I’d be one giant ball of steam, which, combined with my occasional diva streak, would create a dramatic and angry ‘mess with me, I dare ya!’ vibe. But not this day. There’s a strategy I’ve been using recently to get me through the Scary Scubas. As a result, I come out at the end of this seemingly nightmarish day emotionally unscared and in surprisingly good spirits. How, you ask? I’ll show you below.
But first, we have to agree (virtual handshake, please!) on what usually happens to us during these types of days. After three or four bad things occur in a row, we get in a mental rut. We don’t think as clearly, we tend to only see the negative, and we’re predisposed to handle things poorly. We’re short tempered and more complain-y then usual. The day is soured and let's face it: it’s hard to recover. It’s as if we are a human magnet for all the bad things in the universe.
Here’s how to break that cycle and arise victorious in the midst of such days.
Think of the first 6 letters of the alphabet. ABCDEF.
Accept that this circumstance is happening to you. Don’t fight it, accept it. Usually when something we don’t like happens, we go right into anger mode (“This circumstance messed with my grand, Citizen Kane plans for the day! How dare it!"). Instead of anger, practice acceptance (“Okay. This is happening right now”).
Take a deep breath. Usually when a few bad things happen in a row, our body clenches up, anticipating the next punch. Our breathing gets short, our body gets tense. Our muscles and organs (like our brain) aren’t getting the steady flow of oxygen they need to operate effectively. Resultantly, our reflexes are poor (we get clumsier) and our brain isn’t as sharp (we make poor choices). This predisposes us to even more bad occurrences. Instead, in these moments of negative circumstance, take deep breaths. Focus on your breath. Your body will calm down, and you’ll feel more in control. Breathing will also prepare you for the next step.
Concentrate on the specific instance
This one is critical. Typically, when a slew of bad things happen in a row, the newest terrible one is seen against the backdrop of all the others. Suddenly, we’re not just battling one soldier; we’re battling an army. And every new occurrence seems like an army not a soldier. Instead we must concentrate on one instance at a time. This removes the mental cloud that tends to form on Scary Scubas. When the third bad thing happens that day, I should just focus on item #3, not also #1 and #2. If it’s just my scarf that fell on the slushy train floor, it’s actually not so bad. One thing can be easily overcome.
Decide what you’re going to do
After focusing the mind on one instance (my scarf fell on the train floor), I then decide what I’m going to do about it. Hmmm.. I’ll put it back in the bag and wash it when I get home. If the slush doesn’t come out, I’ll purchase a new scarf. Now that I have a plan of action, I’m no longer stressed or bothered by this circumstance. My feelings no longer control me.
After deciding how to respond, execute! (‘Stuff the scarf in the bag and walk off the train towards the office’). Put your plan in place and move on with your day. No more dwelling on this circumstance. Full steam ahead. Executing your decision is what puts you back in the driver’s seat. While we can’t choose what circumstance happens to us, we can execute our response to it. Execution gives us agency; agency gives us control.
Focus on any positives.
I have to admit, in the midst of the terrible circumstances of the aforementioned day, there were other moments. Glorious glimmers of kindness in an otherwise no good day. Fred, the security guard, holding the door for me so I didn’t have to reach for my badge. The woman at Walgreens who was extra sweet. Josh, my colleague, asking me if I wanted something from Starbucks. The ‘Bless you’ from 3 cubicles over after I sneezed. When you’re in the midst of a Scary Scuba day, call in the positive-sniffing dogs. Get hyper-attuned to the good things, albeit small, that are happening throughout that day. See them. Savor them. Your mood with be lifted & your outlook refreshed.
There you have it.
The next time you’re in the midst of your own Scary Scuba, remember ABCDEF.
You won’t just survive the day; you’ll come forth as gold.
-6 Ways to Respond to the Pain of Others-
You just got out of a ‘conversation’ with someone, where you tried to communicate that something they did hurt you. They made you feel like it was somehow your fault, and suddenly you think it was silly to bring it up. You leave the interaction feeling worse than when you started. Very small. And very un-seen. You get angry at them for treating you this way. Then angry at yourself for letting them.
