"How to Maintain & Strengthen Your Marriage...Honey, I Like Coffee"
Marriages provide the foundation for individuals to live positive and fulfilling lives. From a marriage and family counseling perspective, my interest is in helping couples strengthen their relationship so that their marriage supports their growth as individuals, living the best life possible, while enhancing their life together. The current climate of financial distress threatens marriages needlessly; we can actually use it as an opportunity to strengthen all our relationships. Although we are in Wall Street crises, the solutions will come from the Main Streets of Carlsbad, Encinitas, Solana Beach, and all the other small communities in which we live out our lives with our children, parents, and friends.
Carlsbad, California, a city known for attracting families, is feeling the economic strain just as is the rest of the country. Anchor industries such as Callaway Golf Company and TaylorMade, two of golf’s most influential companies are downsizing and office space stands alarmingly empty throughout Carlsbad, San Marcos, Vista, and Oceanside. The once astronomical housing costs have diminished to an almost reasonable amount although it still may cost $650,000 for a 1700 square foot house if it’s in the right place such as near the Batiquitos Lagoon. Many of our neighbors have lost equity and may be facing foreclosure. Couples seek marriage counseling more often for issues concerning their adjustment to new lifestyles. Anti-depression and anxiety relieving medication prescriptions are increasing, no doubt due to the current cultural stressors. Addictions are on the increase since they provide an otherworldly focus, which deflects from real-life problems. With all that bad news, it is important to talk about how ordinary people continue to maintain and even grow in their marriages and relationships with friends.
As a long time Carlsbad resident, I find my conversations with friends have changed dramatically. Sitting at the La Costa Coffee Roasting Company, one of my favorite hang-outs at 6965 El Camino Real (yes, I know it is a shameless plug) topics range from taking the kids to Legoland or spending a fraction of that money on an El Caribe tostada and a picnic at the new Ambrosia Community Park. Tough decisions like these determine how my family and friends spend their time. Where we once discussed exotic vacation possibilities, we now consider staying local and visiting the Encinitas downtown shopping area, walking the trails of La Costa or ordering tea at the Aviara Four Seasons (much less expense than staying there).
The plus side to this economic downturn is the creative problem solving forced upon us as couples and parents. By creating memorable but inexpensive experiences for our families, important relationships strengthen rather than weaken. Many of us have had to face the sense of entitlement that is born from too many prosperous years and draw on our own resources rather than those that come so easily with easy income. Some of the economical activities my family has discovered include:
· Visiting the Carlsbad Flower Fields
· Checking out the Encinitas Quail Botanical Gardens
· Taking the Amtrak from Carlsbad to Old Town and just walking around
· Exploring San Diego’s Balboa Park — especially free Tuesdays
· Walking the Oceanside Pier and the Oceanside Harbor—great places to feel like a tourist on vacation
· Becoming one with butterflies at the Encinitas Butterfly Vivarium
· Spending quality time at the beach — any time of day for any meal feels like a vacation — favorites are Carlsbad State Beach, Moonlight in Encinitas, Torrey Pines, Ponto in Carlsbad, and Buccaneer in Oceanside.
· Block parties and barbeques
· Spending Saturday mornings at the Encinitas Seaside Bazaar then cruising through town
· Going to the new Sea Life Aquarium adjacent to Legoland
· Attending Carlsbad TGIFridays Jazz in the Park
As we are engaging in these newly discovered activities, we are finding that the obsessive focus on negative aspects of the current climate of our country and community diminish, which keeps our lives in perspective. Problems still exist and need solving but they are only a part of how we live, not the core. Reestablishing friendships and embracing our new lifestyles is both empowering and positive.
"VG's Donuts — A Family Tradition"
VG’s Donut Shop, in Cardiff, that great little beach town nestled between Encinitas to the north and Solana Beach to the south has seen its share of history over the last forty years. There is a lot to be said for a business in North Coastal San Diego County that has withstood the ups and downs of our economy, attitude changes, dietary demands for sugar and then, oops — no sugar, and the tidal flows of our personally changing lives. VG’s, online at vgbakery.com, has seen it all and still produces the best donuts, baked daily TWICE for us to wake up to, or finish off a night, around 5 am. Even more amazing, maybe only to a marriage counselor who believes that life is about relationships, is the fact that VG Donut & Bakery is a third generation business still owned by those who started it. What must a family have gone through to create and maintain such a legacy? Having never met a single Mettee family member, I am only surmising the possibility that VGs Donuts (which stands for Very Good) exists because the Mettee family has navigated through life admirably. As in any relationship, we pay tribute when we recognize a long journey that continues successfully.
