The Blog for Men in Midlife - Midlife and Thriving

What? Men have conversations about their challenges and successes? Yes! Check out the Good Men Project!

By | Uncategorized | No Comments

people-1099796_1920When I was first heading into the brave new world of blogging and social media I was looking for a place where real conversations were going on about stuff that I was interested in as a man in the 21st Century. What I found were a lot of websites that focused on things like men’s fashion, muscle-building and training, sports, and business.

I was hard pressed to find a place where gritty, real discourse was published on topics like masculinity, being a dad, relationships, mental health, spirituality, or frankly, anything substantive on the challenges that men face in this ever-changing world.

And then I stumbled upon The Good Men Project. It truly seemed like they were having the conversation no one else was having about the changing roles of men in the 21st century. Their vision is to challenge and break down the stereotypes of what it means to be a man and create a space for the spectrum of masculinity that exists within the world today. Did I agree with everything I read? … hell no, and that was what made it all the more valuable. 

It was a fantastic medium for me to post articles and also to participate in conversations. They are truly developing a “Participatory Media!” model and growing a platform for men to share stories, have conversations, connect, and grow their reach. I’ve been published there multiple times and have personally benefited from working with their team of editors.

The Good Men Project also give classes on how to build an online platform. They helped me to understand what was needed to grow an online business and how to get my unique message and stories out into the world. They want to provide men opportunities and tools to share their perspectives, experiences, and dreams of what the future can hold for men and masculinity.

They have also developed and launched social interest groups in the time that I’ve been a follower. These groups provide a medium for conversations about the challenges facing men in today’s world.

Now The Good Men Project has launched an IndieGoGo campaign to scale the social interest groups. Their goal is to really re-invent media, to help people process a rapidly changing world with too much information. Their vision is to create opportunities for real, live conversations about what is important to men: how to show up, how to engage, how to connect.

This is exciting to me! I’m thrilled to support their efforts and I hope you will too. Check out their campaign here. Share it or donate if you believe that conversations of this kind are as worthwhile as I do.

Stay connected! 

Midlife is No Time for Living with Regrets

By | Uncategorized | No Comments

midlife regretLearning from the dying to live a life you won’t regret

I was recently reflecting on an article I read on the top five regrets of the dying. The article summarized the findings of Bronnie Ware, a nurse who worked with the dying and captured their wise words in her book, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.

What struck me most was the fact that these top five regrets are strikingly similar to the top challenges expressed by the midlife men that I work with in my coaching practice. The regrets of the dying that Ware captured are:

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

 

What would our lives be like at midlife if we allowed ourselves to follow our own internal compass, rather than the wishes and demands of others? I’m not talking about walking through life as some self-centered and selfish egotist. I’m talking about living life as someone who has let go of folding to the expectations of others. Especially when their needs for us to be a certain way are not in alignment with who we know we really are.

What would life be like if we could tackle our challenges around being our own person and living life wearing one hat, not changing hats at the whim of others or to meet the expectations of someone else?

It would be a life of freedom.

What would our lives be like if we were able to create an approach to life at midlife where we truly worked to live not lived to work? What if we knew our life mission, lived in alignment with our intrinsic values, and made a living doing what we loved? I’m not talking about some fairytale fantasy-sell where you work an hour a day and make millions. You might get there, but it takes commitment, willingness to change, and perseverance.

You have to do the internal work to clarify the difference between a life that would be NICE to have and one which is a MUST have. What would you have at the end of such a life? Not regrets. You’d have a life lived with purpose and balance, where work wasn’t something you clocked into, but where you showed up and lived it because you loved it.

It would be life of mastery.

What would our lives be like if as men we were able to claim our emotions and own them rather than bottling them up? As men we’ve been told to deny our feelings and so we stuff them down into the darkness of that denial. If we are able to connect with emotions, it’s typically either as anger or disappointment, the few socially “acceptable” forms of masculine self-expression.

What if at midlife you could name all of your emotions, live into the depth of their expressive experience, and use the universe of information within them to inform your relationships and understanding of the world. I’m not talking about recklessly setting yourself adrift in a sea of emotion. I’m talking about truly owning your emotions, experiencing them, and interacting with them on your terms and from a place of choice. What would it be like?

It would be a life rich beyond compare.

What would our lives be like if as men in midlife we allowed ourselves real and honest connections, a band of brothers or a tribe of men we could truly call friends? We’re constantly fed misinformation about men needing to stand tall and alone, get through it on our own, pull on our boots and grin and bear it. As a result we often feel isolated and alone, which can feed mild to severe depression, a sense of malaise, alcohol or drug abuse, and serious midlife crises.

What if at midlife you claimed your right to have a tribe of men. What if you claimed your right to be seen by and validated by a band of brothers? What would it be like to prioritize time and capacity for having meaningful connection with men? To be yourself without fear of being judged or ridiculed for wherever you stand on the spectrum of masculinity? What would that be like?

It would be a life of finally coming home.

