Be a Relationship Leader

Good relationships require leadership. Many of us have a few dissatisfying relationships, but it doesn’t occur to us to guide the relationship to a healthier place. We feel we are stuck with how the other person is. More likely, we haven’t thought through what we really want from our relationships. We deal with our relationships passively and reactively, instead of taking leadership.

If you wait for people to guess your needs, relationships fall apart. Instead of just reacting to other people’s insensitivity, you could tell them how you want your relationships to feel. What do you want them to do? What are the unspoken paths of conduct you wish they would follow?

Such openness comes more naturally in close friendships and intimate relationships. But you can also lead in other relationships that you didn’t choose, such as your work, neighbors, and family connections. You may end up around people with whom you have little in common and who are insensitive to how you feel or what you want. You can feel stuck with these relationships, but here is where you can shine as a relationship leader.

Relationship leaders are people who are clear about how they want to be treated and what makes a relationship rewarding. They request respectful treatment, such as asking them politely or disagreeing without becoming insulting. For instance, a relationship leader might say to a man who barks orders, “I’d love to help you, and I’d love for you to ask me nicely.” Or to a woman who mocks others’ political views, a relationship leader might say, “I think it’s perfectly fine that we see things differently, and it’s interesting to hear both sides.” These are neutral responses that actively lift the dialogue toward something better.

Relationship leaders can even go a step further by adding broader instruction in how relationships can be made more rewarding for both parties. For example, family members who annoy you by stopping by whenever they feel like it are being disrespectful of boundaries. You might make a request, such as “Please call before you come to see if it’s a good time for me.” But you could also offer additional relational leadership by sharing an insight about good relationships in general, like “Happy relationships have good boundaries” or “Visits are more fun when both people feel like visiting.”

If people violate a boundary you requested, they are telling you they didn’t get it the first time.  They are thoughtlessly reacting only to their own wishes, so they need your leadership toward more desirable behavior. For instance, if a co-worker keeps talking after you’ve stated your need for uninterrupted work time, you can lead the relationship by saying, “To be good co-workers, we have to give each other time to get things done. I’ll let you know when I’m able to talk.” To an overly chatty neighbor, you could say: “That’s interesting, but I’m not up for talking right now. Sometimes we all need some quiet time to ourselves.” In a respectful, informative way, you are offering good relationship values to live by.

Beyond setting limits, there may be times when other people simply treat you badly or accuse you of things that aren’t true. That’s when relationship leadership can guide the relationship forward without reacting in ways that could injure the bond beyond repair. For example, if someone unjustly accuses you of a malevolent intent, you might say “That’s not how I meant it” and follow up with relational leadership, such as “We can check it out with each other before assuming the worst.” Or if someone has been holding a grudge against you, say “Things work better if we tell each other clearly why we’re upset.”

Sometimes relationships between adult children and their parents breed conflict over dominance and inequality. Parents are accustomed to being the authority figures, and it often falls to the adult child to lead the way to a more equal and respectful adult relationship. For instance, when parents try to take over or give advice, you might say: “Well, that’s a good idea, Mom, but it’s important to let me think this through for myself.” If a parent gets angry and speaks harshly, you can be the leader by saying “I expect you to control yourself. We are two grown adults now. How are we going to have a respectful adult relationship with you talking to me like that?”

Remember, the ultimate goal of relationship leadership is to not only to speak up for yourself, but also to offer good relationship values that can inspire both of you to treat each other respectfully. Your choice is either to lead or follow. You’re not doing them any favors if you know a better way but don’t teach them a better way. 

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A Reassuring Touch

I remember when people first started emailing and texting in lieu of picking up the phone and calling someone. The first time I saw my sister-in-law send an email to my brother about something instead of bringing it up in conversation, I was stunned. Why would anybody want to take the extra effort to key in letters and words and then correct everything when it’s so much easier to talk?

Even though I am now part of the texting/emailing/hardly-ever-picking-up-the-phone crowd, I still hate it. First of all, texting/emailing takes longer. Sometimes I find myself going back and forth via email trying to clarify something when a simple phone call would be so much more efficient. Secondly, messages get misconstrued. When we sent messages with text, it’s impossible to use tone of voice and body language to help communicate the subtleties of the language.

