I’ve Struggled with Relationships Lately

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We feel jaded when someone treats us poorly.

 

We are furious when someone acts different than we think they should.

 

We pull away from those who have hurt us because it makes sense to protect ourselves.

 

We carry life-long grudges for minor disagreements.

 

We attempt to control and manipulate those around us.

 

We desperately seek genuine love from others even though we’re disingenuous.

 

We were hurt, broken, used, abused, traumatized, betrayed, and nearly shattered.

 

And, yet, we continue to push forward, timidly trusting the motto Love Wins.

 

 

Last week, I spent two full days in training for my next profession. I took part in The Gottman Institute’s Level 1 Clinical Training: Gottman Method Couples Therapy. I’ve read several John Gottman books in the past and gained a lot of insight so I was sure the training would be well worth my time and money. Throughout the two days, my mind kept wandering to so many people that are struggling relationally. So many of us have issues with either our mates, our families, our friends, or our coworkers. Relationship issues are at the core of nearly every emotional difficulty we experience.

 

 

For the better part of two decades, I have been reading and studying most anything I could get my hands on. My studies generally encompassed human developmental topics like self-help, religion, philosophy, writing, and relationships. Because of my thirst for knowledge, I strive to learn as much as I can for my own sake—not because I want to have all the right answers, be the smartest, or prove people wrong—I genuinely love learning and growing.

With all that knowledge and experience, one would think I have a pretty good handle on what it takes to have good relationships. Often when someone is having relationship issues, it seems like human nature to instantly blame the other party or disregard your own shortcomings. That wasn’t where my thoughts went. Instead, as I went through the training last weekend, I kept being reminded of ways I fall short.

 

 

So. . .

Anytime I’m wrestling with something, I find it most useful to write about it; so, in the spirit of self-disclosure, this was the outcome:

 

 

You struggle with relationships!

 

 

You struggle with women. Somewhere along the way, something was shattered in you. Somehow you consistently attempt to be man enough for a woman but fail miserably. A marriage dashed on the rocks, one on the ropes, and multiple shipwrecks in-between. You’re smart enough to know it’s more than just picking the right one and crossing your fingers (or holding your breath).

You have uncertainties you take to a woman and then punish her when she’s helpless to answer them. When things get difficult, you bow and try to sneak backstage, away from the bright lights and scrutinizing eyes. When it’s your turn to speak your lines, something in you detests having to play the part. You’re perfectly fine saying your lines inside your head thank-you-very-much. It seems like a fine approach, but the audience and other cast members are left guessing what you think, how you feel, why you’re mute. They know your lines, they could say them for you, but they are supposed to come from your lips just like you rehearsed so many times. Say them!

 

 

You struggle with family. You have so many relationships with one foot out the door and the other on a banana peel. Each of your family members would love to talk to you and you could benefit from their relationships. Why do you withdraw, bow out, keep quiet? Some of them could use some support, a listening ear, a friendly hello. What holds you back? How do you expect them to get to know you better if you don’t communicate with them? How might they explain to you their perspectives on life, love, and happily-ever-after if never given the chance?

 

 

You struggle with friends. So many times, friends have fallen by the wayside because you allowed the friendship to wither and die. As soon as the friendship required something significant from you, you crawled back into your shell. Your fear of being wholly known for who you truly are keeps you silent. Life is messy, relationships are messy, love is messy, feelings are messy, emotions are messy, being close friends with others may get messy. Don’t shrink. Take the risk of being authentic. Say what you mean and share your experience with others.

 

 

You struggle with being a father. Remember when you were growing up and you had no idea about life and what to expect out of it? You simply did the best you could. You did what you thought was right whether it was right or not. You faked it til you made it. Guess what, you have a million life experiences your children could learn from. Tell them. Speak up. Start talking and keep talking. The best decisions are always made when we have the most information. Why would you not give them all the information you possibly could? Just because you had to figure everything out on your own doesn’t mean they should. Tell them stories every chance you get—you won’t regret it and neither will they!

