We’d been married 14 years when I made The Big Mistake.
Really, like most conflict, it started a long time before that.
To back up, this is a love story.
Not the kind you see from Hollywood, all glossed over and easy, but the kind that’s real. It’s a messy, imperfect and beautiful story filled with commitment, character and micro-moments where we re-chose each other.
Fourteen years ago, we opened a business together and were the only employees. We were scrappy and young, newly married, starting from zero. Life was good. We had different, complementary skill sets. I was a strategy-focused CPA; he was a charming salesman with a gift for connecting with people.
Then babies came. Babies with lots of appointments related to deafness. I ran the back end of the store from home mostly, in between spit up and diapers and managing our home. The business was thriving and it started feeling like an Established Business. Actually, it was two full-time businesses by then. I was still managing paperwork, plus homeschooling, with a child still in early intervention and speech therapy and a third in diapers. Over time it becomes less “our store” and more “his store”.
After a years of our intense work schedules, I was tired of the grind. I was tired of being the one that got stuck with the thankless tasks at work. Audits--oh, that's me. Paperwork--also me. Cleaning up our accounting system after a major virus followed by a system glitch--me. I got handed shit and was asked to magically transform it into cotton candy.
And at home, I was the one in the trenches, the enforcer. I was annoyed that I never got to be the “yes” parent, to hell with the consequences! I was a homeschooling Mom with the kids full-time. Because of the store, even a weekly trip without kids to the grocery store had to be negotiated into a 7am time slot on Sundays.
I realized I wanted to quit my job. Any sane person would. It was an impossible, thankless job, a behind-the-scenes clean up job. He knew I was miserable and he knew it was time to make a change. He loved his job and he loved the connections we had made with thousands of fans over the years. Once he left the house, he was unencumbered and able to be the expert. He was adored and even a celebrity in his niche. I missed that feeling of being the expert somewhere, like I had been in my career, and I missed that adult time of focus and reward.
We began strategizing toward selling the store and putting all of our efforts into our other business. We opened ourselves up to dreaming to possibilities of what could be next and it was good! We fell in love with an equestrian property with a spectacular view of the Salish Sea. Although we didn’t end up buying it, that process caused the dream to expand. It opened my eyes to the possibility that we could re-design all aspects of our lives. I could have salt water + horses + a small community + a husband who works at home and + lots of family time. What a dream!
As the store closure got closer, we had lots of “oh shit” moments.
What the hell were we doing, tearing apart a successful business loved by the community? How were we going to make enough money to support our family without it? Was this the stupidest thing we’d ever done?
Fear is a funny thing.
It pops up when you start to dismantle the “known” and dream up a new life. It wants you to stay safe, in a life that’s predictable and small. Fear causes you to push away the people you love, isolate yourself, blame others, dismiss the feelings of others, clam up and stop sharing your thoughts and feelings.
And that’s what happened. Fear started to take over.
I remember driving over the Thanksgiving weekend for 24 hours with little conversation between us. Talking was a chore, filled with silence and awkward gaps. We were in two different worlds with our thoughts.
We were both grieving the end of an era, but in different ways.
I was in “future mode”, excited to start planning our next stage together. I had been unhappy with the situation for a long time and was mostly relieved that it was ending.
He was in “today mode”, focused on the millions of tasks that needed to be done well today, asking not to be bothered by the future. All he could handle was the one day in front of him, doing his best at the store with customers, quietly sad with the reality. He was feeling the impact daily, as customers reminded him of all the good times at the store, he commuted to the physical location that customers loved, he reminisced about all the relationships, relived all the laughs.
Sales went through the roof as we dismantled what we sacrificed so much to grow.
It's like watching a healthy person get murdered--this idea of retiring from a business that is financially successful and well-loved, yet no longer conducive to family goals.
The decision was unconventional. Strange. Stupid even. People didn't get it, until they heard stories of the long hours and sacrifice, the current stress and compared it with our dream of connecting as a family and balancing all that we wanted to accomplish.
About two months from D-Day, he told me “I'd never be selling the store if it were just me. I made this business. I would happily stay in Seattle and continue for a long time. I love that place.”
I didn't know what to say.
Fear took the driver’s seat at that moment and my mind went right to the worst thing that could happen. The store closing was going to cause us to hate each other and that would lead to our breakup. I heard anger in his tone and wondered if he’d hate me forever.
That’s when I made The Big Mistake.
I told him (insisted, even) that we had to go to marriage counseling.
It did not go well.
And I learned I had a choice: I could continue to push him toward “doing something”, while making myself and him miserable, or I could work on me.
I turned inward.
I turned author Byron Katie's "The Work" on my anger and sadness toward him. Instead of continuing with thoughts like “He should want what I want”, I used her turn arounds to meditate on other thoughts that could be equally true, like “I should want what he wants” and “I should want what I want.”
Katie is a master at questioning her thoughts. (Visit www.thework.com to see what I mean). She likes to ask, "Why are you pretending you don't love me?" when she finds herself in a situation where another person is unkind.
What if that were my perspective? To assume everyone loves me, they just may not know it yet. Or even if they know they love me, they may not know how to show me in that moment.