That’s exactly what I miss. I miss the warmth in my friends’ voices, the laughter we share about a funny story we heard, the humanity that connects us when we talk to one another, whether in person or over the phone. Talking enables us to exchange ideas, collaborate, and create together. Sending a lonely text out into the universe is a far cry from an enriching conversation that not only helps bring new ideas to the surface, but also serves to express support, reassurance, inspiration, and love.

Conversation is becoming a lost art especially among the younger generations. People are growing disenfranchised as a result and are forgetting how to interact with one other. Social niceties like saying good morning and smiling and greeting strangers as you pass them by are becoming things of the past. Remember eye contact and facial expressions and gentle reassuring touches? These elements of nonverbal communication are disappearing as fast as emojis and memes can replace them. Sorry, but a smiley face or a crying face or a mad face just doesn’t provide the same feedback as heart-to-heart communication.

So next time you start sending a text message or an email, do yourself a favor and pick up the phone. If your kids are constantly texting you, tell them to call you instead. You want to hear their voice anyway, don’t you? Let’s bring back the art of warm, human conversation and minimize our reliance on bits and bytes to convey our thoughts and feelings.

Even better make a date with a friend to meet for coffee—no phones allowed. Talk about your dreams and desires, the past and the future, and the challenges you face. When we take the time to reach out to people and simply talk to them, we show that we love and support them and care about their thoughts and feelings. Try doing that in an email.

I hope you find time for meaningful conversations this month, and don’t forget to put your toes in the sand at least once a week!

P.S. - If you’re a business owner and have been thinking about advertising in Tidewater Women, it’s your lucky day! We’ve extended our Celebration Rates (see back cover) until July 31, 2018. Advertising in TW aligns your business with a magazine that cares for and supports local women. Join our family of satisfied customers and call 757-204-4688. If you’re a reader, take time to call an advertiser and say, “Thanks!” for supporting the area’s only magazine that’s just for women! 

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A Better Relationship with Yourself

Does it seem strange to spend more time on developing a relationship with yourself? You might wonder what that would even look like. But it’s the most vital relationship you have, essential for real connection with other people. By getting to know yourself and cherishing what you find there, you become a full human being capable of understanding and loving others. Unfortunately, this inner relationship can be neglected if you grew up in a family that discounted the inner world.

In childhood, if people invalidated or dismissed your inner experiences, you may think your inner world isn’t worthy of being taken seriously. By not listening to your deepest feelings, others may have taught you to tune out what goes on inside you. This promotes disconnection from your inner world, leading you to believe that security and stimulation only come from outside yourself. You learn to turn away from the rich inner world that could sustain you regardless of outer circumstances. 

I often witness this in psychotherapy sessions. Clients who were taught to disconnect from themselves dismiss their feelings by saying things like, ‘I know this is stupid, but…” or ‘This is such a small thing, I’m embarrassed to admit it.’ Their relationship with their interior is full of shame. They don’t trust their inner guidance and are sheepish about their real feelings. But your inner experience is who you are. It’s crucial to experience and understand what goes on inside you. To avoid depression and anxiety, you need to be as available to yourself as you would be with someone you love.

When you disregard your own feelings and thoughts, your inner world becomes empty and you obsess over other people and external circumstances. Many of us try to get other people to fill the vacuum left behind by emotional self-neglect. Relationships feel superficial under these conditions because you look to other people to make up for your lack of inner substance.

No amount of social activity can fill the emptiness where there should be a robust relationship with yourself. By judging and rejecting your true thoughts and feelings, you create a life of anxious dependency in which no power is greater than someone’s opinion of you.

Take your inner experiences seriously. Process them fully. It’s the only way to build a strong inner self of your own. If you pay attention, you will see that your inner world is constantly using inspiration and intuition to nudge you toward happiness and well being. Only by making a conscious, deliberate decision to honor your inner counsel can you remain centered and self-governing.