 

 

Just because you struggle doesn’t mean you’re a failure. Practice makes perfect. Being authentic isn’t always the easy option but it is the right one for you. If anyone can turn these struggles into triumphs, it’s you! “To be nobody-but-yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody but yourself—means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight—and never stop fighting.” E.E. Cummings

 

I would like to share more about the Couples Therapy training but I’ll save that for another day. In the meantime, I want you to know that if you struggle with any relationships, you are not alone. I fully support and acknowledge your desire for love and belonging.

 

Peace,

 

~Travis

 

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Top 10 Reasons Why I am Becoming a Counselor

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10. Mental health issues are not going away any time soon.

For reasons that aren’t exactly clear, mental health issues continue to plague our society. On a large scale; mass shootings, suicide bombings, and terrorist activity has become a mainstay on our nightly news feeds. On a more personal note; depression, anxiety, and irrational beliefs are just a few mental health issues that significantly effects all of our lives on a daily basis. Every family faces the burden of mental health issues in one way or another.

 

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9.  It’s a natural fit for my skill set.

For as long as I can remember, people have naturally opened up to me. I have often wondered if there was a sign on my forehead that said tell me your darkest secrets. During countless conversations I have heard the same sentence, “I have never told this to anyone before.” I consider it an honor when someone shares the deepest parts of their journey with me. I don’t seek to offer advice or fix their problems, but I attempt to be present with them and offer active listening skills. Surprisingly (or not surprisingly), people really open up when they feel they are being listened to.

 

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8.  I have always been intrigued with the dynamics of interpersonal relationships.

Ever since my first encounter with marriage counseling over two decades ago, I have been fascinated by what makes people tick. You could say I have become an existential investigator of this intriguing species known as humans. Our beliefs and worldviews are continuously shaped by the interactions we have with others. Two people that come together for any possible reason will walk away altered as a result of their meeting—no matter how lengthy or short-lived. Every couple weeks I’m reading a new book about life, relationships, meaning, religion, therapy, or any other new thing that interests me. A long time ago I declared myself to be a life-long learner and my natural curiosity has led me to never run out of material.

 

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7.  I want to help people feel comfortable with their humanness.

I’ve heard it said many times that we are all spiritual beings having a human experience. We all find ourselves on this giant rock hurling through the galaxy. Our time on this rock is a measly tip-of-the-needle dot compared to the history of our civilization. Alan Watts once said we are all God playing hide-and-go-seek with himself. If we could all grasp the greatness that resides in each one of us, the world would be a much better place. Being comfortable with your humanness means you accept yourself exactly the way you are; and when you are comfortable with your own humanness, you realize you are more comfortable with others’ as well.

 

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6.  It’s the greatest honor in the world to sit with someone who is wrestling with the big questions of life.

“Why am I here?” “What is this all for?” “What’s the point?” No matter who you are, you eventually start to ask yourself some pretty deep questions. It’s nearly impossible to go through life without searching for some kind of meaning for your existence. Many great philosophers and teachers have given their ideas, but we each have to decide our own version of what is true for us. I am fascinated each and every time I have one of these conversations with another person and I’m honored to wrestle alongside them as they search for their truth.

 

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5.  The Religious “Nones” are growing rapidly.

In an ongoing Religious Landscape Study by the Pew Research Center, the Religiously Unaffiliated adults (or “Nones”) in America grew from 36.6 million in 2007 to 55.8 million in 2014. That is an awful lot of people left trying to sort through their missing religious beliefs. Choosing to walk away from previously held beliefs and childhood indoctrination takes a tremendous toll on an individual. Many people were taught what to think, while few were taught how to think. Offering a safe, nonjudgmental place to decipher one’s beliefs is at the top of my priority list.

 

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4.  Advocacy for anyone that needs a voice.

All too often, minority groups or people left on the fringes of society are either laughed at or simply ignored. Discrimination, bullying, or flat-out exploitation result in serious personal mental health issues and wreak havoc on our society in general. We all must remind ourselves that just because someone is different than us; that doesn’t make them bad, evil, or wrong. Each and every one of us is unique and marvelous just the way we are. I’m willing to speak up for those that may need help finding their voice.