What a difference that shift in perspective made.
A funny thing happened along the way.
I defined a new essential way of being for myself and named it the UnPush.
I learned that the opposite of pushing isn’t pulling. Pulling is still a forcing energy. The opposite of pushing is UnPushing, the very act of detaching from what my ego wants. UnPushing allows the other person to feel an energetic letting go, a freedom. My detached energy magnetically opens up the possibilities in a situation and the other person can feel the shift.
As I started UnPushing, I became more empathetic, less the victim. I realized he was acting like a scared wild horse. Fight or flight were the only options. He didn’t see any happy outcomes. He was grieving and there were stages of grief he had to go through and that was his work, not mine.
I learned we could be in different places emotionally and it doesn't have to mean doom.
Instead of "We're not talking", I reframed the same situation to be "We're working on new ways to communicate and we’re figuring out what that looks like."
Wow. I could breathe again. So much less fear and pain in that.
As my perspective shifted, I kept hearing the message, loud and clear: "Show up with love".
I'd heard that phrase for years from inspirational author Marci Moore, who has made “show up with love” her life’s work, and I understood it in my head. But my heart had never had to live it, never had to practice it, until now.
Show up with love.
That's all I can do.
Work on me.
Insisting we go to marriage counseling? Pointless.
Try to control him? Wish he'd say or do something different? Good luck!
Here was a real example of what I'd been studying in life coach school: I made myself miserable by attaching to beliefs that caused me pain. But believing those thoughts was totally optional! The only way to feel less pain was to form new thoughts that could feel just as “true” that felt lighter and more joyful. Bottom line: If a thought is causing ME pain, it’s my job to work on ME.
“Showing up with love” came to mean changing the look in my eye from steely, analytical, worried eyes to hopeful, loving eyes.
Keeping myself and my ego out of his business. Giving him space to be who he is in that moment. Listening without attaching to his thoughts or solving his problems. Recognizing he's scared and tired and the financial burden has been his for a long time.
And in case you’re wondering, showing up with love doesn't mean becoming a spineless doormat.
It's the opposite. It’s self-empowerment, empathy and pure love. When I get clear on what’s mine to control and detach from the rest, I’m empowered to speak my truth. How others receive my truth isn’t my business.
Showing up with love means taking responsibility for my thoughts and feelings, hearing the messages inside the feelings and getting clear about what's missing. Doing the work on me, getting my thoughts clear and clean, then approaching the other person with love, not anger.
My heart melted as I imagined him as a frightened child.
What would I do for any scared child? Open my arms and offer love. Then I imagined myself as a frightened child and I realized she also needed open arms, compassion and love.
One morning I apologized to him.
An apology for being in his business, thinking I knew what was best for him, assuming he wanted to work on things, assuming he wanted my help. I told him I was going to work on me, get support for me, make myself the best version of me. Not in an accusatory, guilt-laden way full of expectation that he would change himself. Just the facts.
You see, I was wrong to tell him we needed counseling. I needed counseling. He may or may not--that's his journey. I told him from now on I would like to be an advisor for his business, this business we'd grown together, and he'd get my opinion only when he asked. No unsolicited advice. It wasn’t my business. Literally.
I let go.
It's easy to read this and infuse a tone of sassy. That's not what I intended. The words were said with love and tears and sincerity.
Every morning after that apology, I started the day by asking him, "How can I show you I love you today?" The first day I asked, he looked shocked.
We've always had a little ritual: When I fill his coffee cup, I say with a smile "That’s because I love you" or when he gets me a fresh towel, he’ll say the same thing. But to ask? That was new. That felt like love expanded.
That one question “How can I show you I love you today?” has brought such playfulness and fun back into our lives.
Eventually he started to ask me the same question.
What's changed since then? Physical intimacy has increased, so has laughter, contentment, hand holding, texting and phone calls, conversations, invitations to business meetings, coming home earlier, asking my opinion, dreaming and scheming about our future together....
All behaviors I desperately wanted.
It’s ironic. I struggled and pushed my way into his life, while he pushed back because I was intruding. That energy of the angry “you shoulds” and “I know what’s best for you” repelled him.
Who knew I could UnPush and magnetize him to me? Effortlessly open him up by opening myself up, all by shifting my perspective and playing with how else I could see the same situation?
My new way of being starts with humility, staying in “my business” and recognizing when I'm about to switch lanes into his, giving him space to do his own work (or not).
Changing my perspective changed my energy. Pushing toward him left me with arms out and a graspy fearful energy.
Opening and unpushing left space for possibility and magic.
“Not my circus, not my monkeys” is a mantra that has served me well since then.
First, it makes me laugh. Second, it reminds me I’m not the boss of everything. It grounds me and reminds me that I can control me and that’s all. I’m clearly not the ringmaster in someone else’s circus, so why try? As boss of me, I can watch the show and decide if I want to stick around. That’s about it.
It feels so clean to work on me. I have the solid knowledge that I'm ok, regardless of anybody else, regardless of drama happening “out there”. I'm ok.
This is a life changer.
Are you ready to see how this could work in your life?