The power of “sure”: How one word shapes relationships

handsMy husband is Senegalese. I am not. That means the beginning of our marriage was full of cultural adjustments that were tough but beneficial. Like his incredibly big and open heart. This man will give away our belonging in a minute. He’s also quick to invite people to visit… or live with us. It’s the West African way: teranga, a Wolof word that can be loosely translated as hospitality, but its far more than that. It’s not just about obligatory niceties. It’s about going above and beyond to make a person feel loved, to let them know you truly appreciate their presence. I can’t front; I was annoyed at first. Like, “Who are these people and where is all my stuff?” But my heart softened and I think I’m much kinder and more considerate because of it. Guess I developed a bit of teranga myself.

Another adjustment I had to make was hearing the word “sure” all the time. He used to say it with the cutest little accent, which has since faded. *Insert one lonely tear* Any time I’d ask him a question or to do something, he’d use that word, and I really liked it. Like most people, I was used to “yes” and “ok,” but he said sure for everything. I couldn’t really pinpoint why I liked it so much, but I did! Made me feel good. It took a while for me to realize that embedded in the word sure is the indication that not only is the person willing to meet your request, but they’re actually happy to do. Sure is teranga, hospitality of the highest order.

Think about it. Is it even possible to say sure with malice or annoyance in your voice? It’s the word we use when we’re eager to please, happy to be of service. It lets the person know, “You’re not bothering me. I want to help you.” How good does it feel when someone responds that way?

Business owners (good ones) say sure when customers ask to customize orders. Grandmothers say sure when grandchildren ask for yet another piece of candy. Fathers say sure when weary children ask to be carried. It’s a word of genuine appreciation of presence. That’s why I felt giddy when he said it. It wasn’t the accent; it was the love the word comes wrapped in, the gentle whisper of eager service. Every relationship needs that. To know your life partner wants to serve you, derives joy from serving you, produces a sense of security and respect that only pushes you to want to do the same. And so a cycle of service is created. This is where love lives and grows. The ebb and flow of marriage is still there, but the undercurrent of service always brings it back to balance. So I guess it isn’t really the word that’s magical. It’s the intentions that drive the word, the kindness behind it. So much packed into those four little letters.

It’s not just marriages that can benefit from its use. I try to use it in every relationship of value. I make a point to say sure to my children as frequently as possible. “Say ‘sure,’ mommy,” my son will say. He notices when I don’t. He hasn’t told me as much, but I think he gets the same feeling I got when I first heard his dad say it to me. He’s only five, but he’s astute enough to feel the good in it. I think we all are.

Nadirah Angail

photo credit: Wilson Sanchez

 

Happy Marriages are Built on Like, Not Love

Photo credit: Morgan SessionsBut people don’t get married because of like. It isn’t like that makes you sync up your life plans and sell off all your extra belonging that won’t fit into the new house you’ll soon share. It’s not like that makes you buy dresses and order cakes and book venues. Love does all that! Love brings couples together, and love is what keeps them there, right?

Perhaps. For sure, love can be the impetus to work through trying situations, but like makes you want to do it.  Like makes it easier to compromise, easier to forgive, easier to be kind. Love just makes it easier to tolerate a stale marriage.

I know, none of this sounds good. No one wants to accept that love isn’t the panacea we’re taught it is. It’s much easier and funner to believe that love is like every singer says it is, like every romantic movie says it is. We want to believe that those tear-jerker scenes in The Notebook are love personified. They’re not. They’re just Hollywood’s glitzy reflection of the imaginary magical love we believe we should all aspire to.

And that’s why so many relationships fail. We’re all waiting for this magical love to sprinkle its easy-dusty over our lives. We think once we find someone to love, the hard work is over. When we discover that this is not at all true, we assume the love is gone and the relationship is, therefore, over. Poor us. We were never taught the truth.