Or how about this scenario. You meet someone new - a new friend or a new romantic interest. Everything is wonderful & great until they do something small that kind of hurts you. Maybe they made plans with you & end up cancelling at the last minute. Maybe they said something that was slightly demeaning. You pause. Should I say something? Yes. Will I? I don’t know. I don’t want to mess things up.
Living in relationship with others can be beautiful and life-giving. It can also have its challenges. No matter how healthy our relationships, we will do things that hurt others. Others will do things that hurt us. Let’s face it - humans are selfish beings. And when two selfish people come together, hurt is inevitable. The hurt usually isn’t malicious or intentional, but it stings nonetheless. But here’s the big idea: How someone handles your ‘Ouch that hurts’ says everything you need to know about them.
How does this all begin?
Visualize the scene with me. There’s a young boy who gets hurt on the playground. He runs home to mommy and daddy crying, knee all scraped up, saying ‘Ouch, it hurts!.’ Mom and Dad have a few options here. They could:
Visualize another scene with me. There’s a young girl who is spending time with her dad and he says something that upsets her. She starts crying. Dad has a few options here. He could:
Some of us have learned to not share our Ouch. We travel in and out of relationships like riders on a train. As soon as someone hurts us, we get off at the next stop and board a new car, only to repeat the cycle. We don’t have enduring relationships because we don’t know how to communicate our Ouch. We just pick up and leave at the first sign of hurt. Others of us stay in relationships where people repeatedly hurt us (they probably don’t even realize it) and we let them, because we don’t say a damn thing about it. We stifle our Ouch and suffer silently.
There is a better way.
Oh, the beautiful and all-encompassing feeling of being wrapped in love and attention when you say Ouch. The person who Leans Forward, who says ‘I’m so sorry I made you feel that way. What can I do to make it better in the future.’ It’s that warm snuggly embrace a baby feels when swaddled in a blanket on a cold day. It’s the feel-good glow of the crackling fire against the fierce blackness of the forest. It’s the plate of scrambled eggs and fresh hot coffee someone brings you in bed when you wake up in the morning. Unexpectedly held. Refreshingly seen.
I can hear you already. Okay, MaryBeth. That’s beautiful but what concrete things can I look for to assess if someone is responding appropriately? I’ll give you 6.
1. Calm Demeanor
When you’re sharing your Ouch, the other person should have a calm demeanor, neutral like. They don’t flare up, they don’t get defensive, they don’t close off. They are open to what you are saying, curious even. They genuinely want to know what’s wrong. Their emotions are even-keeled. They listen patiently & don’t interrupt.
2. Narrow Focus
The listener focuses on this specific occurrence. They don’t change the subject. They don’t bring up past things that you did that were similar. They are focused on this instance and only this instance. Someone who keeps short accounts.
3. Check for Understanding
A person who cares will often try to paraphrase what you said and repeat it back to you, making sure they are understanding it correctly.
The other person takes responsibility for their actions. They apologize for the pain they caused. They don’t make excuses. They don’t try to explain why they did it. They don’t blameshift. They don’t gaslight. They own their behavior.
5. Seek to Remedy
They ask how they can make it up to you. They are open to suggestions, as well as pose their own ideas. They are eager to right the wrong.
6. More Presence
After the discussion, the person will show up more - not less - in your life. They will give more of themselves - not less - after you’ve communicated the hurt. They Lean Forward. They reassure by their presence. Your Ouch didn’t scare them; it challenged them to show up stronger and better.
Let’s do some hard mirror gazing here. How do you square up in the list above? When someone confronts you with something you did that hurt them, how are you in responding with calmness, focus, understanding, ownership, remedy, and presence? We can’t expect others to give us what we ourselves don’t extend.
I write this not as someone who has mastered the art of communicating pain, but as someone who is growing in her ability to do so. I invite you on this journey with me. Let’s do the hard thing. Let’s say our Ouch early and often, not loudly, boastfully, or angrily, but humbly and with expectation that the other person will care to hear it & redeem it. Let’s give others the opportunity to lean forward, show care, seek remedy, and extend love.
And let’s have the courage to walk away from anything less. Our ability to say ‘nope, I deserve better’ will make us indestructible. It will free us up to say ‘yes please’ to those who have proven they can handle the full weight of who we are.