Once you value and respect your inner guidance, you can tell how things are really affecting you. Your true feelings and energy will reveal what’s good for you and what’s too much. By attending to your inner state, you will realize what you are putting up with, thus preventing stress overload and unfair treatment by others.

Your true self will always let you know when you have gotten too far away from who you really are. It is always tracking the healthiness of your inner state, updating you through your emotions, energy levels, and unexpected thoughts. It constantly monitors whether you are happy or not. It votes for what’s best for you by raising or lowering your energy as you consider choices. As your thoughts and plans line up with the needs of your true self, you will feel light, energized, and uplifted. When your interest surges and you feel focused and intent, you are probably onto something that is right for you.

Conversely, if your energy levels sink when you consider something, it’s probably a poor match. A significant energy drop means there’s little about the situation that feeds the real you. It would seem almost unnecessary to mention this, but it’s astounding how often we feel our energy drop and yet proceed anyway because we tell ourselves it’s the right thing to do. As most of us know, this usually turns out badly in the long run.          

You are the only one who is responsible for your flourishing as a human being. You can’t be good to others if you don’t value yourself first. If you feel guilty and put yourself last, you will secretly expect others to take care of you because you aren’t doing it for yourself. This creates the self-defeating idea that others should be more attentive to your needs than you are.

If you need more proof about the value of a good relationship with yourself, think about all the accomplished people who got that way by paying deep attention to their inner world. We grant that right to famous actors, Nobel scientists, great musicians, and world-renowned artists. Nobody ever asks if such people should be paying so much attention to their thoughts and inspirations or if it’s okay for them to safeguard their time and energy from other people’s demands. We should do no less for ourselves.

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Celebrating our 20th Year Serving YOU!

I added them up: more than 4.5 million copies of Tidewater Women have circulated throughout the seven cities since Peter and I published our first issue in May 1999. I’m not exactly sure, but I think that many magazines would fill a football field! We’re so proud to be bringing you useful, inspiring information each month.

We’re ready to celebrate our 20th year in business! Starting with this issue and for the next 12 months, we will be freshening up Tidewater Women—making design changes and adding new departments. But don’t worry we’re not changing everything. We’ll continue to feature columns by your favorite writers along with our monthly calendar and Art Beat as well as  featuring stories about our region’s amazing women.

Of course, we wouldn’t be here without our advertisers—you know who you are. It’s thanks to you that we are able to bring this publication into the hands of area women each month.  If you’re a former advertiser, we would love to welcome you back. Print advertising still reaches a lot of folks who prefer not to receive advertising messages digitally. To tempt you to return, we are offering rock-bottom rates to celebrate our anniversary year. See the back page of this issue and give me a call. New advertisers are also most welcome. Let us help you reach potential clients and grow your business!

It’s been an honor to know that over the course of nearly two decades our magazines have touched countless women in our community and maybe even changed their lives. In fact, the best part of my job is when readers take the time to write and tell me how TW has impacted them. I remember one reader writing to tell me she read a column of mine about not giving up on your dreams, then saw an ad in the same issue of Tidewater Women for a graduate degree program at Regent University in counseling and decided to apply.

Our readers tell me all the time how much they love TW and never miss an issue. One woman wrote to tell me she looks forward to it every month as though she were getting correspondence from a friend. Not long ago another reader wrote the following: “Thank you for publishing this inspirational magazine. As a 64-year-old, I sometimes feel ‘irrelevant’ in today’s world. This publication gives me the ‘warm fuzzies’!”

Letters like hers give me the warm fuzzies, too.

Of course, not everyone lets me know when something they read in Tidewater Women influences their lives. Maybe a health column by Dr. Hardy prompted someone to visit a doctor. Perhaps one of Lindsay Gibson’s columns gave a woman the courage to take baby steps toward a more fulfilling future.

Isn’t that what everyone wants? In today’s crazy world, we all need a friend cheering us on and helping us find our way through the maze of life. I’m thrilled that Tidewater Women has been able to serve as a faithful friend to the community of women in our area for nearly two decades. We hope to continue serving for many years to come.

