Don't Be Afraid To Be The One Who Loves The Most

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Today I'm grateful to announce that I am officially a published author! My friend, Tyler Ward, author of Marriage Rebranded, has been collecting marriage advice for Millennials, and asked me to contribute. I happily obliged, and now my work is being published alongside some of my heroes, in his book called Marriage Hacks. The following is my contribution. I wanted to share it with you. If you like it, you'll love the rest of the book. Check it out here:

How I Discovered Love Is Not Weakness

On December 11th, 2013 I found myself in a car driving through the back roads of Georgia with a stiff back and weary eyes. I had spent the last two months of my life sleeping on couches, driving from city to city with my friend, Melissa, as we searched the United States for the most passionately in-love couples we could find.

We were nearing the end of our journey, and as always, I had no idea what to expect from the couple we were about to meet. I had no way of knowing I would receive the most important love advice of my life.

When we arrived at Joseph and Anne Gaston’s home, we were treated with 60+ years worth of stories and experiences. They told us how they met and how they fell in love. They recounted the struggles that came with working in the medical field while raising a family, how they had to sacrifice important things so the other could pursue their dreams.

Conversations like this are what I live for—rich in stories, personality, and practical advice. These are the reason I started recording these stories in the first place.

As we were winding down the conversation, we asked the Gastons if they could leave the world with one bit of love advice, what would it be?

Without missing a beat, Anne said,

“Don’t be afraid to be the one who loves the most.”

I felt the air get sucked from my lungs as the power of her words sank in.

I had always been taught that “the person who cares the least always has the most power.” We tell ourselves that not caring—not loving—means we get to dictate the pace of the relationship and the level of commitment. We believe the person who cares the least worries the least, stresses the least, and has the most freedom to do as they please.

We say that loving makes you weak and vulnerable. It makes you a captive in your own relationship, subject to the feelings, moods, and desires of the one you love.

One simple sentence by an 80-year-old woman changed a lifetime of belief for me.

I suddenly realized that love is not weakness. It’s power.

Love is the fuel that makes relationships work. Loving someone more than they love you is not stupid or crazy or foolish. It’s the bravest thing you can do in this life.

True love is given without conditions or expectation of reciprocation. We can love others even when they are imperfect and flawed. We can cherish them, serve them, and forgive them even when they break promises, say unintentionally hurtful things, fall short, or forget.

Love is unfair… and that’s what makes it so amazing and beautiful.

When we aren’t afraid to be the one who loves the most, and we find a partner who is also committed to loving big, we get the experience of receiving love even (and especially) in the moments we least deserve it.

That is what true love is all about. Don’t miss out on true, deep, meaningful, connected love.

Don’t be afraid to be the one who loves the most.

Don't forget to check out the book Marriage Hacks with contributions from Gary Chapman, Danny Silk, Gary Thomas, your's truly, and many others.

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Stop Waiting To Enjoy Life - Enjoy The Moments As They Come

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As a new student and young father I had to work my butt off to keep up with school, family, work and all the other responsibilities that I had. I was working two part time jobs just to make ends meet and I was in school full time so I could graduate on time and move on to grad school. Times were tough and money was tight. I had to work hard just to keep my head above water. Some months we didn’t make it and had to go without some things. This was the hardest for me as a father. At these times I felt like a real loser and a failure. I felt like I wasn’t living up to my end of the deal in my family. Because money was tight, I had to make sure I stayed at the top of my class so I could go to a good graduate program that would allow me to demand a strong income in my first job. So I put a lot of time into studying. And in the mean time I put as much time into my two jobs as I could so I could pay the rent and buy diapers.

My daughter was less than a year old and didn’t know what our financial situation was. Being that young, she didn’t really care. But her big brown eyes and her innocence made me want to work harder at school and at work just to make sure that she would have everything she needed. My wife didn’t really care about our finances, either. Somehow we continued to get by. But for me it was miserable.

