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How To Have An Amazing Relationship (aka Conflict Resolution When You Just Can’t Stop Arguing!)

It’s been a challenging month at LemonAid HQ…constant arguments, bickering, both of us mired deeply in our respective positions and unwilling to step out of them for more than the briefest of times. You could say our experiment in living together has started with a bang…but not of the best kind!!

After a particularly stressful week that included multiple “Should we just end it?” conversations and only very brief respites in between recurring arguments about the same things over and over, on Sunday morning we happened across this article on how to make your relationship amazing.

Fortuitous timing since only the night before we’d attempted to have a conversation about establishing some ‘rules’ to try and improve how we handle the ongoing conflict in a more loving and adult way between us. The rules we’d come up with looked like this:

The Rules:

  1. Maintain an open physical posture. No arm crossing or sitting in the precipice of the bed/sofa as far away as possible from each other.
  2. Hold hands or maintain other physical touch, throughout difficult discussions.
  3. Agree what we’re trying to achieve, and keep coming back to this.
  4. No name calling.
  5. No meanness.
  6. No eye rolling.
  7. No absolutes e.g. “You always…”, “You never…”
  8. No interrupting – use the talking stick to let each other speak uninterrupted.
  9. Try the following technique:
    Person 1: “I feel…” – for 1 minute.
    Person 2: “I heard you say…” “What was the most important thing you want me to hear? And why? What can we do about it?”
  10. Agree themes still to discuss even if there’s no immediate resolution.

Naturally we did so well following our own rules while making them that we ended up in yet another argument!

So back to the article…in a nutshell, here’s the summary based on a TON of research:

  • Positive emotion beats problem-solving: Good feelings come first otherwise you’re solving problems with… someone you don’t like very much.
    [We’d both got into a very negative cycle of thinking the worst of each other, focusing on the negatives and generally wondering why we were together].
  • Avoid The Four Horsemen: Less criticism, defensiveness, and stonewalling. And no contempt.
    [Becky does criticism, we both do defensiveness, Lea does stonewalling, we both can descend into contempt].
  • Perpetual problems don’t get solved: You can walk fine on a trick knee if you understand its quirks and don’t let it frustrate you.
    [There are recurring issues we argue about; the children’s dynamics is a key one which may never be fully resolved].
  • Soft startup to conflict discussions: Ladies, complain but don’t criticize. Conversations that begin negative almost always end negative. [Becky’s the mistress at criticising!]
  • Time-outs beat stonewalling: Guys, don’t tune out if you’re feeling overwhelmed. Ask for a 20 minute break. [Lea’s the master at stonewalling!]
  • Don’t resist — repair: Laughing, being nice or acknowledging what was said doesn’t mean you immediately lose the argument. And it might stop you from losing your partner. [Becky’s far better at this than Lea].

Reading the article in bed together on Sunday morning helped reset us; we managed to get back on the same page, or at least in the same book and are agreeing new rules which look something like this…

 The New Rules

  1. If we can, in the middle of an argument, list 3 things we love about each other, using our ‘love time-out’ signal to initiate and remind us of this.
  2. Use time outs instead of silence (Lea especially!), to take a breather and gather our thoughts.
  3. No name calling (Becky), eye rolling  (Lea), sarcasm (Becky), and mocking (both).
  4. Agree which issues we’re going to park, that aren’t fully off the table but that aren’t going to be resolved just yet. And once we’ve agreed, let’s not keep bringing them up.
  5. Start difficult conversations positively and gently…we’re not yet sure exactly what this looks like but we’re working on it!
  6. Keep trying to reconnect throughout an argument…both of us (especially Lea).
  7. Maintain high expectations of each other!
  8. Agree what we’re trying to achieve and keep coming back to it.
  9. Remember the good times!

Wanting The Same Thing…

Fundamentally, we both agree that we want the same thing: That we want to create an amazing relationship for ourselves, and that we want to create and head up a loving blended family with our little wolf pack of 4.

And that means we agree…

On working towards the same hopes, dreams and goals of home educating all 4 children together, of multiple extended travel fun both with and without the children. 

That we want to live together as a family, and that at the moment this means a fairly minimalist lifestyle when it comes to stuff (including – especially – the children’s stuff), it means figuring out how to juggle working from home, while home educating 4 children on part-time hours, it means figuring out how to prioritise ourselves alongside work, family and running the household. 

It means figuring out how to handle navigating through our own emotional journeys, with the help of our therapists, and without playing out our stuff with each other (too much!). 

It means expecting the best of ourselves and each other and not the worst, and staying willing to explore the hard stuff.

It means that if we want this, we commit to this, no matter what. All in!

That’s a scary proposition for both of us…but as we keep reminding each other:

What if what we most want is on the other side of what feels like the most dangerous precipice or behind the thickest wall? Do we dare jump ?

Welcome To The Family Blend: A Blog About Our Blended Family’s Adventures

This week has been a big one here at LemonAid HQ. Almost three years into our relationship and 6 months since Lea proposed, we are still living in separate houses but not this week!

