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Filtering by Category: Relationships

How to Cope with Stress, Anger During this Political Season

Ana Polanco

Last week I tried to write this story about empathy for the opposing party and I couldn’t. I was feeling overly anxious and stressed about the US Presidential Elections and the "No" Vote on Colombia's plebiscite to approve the current version of the peace accords. 

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With less than 30 days in the national presidential debate, I am feeling, tired, angry, charged, stressed, and like this entire political season is a charade. I also felt like it was hard to disconnect from the political chatter because so many of my values and who I want the country to be is on the line.  I imagine many of you also feel this way and are feeling burned out. 

From race, culture and police relations, immigration reform to sexual assault, women’s bodies and the economy, I feel totally under attack.  Anger and frustration are healthy emotions and we should find healthy ways to express them. 

When I am in this type of angry position, it’s hard for me to cultivate empathy immediately, see the other side and be my best self. Many of you may also feel this stress or anger.  So is it realistic for you to cultivate empathy in this political season?

The truth is that it’s different for everyone. Everyone has different levels of tolerance based on their lived experiences and different abilities to let go of anger. However, cultivating empathy and compassion is truly important, especially when the stakes are high and the issues are charged.

Empathy allows us to step in someone else’s shoes and try to understand the other person's condition and emotions from their perspective. Empathy is a necessary element to understanding immigration reform, sexual assault and race relations. If we cannot put ourselves in the shoes of vulnerable communities, it can be extremely difficult to build empathy for others and even harder to find consensus.

So how do we cultivate empathy in extreme situations like this political debate?

DRAWING A LINE BETWEEN THE EXTREME AND THE MANAGEABLE

Some conversations and actions are more manageable than others. For me an overload of social media and news, causes me to feel anxious and unsafe. So I have to draw a line in the sand every day for myself to prevent the overload and anxiety from seeping into my own work and relationships with others. After all to make culture shifting changes in my consulting work, I have to work with people all across the political spectrum, so keeping balance is key to my own professional success. For others, attending rallies, unfriending people on social media and not engaging family members in political conversations can be part of the making choices around your line of engagement.  

BE VULNERABLE AND ALWAYS STAND IN YOUR POWER

A friend of mine was having a conversation with two male family members who referred to 1996 Miss Universe Alicia Machado as “the housekeeping.”  She quickly responded by telling them how disrespectful it was to refer to women this way, asking them to consider how they would feel if this were their own daughters. This silenced her family members instantly. As women we have an opportunity to push back on conversations that sexually demean other women. It’s never a good idea to pit women against women especially when sexual assault is at stake no matter what party you are affiliated with.

And If you are a survivor, silence may feel safer than speaking out. I urge you to do what’s right for you. This is also true for people of color who experience other forms of violence (poverty, microaggressions, racism) on a day-to-day basis. Sometimes silence feels safer especially when you are just not sure what to do in awkward situations and when passive aggressive behavior is at play.  Being in your power means owning your choices whatever they are. 

STEP INTO THE OTHER PERSON’S SHOES

This week I tried to step into Donald Trump’s shoes. I was unsuccessful at first, wondering what would cause someone to have so much hate for others. I then forced myself to imagine Donald as a small child. Children do not know sexual assault, they do not hate other people, they do not suffer from the many social ills we suffer from as adults. Imagining him as a child, allowed empathy to flow through me. I began thinking about what his parents must have been like, his role models, his childhood. This helped me see how sad and lonely it must have been and is to be Donald Trump. While it doesn’t excuse his behavior it does make me wonder about the millions of followers out there, living lonely and scared lives. In some ways we, as a country, are also responsible for engaging them, educating them, making sure they have the tools to keep up with the new millennium. 

Consider how difficult it must be to live in isolation and the amount of work we still have to do to educate and heal communities around race, gender and sexual orientation.  Speaking to opposing sides from a place of empathy, allows us to ask empowering questions to people on opposite sides of an isle and to discover who they are and how they came to have certain beliefs. 

