I got married the first time at age 20. My husband, George, and I moved to Seattle, George’s hometown, the following year. George’s parents were big fans of a psychologist named John Boyle. They invited all six of their children and their spouses to a John Boyle weekend, in the hope it would help us all to be good spouses and, if we had children, good parents.
That weekend I learned about two life-changing psychological concepts, the power of affirmations, i.e. positive self-messaging, and the importance of self-determination.
Throughout the John Boyle weekend, between interesting workshops on communication, etc., we worked on our own goals and made a tape of affirmations that we were to listen to each day. The one I remember moat clearly was, “I am completely self-determined, and I allow others the same right.” What does that mean? It means that your spouse and children are not an extension of you; they are their own people with their separate right to determine their own destiny.
I have practiced affirmations for years, but I still haven’t mastered the one I learned from John Boyle in the 70s, that “I am completely self-determined, and I allow others the same right.”
And here’s how I know that.
Fast forward 40 years. My second husband, Gene, and I bought a little travel trailer last February, just in time for the pandemic. We “camped” all over Arizona from March through November, feeling incredibly lucky that we could travel, fish, hike, and birdwatch, thanks to our travel trailer. Last summer, we discovered a little RV park in Greer, Arizona.
We’re back this year, and the couple who rents the space next to us year-round has been coming here for years from Laveen, in south-central Phoenix. Bob is a scruffy guy in his 80s, an avid bait fisherman, with a cute sense of humor and a twinkle in his eye. His wife, Darlene, is a quiet, kind woman, who invites you into their RV and shares their Bag Balm when you complain about how dry your hands are. We lead very different lives, but that hasn’t prevented us from becoming friendly.
So, Sunday night, when we arrived and re-introduced ourselves. We talked about fishing, and it didn’t seem to bother them that we were fly fishermen, “catch and release people,” even though Bob is a bait guy, who catches and cleans his fish and then gives them away because they don’t like to eat them. We got to talking about cooking, and Bob told us about his beef chili, which he makes from left-over steak that he freezes after family parties, when there’s “a good three pounds of beautiful steak left over.” Before we knew it, he had given Darlene the signal, and she disappeared into their RV and came out with a container of Bob’s frozen chili – enough for a meal for Gene and me!
Now to Gene, who is smart, thoughtful, a successful businessman, a great money manager and investor, a “Mr. Fix-it”, and a funny guy, once you “get” his dry wit. He’s also handsome and sexy and loves me deeply.
So, what’s the problem? I’m the problem. I fuss over Gene, fixing his hair, suggesting outfits different from the one he’s chosen, treating him like a Ken doll instead of the unique and wonderful individual he is. He hates it when I do that, and I know it, but can’t seem to help myself.
Now the point of my story is that it took our neighbor from the trailer park to help me see what I’ve been doing. the other day, Gene came out of our trailer to join the conversation Darlene and I were having with Bob, who was sitting in his truck all excited about the fish he had caught. Gene had been napping after a long day of driving, boating, and fly fishing, and his hair was everywhere. I was a little embarrassed, and I leaned over and whispered to Darlene, “Yep, he’s been napping.” And she said to me, “Now don’t be pickin’ on your man.”
That really got my attention. And I thought to myself, “Darlene is onto something. I am lucky to have this man in my life. Why do I care if his hair looks funny? It’s his hair, not mine. Same with his clothes. When he wants my opinion, he asks me. I need to take him as he is and be grateful. Besides, it’s not about hair… or shirts, or shoes, or any of that. We simply shouldn’t criticize the people we love.”
So, I came away from that encounter with two ahas: 1) I need to allow others, especially my husband, the right to be self-determined, and stop “pickin’ on my man,” and 2) when it comes to the people in our lives, the important thing isn’t how we’re dressed, how we talk, what we read, what we believe, even. What’s important is how we treat each other, and that goes double for those closest to us.
P.S. Bob’s chili is amazing!