While the unnaturally pervasive and eerie fog wraps its cold arms around Seattle for days on end, we feel melancholy as we realize that summer is officially over, along with trepidation, knowing that shorter, darker days are ahead. It hasn’t been the summer either of us anticipated. Following foot surgery in the spring, Dorothy was unable to do much physical activity until mid-summer. When Seattle summer officially arrived in June, and it appeared we’d be able to play, Dorothy began travelling to California for long weekends to be with her ailing, aging parents, which culminated with her mom’s passing and her dad moving into an assisted living facility over the Labor Day weekend. Since then, she’s been working ten to twelve hour days unraveling issues from a workplace system implementation gone awry. Kelli has been facing her own challenges. While focusing on finishing her novel manuscript for an editorial review in late August, her free time, during the summer months, was spent managing the household details and parenting responsibilities in Dorothy’s absence. Now expanding her livelihood – consulting, counseling, and writing – is the priority as the season changes.
In the midst of circumstances and stressors, our attitudes and perspectives are affected, which in turn impacts our connection, particularly when one of us is feeling down or frustrated about the way life is going….
After years of introspection, therapy and spiritual teachings, and with diligent practice, I’ve discovered that the best way for me to approach troublesome situations is to remind myself of two things: Why is this happening for me? and This will pass with time. When I mindfully take in the full meaning of these inherent truths, I can use them as powerful tools to move me forward. And I am less likely to succumb to thinking the situation is horrible and more likely to shift into pondering the next best step? Allowing optimism to peek through in times of struggle, doubt, confusion and the fog that accompanies not knowing what will happen is a much more enjoyable experience, for me and everyone around me, than wallowing in negativism!
It’s been difficult to consistently remain positive these past few months when there has been stress in many parts of my life and so much has been in flux. I’ve felt guilty when I want to roll in grief or overwhelm, or when I crave solitude to explore my feelings, knowing that Kelli, feeling upbeat and happy, wants a connected weekday evening or relaxing weekend. On the flip side, sometimes she’s feeling overwhelmed or frustrated with a lack of progress when I’m feeling grateful about what is working well or with what has improved. In such moments I get angry at her focus on what I perceive is the negative. I don’t like it when she and I are in different places, causing me to ask, “How do we bridge the gap when we are momentarily feeling so differently about the world and our place in it?”
Over the years through my own personal growth, I too have learned tools to move me forward in the face of life’s challenging times. I’ve discovered that I do well reaching inward to remember and then pull out experiences that I know shift me into better feeling places. When I firmly plant those experiences in my days and weeks consistently, then I start to lift myself out of the hard places. I start my day in optimism – a meditation, an uplifting podcast, a writing exercise – before designing business cards, contemplating my website or perusing the rabbit hole of job possibilities out in the world. However, it doesn’t end there for me. I need to draw the positive energy in again as my workday ends, by taking a bike ride, a walk along the water, or as winter approaches, driving myself to the gym and taking a yoga class or doing a challenge course on the lifecycle bikes.
I have days, however, when the stressors of the past months, not to mention those on the horizon, and the overwhelm in my mind hits me hard. And it is during those times, when I fixate over what’s not going well that I feel hopeless, negative, and critical of self and others. When Dorothy comes home in a happy or content mood and I’m in my dark place, then conversations and interactions can easily go awry causing hurt feelings, anger, and frustration.
Contrastingly, when I’m intentionally focusing on the positive and am up and energetic and she’s moody and glum, the same can occur. I want her to be in my place, or at least empathize with my place, and when neither is the case I think to myself, “How do we sit with our different places until we swing to a better place?”
Dorothy and Kelli speak
The last few months have given us ample opportunities to practice balancing our thoughts and feelings. Some days we don’t know how we’ll make it through what’s in front of us, individually or as a couple. Other days we find humor and closeness. Obviously, we’d rather have the experience of both of us always being up-beat rather than flip-flopping between optimism and pessimism. Since that’s unrealistic, we’ve endeavored to see our way through the difficult parts and continue to care for our relationship.
The past couple of weekends we’ve deliberately practiced taking responsibility for our individual thoughts, moods, and needs, while supporting each other through generosity and giving. We’ve found ways to rejuvenate following stressful situations and practice staying aware of our feelings and sensitive spots before engaging with each other, so that we are less reactive in our actions and responses.
I, Dorothy, have found when I willingly offer Kelli an experience of being understood or lifted out of her funk – perhaps with a bike ride or a brisk walk on Alki – or when Kelli offers the same to me – perhaps an afternoon in the house by myself or an impromptu happy hour – both of our attitudes improve and our relationship is nurtured, too.
Our Relationship speaks
Dorothy and Kelli are committed to remaining strong and optimistic in the face of what has been trying and complicated lately. They are learning how to be allies, cheerleaders and advocates for each other, while also responsibly monitoring and maintaining their individual equilibriums, attitudes and responses.
The underlying key they’ve found is remembering that the feelings are transient. They don’t have to take their different moods too seriously nor do they have to fix what the other is experiencing, though recognizing what the other might need and offering it to them can bring them closer. They shift and realign when needed and avoid the sinkholes, remembering that the puddles can be managed. And the journey continues.
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 (Bosteder) 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.