The best Disney movie - hands down - is 101 Dalmatians. You know the one I'm talking about . The original 1961 version. Puppies, walks in the park, matching dogs/owners, puppies, piano playing, that adorable & brilliant doggie S.O.S signal, puppies. Have I mentioned puppies? Honestly, what's not to like.
One of my favorite scenes is when Pongo, Perdita, & Co. are watching Thunderbolt on that tiny T.V. 'Go get'em, Thunder!' ;) While the family is quite attentive, there is one pup that is completely enthralled - Lucky. He sits right up close to the TV. He jumps up and touches the screen when a scene gets particularly exciting. He wags his cute little tail incessantly. Lucky is fascinated with the program. And his fascination is what causes him to linger in front of the TV, even when he's abducted and held at the 'safe house' with Horace and Jasper.
Fascination makes us linger. If something is lingering in your thoughts, it's a good thing. It means your fascinated. It means there's more to learn. It's your subconscious saying 'Pay attention, it's about to get good.'
Like Lucky, I have a recent fascination that I just can't shake, one that I've just started to peel back the layers on. Jewish people call it the Torah. Christians call it the first 5 books of the Bible. I call it My Recent Fascination :)
God’s presence in those first 5 books is so rich and raw; visibly present, yet overwhelming mysterious. The text in those pages will assert something inexplicable or controversial – whether its dialogue, imagery, or dialectic – without qualification. As if the confidence in its truth is reflected in the unapologetic air that breathes through its pages. Say what you want about the Bible, but any avid reader must concede that it is bold, unequivocal, and dare I say (tactfully) salacious.
One such ‘unapologetic’ moment comes in Exodus - the second book - when Moses first encounters the presence of God through the burning bush. At this point in the narrative, the Israelites have been the Egyptians’ slaves for generations, Moses has just killed a man for mistreating one of the Israelites, and has run away to the desert, tail between his legs. He stumbles upon a bush where he hears the voice of God and receives his life’s calling. Let’s hop in the De Lorean and whisk back to Mount Horeb circa 1491 BC:
“The Lord said, ‘I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:7-8, emphasis added).
That phrase ‘a land flowing with milk and honey’ has always struck me. After Exodus 3:7, the phrase appears 19 more times in the Old Testament, each time without explanation as to why its important. The imagery is just dropped there, repeatedly, without any further details or clarification. This is often how God speaks – showing us things we don’t quite understand, repeatedly to stress their importance, drawing us in by our curiosity to figure them out. Most scholars agree that the phrase ‘land flowing with milk and honey’ is a symbol of abundance; God promises to take his people to a land overflowing with both spiritual and physical blessings.
But why milk and why honey? Any other food items could have been mentioned here. I have some medical restrictions that make it near impossible to have dairy or sugar. Rough life, right? It may seem infantile, but when I read Exodus 3 I can’t help but think I’m missing out on a blessing. As if my inability to have milk and honey precludes any participation in God’s beneficence. Mine is a land flowing with lemon water and stevia. Does that still count? But it’s not about actual milk and honey, it’s about something bigger.
Both milk and honey are animal by-products; milk comes from cows and honey comes from bees. Humans can grow grain and make bread on their own. Humans can grow vegetables and make a salad on their own. Humans, however, cannot manufacture milk and honey on their own – they must rely on a middleman (or middle animal, rather) to obtain these two food items. (It’s not lost on me that humans make breast milk. Adults, however, don’t drink breast milk, and it’s implied that the Promised Land wasn’t flowing with breast milk. I wasn’t there, but I’m pretty sure 😂).
This by-product idea begets a powerful lesson. The image that God uses of promised abundance – a land flowing with milk and honey – involves reliance on something other than ourselves. He didn’t promise Israel a land flowing with ready-to-eat vegetables; he promised them a land flowing with items that must be obtained from other animals, so there’s still some work required. We must be on good terms with the cows and the bees to obtain our blessing. In essence, abundance is a shared activity. You can’t live abundantly in isolation. You can’t go down in your storm cellar and get abundance. It involves a personal journey (the Israelites leaving Egypt) and good rapport with others (cue: cows and bees) to obtain it. Lest you think I’m sounding grandiose equating cows/bees with ‘others,’ the Israelites had prolifically frequent interactions with peoples of other nations in their Promised Land. Those specific interactions had a direct effect on their blessing as well.