TAKE THE HIGH ROAD: FOCUS ON PURPOSE AND VALUES NOT STRATEGY

Most failed negotiations and debates in business and politics are because people are focused on strategy and outcome instead of purpose, values and relationships. Focusing on strategy makes conversations small. For example, I have a strategy and I want you to adapt it to fix the problem we are facing. That leaves a limited number of solutions for the opposing party to take. Instead take a wider approach and talk about the impact a situation is having on you -- How you feel, what’s important to you, what your deepest concerns are. Then leave space for others to share the impact the problem is having on them.  Purpose and values will help you know who you are, who the other person is and what’s important to them – creating more avenues and possible strategies for mutual success.

MANAGE YOUR POWER AND PRIVILEGE

We all have different forms of power and privilege that are operating all the time – education level, profession, income, race, age, gender, migration status, sexual orientation, disability and many others. During this political season, manage that power and privilege, which is always acting and giving or taking away your ability to exert power and influence over any situation. Consider if your family member said something you didn't agree with, would you respond to them the same way you respond to either political candidate?

Our relationships as a country are at stake. A taxi drive said to me, let's vote the people I don't agree with off to an island. No -- that is dictatorial and completely un-American value. We can heal relationships and double down resources and open conversations to those areas where voters have different opinions or are still feeling the economic crisis.  If we don't open lines of communication between different communities, we will find ourselves facing bigger problems of home grown terrorists and breaks in race relations -which are already happening.

In the end, the choice of how you want to walk in the world is yours. They key is to lead from a place of choice as often as possible.

Your turn: How are you coping with the political season? Is it working? What else might you do to cope with stress?

P.S. Enjoyed this post? Help us spread the love by sharing it, liking it, tweeting it, or forwarding it to your network.

Women in Politics II: Cultivating Men as Allies

STQ Admin

Si Tú Quieres continues to highlight incredible every day Latinas.  Meet Patricia Campos-Medina. 

Patricia Campos-Medina serves as the President of Latinas United for Political Empowerment (LUPE PAC) in NJ and she is a founding Board Member for PODER PAC, a national political action committee by Latinas for Latinas. She has been active in international, national, and local politics for 20 years and has led and contributed to a number of political and issue based campaigns, including Senator Cory Booker and US Rep. Bill Pascrell. Patricia also directs the Union Leadership Institute at Cornell University and brings her labor union roots, Salvadoran culture and youth migration experience to her leadership. You can follow her on Twitter at @pcamposmedina or e-mail: patriciaLUPEPACpres@gmail.com 


The biggest challenge for women in politics is the fact that there are too few of us at the highest levels of elected office and as leaders or staffers with the two major political parties.

In order to be successful in politics, we need to be intentional about building key relationships with men that turns some of them into our allies to help us move our agendas and to get the votes that we need to be elected to office.

The Reality

The U.S. population is 51 percent female, yet our representation in U.S. Congress is only 16.6 percent.  The trend for Latina women is even worse. A report by Latinas Represent, shows that Latinas comprise just 1% of elected leaders nationwide:

  • There are 435 seats in Congress; 9 are held by Latinas (2 percent)
  • Out of the 7,383 state senators and representatives, 78 are Latina (1.1 percent)
  • 5 out of the 320 statewide executives across the country are Latina (1.5 percent)
  • Only one Latina has ever been elected governor, and
  • No Latina has ever been elected to the U.S. Senate

These numbers are sobering and as the Latino population grows, we must focus our attention on making sure that more Latinas are elected so that we can translate our experiences into policy that impacts our neighborhoods and families. 

Lack of Representation & Impact

Recent newspaper articles have brought attention to the fact that both parties, but especially the Democratic Party, count on the minority vote to win key elections. Yet, their outreach programs don’t necessarily translate into top jobs or contracts for minority consultants.  This lack of diversity translates into campaigns that lack the cultural nuance to reach ethnic communities simultaneously failing to build a bench of political operatives that are diverse and can successfully guide ethnic candidates to win elected office.  Lack of diversity in political campaigns translates into lack of diversity in policy representation at the highest ranks of government.