As a poor college student and young father working and studying so hard I found myself in the throes of a full blown, self-inflicted anxiety disorder. I had so many balls I was juggling at once that I planned my time in 15 minute increments. I developed a nervous habit of always checking my watch. Homework took about 2 hours a night - unless a paper was due then it was 2 hours and 45 minutes a night that week. It took about 15 minutes to drive to work. If I got a flat tire or someone showed up late to relieve my shift at work, I had to push back whatever family event was happening that weekend to make up for lost time. If I showed up late for work, it was X amount out of my paycheck (I knew exactly how much it was after tax back then) and I needed to make up for it by staying late. If there was a birthday (or, gasp, Christmas) that month I had to work a couple extra shifts and that meant I had to find time to my homework who-knows-when. I learned that necessities like sleeping and eating were really just added bonuses that people didn’t need that much of – or so I thought.

I was in the thick of things and couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. I hardly saw my wife and baby because I was too busy trying to provide for them. For me, life was work. And not the leisurely kind where you could browse your computer while you do it. It was hard, exhausting, and consuming. I had to get ahead and stay ahead. This is all I could see and it was going to be this way for a while – at least until I graduated grad school in a few years.

Fast forward a few years and thankfully I have overcome those feelings and thoughts that once consumed me. But it’s not because I finally made the income that I was aiming for – I haven’t. It’s because I deliberately let go of the pretension and consumerism and the constant striving to attain things and status.

Instead of waiting for someday to enjoy life I’m able to enjoy life’s moments as they come. I’ve slowed down, smelled the roses and am enjoying pieces of life one simple moment at a time. There were a lot of realizations that I had to come to during my journey In order for me to stop wishing for someday and enjoy the moments as they come. Perhaps the most important realization I had was the role gratitude plays in living a fulfilling and rewarding life.

Gratitude was what was missing.

As I was going through the throes of my anxiety and working my butt off for someday, I never gratefully appreciated the beauty that was around me. I was absorbed in living the American dream – an external standard that society told me I should be trying to attain, instead of looking inside myself and finding what would make me the most happy and bring me the feelings of satisfaction that are truly fulfilling for me. I thought that society would somehow magically give this to me after I achieved the status I was aiming for. But I realized that satisfaction isn’t given to you. I found it within myself through gratitude.

I realized that in my desire to achieve and always wanting more that I never noticed the great things that were around me and right in front of me. I would get stressed out when I got a flat tire and felt resentful that I didn’t have a better car instead of appreciating the fact that I had a car that could haul me at 65mph to wherever I needed to go. Sure, life isn’t all cherry drops and gum drops and I still have crap things that happen. But in the meantime, it’s gratitude that makes my life fulfilling and rewarding.

There are many gratitudes I discovered along the way that help me to find happiness no matter what my circumstances are:

  1. I’m grateful to live in a country where the bare necessities (water, electricity, etc) are easy to come by. I realize I’m very privileged to have this and I’m grateful for it.
  2. I’m grateful for poetry, music and art that give life its extra flavor.
  3. I’m grateful that poetry, music and art are free on the radio, TV and in secondhand books that cost pennies.
  4. I’m grateful for friends and family who love me for me. Who don’t care what I wear, what music I listen to or what income tax bracket I’m in. They simply love me for me and I love them for them. And together we have a friendship that’s more rewarding than prestige or monetary success.
  5. I’m grateful for a country that protects its citizens and has laws in place to help them achieve, succeed and live in safety.
  6. I’m grateful for children and their smiles that warm you up no matter how bad of a day you’ve had.
  7. I’m grateful for nature and its many wonders and beauties. I’m grateful for easily accessible parks, streams and other places that I can enjoy the magnificent wonders of nature.

Most of all, I’m grateful for others. I’m surrounded by people who genuinely care about little old me with no reward for themselves. They have found something inherently good about me and love me for it. They don’t have to, they choose to. And for that I will always be grateful. It’s the love for me that I see in their eyes that truly brightens my day and makes me feel important.

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Aaron Anderson is a Marriage and Family Therapist and owner of The Marriage and Family Clinic in Denver, CO. He also writes for several great relationship websites including the one you’re reading now, FamilyShare.com and the Huffingtonpost. He gives expert relationship information on his own blog RelationshipRx.net where you can get information for all your important relationship needs.

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What You Actually "Do" When You Say, "I Do"

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From the moment I said “I do” on August 3, 2006, I really had no idea what I was going to have to actually “do” over the next eight years of my life. Yes, I chose him in sickness and in health, for rich or for poor, for better or worse (mostly “better” because as a newlywed, you don’t really anticipate just how bad things can be nor how “worse” they can become). What was somehow left out in my vows was, “Do you choose and commit to him through years of sexual challenge? Do you choose and commit to him while you both struggle in the uncharted territory of parenting? Do you choose and commit to him when you feel emotionally and spiritually a thousand miles apart?”