The first part of Exodus 3:7 is also telling. It’s interesting that God calls the Israelites out of a place where they were being victimized, ‘suffering at the hand of slave drivers’ to a place where they still will have to interact with others. Let that sink in. The antidote to suffering isn’t isolation. This is where we so often go wrong. We have a bad experience with someone and we are tempted to build ramparts and isolate ourselves in a tower so high that neither a powerful cannon nor Rapunzel’s hair could let anyone in. We agree with the lie that distancing ourselves from others will produce abundance. This is fallacious. Traumatic past experiences are not our ‘get of out of Jail free card’ to future relationships, as if abundance could be found in seclusion. Unabomber, 1; Abundance, 0.
So what is your journey? What do you have to leave behind that is holding you back? This is a ‘let it simmer’ question. I hope that in the course of reading this blog, you will become aware of situations and people that are holding you back from your ‘good and spacious land.’ Remember, relationships aren’t the problem, the kind we forge are. God was calling the Israelites out of a generation of toxic relationships, to a place where they would still interact and rely on others, but in a different way.
Lest you think 'other people' are your only problem, let me make you a bit uncomfortable ;) . I want you to also pay close attention to things in your own knapsack - the habits, proclivities, and learned behaviors - that are limiting you from extravagance. This is your ‘journey’ to the Promised Land. Learning to be the abundant person you were created to be. More to come on this later.
So what is your milk and honey? Where are you refusing to partner with others to partake in blessing? It’s not good enough to just be an amazing person, we must bring that person to the table of community where the feast is!
Abundance exists in the garden of community. Abundance requires personal humility, not merely for self-evolution, but to engage and live with others.
One of my favorite questions to ask random people I just meet is: did Lindsay Lohan peak in Parent Trap or Mean Girls? People are surprisingly opinionated on the topic and will produce a full monologue backing up their claims. Try it the next time you are in a long line. It’s a great conversation starter 😉. While I won’t tell you how I answer the question, I will tell you that unlike Lindsay Lohan, I peaked later in life. I came into my own in my late twenties. Middle school/high school was my ‘ugly duckling’ phase. (Honestly though, who, besides the quarterback and head cheerleader, liked high school?). I had friends but I was rather reserved, wasn’t comfortable in my own skin, and was afraid to share myself with others. That being said, I still went to school functions and activities.
I vividly remember my first school dance. It was in 6th grade in a dimly lit, multi-purpose room on the second floor of a neighborhood community center. One solitary, spinning early-2000s-version disco ball hanging from the center of the ceiling. I also remember how shy most of the boys were. They literally stood against the wall, propping it up like they were afraid it would crumble without the support of their collective preteen backs.
Then there were other boys - a handful of them - who would boldly go up to girls and ask them to dance. I was the recipient of one of these solicitations, the result being my first ever slow dance to Savage Garden’s ‘Kissed by a Rose’ (thanks, Rico Suarez!). These more proactive boys like Rico, shortly thereafter, became the ‘popular’ boys. Correlation or causation? I propose that their willingness to engage, their vulnerability, made them more attractive and popular.
We all have areas of our lives where we are the Shy Steve, the junior high boy at the school dance, sulking in the corner, refusing to engage with a dance that has already begun. Then there’s the areas of our lives where we are the confident Rico, walking up to the beautiful girl and winning her hand for the song. He’s the one we want to be, the part of our lives we are most proud of. He’s the one who takes daily risks, who attracts others, and lands the dream job. We need more of Rico and less of Steve in our lives. You wouldn’t read a book about sulking Steve. You wouldn’t read it because those books aren’t out there. The element that makes stories, creation, and life attractive is abundance. Rico is the one stories are written about and movies are made of. Rico is the one who we are most attracted to. And let’s not forget: Rico gets the good thing. Opportunity dances with those already on the dance floor.
Lean in, abundance awaits.
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