As a labor political operative who spent time as political consultant, I know first hand how hard it is to compete for those positions. In both roles, my biggest challenge was always navigating the gender bias, the machismo; to stand out and be recognized for what I brought to the table. I survived and thrived by being clear about my purpose for being in the game, but also by learning to build relationships with powerful men that helped me navigate the political process, men who recognized my abilities and empowered me to make decisions on my own terms.

Speaking Truthfully

In my previous blog, I wrote that a key component of learning to play the game of politics was to build alliances to help you accomplish your personal and organizational goals.  In order to expand your circle of influence, you must learn to cultivate some key relationships with powerful men that can help you advocate for your personal goals and accomplish your professional objectives.

My first assignment in politics was given to me by my boss Oscar, who at that time was a top leader with organized labor in Washington DC. He recruited me to join the AFL-CIO’s efforts to mobilize Latino voters in the late 1990s.  I really didn’t know anything about party politics back then, but I was a good organizer. 

During my first assignment somewhere in TX, he got a call telling him I was too problematic and needed to be re-assigned.  When he called me to ask my version of the story, I was specific with him on telling him the problem and offering him a solution. 

He said, “You got it. Stay doing your work and keep making trouble.  As long as you tell me what you need to get the work done, I got your back.”  And with that, Oscar and I began a real partnership.  Even though I was very young and he knew I would make some mistakes, he trusted my instincts and my abilities to complete my assignment and be successful.

As I moved up in the ranks of organized labor, I emulated that same relationship with all my future bosses. I focused my time on building relationships with my superiors that were based on mutual trust, clear understanding of the organizational goals, and on accomplishing key victories that would solidify my record as an effective political operative.

How to Cultivate Men as Allies

Here are some tips on how to cultivate relationships with men so they will invest in your success and see you as a key partner in helping them meet their organizational goals,

Focus on Your Sphere of Influence: An effective leadership practice demands that you focus your energy on what you can control, what you can influence.  There are too many leaders who spend time worrying on all that is wrong around them and lose focus of their ultimate objective.  You cannot fix what is outside of your control, but as you accomplish small goals, your sphere of control and power increases and eventually your circle of influence will expand. If you are new to a campaign, fully understand your assignment, the power dynamics of the campaign and w here you fall in the pecking order of the decision- making process.  Do a power analysis and identify where you are positioned on the power map. Identify who are the individuals that have influence and build relationships with them.

Be a Problem Solver: If you identify a problem, find the reasons for it and what needs to get done to overcome it.  Offer your leader specific solutions and volunteer to lead the efforts to solve it. Set a timeline, with specific deadlines, and stick to it.  And if you make a mistake, or something doesn’t get done on time, own your responsibility for it. Making excuses for why a task wasn’t completed on time, or blaming someone else for your failure to meet your deadline, is not a good leadership practice.

Be Clear About Your Boundaries: Being a young, aggressive and smart woman in politics is hard. You attract all kinds of attention from men.  You then must carefully balance being friendly with keeping your boundaries.  Know exactly what your boundaries are, and if someone steps over them, stop them right away.  I once was negotiating with an elected official, and afterwards one of his top staffers suggested I needed to be friendlier.  I knew exactly what he meant.  I politely told him: “If you stop right now, I’ll forget this conversation ever happened.  If you continue, there will be consequences.”  Needless to say, he knew what I meant.  He never made a sexual advance at me again and I continued to engage with him as an equal until we got the work done. 

Know How to Handle Passive Aggressive Behavior: My greatest challenge as a political operative has been handling passive aggressive behavior from men. You know what that behavior looks like and it is hard to call it out and stop it:  male colleagues ignore your ideas, talk over you and never give you credit for the work you have done. They exclude you from meetings or give you the run around on your budget needs. And if you have the nerve to call them out on it, you become a troublemaker and therefore unworthy of their trust. 

