Dorothy and Kelli: In the Midst

Dorothy and Kelli: In the Midst

- in Top News, Columns

DSC08452On the Edge

Lately we’re noticing our experiences of living “on the edge.” Many couples and singles we know are also navigating their unique “on the edge” experiences. Our “on the edge” experiences swing between moments of exhilaration – landing a writing gig, moving one of the kids a step forward in their life, sexual pleasure – and the reality of life serving up situations that aren’t always what we want.

We admit to a fair amount of teetering as we traverse the edge. Some days the edges are front and center. Some days they’re lurking in the shadows. We’re finding that thriving on the edge invites us to hone our ability to let go into each new moment, each new experience, and each new situation, wanted or unwanted. We’re learning how to let the line play out a bit more, how to be patient, receptive, conscious and aware. Our partnership deepens when we know and acknowledge the other person’s experience is as important as our own. We find our way together along the edge by remembering our connection is the most important thing.

Dorothy speaks

After navigating a long-distance relationship and traveling to Seattle every other month, Kelli sold her house and moved from a serene neighborhood in a small, quiet, gated community in Austin to Seattle. With two teenagers firmly anchored here in school and my current job, it didn’t make sense for me to move, so instead she came to us. Kelli moved into our quaint, two-story, older West Seattle home with thinner walls and creakier floors, situated in a more densely populated neighborhood, with her used-to-more-calm-than-noise cat, Zoe. Blending another adult and a peace-seeking cat complicated already tenuous living arrangements in a small house.

It took a few months for Kelli to find her place with us, which she discovered by tastefully decorating, rearranging furniture, and placing a few of her important familiars amongst mine, while most of her things remained in storage. The kids’ night-owl schedules did not sync with Kelli’s need for uninterrupted sleep. Kelli’s desire to create a mutually-pleasurable shared living space and move the kids to respectful roommate habits collided with my guilt over not successfully instilling these qualities earlier and my habit of acquiescing to the kid’s whims to avoid a fight.

To complicate matters, my 90-year old parents are steadily becoming invalids, my daughter is finding it difficult to motivate herself through high school, my son is perfectly content to play his online game instead of socializing or doing homework, our finances leave us limited ability to release pressure via long-weekend trips or luxurious dinner dates, my recent promotion requires I spend more time at the office, Kelli is homesick for the warm sun and friends in Austin, and Zoe is currently living indoors, rather than enjoying an outdoor/indoor life.

Kelli speaks

My deeper re-connection with Dorothy began three years ago after I left my full-time position as a Clinical Director in Austin.  I was self-employed, working part-time, writing part-time, honing my mountain biking skills and traveling, including semi-annual trips to Seattle. When Dorothy and I originally became friends 15 years ago, she was in the process of coming out and leaving her marriage, with two toddlers in tow, and I was in a long-term relationship.  We were close friends for five years and then our friendship connection ebbed and flowed during the decade I lived in Austin. During my visits to Seattle over the past few years, our relationship deepened again and what started as friends evolved into partnership.

When I decided to move to Seattle, I knew there would be compromises and adjustments but I remained optimistic and determined, as I became an official member of a blended family.  The once cuddly and cute toddlers that I bonded with over a decade ago are now opinionated, strong-willed teenagers. Navigating co-habitation with two teenagers has its share of challenges and it took months for me to feel comfortable in my new environment.  Even now, changes and transitions continue to arise.

I’m currently working from home part-time and therefore more available to the kids during the day. Dorothy and I are moving through daily life guided by our similar and dissimilar strategies and experiences. We are collaborative in our approach with Dorothy as the lead parent and me as her support, both participating in co-parenting but with different roles and responsibilities.

It’s not the first time I’ve been in a relationship with a woman with children; however, the previous times did not go well after the first couple of months. I’d felt taken advantage of, misunderstood, overly compromised, and frustrated at the needs and demands of my girlfriends’ children. And my girlfriends had felt torn between balancing their needs, the relationship needs and the needs of their children. We never reached a healthy balance.  Clearly, the couple relationship was not strong, collaborative, or connected enough to withstand the trials and compromises blending families and children requires.

