I was happy to meet you in person. I discovered your column last summer when it ran in The Oregonian and have followed it since on examiner.com but had no idea you were in real estate. That’s why I’m writing. Ted and I have been married for twenty-three years. I always thought our marriage was special and admit, especially when I read one of your columns about infidelity or a couple who couldn’t communicate, thinking, “that isn’t us.” Now I’m not feeling so smug. With the kids gone, we recently decided to sell our large home. That’s when everything started to fall apart. I’ve always known what Ted liked and wanted, or so I thought. We’ve usually agreed on the basics, but lately, every time we start to discuss when to sell, which broker to hire, even where to buy, we end up arguing. He lost his temper last night, yelled at me, then suggested I’m difficult and he’d had it. Well, that did it. I woke up unhappy, confused, frustrated, and unable to recognize this man I’ve spent my life with. I’m not sure I want to move or buy anything with him until I figure out what’s going on. I don’t know who he is anymore. I hope you can help. L.
Selling a home, especially one lived in a long time that probably holds many special memories, presents a huge challenge, emotionally and physically. If you’re like most folks, there are boxes of mementos from childhood paintings to trinkets from travels displayed or tucked away in dusty cupboards that need a “keep” or “discard” decision. It’s easier to get rid of a worn couch than your firstborn’s plaster elephant they made in first grade. Obviously, you’ve run into a bit of a roadblock. That can agitate emotions.
Change is hard. Moving stirs up more than dust and cobwebs. Why is that? What is it about the comfortable, familiar order of things and routines that grounds us in a false sense of security and safety? In reality, those “knowns” can burst like a bubble with a few simple words or gesture that delineate shift. Everything from “I don’t want to move” to “I want a divorce” takes the known and obliterates it in a nanosecond.
So what is it about our seemingly worthless treasures and structures that has the power to stop us in our tracks and become illogical or unreasonable? Those objects often become imbued with deep emotions and memories, a phenomenon that makes that rare Ming vase of your great-aunt’s worth less than a tattered, hand-woven bracelet your daughter made at camp at age seven. Tearing apart your nest and being pressed to express with clarity what you want and need moving forward isn’t easy, because, chances are, you haven’t asked yourself those questions in a long time. And that’s where things can get messy and communication can break down.
Feeling comfortable in our private space is a sacred thing. No matter how lush or basic our circumstances might be, leaving our nest and creating a new one forces us out of our most primal comfort zones and demands we choose what we want from infinite choices. It’s at these kinds of moments that our core values are placed under a strong searchlight.
In our busy 24/7 world, we rarely take the time to acknowledge and factor in our own evolving identities and needs. What we wanted or dreamed of at age twenty ends up being light years from what we now want at forty or sixty. That complicates intimate relationships. You and Ted have probably cruised along for years in the status quo – his shoes placed there, on the left in the closet, your favorite cooking pots stored on that shelf, he gets moody when it rains, you get happy when you have purpose – without too much chaos or change required. Now, you’re being asked to decide not only what you want and how it will look and feel and cost; you’re also being faced with what to discard or sell and what to keep. And that puts all of those memories, of your marriage, your children, good moments, even bad times, up for review.
What isn’t clear is what’s really going on, because underneath the act of selling your home and buying a new one is the actual fabric of your relationship. I’ve often said that “buying or selling a home isn’t about brick and mortar. It’s about the dream”. From the way you’ve described recent events, it appears Ted is struggling with something, too, and that’s evidenced by anger seemingly directed at you. But since Ted isn’t here to speak for himself, we can only deal with your dilemma.
It might be helpful to remember, too, that it’s not uncommon for us, when we’re troubled or upset, to direct our anger with ourselves at a close, safe target. That often is a spouse or partner.
When flux occurs, everything becomes debatable. And that can open old wounds or unfinished business in any relationship, which in turn can stir up insecurities, along with old, never-talked-about grievances, disappointments or secrets that if revealed, could undermine all the good moments shared and created over the years.
To harness change involves acknowledging our core valves; the ones that are built upon the foundation of The Inner Bottom Line, that private internal place where the four core ethical values of honesty, respect, fairness and integrity reside. It’s not unusual that this maddening sense of not knowing what we need to know can make us grumpy, irritable, angry and accusative. We tend to like to know where we are, where we’re going and when we’re going to get there. Life doesn’t work that way. That’s why we constantly struggle to maintain balance between those two states of known and unknown, and that’s never easy to do.
Tearing the known apart forces us to deal with the unexpected messes that fall out onto the floor when surfaces and drawers disappear. And that can compel us to re-examine and explore any primary relationship held together, especially one secured with glue and string for too long.
L, you do have options. We always have choices. Even if the choice is to do nothing. You can sweep all the discomfort and anger from not agreeing under the rug, bite you tongue, say nothing as you have been, and act as if everything’s OK. Or you can share your feelings with Ted, suggest you talk, and if he’s reluctant, suggest you two seek professional help to create a safe space within which you can both speak and be heard.
Redefining our values to fit our life as it now is, rather than the way it was, is never easy. But identifying those people, values and things that you cannot, will not, choose to live your life without moving forward, and discarding anything or anyone that doesn’t serve those values or treat you with the respect you deserve, will free you to experience life with an entirely new perspective.
Within this distress is a rare opportunity to create a stronger, more clear and more satisfying future. Where your courage will serve you best is in supporting your willingness to see it all with fresh, open, objective and hopefully loving eyes.
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