The most effective strategy to handle this behavior is to leave a trail of your work performance. Make sure you understand your assignment and you spell out to the team leaders exactly what you need to accomplish the task. In every meeting speak up and make sure the team knows your progress is commensurate with your resource allocation. And if you see someone not getting credit for his/her contributions to the team, find a way to elevate their work.  Look out for other women in the group and build real relationships with them so that eventually you have others in the group who see you as their ally as well.

Build an Inner Circle of Male Advisors: And finally, build an inner circle with people who care about your success and support you. Some of them should be men who know and appreciate your work performance.  My former boss became my mentor in navigating the politics of Labor and gave me plenty of advice on how to handle the rough and tumble world of politics.  I also became close friends with several candidates and campaigners whom I could reach out for advice or guidance.

Cultivating men as mentors and allies is key because they have insights into their fellow men “groupthink” that we do not. Getting their opinions, or their advice on how to tackle a difficult situation helped me navigate key relationships.  I might not always have followed their exact recommendations, but I learned that just by listening to them, I was able to think through my own strategy. And if one male leader wanted to block me from being inside a circle of influence, I always triangulated another relationship to figure out how to get to the circle.

Once I met my husband Bob, he became my sounding board, breaking down situations and offering less confrontational ways to respond.  I learned from him to think as a chess player, and to envision the ultimate outcome I am trying to construe before I react to triggering behavior.

Nurture Female Relationships: But as important as male allies are to help you be successful in politics, you must also cultivate a cadre of women, a tribe, who lift you up.  Just remember this anonymous saying,  “Behind every successful woman, there is a tribe of other successful women who have her back.”

My tribe is diverse -- high school and college friends, sorority sisters, women work colleagues, other women activists and my ultimate rock, my mother.

Build your tribe and it will keep you grounded and strong.

Your turn: How have male allies supported you in your own leadership development?

P.S. Enjoyed this post? Help us spread the love by sharing it, liking it, tweeting it, or forwarding it to your network.

Women in Politics: What Does Success Mean to You?

Librada Estrada

Si Tu Quieres is excited to highlight an incredible Latina that has been very active in the world of politics for 20 years and is doing great work to develop others who desire to impact and transform their communities and organizations—Patricia Campos-Medina.

Patricia Campos-Medina is a leadership development professional with the Union Leadership Institute at Cornell University. She is currently the President of Latinas United for Political Empowerment (LUPE PAC) in NJ, and a founding Board Member for PODER PAC, a national political action committee by Latinas for Latinas.  She served as political and legislative director for several unions including UNITE, UNITEHERE and SEIU.  She also worked as a campaign consultant in many local, state and federal political campaigns including US Rep. Bill Pascrell, Mayor Cory Booker and Senator Cory Booker. In 2008, she served as part of the Transition Team for President Barack Obama.  She was born in El Salvador and immigrated to the USA at the age of 14 years old and now resides in NJ. You can follow her on Twitter at @pcamposmedina or e-mail her at patriciaLUPEPACpres@gmail.com


It has been quite a year of presidential politics already.  And as the attacks on Hillary’s record continues, I cannot help but think about the challenges that women who work in politics face daily as they attempt to be engaged and win on their own terms.  Not all women might like Hillary, or might connect with her like some of us do, but what her experiences reveal is that in politics, acting like a man can be an “asset and a curse.”  How we learn to navigate this duality is what helps us stay in the game and succeed on our own terms.

I have been immersed in Democratic and labor politics for the majority of 20 years of my professional life.  I have run labor political programs and have been part of teams that run national presidential campaigns, local mayoral and city council campaigns.  I worked at the highest levels of policy making in Congress, and developed sharp elbows getting resolutions passed at the local city councils in cities across the United States.  I have also been in the backroom cutting deals, and I have been in the streets protesting those who are behind closed doors making those deals.  Through all of these experiences, I accomplished a lot but I have also gotten burned and deflated, been excluded and vilified, and I have been told at times that if only I knew how the game is played, I could have more power and influence.