What would our lives be like if we could give ourselves the permission to be happier or more content? I argue that by achieving success with the first four regrets of the dying we will have achieved in avoiding most of the fifth regret. If you think about it: living courageously as ourselves; having a balanced relationship with work; expressing the breadth of our feelings instead of bottling them up; and allowing ourselves to be surrounded by friends … living a life on those terms would make you happier and more content with your life. What would success with these things be like?

It would make a life worth living.

Life’s too short to wait until your death bed, wishing that you had lived it differently.
Life’s too short to pass with regrets.
Life’s too short.

Over the coming weeks I will be creating blogs and videos to take a deep dive into ways that we can course correct in midlife and tools to avoid living our last days with regrets.

I hope you join me.

You can be part of the conversation by following me on Facebook, joining the Midlife and Thriving Facebook Group, or signing up for my blog.

Until next time, I look forward to seeing you at the corner of Midlife and Thriving!

How Wounds From a Fatherless Childhood Became My Gifts of Manhood

By | Masculinity | No Comments

fatherless boy midlifeAs a man there’s a part of me that’s embarrassed to share my story because of the lifetime of shame behind it. But we can only heal our wounds when we stop being defined by them.

It’s ultimately a story of defining masculinity on my own terms, based on my own unique experiences, rather than conforming to our culture’s rigid definition of what it means to be a man. And if sharing my experience allows other men to come out from their childhood shadows and stand confidently in their place within the broad spectrum of what’s truly masculine, what is there to lose?

So here goes … growing up, I was the quintessential momma’s boy.

I was a quite and gentle kid, friendly and warm with adults but painfully shy and withdrawn from my peers. I was taunted by other boys as being a girl (I had long hair like my father who was a Vietnam vet), ridiculed as being a sissy (I preferred to hang out with girls because the topics of conversation went deeper than sports and cars), and my masculinity was sometimes questioned because I would refuse to fight (the stories of a long-haired pacifist from Israel taught me to turn the other cheek).

While my tender heart was originally the product of nature, being nurtured for most of my childhood without a father around clearly accentuated my gentle temperament. At the age of four I was abruptly immersed in the realm of the feminine as the result of my parent’s divorce. I became the center of my mother’s orbit, receiving essentially unlimited attention, adoration, and priority … and I ate it up. My experience of the feminine universe was that it was loving, filled with affirmative messages, and a strong sense of safety.

I was raised by my mother to be aware of and accepting of my emotions. I was told emotions were natural and okay, within reason. I was given access to the emotional language of women but no tools to navigate with them in the world as a man. My fluency with the feminine intelligence didn’t prepare me for the journey of masculinity within the rigid confines of our culture. It was like learning to speak Spanish in preparation for a trip to China. I couldn’t speak the native language of men, I couldn’t read the signs, and I often felt like a tourist traveling through unknown and potentially hostile lands.

This was tested a couple of years later with the arrival of a stepfather. While he cared for me in his own way, his love was not always gentle. He attempted to make a man out of me and did his best by passing on what he had learned about being a man. He meted out tough love because the world was harsh and real men had to be hard and intolerant of wusses or pussies in order to survive. Rather than growing tough from his love, I grew distant and retreated further from a connection to our culture’s definition of masculinity.

My experiences in early childhood taught me to be emotionally withdrawn from men. From my perspective they were either emotionally absent like my father or were aggressive and domineering, like my stepfather. They were generally not to be trusted. As a result I grew up avoiding male relationships and saw my fellow men through my childhood’s lense as either self-serving egoists focused on sports or cars or other shallow pursuits and pastimes. Or they were bullies only out to put their interests ahead of others by vying for alpha dominance within careers, athletics, or sexual pursuits.

As a boy I sought the refuge of my mother’s love, then in my teen’s and 20s I became a serial monogamist always seeking the sanctuary of a woman’s affection. What I succeeded to do as a man was trade up my status as momma’s boy to that of a pussy-whipped male (to use the shaming vernacular). The pleaser force was strong in me. I continued to sell out my masculine nature, whether to have a triste of the heart or access to a regular source of carnal connection, for fear of losing a reliable bond to Eros.

The reality was that fulfilling my needs for feminine attention and unconditional love came at a steep price, with many conditions and expectations. These were sometimes as emotionally harmful as the abandonment or harshness of the masculine from which I spent much of my life running. I didn’t come to understand the paradox I was in until the crucible of my own marriage forced me to find my voice and create healthy boundaries.

In my late 30’s I had finally begun the process of differentiation. Until then I had been afraid to release the wild man and connect with the masculine out of fear that I’d become one of “those” men from my childhood. Not having gone through any ritual to extract me from the women’s hut, I was bound to the life of being only half a man, never fully stepping into the power of a mature masculine. And I didn’t really see the need to find the balance until the birth of my first son awoke some latent masculine responsibilities. It was then I saw clearly the legacy I was potentially passing on to him if I did not do the work of becoming a whole man, on my terms.

Now in my 40s I claim my masculinity holding both the fierceness of the wild man and the gentleness of the lover’s heart. I’m finding balance in my natural masculinity that allows me to understand how the men I was shunning were themselves wounded and stuck in the “act like a man box,” something that is part of our cultural fabric and which is unwittingly maintained by its men as well as its women.