 

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3.  Every person is unique and has a story to tell.

As I just mentioned, we are all unique. We all have a past that makes our story unlike anyone else in the world. We have each come so far but we have so far to go. The events in your life that transpired to bring you where you are now has shaped you into the person you’ve become. I’m eager to hear those stories and I’m looking forward to helping as many people celebrate their uniqueness as possible.

 

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2.  The time is right.

When I graduated in 2006 with a Bachelor’s in Family Life Education, I was eager to start a Master’s right away and continue my education. I wrestled with that for a while. Being a divorced dad with two kids meant any time I spent pursuing my education was time not spent with them. I basically had to decide whether to pursue my education or spend as much time with my children as possible. Needless to say, I chose the latter and it’s a decision I will never regret. I’ve had the honor to attend nearly every sporting event they participated in, coached each of them in several sports, and was there for virtually every activity. Being their father has been the greatest gift of my life and if I had to choose between my education or time with them again, I would choose them each and every lifetime!

 

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1.  It’s what I have been called to do.

Many years ago, a wise friend spoke truth into my life. She said, “Ya know, I can really see you counseling, writing, and speaking.” That nonchalant statement worked its way into my soul and has never left. After many years of applying myself and consistently learning and growing, I know this is exactly what I am meant to do with my life. I’m extremely thankful for the life my current job has afforded me and my family, but I will be spending the rest of my working days helping as many people as I possibly can.

 

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Peace my Friends!

 

~Travis

 

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Almost Daily

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I need to remind myself–almost daily–that just because someone looks different, thinks different, believes different, talks different, votes different, or behaves in a manner I’m uncomfortable with; that in no way makes them wrong, bad, or less-than. 

I need to remind myself–almost daily–that I have confirmation bias. I seek out information that agrees with my position and proves my way is RIGHT! This bias makes me dogmatic and judgmental. 

I need to remind myself–almost daily–to remain present, aware, focused, and in the Now. I beg my mind to be with me in the moment. If I’m in the dentist chair and my mind is having an imaginary conversation with someone I disagree with, then I’m not present. I’ve left the Now. 

I need to remind myself–almost daily–that no situation is bad, wrong, or impossible to handle. My reaction to the events I find myself in are the best indicator of my own mental health. I cannot control what does or does not happen in life, but I can control my response. 

I need to remind myself–almost daily–that I am not my conditioning. I am not my culture. I am not my religious upbringing. I am the outpouring of the Divine and a brief reflection of eternity. 

I need to remind myself–almost daily–not to be attached to any outcome. By staying open, I allow life to flow freely around me and through me. I am continually in awe and full of gratitude for my experiences in this mysterious flow called life. 

I need to remind myself–almost daily. 

~Travis

You Don’t Have to Try

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Last week, my daughter and I went to see Colbie Caillat perform at the Kalamazoo State Theatre. There were several touching moments throughout the evening Kelsi and I will never forget from my much-anticipated Father’s Day gift. With so many ego-filled performers to choose from, Colbie is a breath of fresh air whose mesmerizing voice is only outdone by her positive message.

The moment forever burned in my memory and heart was her performance of Try. With my beautiful daughter by my side, Colbie opened up about her very real struggles of being an awkward introvert and her terrifying stage fright. She slowly played the piano while introducing the song, and I felt the hair on my arms stand up. Leading into the song, she drove her point home that who you are is good enough. You don’t have to try.

And then she sang this song, Try . . . .

Why do we feel like we have to try so hard?

I agree with Colbie.

You don’t have to try!

 

Peace my Friends!

 

~Travis

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What I’m Learning . . .

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I’m learning a lot about myself and life these days.