Learning the Game

So, what is the game?  And what does success in politics looks like for women?  I don’t think there is one easy answer for either question, but let’s start by stating the fact that being successful in politics is not necessarily a measure of your level of financial success or your access to power.  There are some women in politics that have both and yet they still feel as outsiders, constantly fighting for recognition for their contributions.  

Learning to negotiate for your interest and for your agenda is a crucial component of learning the game, but the most important one is your ability to build alliances and make those alliances help you build a record of accomplishments.  You also need thick skin to survive the ride and to accept that the qualities that help men be recognized as leaders, do not automatically work for women.  

Why? Because there is a double standard in politics. Qualities that are seen as positive in men, such as confidence and aggressiveness, are seen as negative in women.  Hence, in order to use those qualities to our advantage, we must master the complex art of duality; you must be self-assured and at the same time intentionally learn to transform your confidence into determination and purpose.

So what is the first step in achieving success in politics?  It starts with having a clear purpose.

Your Purpose for Politics

If your goal is to have a future in politics then you must have a plan and a strategy, and be clear about why you are here, in the game.  Why do you want to get into politics?  Is it to build power for yourself?  For your community?  Or is it to accomplish a policy change you care deeply about? 

There is nothing wrong with wanting influence and power.  Men want that all the time and no one vilifies them for it.  But you must know that the stakes are higher for you. If you are a woman, more often than not, you don’t have a “Godfather” to show you the ropes.  You must negotiate the rules on your own and along the way you must learn to develop men and women as allies who will take an interest in your success. (Look for my next piece on cultivating male allies.)

Politics is a Male-Dominated Field

Once you have defined your purpose, you must understand that politics is a male dominated field with access to the inner circle granted more easily to those who are close to money and power.  For Latina women, those two access points are limited given that most of the time we have neither.  We come to politics from the outside, as activists trying to break down the walls and demanding power by mobilizing our community. 

I came to politics as a union/community organizer, someone with a demand.  I believed, and still do, that politics is a tool in our arsenal to fight economic inequality and to have a voice in the future of our country.  Because I was a good organizer, I was recruited to lead union members political activities and to convince them to contribute their hard earned money to politics.  I had people power and that could not be ignored.

But even with people power, I still had to battle the sexism of politics.  I am after all, an immigrant woman with a thick accent. Even with two Ivy League degrees, I had to prove constantly that I didn’t get the job because someone did me a favor.  In my 20s and 30s, I sometimes chose to brush off sexual advances, ignore sexist jokes, and hold my feelings close to my chest so I wouldn’t be labeled too sensitive and or irrational. 

My constant battle was always to be able to cultivate professional relationships with powerful men that were based on my union’s agenda, my campaign skills and my intellect.  I played the game and while I survived and thrived, I always felt a sense that maybe if I had been a man, I would have gotten more done.  Despite this feeling, though, deep in my soul I always knew I had made the best of every situation.

When I entered my late 30’s and 40s, I decided to take a leap of faith and try something new.  I stepped aside from my union political career to have a family, build my own consulting practice and to focus on helping union members become effective leaders.  Politics is a passion for me so I am still engaged in it as an advisor to campaigns and to other Latina women trying to make a mark in politics.

So, if you are a Latina who loves politics, a Latina who wants to run for office or just a political activist who wants to shake up the status quo, I offer the following tips based on what I have learned in the last 20 years of political and campaign work:

