On a recent Saturday, my lady and her mom spent the morning baking chocolate banana bread in our kitchen.
They went to the store together, bought all the ingredients together, came home and made that scrumptious bread alongside a delightful breakfast feast of which I was the sole non-contributing beneficiary.
I didn’t even have to grab a napkin or pull a fork from a drawer.
Shortly after pulling the bread from the oven, lovely Silvy brought some to me in my office (I was working that morning). Smelling all sweet and lit up in the joy of cooking with her mom, Silvy smiled as she cupped the bread with one hand to ensure no crumbs would spill on my keyboard and with her other hand delicately placed a warm slice of chocolate heaven into my mouth.
Right after, “Yummy, chocolate!” … wanna know what my second thought was?
“It’s a bit dry.”
For so long, I’ve been so intimately identified with working to triumph over life’s challenges, fix life’s (unending) sea of problems, and address any little thing that’s juuuuust a bit off so I and the people I love can … well, I suppose so we can experience an absolutely perfect problem-free life. Although, as I think about it, I’m not really sure what that would give us.
Because the (real) problem I notice is that by constantly focusing on fixing life’s (apparent) problems, I end up living in a world of unending problems, and I daily overlook all that’s already working wonderfully around me.
It’s as if my comfort zone requires problems. So even where they don’t exist … I create them.
Even in my writing – including this piece – it seems I (mostly) only know how to frame life as a challenge to overcome.
After working with thousands of men, women, and couples in my coaching practice, I believe this is the single biggest problem facing most men (and many women):
We overlook (ignore) all that’s working and favorable in our lives, and instead focus on anything (everything) that seems (to our minds) not to be.
Which has devastating consequences, particularly in intimate relationships.
After decades studying couples in an actual laboratory environment, The Gottman Institute discovered an essential 5:1 ratio: Five positive interactions between you and your partner are necessary for every one negative or neutral interaction if you want your relationship to genuinely succeed.
Five to One.
How many couples have you ever seen consistently interact so positively with each other in front of you (when they’re on their best behavior; nevermind behind closed doors!)?
How often have you hit that positive ratio?
Here’s something even more interesting to consider:
“Masculine” energy rises in the face of challenge.
“Feminine” energy rises in response to praise.
(note: "Masculine" does NOT mean Man. Feminine does NOT mean Woman. Every human has both Feminine and Masculine potentials. In this post, by “masculine” I essentially means “fix-it mode” and by “feminine” I essentially mean “love flow between two people.” Learn more about using Masculine & Feminine polarities to make love extraordinary in "Love, Sex, Relationship Magic.”)
Author David Deida first enlightened me about the dance of complementary masculine and feminine energies years ago. Not only do his descriptions fit perfectly with Gottman’s golden love ratio, I see the direct evidence of this in the couples I coach and in my own relationship experiences, too.
I’ve always required challenge to feel inspired and excited by whatever I’m doing. I’ve always needed my work, my opponent on the sports field, even the woman I’m with to be sufficiently (though not overwhelmingly) challenging as to offer my masculine-oriented fix-it mind compelling puzzles to solve. Otherwise, I grow bored and disconnected from the work, the game, the woman, and seek out new challenges elsewhere.
Which means I want to be challenged by those around me, particularly when they see I’m not living up to my full potential in some way – even if I merely failed to nail that banana bread recipe. Of course I want to be challenged respectfully; no man enjoys being criticised any more than any woman does.
However, challenge isn’t what inspires feminine “love flow” between two people.
Only praise does that.
Most of us aren’t overtly taught praise, and we rarely see it modeled by our parents towards each other (or politicians, business leaders, or most anyone else in our problem-focused society).
We more likely learn to focus on what isn’t working, even if for the well-intentioned purpose of trying to fix it.
Which might work in a factory of machines, but it’s only always a hurtful (and completely futile) approach to intimacy.
I don’t praise my woman nearly enough.
I’m so identified with overcoming challenge – “we need more money” “the dog requires too much attention” “the bread isn’t moist enough” – that I don’t tell her nearly enough how extraordinary she is, how kind and generous and brilliant and talented and exquisite and gorgeous she is, and how profoundly lucky I am to wake up next to her every day.
Like many men, I too often overlook what an absolute privilege it is to love my woman. A privilege that one day, even if by death, I will not have anymore … for all eternity.
Until that day, I get to wake up next to an exquisite creature, the sweet-scented woman I’ve been waiting for who challenges me in all the right ways, who intrigues and excites me, frustrates, inspires, confuses, and in the end always utterly delights me. Each day is another day I get to deep dive into the blissful infinity of her dark eyes which consistently gaze back at me with an adoration that easily obliterates any (imagined) problem I might be believing in that day.
Reality check: I’ve got no (real) problems.
That doesn’t mean I don’t have challenges.
Just a week ago, I had foot surgery. A secondary infection has infiltrated the wound, further delaying my healing and ability to walk normally.
I could focus on what’s gone “wrong” with my healing, or I could focus on the more empowering, more praise-worthy reality that I live in a time where medicines and doctors can help me not lose my foot – or my life – due to a simple infection. I could focus on the fact that I live with an exquisite companion who will do most anything to ensure I get the proper health care I need to heal well.
In fact, no matter what (awful) experiences may ever be happening around me, I can always bring my focus to the simplest things that are working beautifully in in this moment to support me being alive:
I am breathing air that doesn’t care whether I’ve brushed my teeth, and I can rest my tired butt on a chair, sofa, bed, or just earthy ground that doesn’t care if I washed my shorts and never asks anything in return. (thanks Ash Ruiz for these simple gratitudes)
Even in the midst of my biggest breakdowns – which just means I’ve suddenly conjured up a massive problem my mind has no answer for – when I turn my focus to even the smallest working aspects of my life, praise becomes near effortless.
Because everything suddenly turns into a gift.
Even arguing with my partner or having an infected foot becomes a kind of “bonus experience” that lives on top of everything else working so perfectly in my life to even allow me such experiences in the first place. I still take the actions necessary to heal my foot, but now I do so in a mindset of gratitude for having a foot at all.
Now all the love and sweetness my woman and her mom baked into every browned fiber of that chocolate banana bread can just ooze deliciousness all over my fix-it-focus moment of concern about its moisture content.
Because you should know: I devoured her delicious bread with gusto.
I’m profoundly grateful this extraordinary woman delights in feeding me. I’m grateful for her in my life, and for all our wild adventures both passed and yet to come.