And now we’ve arrived at the gifts of the fatherless boy:

Gift #1. Creating my own version of masculinity that is grounded in emotional intelligence, the fierceness of the heart-based warrior, and an outsider’s perspective that can call bullsh*t on both the masculine and feminine stereotypes that keep both men and women small and unable to live up to their full potential.

Gift #2: Being the father that I never had, on my own terms. Sometimes it’s a major struggle mapping the wilderness that is fatherhood in the 21st century. What are masculinity, sexuality, and relationship and how do we give our kids the tools (rather than rules that will quickly become outdated) by which to navigate the dynamics of our times? (Hint: stay curious and compassionate.)

Gift #3: I’m more at peace with the internal conflict of trusting men in order to be in brotherhood with them, without having to subvert my own sense of integrity or values. I can hold to my own vision and definition of masculinity and create meaningful relationships with women and with men, along with the healthy boundaries necessary to maintain them.

Gift #4: A deep appreciation for the male mentors in my life who successfully escaped and lived outside of the man box and reflected the innumerable possibilities for other men. Because of them I am now a resource for men who want to connect with their own sense of the power and freedom of a mature masculine outside the confines of our culture’s narrow definition of what it means to be a man.

There’s work to be done here, and it’s not about being more feminine or masculine. Rather, we need only awaken to, accept, and cultivate the unique masculine-feminine balance that already exists within us. Not necessarily easy work, but the results will enrich a lifetime and make a priceless gift for generations to come.

Men: Want More of a Life? You Can Put Years on the Clock by Following These Heart-healthy Tips

By | Mortality | No Comments

Midlife heart

 

In this second installment on midlife health, I explore recent research findings on cardiovascular disease and the long-term benefits of keeping that ticker strong in midlife. Cardiovascular diseases are the number one killer of men (and women) in America, accounting for over 600,000 deaths in the U.S. every year. But we’ve known for a long time that we can significantly reduce the likelihood of heart disease by maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Folks in midlife can offer up plenty of reasons to avoid keeping fit and eating healthy: career pressures, family demands, or those oh-so-delicious caloric temptations (yes please, I’ll have bacon on that). But a new study by researchers at Northwestern University and Yale finds that you’re likely to be around significantly longer and suffer from fewer chronic ailments if you practice some simple heart-healthy habits early in midlife.

The report, published in the journal Circulation, was based on participants of the Chicago Heart Association Detection Project in Industry. The long-term study (aside from being a mouthful of a name) consists of over 25,000 employed men and women who have been tracked for nearly 40 years. The study considered multiple factors for heart disease including blood pressure and cholesterol levels, diabetes mellitus, body mass index, and smoking. Participants were placed into one of four groups: those with favorable cardio health, those with potential for elevated risk factors, those with one high-risk factor, and those with two or more high-risk factors.

The current study’s findings should come as no real surprise. Researchers found that folks who had favorable heart health in midlife lived an average of four years longer than their fellows with at least two high-risk factors. Another startling finding is that participants with favorable cardiovascular factors lived nearly five years longer without other major diseases such as chronic lung disease, kidney disease, dementia, or cancer. Moreover, if folks in the heart-healthy group suffered from a stroke or coronary disease it was on average seven years later than those in the higher risk groups.

One of the study’s authors, Norrina Allen, PhD, said in a press release, “We need to think about cardiovascular health at all stages of life. The small proportion of participants with favorable levels in their 40s is a call for all of us to maintain or adopt healthy lifestyles earlier in life. But risk factors and their effects accumulate over time, so even if you have risks it’s never too late to reduce their impact on your later health by exercising, eating right, and treating your high blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes.”

Sounds like a good investment to me!

And in fact, the study also found that the heart-healthy group’s Medicare costs were approximately $18,000 less. So not only were they able to benefit from greater health during later years, but they were able to reduce medical costs at a time in life when many people are on fixed incomes and trying to stretch their budgets to enjoy life.

What exactly can we do to increase our chances of being in the healthy-heart group in midlife? Research out of the Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease at Johns Hopkins has shown that we can protect against chronic heart disease by adopting four lifestyle behaviors: avoid tobacco, get consistent physical activity, maintain a healthy diet, and keep our weight in check.

Benefits of participating in these activities were cumulative. Participating in a single behavior reduced risk of cardiovascular disease by 21 percent, participation in two by 39 percent, in three by over 50 percent, and all four by a whopping 81 percent. Engaging in these four behaviors also reduced by over 80 percent the likelihood of mortality from other diseases over an eight-year period.

But wait, if that wasn’t enough, there’s more! Other researchers have found that when getting adequate sleep (at least seven hours a night) was added to the magic of the four activities, even greater benefits were reaped. Findings from another study published by Hoevenaar-Blom et al. in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology suggest that adding the sleep component reduced the likelihood of a fatal cardiovascular disease event by 12 percent.

 So getting a good night’s sleep is like the deliciousness of adding bacon to your burger, except by reducing the likelihood of dying earlier. Ok, maybe that metaphor doesn’t work.

So what can you do to increase the likelihood of having a healthy heart? Research is pretty clear that the following three things set you on the right path.