  1. Be clear about why you are in the game and be proud of it: You want to run for office? Awesome. Own it.  Learn from the best political candidates and develop a strategy for yourself so that you can run your own campaign. 
  2. Raise your own money: But if you want to run for office, then learn how to raise your own money so that you can be independent and drive your own agenda.  My grandfather, Papita Chema always said, “el que te da el dinero, te controla,” or “whoever gives you the money, controls you.” So, raise your own money. 
  3. Identify your tribe: You want to change the world?  Fix the educational system in your district?  Great causes.  Organize your tios and tias and all your cousins, high school, college friends and your fellow church parishioners. They have to be your first round of volunteers and supporters who help you both with money and by getting others to join your cause.  Than, map out your next round of supporters based on your agenda and your interest.  You grow as a leader when your base of supporters keeps expanding.
  4. Be prepared and always be willing to learn something new: Learn everything you need to know about your issue(s) and be twice as prepared than the men in the room.  And if you don’t know something, listen to what people are saying. Show empathy but don’t fake it.  Be honest that you are not an expert and that you will research the issue and come back with answers.  Faking it or lying about knowing something doesn’t work for women.  We must find the balance between being knowledgeable and not acting like “know it all’s.” 
  5. Be aggressive on defining your expectations to others: You want to learn a new skill in a campaign?  Ask for the job.  Be confident that you will learn it and be clear that you will not get stuck doing the same thing over and over again.  Even if you start at the bottom, by the end of a campaign, you should be in charge of something.  Don’t just hang around waiting to be recognized for your hard work.  If you are a political consultant, find out what other consultants are getting paid for the same type of work.  You have a skill they need so don’t allow them to undervalue your work.   
  6. Open doors for others: If you are a Latina candidate or a campaign consultant, identify young Latina/o operatives and put them to work on your campaign.  Build a cadre of young activist so you can tap their skills later and build your own network.  Have you ever noticed most campaigns always look like 20s something young male college kids? Well, eventually those young male kids become the top earning campaign consultants.  We must build our own pipeline of campaign operatives who are women. 
  7. Empower other women:  Be intentional about having other women voices and experiences around you.  Make them part of your inner circle and assign them key roles on your campaign that will build their skills set.  And if you are a staffer or consultant, use the “shine theory” to build other women allies; if a woman has a great idea in a meeting, support it and make a point to give her credit for it.  This practice denies men the opportunity to ignore it and later claim it as their own.  Don’t be afraid to let other women shine. By building others up, we also build ourselves up as authentic leaders.
  8. Trust your instincts: Oprah talks about how women most valuable asset is our “gut feeling,” our instinct.  There is something innate that makes us feel when something is not good for us. We feel it in our gut or that place right above the top of your stomach that tingles when you are not sure about something. When that happens, don’t ignore it.  If you are being pushed to make a decision that doesn’t feel right, to hire someone you know won’t work out, or you are being triggered by aggressive behavior, walk away.

I have failed some times to listen to my gut instinct and it has gotten me into some bad situations.  But if you make a mistake, don’t be so hard on yourself.  My biggest learning moments have come from situations that went south—either because I lost my composure or because I made the wrong decision.  My test for surviving such moments has always been staying true to myself, living up to my values, and knowing that my integrity was never compromised.

At the end of the day, politics is like any other career. If you love it, you will figure out a way to be good at it.  And like any other job, in order to be successful, you must have a purpose and a strategy to get to the finish line.  Give yourself benchmarks to meet and goals to reach. 

Today I am still in the game cultivating leaders as a trainer and adviser, helping other women and labor leaders discover their own power so they can become authentic leaders with the courage to transform our society.  I have accomplished more than I ever imagined I would as a girl growing up in El Salvador.  And as I continue in my path to build a better world for my children, I keep Winston Churchill’s words as a mantra; 

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal.  It is the courage to continue that counts.”

So as you find your path, I urge you to have the courage to be authentic, to challenge the status quo, to build other women up and to keep pushing until you get to your final destination.

Your turn: How do you try to affect change in your community?  How do you define success in your life?

P.S. Enjoyed this post? Help us spread the love by sharing it, liking it, tweeting it, or forwarding it to your network. 

 

Are You Focusing On The Relationship Or Just Your Needs?

Librada Estrada

We were married at Mission San Jose in San Antonio, Texas. 

We were married at Mission San Jose in San Antonio, Texas. 

In the fall I will have known my partner for 24 years.  This year we will celebrate our 16th wedding anniversary. Before we began dating we had been friends for four years. Then we dated for another four before we made it official. There are moments when I look at him and am surprised that we have been together for this long.

On one hand, it seems like just yesterday we were being introduced. On another it’s like I have never walked with anyone else.

