Author Archives: Dr. Carol Stoney

Partner Training: Wait Tables & Work Retail

I want all of my children to wait on tables and work retail at some point in their lifetimes. I waited tables in multiple restaurants and worked in department stores through most of college and graduate school. The lessons for them as well as future partners are beautiful.

Waiting tables: I remember many nights of heading to work as a waitress with a weary mind and body from schoolwork, but the bills had to be paid, so I knew I had to perform. I had to find my smile and my manners and bring the energy from somewhere within. Or else. Tips were my tuition. My rent. Gas in the car to get to school and work. I learned a hard lesson during those long nights of really physical work and intense listening to the needs of others. To get where I needed to go, I had to put my “I don’t feel like it” aside and serve. I had to listen to patrons and treat them like their wishes mattered. Sometimes the way they asked wasn’t terribly kind, but kindness always seemed to dissolve the ugly behavior from someone I was trying to serve. The unkind behavior from a client was almost always about not feeling like he or she mattered, not about how the steak was cooked. That’s a solvable problem, especially if the steak is delivered with the message that I want to get it right with you. As partners, we won’t get it right with each other even close to all of the time. Sometimes we will be unnecessarily grouchy and demanding or put the blame in the wrong place, but being able to go back and repair with love, kindness, and apology is critical. My tips more than paid the rent when the compassion and effort were visible. Our partners need customer service, too. Try it.

Work retail: One Christmas holiday during college I worked at a downtown department store. As holiday help, I never knew where I would be placed and had to be flexible as well as learn the new sales area often on the fly! I must have shown some competency in hosiery (that’s the way I like to look at it versus the reality that no one else wanted that job) because I spent many days that vacation selling Hanes Control Top Reinforced Toe Hosiery. One customer stands out in my memory. She was an elderly lady who came to me asking questions that had nothing to do with my hosiery knowledge, and despite my efforts at patience, she became very agitated and almost nonsensical. I was 19 and ill-prepared to know how to calm her down, so I just listened to her talk about her hurt and confusion. She left as quickly as she had appeared. I remember feeling like I had been hit by a tornado and wondered if I had handled the customer (who wasn’t buying anything) the correct way. The next day she came and found me at work. She began to cry and told me that her beloved husband had died in her arms exactly a year before yesterday. She knew that she had been overwhelmed and had taken it out on someone who didn’t understand her pain. She brought a gorgeous piece of fabric as a gift to apologize.

I think of her every year as I wrap the red, green and black tartan around the base of our Christmas tree. Show up. Listen when someone is in pain. We’re not meant to do this life alone. Do you know what your partner’s biggest stressor is right now? Ask. Then ask how you can help. Our job is to take good care of each other.

Avocados and Relationships

I have a confession. Avocados used to intimidate me. I didn’t grow up eating them, so I didn’t know how to cut them open. I had heard that they were good for me, but not feeling like an avocado expert kept me from buying them and giving them a place in our kitchen. So, I took a high-tech response to to my avocado issues and went to YouTube. I researched how to choose avocados, how to know if they are ripe, and how to slice them and and remove the pits in a way that makes me feel like I should have my own cooking show. I have mastered the avocado.

I had compassion for my intimidated self. I knew that because I had not grown up learning about avocado management, there was no way that I could have supreme avocado confidence. I guessed that with a little effort and education, I could get past my avocado ignorance and maybe become a bit healthier with avocado on our sandwiches and lots more homemade guacamole.

Relationships require the same kind of compassion for ourselves. How would we know how to be in long-term healthy relationships if we did not grow up witnessing a healthy relationship? if we did not learn how to effectively manage conflict? if we did not see affection expressed regularly and in a healthy way? How would we know?

Now I have a funny sense of accomplishment as I see my children choose and dismantle the avocados in our kitchen. They have the necessary confidence to put something healthy into their lives because they have been taught. One daughter swears that avocados are best as pretzel dip.

My challenge to you is to have compassion for yourself with what you weren’t born knowing. Healthy love relationships have a tremendous positive effect on our mental health. I tell clients in my office that they will come away with a much better education about themselves, their partners,and the best research we have on healthy human connections. Read anything by Dr. John Gottman or Dr. Sue Johnson. I have no idea about their skill level with avocados, but they’ve done the real work with taking apart relationships and helping couples get back to the healthy and safe place we all desire.