Love builds the foundation, but like constantly renews it

Think of your family members, aunts, uncles, cousins. I bet you love them, don’t you? Even that cousin you almost came to blows with, you live him. You know that if push came to shove, that’s family and there is no breaking the bond. But do you like them all? Probably not. And tell me, how often do you make an effort to be around the ones you don’t like, and when you are around them, do you have a good time? Or do you just tolerate them because they’re family and you love them? That’s what love does. It makes you tolerate things, and put up with things, and grin and bare things. Love is that last rung on the ladder that keeps you from letting go. And thank God for that rung! I love love. I need it. It’s crucial in times of crisis. But when it comes to the day-to-day business of being a happy spouse, like is what you need.

As long as the like is maintained, the love will be protected, But if you let the like wither, the love will crack and crumble. It will shed and splinter, peel and chip. It will fall away from you just as easily as you fell into it.

How to increase like

Like has to develop naturally. It can’t be forced or feigned. It has to happen on its own, but that doesn’t mean couples who are struggling to likes each other have to give up. All it means is that you have to create the type of environment where like can reemerge. That’s all that has to happen. Because surely there was a time when you liked each other. The like was there! It can come back.

First, remember he’s not that bad. Likeless couples tend to create internal images of their spouses that only focus on the negative. You forget he used to make you laugh. You forget he gives the best massages in town. You forget his Michael Jackson impression is both horrible and epic at the same time. The only thing you’ve been able to remember is that he gets on your nerves. Well, you get on his nerves too, but you two don’t have to punish yourselves because of it.

Commit to spending more time together, but it has to be private (read: no kids) and relaxed (read: no talk of agitating issues). What you do is up to you, but I beg of you, no movies! Your like won’t grow back because you sat in a loud, dark room and starred at a screen for 90 minutes. It might also be a good idea to skip a romantic dinner, just for now. That might be too awkward for a couple who feels they’ve grown apart. Instead, choose something interactive, something that requires that you talk or do some type of activity together. Take a fun class at a local community college, do karaoke, cook a meal. Find a way to engage and connect, and make a habit of it. It’s not enough to have a good time once.

Remember how nice you were when you first met? Get back to that. Be sweet, thoughtful, funny, flirty. You probably didn’t notice you stopped doing these things. You only noticed that he stopped. Funny how that works.

As the two of you reconnect and renew your like, thereby refreshing your love, you will create the type of rapport that makes it easier to speak truthfully and candidly. You’ll be able to peacefully address those topics that used to send you into a tailspin.

Remember, it is your undeniable right to suffer through a “tolerable” marriage, but why would you want to? Why not have a joyous marriage? You have a right to that also.

~Nadirah Angail

On Your Stuff: Saving Your Marriage From Your Emotional Issues Pt. 2

This is part 2 of a 2-part feature on emotional issues. These articles are meant to be a stepping stone to healing, but are by no means a cure-all. It is best to seek professional help to guide you on your journey.

In the first installment, we talked in general terms about becoming aware of emotional issues/themes and how they can negatively affect our thoughts and behaviors. Now it’s time to put a face and name on those themes.

A theme is a unifying or dominant idea, an overarching concept that connects and defines items in a group. In this case, the group is comprised of life events, specifically those that have greatly impacted you and shaped your worldview.

There is no finite list of emotional themes, but there are certain ones that show up frequently. Let’s examine them, shall we?

Common Emotional Themes

  • Abandonment: Perhaps the most popular of all emotional themes, abandonment is the feeling of being unfairly left behind or discarded. This theme could be rooted in a physical abandonment (someone leaving), but it can also refer to perceived abandonment that may have nothing to do with physical absence. If this is one of your primary themes, you may find that you rush into relationships or expect too much too fast (or just too much in general), which, in turn, may run the person off. Your feeling of abandonment is then itensified and the cycle continues.
  • Loss: Loss may seem very similar to abandonment, but the main difference is that loss isn’t intentional. It involves someone or something
  • Over Responsibility
  • Inferiority
  • Violation

~Nadirah Angail

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Are You Comfortable Being Unhappy in Your Marriage?

comfortable being unhappyLet’s be real: sometimes, you just want to be mad.

You just want to sit up in your funk and wallow. You ain’t thinking about working it out;  you don’t want to give it another try; you don’t even want to hear a apology. You’re just hot. And you know what, you kinda like it.