Expectations of Childhood Dreams

It’s a surprise to me particularly because my parents divorced when I was eight years old. Because of the experience I used to think I wouldn’t marry. The examples I saw involved two individuals being selfish, ugly and I painted marriage as a power struggle with one person always coming out on top.

The other couples I did observe were cloaked in secrecy, at least that is how it seemed to me, because no one ever discussed what was going well or the challenges. When there was trouble brewing I was kept in the dark since I was one of the younger ones in the family. So I did not learn how couples resolved problems.

Instead, I had unrealistic expectations of love and thought that there was such a thing as the perfect marriage because what I learned about relationships was based on TV or books. I also believed that arguments could be resolved in short periods of time.

My Truth

After almost 16 years of marriage what I have learned is that each of us has good days and bad. Neither of us is perfect and we make lots of mistakes. Communication is ongoing work for the both of us and emotions get the better of one or the other at different instances. Sometimes we go to bed mad at each other.

We have had great moments, stressful moments and there have been instances where I was ready to call it quits and I imagine that he also felt the same way.

I also know that my partner is my best friend. He is the first person that I want to call when something good or bad happens.

Our Relationship

I have recognized that although we are both individuals, we have to work together in honor of our relationship. We are focusing on what we want to create in our marriage and the life that we desire. It's more than just combining separate needs.

It sounds trite but when I am asked what makes us work or stay in love with each other, I share that there is no magic pill. In my opinion falling in love is easy. Staying together is the hard part.

What We Are Creating Together

I am grateful for my significant other. There are several things that I have learned from being with him for so many years. 

  • Be willing to change for the sake of the relationship. Recognize that you are now a team. Yes, it is important to have your individual goals and dreams. It is also important to remember you said yes to create a life with another person. That means it’s not just about you or that other person. You have to grow in service of each other. It’s about what you are creating together—the relationship.
  • There is no 50-50 in love and your roles will change. At different times each of you will pick up the slack, either in the relationship, home life, love life, emotions, etc. It’s a constant give and take. When you start tracking it, you are asking for trouble.
  • Remember why you fell in love with your partner. Besides the physical, you were attracted to your partner for different reasons. In my husband’s case, I fell in love with his confidence, generosity, and quiet strength, as well as his intelligence. Although how he embodies those elements has changed some, these are qualities that are still core to him. Truth be told, at moments that I have been the most upset or I am trying to get over being mad with him I remind myself of what I find appealing about him. When I bring to the forefront the good things, these outweigh the crap that’s mudding the waters.  Remind yourself of what attracted you to this person in the first place.
  • Identify your shared values. Different stages in our lives have pushed us to come together and identify what is important-changing jobs, what we want in a home, the number of children we will have, how we will raise them, our spiritual life, my business, etc. We have discovered the values that are key for us. These will guide you when you are unsure.
  • Be yourself. Yes, it is good to consider doing things a different way, but do not change who you are at core to please someone else.
  • Accept that you can only change yourself. Many instances I wanted or demanded that my partner be the one to change. In truth, I can only change myself. How can you expect your partner to change if you are not wiling to do it?
  • Remember the good moments and the bad. Sure we have lots of great memories as a family. These are the ones that help us get through the bad times. However, it’s the tough moments that remind me that our marriage is worth fighting for and that make our relationship stronger. You sometimes have to experience the ugly moments together to identify what is really important to the both of you.
  • Learn to share the TV remote or to tolerate each other’s TV shows. Said another way, take interest in some of things that your partner likes. Before dating him, I did not know the first thing about Star Trek. Because of my husband, at one point I knew more about Deep Space Nine than him. In return, I introduced him to the finer points of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer.

Your Turn: What has helped you to have a positive long-term relationship?

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How to Honor Yourself in a Relationship

Ana Polanco

As I think back to all the stages of my life, one of the key lessons I have learned is how to set boundaries for myself in any relationship. When I really like someone personally or professionally, I tend to go out of my way for them. While this may seem harmless on its surface, even generous, the truth is that those constant over extensions came at a price: meeting my own goals.