Quit smoking: Seems like a no-brainer, but just had to say it. I know it’s not easy; I smoked for 10 years and finally quit, cold turkey when I turned 30. Quitting the siggy butts was the best gift I have ever given myself. Research suggests that of the four lifestyle behaviors, not smoking is the biggest way to reduce risks of heart disease and mortality.

Moving your body: Getting about two and a half hours of moderate physical activity a week is recommended by the Heart Association. It also does great things for your brain, such as reducing the likelihood of a stroke and increasing your brain size (I discussed this in an earlier post). Break a sweat, increase heart rate, and have fun.

Heart-healthy diet: Indulge in a diet that emphasizes fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, poultry and fish (sorry bacon), and non-tropical vegetable oils. Definitely watch intake of saturated fat, trans fat, sodium, red meat, sweets and sugar-sweetened beverages. If you still do reach for the red meat, go lean.

So keep your ticker in good shape! Research has proven that it’s one gift that keeps on giving. And like the tin woodsman in the Wizard of Oz opined, “I shall take the heart, for brains do not make one happy, and happiness is the best thing in the world.”

Here’s to your long and happy life!

How losing track of your values can screw up midlife, and how reclaiming them will give you control

By | Masculinity, Mission, Relationships, Work | No Comments

midlife manBefore I became a coach for men in midlife I never gave much thought to my values. Don’t worry, my internal conscience, Jiminy Cricket, has kept me morally on the straight and narrow. By values I don’t mean morals or virtues. I’m speaking here about the deep-seated motivators that make us unique and who we are at our core as men.

For me, the simple process of clarifying and understanding core values has given a greater sense of freedom, personal well-being, and deeper relationships. I would also argue that a closer connection to one’s values can give men in midlife greater choice and freedom than options sometimes sought through the stereotypically poor decisions associated with the midlife crisis.

Values vs. virtues

Looking back on my life I always thought of values as understanding the difference between right and wrong. You know, the basic moral compass stuff that most parents try to pass along like don’t lie, cheat, or steal; always keep your word; treat others as you’d like to be treated. Or perhaps values were those moral and intellectual virtues like courage, temperance, liberality, understanding, and wisdom received as part of one’s spiritual or philosophical upbringing.

So if we’re not talking about values as morals or virtues, what are we talking about?

I refer to values as the personal drivers, the core motivators, and deeply held beliefs that make us uniquely who we are. They are the words or terms we would use (as opposed to the external expectations or projections of others) to answer the question:

“Who am I and what’s most important to me?”

For many men in midlife this is THE question that heralds the primary midlife transitions: in our careers, in our marriage or significant relations, in our public personae, in our over commitment to pursuits that no longer bring contentment or a sense of satisfaction.

Our values inform all of our decisions. They are often working at a subconscious level, especially when we haven’t taken the time to identify and clarify what they are. These values, or intrinsic motivators, have been a core part of who we are since our teenage years.

I’m kind of needing an illustration of what the heck you’re talking about here …

Okay, here’s a quick example … early in my midlife quest I identified my top five values as Integrity, Community, Adventure, Impact, and Compassion. Actually, I identified over 40 and narrowed them down to a solid dozen. But these five were the primary values that motivated me and informed the decisions I made and significantly impacted my sense of who I was and how I showed up in the world.

The importance of clarifying values – especially in midlife

When aspects of our lives are out of alignment with our values, things just don’t feel right. We can experience a deep sense of dis-ease and internal or external conflict can show up. When we are living in alignment with our values we have a greater sense of contentment, engagement, and life satisfaction.

Why is understanding our personal values important? It’s important because if we don’t know what our personal values are we can feel adrift on the sea of unmet expectations, lost in midlife meanderings, and experience a hollowness inside suggesting that something is amiss.

Hmm, kind of sounds like my midlife malaise …

More importantly, when we don’t know what our personal values are we are unable to articulate, let alone begin to effectively address, those aspects of our lives that are out of alignment and keeping us from being content at a most basic level.

Once I articulated my values I began to examine aspects of my life through the lense of these values. For example when I looked at my then-career through the lenses of Integrity and Community, I found that the people I worked with and the company I worked for also had a strong commitment to Integrity (in part defined by doing the right things for the right reason) and Community (a robust network of outstanding professionals). The alignment with these values were strong reasons to stay in that career.

However, I was not able to fully realize my internal sense of Integrity (as I define it through my ability to express my full self) and also was not able to live into my value of Impact/Change (as I define it by the ability to push boundaries and unleash greater consciousness in the world). It was these two unexpressed values that were really at the heart of my growing discontent with that career.

My inability to live in alignment with my values of Integrity and Impact/Change began to shake the foundations of my previously enviable career path. Choosing to live through them more fully supported my conscious transition to leadership coaching. This career transition allowed me to live my primary values more fully and ultimately brought me greater professional freedom, engagement in a more fulfilling career, and significantly more life satisfaction.

Hey that’s great, but my midlife crisis isn’t about my career …

I then began to use my values to examine my marriage, my relationships with my two sons, my sense of being over committed in other areas of my life, sibling relations, you name it. While many are still a work in progress, being in alignment with my core values has consistently resulted in deeper connections and greater contentment.