Share your thoughts about Tidewater Women by sending an email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. We’d love to hear how TW has impacted your life. We also welcome your suggestions for new departments, distribution locations, and feature articles. Please like us on Facebook and sign up for our newsletter on our website. Last but not least, kindly contact a couple of our advertisers this month and thank them for supporting our community of women.

 Happy summer!

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Living with Illness

Our main metaphor for dealing with illness is one of battle. But rather than seeing yourself as a warrior, a better image might be that of a farmer. Living well with serious illness is like tending a garden in which you’re planting seeds to feed your soul. You may not have control over your physical condition, but you can direct the kind of inner experience you want.

Although illness can be daunting, you can decide to become an intentional creator of your best possible life under the circumstances. Learning to cultivate nourishing inner experiences is a doable mission statement that no illness can take away from you.

We all live with the life-threatening illness called being alive. Serious illness just puts this in sharp focus. Too often we feel that losing control to an illness means we have lost control of our life and identity. But the ultimate challenge of illness is to appreciate life in a way that doesn’t require having control every step of the way. You may not control the length of your illness, but you can grow your psychological resources through mental discipline, emotional management, and finding meaning.

MENTAL DISCIPLINE
Human beings all have a built-in negativity bias, meaning that fear tends to rule our minds. This bias helps ensures our survival, but it makes things worse when you are facing a long-term challenge like serious illness. If you let your mind wander, it will drift toward fear like a car out of alignment.

Fear lives in the future, not the present moment. You can reorient yourself to the present instant by repeating the phrase, “Right this second.” Each time you say it, you will experience a brief oasis of mental rest. Another good one to ask yourself is: “Is anything horrible happening right this minute?” The honest answer will always be no, and that realization is deeply relieving. By repeating these deliberate shifts in thought, you learn to manage your fearful mind.

Mindfulness and meditation take you to your central core, where illness and worry can’t exist. This has tremendous physical and emotional benefits, calming your adrenals and lifting your spirits. You practice mindfulness every time you immerse yourself in seeing something as if for the first time. This deep attention pulls us into the present moment that stills the mind. You can practice mindfulness with the most mundane activity, such as washing the dishes, walking, or waiting at a stoplight—anytime when you release time pressure and just be present.

Meditation empties your mind, rests you in stillness, and stops you from taking your thoughts seriously. By focusing on your breathing and letting your thoughts drift by without attachment, you experience a new dimension of yourself. Somewhere under your mind’s obsession with control, there is a still, interior spaciousness that you will find refreshing. If you would like to try meditation, Headspace.com has a series of free 10-minute meditations that give you a feel for it. With these practices, you farm your inner resources into nurturing calm and energy.

EMOTIONAL MANAGEMENT
When you have an unexpected health challenge, remember that it costs energy to suppress feelings or even to judge them. Let your feelings have their cycles; they are an important part of your body’s healing. Jotting down your fears can be very freeing and stops the thoughts from spinning in your head. By putting fear on paper, it shrinks into a form you can deal with.

Once you have poured out your worries, you are ready to cultivate warm, positive, and energizing emotional experiences. In neuropsychologist Rick Hanson’s book, Hardwiring Happiness, he explains how amplifying good experiences increases your well being and peace of mind. Taking a few extra seconds to prolong and savor a good experience lays down neural tracks in your brain that make it easier to rebound into positive feelings whenever you get low. Every time you become deeply aware of a good feeling, you are fertilizing happiness.

FINDING MEANING
When illness diminishes the power and self-determination you’ve always taken for granted, you can restore it in other ways. If you can find some meaning—some good thing—in your illness experience, you will feel less like a victim. Victor Frankl’s  Man’s Search for Meaning is an inspiring read that explains how a sense of meaning supports survival under the worst circumstances.

Finding meaning takes you from victim to participant, from randomness to significance. Just be sure that the meaning you discover is one that steers clear of guilt or punishment. Your true meaning will always have a strengthening quality.

As you put structure on your experience of illness by building these skills, you will feel better. If you choose to become a farmer of peace and contentment within yourself, your experience of life will be back under your control.

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