Come on, admit it. (Nobody’s looking and you know I won’t tell.) Just admit how it sometimes feels good to stew in your anger. I can admit it, but I’m still wondering why. What makes a person want to stay angry? What’s up with that? Ego: that’s what’s up. Our egos get a couple hundred strokes every time we have a pity party. We tell ourselves grand stories about how we’ve been wronged and why we have the right to be mad, the right to wear a scowl, the right to make every cell vibrate with negative, weakening energy.  Sure, its your right, but is that really what you want?

Nope.

I went ahead and answered that for you because I already know the deal: It’s not that you want to be unhappy. It’s that you’re comfortable there and scared of the unknown.

Change is hard… and scary

If I had a dime for every time I tried to permanently change something about myself and failed, I’ll have a lot of money. Change is easy to want and hard to implement. It takes planning and determination. It takes a willingness to go at it again, and again, and again, and again. But, most importantly, it takes a deliberate and forceful silencing of the inner voices.

Those voices, man… I could write an entire post about destructive inner voices (and I probably will at some point). They’re just so convincing. I mean, they will really have you listening to them, as if their words are finite and final, as if they aren’t hollow, made of flimsy doubt and fear.

It’s those voices that make you comfortable. They tell you nothing will ever change, and you believe them. They tell you your marriage has run its course, and you believe them. They tell you happiness exists only outside your relationship and you will never achieve it from within, and you believe them. So why bother? Sure, you’ll be cordial and go through the motions, but real effort? Why bother?

And this is the thinking that traps and binds.

You do as little as possible just to get by. You make small gestures in the name of “starting over,” but you don’t really believe, and so you don’t really try.  After all, why beat a dead horse? Why support a dying cause? Your energy would be much better spent on something that could actually make you happy, wouldn’t it?

And that’s the scary part: the idea that you could genuinely put forth real effort and still not be happy, still not accomplish anything, still feel rejected, still feel alone. Feeling like a failure when you’ve given up is doable, but having that same feeling when you’ve poured yourself into something wholeheartedly, that seems unbearable.  And so we dampen our efforts and get comfortable in the dark, too scared to travel into the blinding light of the uncertain.  We settle down in our misery and become martyrs to fear–as if there were no other choice.

Abandon your life of fear and LIVE

But alas, there are choices! If only we’d open our eyes and allow ourselves to see them. How many other scary things have you faced and conquered? Maybe it was a scary movie at 8, or a roller coaster at 12, or the driving exam at 16, or a job interview at 21 or the decision to enliven your marriage that you’re facing right now.  Because that’s really what it is: the decision to add life back into your marriage. Yes, it is risky–your spouse may not receive your efforts–but to stay where you are would be a disservice to yourself, your children (if you have any), and the commitment you made before God.

When you allow yourself to live in anger, the whole family suffers. Sure, the marriage takes a hit, but you, on an individual level, take a major blow as well. And of course that trickles down to the kids. Of course that trickles down to your parents, your siblings, your friends and co-workers. Everyone in your intimate circle feels the aftershock of your choice.

Your own body will rise up in protest because of the disharmony you created. (Read: headaches, physical illness, anxiety, etc.) Yes, I said, “you created.” You’ve got to own it. If anything is to change (and I hope by now you’ve decided it should), you have to take ownership. This isn’t about absolving your spouse of any blame. It is about acknowledging that you were powerful enough to take part in this undoing, and so have the power to mend and rebuild.

This is your life. Yours. No one else can experience it for you, so let NO one and NO thing force you into decisions you’ll regret. And this whole “put my marriage on auto pilot” thing you got going, you will regret that. Of this, I am certain.

If you’re ready to leave your comfort zone and try something that can get you moving in the right direction, take the 365 Marriage Oath.

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The Problem With Having a Love of Your Life

love of my lifeYears ago, I heard comedian Steve Harvey talking about how women often use the phrase “love of my life” to refer to men who in no way deserve the title. I completely agree, so much so that his words stuck with me all these years and inspired this post. In general, there is nothing wrong with having a “love of your life,” but you have to be careful with whom you allow to fill that space.