So that’s a simple example of how unconsciously denied values, when explored and identified, led to a successful career transition. Had I not clarified and articulated my values I likely would have continued in my previous career, feeling okay but not truly satisfied … and that unanswered gnawing could have resulted in a serious midlife meltdown and ruined my life.

Are you interested in better understanding how your values may be unconsciously impacting you and how to shift to greater choice in midlife? Grab a spot on my calendar for a Midlife Meetup and let’s see what’s possible!

Men: want to avoid dementia? Exercising your body builds bigger brains, not just brawn.

By | Mortality | No Comments

midlife exercise

Exercising your body does more for your brain than brain-games alone, and midlife is the time to start.

I used to love doing crossword puzzles. Many Sunday afternoons when I was a kid and living with my grandma we could be found huddled over the weekly crossword puzzle. She swore that it would ward off dementia and keep her brain sharp. Unfortunately she suffered horribly from dementia in her later years, and I’ve since sworn off doing crosswords. In fact, recent research strongly suggests that grandma would have been better off if she had put down her pencil and laced up her joggers instead.

I know that midlife seems a bit early for men to be concerned about dementia. But a review of recent research on late adulthood by Kirk Erikson from the University of Pittsburgh, as well as studies out of the University of British Columbia, suggest that midlife is the perfect time to focus on activities and establish routines that will increase brain function and health in later years. Research is finding that moderate levels (about 120 minutes a week) of moderately intense physical activity (things that increase heart rate and make you break a light sweat) have the benefits of increasing cognitive function and improving brain structure and function.

Bigger, better, faster … your brain on exercise

Cognitive function includes things like our ability to reason, remember things, and focus our attention. These are essentially all of the things that allow us to handle and process information and build knowledge. Physical activity significantly increased cognitive function, especially in reasoning and problem solving abilities. It also decreased the risk of cognitive decline by 40 percent. That’s huge!

As we age, the brain’s structure can change through atrophy and loss of volume. Studies has found that physical activity regimes of six months to a year have resulted in increases in brain volume in portions of the brain that support cognitive function. Not only was there an increase in volume of the structures where brain functioning occurs (grey matter), but the volume of the structures that connect them (white matter) also increased. Win-win!  

Brain function is the ability of your dome to get things done as measured by efficiency, like how well and how fast. Increased neural efficiency during cognitively challenging tasks were found in older adults with higher fitness levels. Additionally, research found that connectivity between portions of the brain operated more efficiently.

So if you want a bigger and better brain for the third half of life, put down the pencil and get that heart pumping! Here are a few tips for getting started:

  • Don’t like to ride or run? Try other types of activity like swimming, stair climbing, tennis, or dancing. Anything to sustain an elevated heart rate and break a sweat.
  • Join a club or group. It helps with accountability and creates opportunity for midlife men to build relationships and ward off isolation and loneliness – another midlife challenge.
  • Set a goal and track your progress, especially useful for us men who are goal oriented and like to geek out on checking boxes.

Are you ready to set a goal to keep your noggin’ big and fit? What are you willing to commit to starting this week? Share out in the comments below!

 

 

Even the Best Days Skiing Can Be the Worst Days of Marriage

By | Mirror, Partner, Relationships | No Comments

IMG_2091
Three tools that men can use to recover from marital face-plants

I’m pretty sure that my wife and I got to the bottom of the mountain thinking that a divorce was eminent. Okay, I’m being a little dramatic here, but I found the situation ironic because we fell in love skiing. Amazing how unmet expectations can lead to a midlife marital blowup … even after 20 years of skiing together.

It was a blue-bird day and bitterly cold with the wind blowing temperatures down to minus 10 degrees. But we were out for the third weekend in a row backcountry skiing with our two young boys. It was the first time since our eldest was born that my wife and I had been on skis together for three consecutive weekends and we were both giddy.

Our 8-year-old is the weak link in our backcountry adventures. He’s still getting his mountain legs and tires just as the slopes start to get steep enough to be fun. On this trip he soon peters out, hits the deck, and won’t get up. I did my best to cajole him to press on, but he wasn’t buying what I was selling. So my wife was left to soothsay him to a recovery and back on his skis. But even she was challenged because he was headed toward a full-blown meltdown. I had missed out on the luscious higher slopes the week before because I had stayed behind when he was overcome by inertia in this exact same spot.

This time I ski on and catch up with our 12-year old who’s up ahead and has been shredding it on the telemark gear he got for Christmas. He’s waiting patiently but getting cold. So my wife and I agree that I will continue on with our oldest so I can get the turns that she enjoyed the previous weekend.

My eldest and I topped out about 20 minutes later, got an awesome view and the obligatory selfie, ditched our skins and pointed our skis down. Yeehaw! The snow was bliss and I was really enjoying the first true backcountry ski with my son. It was a winter highlight for me.