My story of gratitude begins on the best and the hardest day of my life -- the day I made it metaphorically to the base of Mount Everest. I abruptly realized that I don’t just get to set-up camp there and reconnoiter for a few months before making the climb. No, with the words “I do” my ascent began, ready or not (mostly not). Staring up at the daunting mountain, I reminded myself that I willingly choose to climb it with no training or experience; but ,thankfully, not without a guide or guides.

Gratitude and willingness have been my guides.

Like most people, I did not come from a childhood free from dysfunction. However, I also didn’t come from a childhood devoid of love. Thanks to the combination of both, I sought out therapy early in my life. I saw it as a positive for me and a way to learn and grow. I was going through therapy while dating different guys, always hoping to find my “one.” I had a general list of traits and qualities that I was looking for, but always wanted something deeper than “someone who can wakeboard” (one of my life’s passions.) I always knew that one day that wakeboarding champion could get injured, get old, or grow out of being a wakeboarder like other surface traits.

Through the gift of therapy, I learned that everyone has his or her crap. Everyone. This helped me conclude that I needed to find some “one” who would be willing to do “the work,” some “one” who wanted to climb Everest with me and recognized that we would need to confront challenges, dysfunctions, trials and growth edges.

Through many heartbreaks for which I am thankful, I met guys who wanted the great relationship without the work -- or expected that if it were really true love it would just work. Somehow, I knew that naïve approach simply wasn’t going to work. Call me a romantic pessimist, but when choosing to meld my life with someone else’s, I erred on the side of realism rather than romantic ideals. I finally found my “one” – a handsome, intelligent, fun, romantic guy (yes, he was a good wakeboarder, too) who was more than willing to do “the work.”

We are now eight years into our climb. When I look back I realize we have had a lot of moments where we were eye-balls’ deep in snow that could have sucked the life out of our relationship. However, we’ve also had moments where the sun has broken through, giving us the gift of warmth and the opportunity to sit, rest and just enjoy each other’s company. We have been in one of the hardest years of our climb – with the stresses of having two kids, with another on the way, but it’s also been the most transformative and beautiful. I find myself continually grateful that I have a partner who has never looked at me and said, “I’m done climbing, it’s not what I thought it would be” or “You climb and carry me; it’s your fault that our relationship is so hard.”

I treasure the moments where he has looked at me with watery eyes and a softened heart and thanked me for choosing him. It gives me the fuel I need to climb another day, to keep putting one foot in front of the other. When he expresses his gratitude and genuinely sees me for who I am and the strengths I bring to the table, it brings me a bit closer to him. It causes me to soften my sharp edges toward him and gives me the perspective to see him as we all are ... just trying to do the best we can with where we have come from and wanting to go to places in our relationship we have never known. I’m grateful that he sees me with gratitude as well.

I have a partner who has willingly engaged in “the work” or the metaphorical climb from day one. It’s not always fun but he he keeps climbing with me. Our mutual supportiveness and gratitude have carried us through storms that neither of us could have predicted when we said “I do.” As I see relationships around me crumble and fall, my gratitude for all we have only grows. No, our relationship isn’t perfect, but I wouldn’t choose any other partner to ascend the mountain. I have my daily moments where I write down what I am grateful for with my partner, and it guides me to the peak of Everest. The moment I said “I do” was the moment I said “I do commit” to keep doing the work, to keep climbing with my partner, with gratitude and willingness as my guides.

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Kristin Hodson is a Sex and Intimacy Therapist and Founder of The Healing Group: Where Women Go For Hope, Growth and Healing. She has the mantra of work hard, play hard, love hard and lives life passionately outloud. She is an adjunct Professor at The University of Utah in the Social Work department, is co-author of the book, "Real Intimacy: A Couples' Guide to Healthy, Genuine Sexuality" and is currently co-authoring her second book, "Yes, You Can Talk To Your Kids About Sex." . She feels the greatest and most fulfilling pursuit in her life is having the privilege to mother her two spirited children and always being refined into a better person because of her husband.

This post is part of a 30-Day Gratitude Challenge. If you want to start from day 1, click here.

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