Giving feels so good. Some of us have it in our temperament to give. Others have been taught to put themselves second by their community. I often got verbal and physical signals from my family and my community that mothers, sisters, daughters, and aunts come second. Fathers, brothers, sons and uncles come first. Growing up Catholic, I was taught that the meek shall inherent the earth. As a school girl I took that literally and often gave up everything for others in my family and even for strangers without boundaries. Hearing and seeing these messages overtime gave me a warped sense of what giving means in the context of my own life.

As an adult, I had weak boundaries and resulted in a lost expression of who I wanted to be in the world. I put everyone first-- social justice advocacy, my family’s needs, my ex-husband’s needs, my friend’s needs, and my work and volunteerism. Being like this led to real problems for me – health issues, exhaustion, unbalanced relationships, frustration, and a muted self-expression. Until I was fed up.

In the last ten years, I began to set boundaries in different places of my life. I began to protect my time and see it as my most precious commodity. A divorce from my husband, breakups with friends and deep shifts in my career, created space to find out who I wanted to be. While these changes were hard and even at times deeply painful, I grew to know myself again as I learned to trust my own thoughts, feelings, intuition and spirituality.

This silent space also showed me how depleted I was and how much farther I wanted to be in my own personal goals. So I began a journey to defend and protect my time vigorously and to begin lifting my voice up again so I could once again become visible, find genuine relationships and grow those relationships from a place of grounding.

People often ask me if I have regrets. I have no regrets about the past. Every moment led me to this more authentic, bold version of me. As I look back at all those relationships, I hope these tips will make your relationships with the people you love and care for more meaningful.  It’s not always about walking away. Sometimes it’s just about defining who you are today and sharing it with the world:

Identify Your Values

Values make up part of the engine that is our core belief system. Before, during and after a relationship, check your values. Values help us make important decisions about what matters the most at any stage of life. While values are flexible and can change, there are some values you may not want to live without. When you think about a potential partner, don’t compare them to past partners. Compare yourself and them to your own values. (See exercise below)

Be Seen. Be Visible.

Being visible might seem like a strange action to highlight. After all, the whole point of the relationship is that you’re getting to know someone. In the past, I have made myself small in a relationship. When you’re really into someone, sometimes you just get in this cycle of pleasing them and forgetting about your own needs. Your partner can’t get to know you if they can’t see your personality and learn about your needs. Figuring out if this is the right partner requires Conocimiento (mutuality) and for that you have to be visible. Let them see you.

Break out the Financial Spreadsheets.      

We all have spreadsheets about the people we are dating, whether it’s a literal one or a checklist in your head. Often that spreadsheet is based on things you’ve seen your partner do. But if you are thinking about living together or getting married, serious value based questions are key. Most people don’t talk about each other’s finances, as if the magical fairy is just going erase your financial past.  The truth is that most serious relationships break up over money. The deeper truth is that most relationships break up over what to do with the money. Your finances and how you manage may be key indicators of life circumstances, accountability, dreams, interests, daily habits and so forth. Having conversations about debt, financial dreams and goals can only bring you closer to your partner. Have conversations together before you get hitched about your individual and shared financial vision. If you’re single, have this conversation with yourself.  

Learn to have Empowering Conversations

One of the hardest things that individuals face in a relationship is fear of rejection.  Fear of not being accepted for who we are is scary, especially when we are really invested in the other person. And yet, silence is even scarier. Part of the secret is to face those challenges from a place of curiosity. When a major hurdle comes up, try asking questions that empower your partner to share the process and values behind their actions. Asking what or how questions help the other person share their values and new perspectives.

Your Turn: Hot Air Balloon Exercise

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Here’s a short exercise you can do to identify your values and your relationship. Start by identifying five values for yourself. Imagine you were in a hot air balloon with five of your most precious values. Your perfect partner came along with their key five values. The only way your partner can get in the hot air balloon with you is if the both you had to ditch all but one of your values. You agree to do so. What would value would be left for you? For them? What information does this give you about yourself? Your current or future partner?