Why I Hide the Scissors

Nothing can make our emotions go haywire more than our partner can. Our children come a close second. Have you noticed? I’ve heard that policeman are in more danger when they are called to a domestic situation than to a bank robbery. Emotional reactions to our partners can hijack our senses in a way that blindsides us as well as loved ones. I like to call it “marital road rage”.

Dr. John Gottman is the premier researcher in the world in relationship health. He describes the physiology of our emotional tornado as “flooding”. The brain actually goes off-line when our pulse rises to ten percent over its normal pounding. When you feel your body reacting to an issue with your partner, think about the pulse. Take several deep breaths. If you are not able to respond to your partner in a way that says “I’m upset, but I want to talk about this in a way that says I care about you”, then you are not physically able to make that conversation go well! Isn’t that a relief? We can talk more in my office about how to get the body and brain back online so that you can connect with your loved one, even in your upset.

Ok, I really do keep the scissors and any other weaponish items hidden in my office so that couples who feel their pulse pounding or their stomachs in knots won’t get any funny ideas about things to say to their partner that they will regret later. What do you need to put away in your vocabulary with your partner so that next time (not if, WHEN) you get flooded, you don’t leave flood damage? What words should be completely retired from your home?

Make a commitment to yourself to be more aware when you begin to feel the boil, then do something different. Do something different. Stop. Breathe. Breathe again. Leave the room if you need to recover on your own. Leave the verbal scissors in the drawer instead of unleashing on the person you say that you love.

It’s My Pleasure

I was just in line at Chick-Fil-A in the mall and was waiting for my Diet Dr. Pepper and a sandwich before my next meeting. It was the lunch rush with long lines full of parents trying to be patient with fussy, hungry children. I heard the servers behind the counter say “It’s my pleasure” to even the smallest request. I would love to know more about how they train these young adults because I believed them! I believed that it was their pleasure to serve me by the way that they made eye contact, smiled and had an eager tone of voice. They seemed to have a genuine desire to get it right.

Fascinating. So, how does that relate to relationships? Can you remember the beginning of your relationships – when it was so pleasurable to find just the right gift, cook a meal that was really appreciated, or give a back rub that really hits the spot? Regular gestures of love and appreciation are critical to keeping us connected and special to our partners, but we know when our partners are not giving with love. We feel resentful when we are not giving with love. If you and your partner have gotten off-track with your giving, challenge yourself to be the one to change the love climate in your home. Reset the pleasure thermostat. Give. Do it with your whole heart. Expect nothing in return. Just give. Feel the pleasure again of giving love. Don’t you like yourself more when you are being your best loving self? Here’s the real challenge. Do it when you really don’t feel like loving. Love is a verb. Just do it.

This is where I hear so many couples get caught in a downward cycle. I hear clients say “I know I should give the hug/smile/gift/time to my loved one, but I just don’t feel like it. I’ll give when I feel love.” I understand the pain behind that statement. The world looks and feels better when we feel loved and cherished by our partner. We started our relationships with the assurances and affections that made us certain that this person would love us the way we wanted to be loved forever. We sign on the marital dotted line with supreme confidence that we are chosen and loved. Life intervenes, and our differences are magnified. As the hurts are left uncleared, we feel more and more that everything would be different if our partner would just go back and act the way he/she did in the beginning. In our longing, we stop loving, and when we stop giving love to wait for the feeling to come back, we do the very thing that ensures that it never will.

I tell couples that the most mature way to respond to a partner’s complaint is to ask yourself “What part of that is true?”. Show caring when someone is concerned. Show your partner that this relationship matters. None of us expect perfect partners, but we do hope and long to feel that we matter, even in difficult times.

Had the young people at Chick-FIl-A rolled their eyes at my order or told me that I was being high-maintenance for ordering a sandwich with no pickles, I would not have wanted to go back. What if I had gone to the counter for my free refill and been told that I couldn’t have one despite the fact that I saw other folks getting their refills with a smile? That’s not the way to keep a customer feeling welcome. Love works like that, too. How does your partner feel when he or she is with you? Loved? Rejected? Appreciated? Undesirable? Respected? Like he or she is a pleasure (most of the time!)?


Dr. Carol Burns Stoney