No siree, this week (half term for my kids) we had an official ‘trial run’ of living together as a blended family of six.

We all spent four days (they are with their father’s/grandparents the other days) living and sleeping at Lea’s house to see if we could cope with us all moving in there!

I confess I was nervous…all four children and the two of us in a two-bedroom, one-bathroom house for three days and four nights? Sounded like a recipe for disaster. Lea, of course, saw things very differently. Sigh.

 We had a great week!

…The kids were, well, kids. Stroppy, delightful, cheeky, loving, challenging, awake too early, constantly hungry, little people. But we all got so much ground from the experience.

Our rules were few but firm: Mealtimes at the table together, showers before bed, everyone has to help out and do household tasks, and ongoing emotional sportscasting during arguments. 

We went out and did stuff, and we stayed at home. We went on a mammoth hike for four hours in the rain (not the most sensible plan with my foot already swollen and sore!) with the kids carrying their own kit. 

OK, it was only a week but we got to see how this really could work and it’s not like there weren’t tears, tantrums and tiaras…there were, and that was just me!

We aren’t blindly expecting this to go smoothly all the time and are well aware of some potential flash points and triggers. After all, you don’t spend 2.5 years both in therapy and processing the sh*it out of your stuff together for nothing! 

So what did we learn from this week?

SO much.  Foremost is that we don’t need to play the conventional game on many levels…

All too often we are shoehorned into lives we never really wanted – living in bigger houses with bigger mortgages that require us to stay in the same rat race on the same old treadmill, often doing jobs that no longer inspire or challenge us (if they ever did), let alone make our hearts sing. 

This week made us realise there really is another truth and another path to tread (in fact, plenty more paths to tread)…

Tiny House Living IS Do-Able With 6!

We learned that we CAN survive and thrive in a tiny house, and that our freedom and independence is more important to us than paying for a 4-bedroom money pit, show-house style home, especially when we want to home educate and go travelling a lot, both with and without the children.

Paying for a larger house, filled with stuff just doesn’t seem like a good investment of money or the time needed for upkeep when instead we’d like to be out and about, roadschooling, worldschooling and enjoying ourselves rather than worrying about a large, empty house filled with expensive stuff. 

Minimalism As A Conscious Choice…

Six of us living together in a two-bedroomed house is going to require a paring down of ‘stuff’ but as I’m learning, minimalism is very freeing (when I can unclench my butt cheeks). Physical things that I hold onto become reasons not to do things. 

Consciously deciding to live with less stuff means we can do more, be together more, and embrace new opportunities with the space we’re creating.

Now don’t get me wrong this is a work in progress for me!! I’ve been learning to let go of many things, not just physical possessions in the past three years, but also dynamics, behaviour, patterns and even relationships that no longer serve me.

It has been and continues to be challenging, lonely, and scary, as well as freeing, refreshing and inspiring as I can begin to see a glimmer of new light at the end of the tunnel of change.

Unsurprisingly, the children cope well with less stuff and are far more creative and imaginative.

Being Location Independent + Working Remotely Is Pivotal To Our Lifestyle…

And no, I’m not just saying that because Lea was at the forefront of the Location Independent movement, even coining the phrase back in 2007.

It’s key because we want to be flexible, to have time with our kids while they’re growing up, to be able to home educate them together, to travel, to take advantage of term-time cheap rates for activities and trips, and to work to live not live to work. 

Being able to work from wherever we are is absolutely fundamental to creating the lifestyle we want to live and while Lea has been doing this for over a decade, I’m relatively new to this and will be focusing on creating my own version of digital nomadism over the coming months!

Crazy Is Relative!

We’ve also learnt that some people think we’re BATSHIT CRAZY!

If you’re one of them, you likely haven’t got past the six people, two-bedroom, one bathroom house bit! To be fair, given the way most people live, I can hear that it sounds unusual but the joy of streamlined, uncluttered living is profound and gives a real sense of living in the ‘here and now’ that I think is lacking for so many in modern society.

To us, it sounds more crazy to work all hours under the sun in a ‘conventional’ job and send our children to school so we miss half their childhoods, just so we can earn more money to pay for a bigger house and more stuff, enjoy a couple of holidays a year, put money away for a hefty pension and only THEN really start enjoying ourselves and the freedom we’ve created. Why not create lives of freedom NOW? 

Challenging Family Dynamics!

Being part of a Blended Family, whilst challenging at times, has some real advantages as we inevitably shine a spotlight on areas that might need work in our dynamics with our own children or with our step children.

This rightly involves dealing with old stubborn patterns that might never have surfaced had we stayed in our comfortable 2.4 family units, in a haven of co-dependence. 

So we’ve also learned that being part of a blended family has meant that we’ve all had to (and continue to) look at our ‘stuff’ because it’s more noticeable, and our blind spots are highlighted by each other. Not easy by any means!