“But you can’t choose the love of your life. It just happens.” That’s what you were thinking, weren’t you? This is how we’ve been conditioned, to be passive participants in our heart’s affairs, to be mere spectators that can only watch, not do. It is true that you can feel more connected to one person than you do others, but that isn’t a good enough reason for you to stay connected to a man who doesn’t deserve you. “Love of my life” is a term we choose to apply to someone.  And too often, we choose to apply it to those with whom we have had the most turbulent and unhealthy relationships.

“Girl, I know he’s no good for me, but he’s the love of my life… I always go back.”

“I would leave, but he’s the love of my life. You know how that goes…”

“This is crazy! I can’t get over him! He’s the love of my life.”

You’ve probably heard (or spoken) these phrases before. It seems “love of my life” has become synonymous with “the person I allow to continually hurt me.” It doesn’t matter how many years you have invested, how intertwined you feel your hearts have become, or how drop-dead gorgeous he may be. If he has proven, time and time again, that he is NOT able to treat you how you want to be treated and NOT able to provide you with the mental and emotional stimulation you need, he has no business being called the love of your life (or any other term of endearment you can think of). It really is that simple.

We make it complicated when we listen to the damaged parts of ourselves that have somehow become addicted to the diseased dynamics of these relationships. “Yes, he cheats on me, but we have such a strong connection.” “True, he’s not really what I want in a husband, but it’s been 5 years and I really love him.” In the words of Tina Turner, what’s love got to do with it? We have an obligation to ourselves to be the best person possible and to surround ourselves with others who will help us in that pursuit. A good man will do that.

Unfortunately, a lot of the men we call the “loves of our lives” aren’t doing that. In fact, they’re doing the exact opposite. They sidetrack and discourage us from reaching our better selves by occupying our time and thoughts with all sorts of *pauses to think of a fitting word* foolishness.

The love of your life should be the person who has had the best affect on you, the person that helped you reach a new level of understanding and happiness, the person   who has been a true asset in your life. Don’t use the term as an excuse to go back to a loser. Don’t let it be the nail in the coffin that seals your fate as an unhappy woman.

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To Married Men, From Wives Everywhere: An Open Letter about Housework

to husbands everwhereDisclaimer: I am aware of (and thankful for) the fact that this doesn’t apply to all men.

Dear Husbands,

Hey, how’s it going? It’s us, your wives. We need some help throwing something away. We’ve been trying to do it on our own, but it hasn’t been working. But first, let us just say, we’re women and we’re sensitive about our ish (in a Erykah Badu voice), so don’t receive this as attacking or bashing. We know you can’t see us, but there is no finger wagging or neck rolling. Scout’s honor.

Now, like we were saying, we need some help discarding something. What is it, you ask? Well, it’s kind of hard to put into words. I guess you could call it… expectations? Yea, that sounds about right. We’ll go with it. We need some help discarding the overwhelming expectations that have been put on us.

Many of us have jobs just like you, and those of us who don’t still have the responsibility of maintaining the home and kids. (That may sound simple, but I assure you it is NOT.) It’s a lot: cooking dinner, vacuuming rugs, brushing teeth, giving baths, cleaning bathroom, helping with homework, changing diapers, combing hair, washing clothes, pulling gum out of hair. *Sigh* It’s a lot.

We totally get that society, culture, and family history have told you it’s not your job, that’s it’s “women’s work,” but we’re too weighed down to agree. We NEED your help. Around the house and with the kids, we NEED your help. And we don’t need it in a patronizing way (i.e, “What? I took the chicken out of the freezer”). We need you to see it as your responsibility. If the kids need a bath, don’t point out to us that the kids are a little ripe. Just give them a bath. If there is a mountain of laundry that needs to be washed, don’t point out to us that you’re on your last pair of undies. Just wash the clothes.  Things need to be done in our house, so we should do it–together, as a team.