We soon rejoined my wife and youngest at mid-mountain. My wife was clearly agitated and her first words were a sharp “I didn’t expect that you’d be gone so long …” I heard accusation, disappointment, and blame in her tone. I felt attacked so I parried and the war of words began … it was a major marital face plant. And that’s how we ended up at the bottom of the hill far from the giddiness that started our day. But it didn’t have to go that way.

In my work with men in midlife I help men find ways to increase connection with their partners, kids, and even co-workers. On the drive home that afternoon I recalled the tools that could have avoided that mid-slope disaster. I share them with you here in the hopes that you’ll be successful should you find yourself in a similar situation.

Tool #1: Don’t Assume It’s About You

That’s often my first mistake … I take my wife’s disappointment and unmet need personally and then take responsibility for her feelings. ACK! Then I feel guilty and then I get angry, both at her for dumping her unmet expectation on me and at myself for immediately thinking I had done something wrong. Yes, she was disappointed, but remember, we had agreed that I would go up and get some turns with our oldest.

To diffuse it, I needed to recognize that her disappointment (and more importantly, what was underneath it) may not have even been about me. It turns out it wasn’t. And rather than get defensive or mount a counter attack, I needed to play the name game …

Tool #2: Name what you hear

Instead of taking it personally, I needed to reflect what I was hearing. Something like, “Huh, sounds like you had an expectation that …” Or, I could have named the tone, “I’m hearing a lot of frustration right now.”

Just identifying what’s in the space between the two of us could have diffused the situation by allowing objectivity, rather than defensiveness, to guide the conversation.

Tool #3: Be curious about what you hear

Once you name it, you can get curious about what it might be, and more importantly, what’s underneath it. So instead of defending I could have asked, “How did it go with the youngest?” Then “Oh wow, he had a complete meltdown and ranted for 15 minutes? Sounds like a nightmare! Poor you, I imagine that you must be tired/frustrated/exhausted/etc.”

From a place of curiosity I could have been much more empathetic and much less defensive.

Bonus Tool: The Repair

The repair is another great tool for marriage in midlife (or any phase!). Rather than stew on it (or avoid it), I broached the subject of our face plant during our drive home. I owned up to my part of it (immediately going on the defensive) and she, hers (forgetting to employ a soft start). We also explored what we could do differently “next time.” Thankfully we were able to repair the damages of our war of words and recover so that our family evening was salvaged.

Lesson learned: while repairs can be helpful, avoiding war in the first place is always less painful.

I hope that you found these tools useful! Have you ever found yourself regretting a response or headed pell-mell for a marital face plant? What did you do to recover? Share out in the comment section below!

 

 

Three things you can do to make America great … again.

By | Mirror, Relationships | No Comments

conflict-405744_1280Having difficult discussions with your fellow Americans can help close the rifts that keep us divided.

If America is broken, it has been for some time. Our need for safety on whatever side of the dialectic with which we agree keeps us from reaching across the aisle in our politics and across the fence in our neighborhoods. As societal complexity increases there appears to be an even greater need for an “other” on which to pin the blame for our national and global woes. We just can’t seem to understand why anyone would think “that way.”

In creating the “other” we conveniently create a scapegoat that allows us to shirk our own part in the great unraveling. I say, ENOUGH!

If we want to make America great again, we will need to stand together. We will need to roll up our sleeves and work side-by-side to uncover our shared values, understand what drives each other’s choices, and work towards a common good on multiple fronts. We need to shut off our computers, televisions, and radios and go back to a tool that past generations of Americans used to fight for truth and justice, for all.

What is that tool you might ask? A tractor? A gun? A sewing machine? No.

The tool I’m referring to is conversation, the kind that occurs face-to-face. Perhaps it’s only wistful thinking but it seems in times past that American’s used to have conversations with each other, around a kitchen table, or on a porch, or in a living room. Conversations with neighbors were about difficult subjects like slavery, taxes, war, or women’s suffrage; they’d have discussions even when opinions differed. American’s would share thoughts and ideas in common places where people could come together to talk, tell stories, and create relationships of understanding, even if the understanding was that there were agreed upon differences.

In a recent conversation I had with musician, author, and master of difficult dialogues, Libby Roderick, we explored ways that American’s can come together again as individuals to rid ourselves of the shadow “other.” It will require having difficult dialogues. It will require exploration of topics on which we may not see eye to eye. But this is the way to healing and the way to make our great nation whole again.

What does this have to do with men in midlife you might ask? A lot actually. As men in midlife we often hold leadership roles within our community, at our workplaces, within professional organizations, non-profits, and places of worship. As leaders we need to step up and initiate these conversations rather than stick to the safe talk about the weather or sports.

If you feel called, below are three things to consider when starting your own journey of understanding through conversations with your family, friends, or neighbors.

Clarify the ground rules

Before having a crucial conversation it is important to provide a set of mutually agreeable ground rules. Such rules increase the likelihood of civil discourse and reduce potential for an unraveling of civility. Having ground rules is an important step to build a safe environment for people to engage openly and fully. These ground rules can be developed prior to the conversation and can be found online (such as these excellent examples from New Hampshire’s Rye Public Library and LivingRoom Conversations). You might also begin a conversation by asking each participant to share a couple of things they need to create an atmosphere of trust and cooperation.