The Unequivocal Need for Adaptability… 

Living so closely together in a small house, as part of a blended, multi-racial, lesbian family has gotta make you pretty darn FLEXIBLE and ADAPTABLE, right?!

These are skills that I think we often lose as we age and become more ‘set in our ways’ and so it has been a useful eye-opener for me to see where I rely on patterns and routines that I might choose to forego in favour of meeting my longer term deeper goals rather than my short-term comfort needs! 

Flexibility and adaptability are key skills and part of a mindset that we really want to encourage in the kids which will set them up for the realities of modern life, in their learning, travel, relationships, work and beyond.

Hitting All The Buttons!

So there you have it: Tiny house living, digital nomadism, location independent, remote working, minimalism, blended family life, gay…that’s a pretty potent combination for a Family Blend of LemonAid, right?

We hope you enjoy the journey we’ll be blogging about as we begin the process of fully moving in together, beginning to home educate all 4 of our children together (currently my two are still flexi-schooling), and create a working and family life that enables us to enjoy the fruits of roadschooling, worldschooling and a life of freedom and independence 🙂 

Still The One

Still The One

So what are the things we do that we credit with us still being together, still loving each other and still wanting to have sex with each other more now than in the beginning?!

As we head towards the 3rd anniversary of radically changing our lives we’re in a pensive mood here at LemonAid HQ…

How the heck did we get here?! How on Earth have we navigated our way through the turbulent emotions – our present ones, our past ones and our kids?!

While sometimes it might feel as though we are stumbling along blindly hoping for the best, there are certain things that have kept us on the same team, moving forward as a unit of six…albeit a unit with 12 legs that seem to be attempting to wander off in a variety of directions!

So this week we thought we’d share with you what’s worked for us over the past two and a half odd years – what’s kept us together, and how we’ve just about managed to work through the frequent flouncing, tears and tantrums.

To quote the underquoted Bridget Jones, please know this is not written from a ‘smug married’ place!!!! AT ALL. Hell we’re not even married yet! There are probably a zillion more strops before we make it up the aisle! We’re also under no illusions that we’ll be two brides who periodically still flounce off on our path to ‘Happy Ever After’!

No, this is from an ‘every day we work at this shit’ kinda place, a ‘Jesus H Christ we’re having THIS argument again’ place and a ‘Ohhhh, look how much easier things are when we do it this way – if only it hadn’t taken 356 times of doing it badly to realise it’ place!

Commit, Commit, Commit…

The most important thing we’ve both brought to the table is a commitment to working through the tough times together, including dealing with our emotional worlds and turbulent childhoods. However, that commitment gets sorely tested when we’re both massively triggered by our stuff and we’ve needed more than just the fine words of ‘we want to work through this’.

I’ve been in therapy for years on and off, and very early days when we were first discussing Lea’s adoption and the ways it may have affected her she decided to see a therapist too (OK, I may have ‘suggested’ it!). 

It’s been hugely beneficial – knowing that we each have a space and a person that is ours, outside of the relationship, to process our emotional stuff with. For it not to feel one-sided, where one of us relies solely on the relationship for that processing.

Process, Process, Process…

Coupled with that is our mutual ‘processing’ – trying to figure out what’s is going on between us, especially when we get triggered; that is, when we fly off the handle about something in the present moment that reminds us of or triggers past feelings and experiences. This feels like the biggest aid to us working through stuff together.

Therapy is only once a week or once a fortnight which means there’s still the space to hide, for things not to be addressed or even come up with our therapists. In a relationship, everything gets seen, raised, triggered. Frequently!

A classic example are my intimacy issues – my inability to let love and sex go together. I’m not sure this would have been easy or as quick to unravel in therapy. Being confronted with my intimacy issues and the ways I would try to avoid an intimate connection with Lea on a daily basis made it impossible to sweep under the proverbial rug!

Sportscast, Sportscast, Sportscast…

With the kids, the biggest tool we have used to help us and them to navigate their emotions has been sportscasting.

Originally used by childcare expert Janet Lansbury to help younger children by literally sportscasting what was physically going on “Ruby took the toy from you and you hadn’t finished playing with it.” – we go a step further and use it to help our children work out what they are feeling and why: “You’re hitting your sister, I’m wondering if you feel embarrassed because she laughed at your song.”

We have seen all of them in their different ways learn to be more direct, less passive aggressive and become more able to express themselves (including the shadow emotions of anger, jealousy, shame, embarrassment etc).

The ability to name and own their feelings usually shortens the time they spend angry and upset, and teaches them new ways to be (ways that many adults, myself included, often struggle with!).

Us, Us, Us…

The final thing that has been of such importance (although I’ve found this one the most difficult) has been the ability to treat ourselves, as a couple, as the strong and primary unit at the heart of the family, rather than act as two individual sets of three musketeers.

This has involved prioritising our relationship at times, and for me, dealing with a shed load of guilt! But that’s a whole other story, for next time…

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