I knew my relationship with Dorothy was different but that didn’t mean it was going to be easy.  I had the advantage of personal experiences and years of counseling families, including blended families, and I knew and understood the general parameters that worked well for both children and couples in healthy families.  However, each family was unique and differences had to be approached based on individual needs, desires and wants.

Woodinville Wineries - Version 2Our Relationship speaks

The week before Valentine’s Day provided the perfect opportunity to remain connected amidst family obligations and external tensions. Dorothy needed to spend a few days in California with her brother and their ailing, aging parents. Kelli stayed home with the kids and Zoe. They had limited communication while Dorothy was away, as she was dealing with her own stressors with her parents.

The morning of Dorothy’s return flight, Kelli felt disengaged from her and strained by some unsettling home situations. Kelli knew she could choose to be teary and distraught when Dorothy returned, either focusing on what had happened with the kids or focusing on what was happening with Dorothy’s parents and the impact of both situations. Kelli could alternately choose to reconnect with Dorothy first, before problem-solving, by planning their reunion with a mutually enjoyable experience.  Kelli chose the later and suggested it to Dorothy with a positive and optimistic attitude. Despite Dorothy’s desire to go directly home from the airport and veg out in front of the television, Dorothy agreed. It was absolutely the right choice.  They gave themselves a respite, an evening of laughter, play, and fun together at one of their favorite restaurants.  They realized their problems didn’t have to be discussed or solved the minute Dorothy returned. They were be in a much better position to solve them once they felt bonded and relaxed with each other.

Dorothy and Kelli speak

In the past, we’ve both felt on the edge of demise when dealing with inevitable relationship struggles. If it were any other relationship we might have thrown in the towel by now. What inspires us to remain?  Our relationship has three key qualities which neither of us have fully experienced in previous relationships: we want to be with the other in equal measure; we collaborate in decision-making, balancing and blending both perspectives; we have a mutual desire for and natural alignment of spiritual, emotional and sexual intimacy. These qualities enable us to remain steady in the midst of our disagreements, to look at our individual roles in the problem and the solution, and to the best of our ability, to breathe compassion and gentleness into each situation.

We’re learning to not push each other over the edge, as tempting as that prospect is sometimes. Our commitment to loving on the edge compels us to dissipate the power anger, fear, and shame can have over us by leaning toward each other, telling each other when we’re angry, afraid or ashamed. When consciously living on the edge, assumptions, expectations, egos, plans, and attachments must die a small death every day. We’re letting a few things die to enable more of the experiences we want to live.

Dorothy & Kelli

Kelli Williamson holds a Master of Arts degree in Marriage, Family, and Child Counseling from The School of Leadership and Education at the University of San Diego. Kelli has extensive experience working with couples, children and families.  She has worked in private practice and held leadership positions in non-profit organizations directing counseling services, supervising staff and interns, and providing training in child and family therapy.  In addition, she consults with non-profit agencies providing organizational development and leadership training.

Dorothy Emerson graduated from the University of California at Davis with a degree in Economics.  She is a Senior Product Manager in the banking industry and has served on the board of directors for non-profit agencies serving women and children.  Dorothy has expertise in building relationships by facilitating communication and collaboration while navigating complex systems.  Dorothy is also the mother of two teenagers and she offers clarity and focus on listening to and following one’s heart as a parent.

Dorothy and Kelli can be reached at



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  1. I think this article is going to help many. For some it might be that they had not realized what a good relationship looks like. For others it might hold gentle reminders. All good stuff. Thank you for such wonderful insights.

  2. This is the second post I have read from the both of you and I enjoyed it as much as the first one. It provides food for thought, and a window on what is possible. When you both decided to have your reunion over a fun dinner and realized that “problems didn’t have to be discussed or solved the minute Dorothy returned”, it was eye-opening for me. For lack of a better word, I see a ‘permission’ to act differently than past social training has taught. Thank you for modeling a new and healthier way of dealing with stressors.
    As I continue on my own journey, I look forward to learning from the two of you on yours.

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