Share experiences, not opinions or positions

When having a potentially difficult conversation the goal is to get an understanding of how a person has arrived at their position or opinion. By understanding the unique situation of the other participants you understand their story and their human experience. You get a sense of their underlying shared humanity. The goal of conversation is understanding, not to convince others of your position or to convert them to your perspective.

Get curious

Seek understanding through clarifying questions. To be clear, “What the f*ck were you thinking?” and “Why are you such a spineless whiner?” are not clarifying questions. What is it about their family history, their social status, their life challenges that have defined their values and made them who they are? What is it about their unique life experiences that might unlock greater understanding of possible shared goals? This understanding might then allow for collaborative work towards mutual goals for common good.

The word “discussion” has its roots in Latin and means “to shake apart.” When we approach each other with curiosity and civility we can shake up our preconceived notions of the “other” and piece together a reality based on personal story and mutual understanding. Our country is made stronger by our differences, but only when they are understood as coming from our fellow Americans not some faceless “other” who can be easily vilified and condemned as an enemy.

Stand strong together America. Let’s start the discussion!

Have you ever had a crucial conversation unravel or succeed beyond your expectations? Share out about your experience, what worked and what didn’t, in the comment section below.

Be A Man And Tell Her How You Feel, Damn It! Three Tips That Strengthen Connection and Lead to Better Sex With Your Partner

By | Mirror, Partner, Relationships, Uncategorized | No Comments

 

midlife_couch

On a recent full moon I was in a grumpy mood, sleeping in my home office, unable to connect with my wife. I’m sometimes like that around the full moon, either slightly off and not as outgoing and engaging or sometimes fully disengaged and needing time apart. Whoever says it’s just women that are affected by the pull of that great, beautiful orb should talk with my wife. She’ll give them an ear full.

It’s often the time that the wife and I have our biggest rows too. Not that we have any knock-down drag-outs or anything, but heated words have been exchanged by the light of the moon. Usually, they’re followed by repairing apologies and a warm embrace after things cool off. She’s become a bit wary of the full moon; maybe I’m a beware-wolf.

During this most recent full-moon episode things she would do really agitated me and I found myself pretty annoyed by her. What really drove me crazy though was that I couldn’t figure out what it was that was bothering me. I knew it wasn’t the small things she was doing, they were just the symptom of something bigger. But I couldn’t figure out what that bigger thing was.

 

Tip 1: Sometimes a guy just needs some time in the cave …

So that’s where I went, for four nights, to my man cave. Getting away is an important way to get clarity, and it doesn’t have to be out of the house or out of state. Just sleeping in another room can break some of the bedroom patterns that distract you from focusing on what’s going on inside yourself. You know the old patterns … Are we going to have sex tonight or will she want to be held? Can I sleep any farther away from her without falling out of bed? Can she feel that the silence between us weighs 16 tons?

Sleeping alone can help to get clear of these distracting patterns. It can also help you get a good night’s sleep which helps clarity and mood.

Tip 2: Give the head a break … try out another center of intelligence.

To be clear I’m talking about giving both of your heads a break. The other centers of intelligence I’m referring to are your heart and your gut. Science is confirming what eastern cultures have known for millennia, our guts and our heart are separate centers of intelligence. Both have their own neural networks and are capable of processing information apart from the brain.

And as men, we’ve been given no end of erroneous social conditioning that what makes us men is our logic and a tight reign on our emotions. We’ve been cut off from two important sources of corporeal information. For emotional intelligence, the heart can’t be beat (that’s not really intended to be a pun).

I couldn’t really think about what was bothering me, because it wasn’t something in my head. In fact, thinking about it just made it worse because thoughts would swirl around and the same old internal playbacks about our relationship challenges would come up, play back, rewind, replay. That wasn’t helpful at all.

So I just tried to breath. I focussed on where in my body my angst or broodiness was hanging out. And I found it in my heart. So I asked my heart, “Okay, so, what’s this about?” The information I got back was a surprise … I was frustrated by not being “seen” by my wife.

Whoa, dude, did you just share that on your blog? WTF?! You’re supposed to be a man … men don’t … Yeah, actually men do talk about what’s in their heart, especially with the people that they love. You can look to spiritual sages like Christ or Buddha as guides for how to be a heartfelt warrior.

If men don’t share what’s going on it’s because they haven’t yet developed the tools or because they’re too chicken shit to get real. Just saying.

Yeah, and so I was having this conversation with myself about what my heart was feeling about not being seen by my wife. It was like this, I had been doing all of this work around my transition full-time to men’s work, processing realizations from a kick ass men’s retreat I went to a couple of months ago, doing research for my blog, yadda yadda. Massive change was going on with me. But my wife was totally caught up in her stuff: being in grad school, volunteering, working … and she had stopped asking about what was going on over here, with me. (She’d only read one of my blogs … ouch.)

Tip 3: Just tell her how you feel damn it! (This is where the better sex comes in.)

Well, I am a guy, and it felt pretty awkward to try and have this conversation with her. It sounded a little weird to tell my wife that I wasn’t feeling seen, or that I didn’t feel like she was interested in what I was doing. And that lack of interest and attention was creating distance in our relationship and (ironically) causing me to withdraw. Whoa. How was sharing that going to come across?