  • I’m learning that it’s okay to ask for what I need.
  • I’m learning that my dreams don’t magically come true without hard work.
  • I’m learning that my impatience or annoyance is more about my inner state of mind than it is about the one doing the annoying.
  • I’m learning that some people struggle being real and genuine and that’s okay.
  • I’m learning that I also struggle at times with being real and genuine and that’s okay too.
  • I’m learning that being vulnerable is risky but it’s also where the fertile soil is for personal growth and loving.
  • I’m learning that in regards to my diet and health, I’m either progressing or regressing: I’m rarely ever simply maintaining.
  • I’m learning that as a writer, writing doesn’t happen on its own.
  • I’m learning that the best of intentions are rarely ever good enough apart from taking action.
  • I’m learning that procrastinating rarely ever leads to greatness.
  • I’m learning the ability to follow through is more difficult than the rush of brainstorming.
  • I’m learning that time spent on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram does not necessarily count as online research.
  • I’m learning that my wife has the patience of Job most days and she truly fits the description of the better half.
  • I’m learning that sometimes the person in the most need of my love is me.
  • I’m learning that staying aware and present can be difficult when there are so many distractions.
  • I’m learning this world can provide me with awe and wonder every day if I slow down enough to look.
  • I’m learning that peace and contentment originate inside myself regardless of my environment.
  • I’m learning that my children teach me way more about life than I could possibly teach them.
  • I’m learning the answers to life’s questions usually come to me easier when I’m not so desperate to know them.
  • I’m learning that I’m never done learning as long as I’m alive and I’m totally cool with that!

I’m curious what you’re learning lately? Will you take a minute to comment and share?

 

Peace,

~Travis

PS. I’m learning that life is more enjoyable when I don’t take myself quite so serious.  😉

 

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Dear Grandma Tootie

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The following is an essay I wrote for a Masters program I am in. I haven’t been able to shake memories of my grandmother since my wife and I toured the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum last month.

Dear Grandma Tootie,

I have to admit, things sure have changed. Truthfully, things were rapidly changing while your mind was disappearing so sharing them with you became very difficult. When you first moved into the nursing home I enjoyed stopping after work and seeing your happy surprise when I walked into your room. After you started losing your mind it was really painful to see you like that—so my visits were probably less often than they should have been.

With your house left unoccupied, your daughters let my wife and I move in to take care of it for you. I have so many fond memories as a child from your house so taking care of it was an honor for me. I remember all the nights you and I played Kings on the Corners and watched episodes of Dallas together. I especially remember your love for country music and Kenny Rogers. I loved listening to your old vinyl records of Kenny, Dolly, the Mandrell sisters, and Tex Ritter. I still have vivid memories of you yodeling when I least expected it and making me smile from ear-to-ear. Speaking of Kenny Rogers, how many times did you actually get front row seats to his concerts by camping over night outside of Wings Stadium?

Going to your house was always such a respite from the madness I was surrounded by. Being the youngest in a large family has many perks, but let’s be honest, I was typically a nuisance to most of my family. I never felt that way with you, though. You always made me feel so special. Like after I won Prince at the annual St. Joseph County Horse Show, your face would light up every time you saw me and you would say, “There’s my Prince!”

Once I was old enough to drive, I loved how you called requesting me to stop and help you around your house. It never dawned on me at the time that you didn’t really need help changing the batteries in your TV remote. Only after I was a little older and wiser did I realize you just wanted to spend some time with me. Remember how your phone’s answering machine always suspiciously messed up? I was so proud to be the voice people heard when they left a message at your house: “This is Tootie Samson and her Prince. Leave a message after the beep.

I could never understand why your 4 daughters rarely had good things to say about you when you weren’t around. One day I had enough and strongly disagreed with my mother while defending you. She snapped at me, “Travis, you have no idea what our childhood was like and what kind of mother she was!” That was when I first discovered you might not have been perfect.

Either way, you might not have been a great mother, but you were an amazing grandmother. Maybe becoming a grandparent means you have a chance to right the wrongs you made the first time around.

Just as all good things must come to an end; you passed away in 2004, my marriage dissolved, and your house was sold to another family.

And no one calls me Prince anymore.

One thing hasn’t changed, though. I still miss you.

All My Love,

Prince