And, hey, where did that come from anyway, the idea that all things domestic and parenting related are women’s work? To be sure, there are 2 things that should be considered women’s work: birthing babies, and breastfeeding. We would never in a million years ask you to do those things, but everything else is up for negotiation. At least it should be, because here’s the thing: We really, really love you. Like, a whole lot. We love to be around you, to talk to you, to smell you, to be in your arms, to experience your peace, but it’s hard to do that when we have so much on us. It’s hard to be as loving as we should and as nice as we should when we’re drowning in a sea of housework and children.

Maybe we just haven’t asked. That’s a real possibility for some of us. We may have expected you to read our minds or expected you to simply know. Or we may have watched our mothers do everything and just felt too guilty, too inadequate, to ask for help. And maybe you watched your dad pay the bills and leave everything else to your mom. Maybe you watched how your uncles and older brothers and friends’ fathers did nothing in the way of housework. It’s not your fault. It’s not our fault. We were born into it.

But we’re grown now, with lives of our own and houses and kids to match. We have to do something differently. This right here is not working. Women are certifiably depressed over this. That could be one of our daughters one day, one of our nieces, cousins, or students. That could be one of our sons one day, unaware of the burdens their wives face. Yes, I know change is hard and it’s not always convenient, but it’s necessary–for us, your wives, and the future generations who nee to experience something different.

With nothing but sincerity,

Your Wives

P.S. Don’t be mad. You still sexy though.

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The Danger of Comparing Spouses

dont compare spousesI bet my husband is better than yours. No need to get offended. I bet yours is better than mine, too. That’s just how it works. Every husband (and wife) comes with a list of pros and cons. There’s nothing wrong with that. There’s no getting around it either. It’s the nature of human beings. It also seems to be pretty natural for us to compare our spouses to the spouses of others. Bad idea. More often than not, we only think to compare when we see someone else doing something our mates do not do. If someone else’s husband delivered “just because” flowers to the job, you’re reminded of how you haven’t received flowers in ages. If someone else’s wife hits the gym regularly, you’re reminded of how your wife, well, doesn’t.

Focusing on all the things your spouse doesn’t do can cause you to downplay the many things they do do. Your husband may not be the best at gift giving, but maybe he knows how to make you laugh and  is a great listener. Your wife may not be a size 4, but maybe she is kind, thoughtful, and very supportive. Assuming you didn’t marry  a complete grouch, your spouse should have a substantial “pro” list. Don’t forget that. Getting caught up in what you assume is going on in other people’s relationships will only create problems in yours. If you have a problem with your mate, by all means, address it, but don’t let what you THINK is going on in someone else’s relationship affect how you view your own.

Most of the time, we don’t even know the full details of what is going on in others’ relationships. We get bits and pieces from the source and then let our imaginations fill in the rest. You never know, maybe the frequent “just because” flowers are really “sorry I slapped you last night” flowers. And maybe the  size 4 wife works out so much because it’s her only escape from all the tension in her home. Or maybe they’re really all as happy as the Cosbys. (Now, that’s happy.) Either way, it doesn’t matter. What’s happening with other couples has nothing to do with what’s happening with you. Everyone’s situation is unique, their set of circumstances different. What should matter to you is the fact that you’ve married a good person that you feel safe with and can trust. It’s hard to find the person that is just the right fit for you. If you’ve found that, don’t ruin it by comparing him/her to what may be a skewed perception of someone else.

Also, keep in mind that your “con” list isn’t empty either, bucko. All the time you spend focusing on your spouses flaws could be better spent getting yourself together.  I think a lot of divorces come from a fixation on the other. Before marriage, we’re constantly trying to improve ourselves to make the other happy. After marriage though, we flip the script. We start to focus on what try need to be doing to make us happier. Nothing wrong with expecting your spouse to want you to be happy, but it seems we forget (or perhaps never learned) that the best way to find happiness is to seek it out for yourself rather than expecting others to bring it to you. Have  a talk with your spouse, not about your issues with him, but about your issues with yourself. Tell them what you think you should work on most and how you think working on that problem can positively affect your marriage. Invite your spouse to do the same. They will surely appreciate the change of focus and be inspired by your willingness to be more introspective. If nothing else, they’ll love to hear you admit that you’re not perfect. Spouses need to hear that sometimes. We all do.

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