I needed to get over my resistance to sharing and push through to a conversation. I had to get over my entanglement with the perceived social stigma of being a heartfelt man (no, I’m not a wuss) … I had to stop listening to my internal saboteurs that were ridiculing me for wanting to be seen and appreciated by my wife (nope, I wasn’t being egotistical or a wuss) … and I had to push through the ridiculous mind trap that “men don’t need,” and that we just have to buck up and go it alone (seriously, I wasn’t being needy or egotistical or a wuss). And after all that, I realized what I was wanting was connection, not isolation.

So with all of that personal heavy lifting done and having thrown off the shackles of isolation, I sat down with her and we talked about what had been going on with me. She listened as I worked my way through what I had been reflecting on over the past four days in my man cave. We both apologized and we laughed about how busy we both were, but realized together how important it is for each to feel seen and appreciated.

In the end we came away with a better understanding of each other, a closer connection, and a commitment to greater awareness of each other’s needs. And yes, totally intimate and awesome sex came about as a result of that stronger connection. Hey guys, this stuff really works!

Have you had an experience where you were unable to communicate a need? Ever felt trapped in your head over something that was going on in your heart? Share it out in the comment section below!

The Healing Power of Math at Midlife 

By | Family, Kids, Mirror | No Comments

midlife mathI never imagined that math could be such a powerful force for healing childhood wounds. Especially given the scars from mathematics I’ve carried since middle school.

Scars of childhood

When I was in 7th grade I hated math … or I should say, I hated my math teacher. He was the high school football coach and he “motivated” his students off the field just as he did on the field: intimidation, yelling, and public humiliation. I was the focus of his wrathful attention on more than one occasion because I couldn’t understand what he was teaching.

His tactics of humiliation and public shaming had the opposite effect of his intention, if in fact his intention was to impart an understanding of mathematics.

Math became a trigger for me as a child and young adult. I found myself often demotivated, frustrated, or checked out in math classes. I had the emotional scars of being “not good at math” and it showed up from balancing my checkbook to learning calculus. Fractions haunted me when building our remote cabin in McCarthy, Alaska.

It took me quite some time to regain my confidence in my math abilities. I had to learn that my experience wasn’t really about me, but how the subject was presented and how I was (or in this case wasn’t) motivated to learn.

Okay, Allwright, sorry about your mean middle school math teacher, but are you going somewhere with this trip down memory lane?

Repeating the patterns (wounds) we’ve experienced

That old math trigger was tested recently. My oldest son is taking an online pre-algebra class and he began to fall behind. He would complain when I pressed him about his progress … it was “too hard” and he didn’t “get it” and he wanted to drop out.

So one weekend I sat down with him and we begin to review his work and the roadblocks keeping him from success. Shortly after we began our work together his self-defeating whining began. I started to feel frustration and disappointment rise within me from my perception of his lack of motivation and drive to succeed.

Suddenly something felt oddly familiar as I sensed my anger rise. I noticed a familiar tone … a “You’re gonna sit there and get it done or else” voice began to bubble up. You know the one … it sounds like an old football coach yelling in your face that you’re going to do it until you get it and you’re going to like it.

The power of choice – a new perspective

In that moment I witnessed how I was about to repeat the same do-it-or-else pattern that I had suffered. I observed how I was beginning to project my old math teacher and was about to impart to my son a similar soul-crushing math experience that I had.

So I stopped, took a breath, and then another, and shifted from a soon-to-be-boiling-over father to a curious and loving dad. I shifted my focus from the trigger (the math) to my response to the trigger (frustration and a sense of shame). I recognized in my rising anger my own fear of his potential failure and the possibility that he might experience the same mathematically challenged childhood that I had.

By observing what was coming up inside of me in the moment I saw through what stuff was mine and I was able to get clear on what was real. The reality was that my son needed me and it was my job to be present. He needed my patience and calm so that he could stay focused, engaged, and enthusiastic about learning.

From this new perspective I could see things from a completely different vantage. I could see what he didn’t understand and why he was frustrated.

From this new perspective of curiosity I could see and evaluate what he wasn’t getting. I was able to be present with what he needed to succeed and what I needed to shore up in the places he wasn’t understanding.

From this new perspective teaching him was fun! I realized it was about teaching him the strategy, not necessarily the content. I was able to show him that math wasn’t hard or complicated. Sure, it was complex, but complex things are made up of multiple simple steps. And with this new perspective he can figure out anything.

And so in one sitting of pre-algebra I was able to:

  1. purge (and find compassion for) an old spirit from mathematics past
  2. support my son in keeping alive his love of math (and hopes of one day becoming an aeronautical engineer)
  3. forge a deeper bond with my son
  4. and most importantly, be the kind of loving father and supportive man that I aspire to be

Who would have thought that math could be so powerful?

Have you ever had a transformational math experience? How about greater awareness of triggers and sabotaging self-talk? Share your experience in the comments below!

 
Facebook
LinkedIn
INSTAGRAM