Marriage is a lot like a multi-generational business. Two people encounter one another in a way that leads to blissful hope brought on by hormonal influences elevating our baser desires to the miracle of procreation. Sort of the way a couple of folks decide to start a business producing incredibly delectable yummies that can only elevate coffee in the morning on the beach to the level of utopia. OK — I may be a bit dramatic but stay with me on this. To ensure the success of this business/marriage, its founders must be willing to take on the journey of a lifetime. This escapade is every bit the feeling of a bike ride from Oceanside to La Jolla where all terrains test and rest. The ride is filled with exhilarating downhill coasts through restaurant row in Cardiff, to the uphill trudging of Torrey Pines State Park that make you want to fire up the barbeque with your quads, to the restful straight-aways along Carlsbad beach that last just enough to keep you willing. And, that is just the first part of the journey. For a business, this means licenses, build-outs, joining the chamber, hiring and product decisions; for a marriage it also means licenses, moving in together (the build-out), anticipating and having a child or 2.5, appliance upgrades and kindergarten. Then the “real” work begins.
Real work in both enterprises demand participants to be open to learning from mistakes and incorporating all those lessons into a life that is in constant flux, known as CF. The challenge with CF is that no one really feels safe and stable unless they dig themselves into an abyss of a “see, hear, and speak no evil” existence. That person won’t succeed in relationships or life and is boring to be around. The rest of us pretty much swing free and afraid with the winds of change. How can this possibly be a good thing? It forces us to open ourselves and our relationships to other people who are also participants in the CF life. They bring us new solutions and understanding such as reading self-help and do-it-yourself plumbing books. If you question my hypothesis, talk to an eighty-year-old couple with a long marriage about traversing life together; or, talk to a retired or active business person from SCORE (volunteer business consultants) who will “honestly” tell you about the life of their business. I say “honestly” because some individuals find it impossible to share their most profound learning experiences because they were precipitated by ERROR! Yup, no way around it — on the slopes of Big Bear, if you aren’t falling, you aren’t learning to ski…and cruising just gets boring and someone will run into you anyway. By now, you may be wondering: where is the good news?
Good news: Your long life on the planet will be rich with the rewards of connection to other people, experiences to pass on to the next generation of life-embracers, meaningful gatherings, and the knowledge that the Constant Flux life is only made better by donuts from VGs. Particularly the Apple Fritters, warm, with milk — you can feel the generations in those donuts!
“It is not what I know about my wife that interests me but what I don’t know.” A friend said these words to me as we were sucking down smoothies at Juice it Up in Carlsbad or Encinitas (it’s on the border so I’m not sure which). He went on to say that after seeing the new Star Trek his wife told him about the first time she saw the old TV show, who she was with, what they thought and said. He went on to say that, suddenly he saw a different woman from the one he thought he knew sooo well. She became a new person and he found himself interested in her all over again—even a bit flirtatious.
My friend led me to thinking about curiosity as the spice of relationships not just the killer of cats. Famous writer and knower of human complexities, Honore de Balzac said, “Marriage must incessantly contend with a monster that devours everything, familiarity.” OK, so you didn’t know I could be so literary. That is just one of the parts of me that may be unfamiliar to my spouse. Hmmmmmm.
Dinner at the Beach House in Cardiff afforded the opportunity to ask a long married couple friend of ours, Michael and Sara, how they stay curious, a question they thought bazaar until I offered an explanation. Oh, another research project, they muttered then answered the question. Michael told us about a game he played with his son, from another relationship, on the days they met for “Dad’s Day.” “The Questions Game” arose from the blacktop of Magnolia Elementary School in Carlsbad and continues to this day from the boardroom of a busy Del Mar investment firm where the son now works.
The rules require that one party ask the second party a question that and this is the really important part, they, the first party, does not know the answer to. This can be a bit tough for a dad to ask his 6-year old but it is the foundation of trust, which is the protective playing field, needed for honesty. Then, of course, the tables are turned and the kid gets to ask Dad anything. Although “the game” often started with playful subjects like where you would most like to travel or what would you do with a million dollars, it created a foundation of trust for when scarier subjects (you know the ones—drugs, sex, grades, etc.) needed discussing.
“The Questions Game” morphed from a kid-centered relationship building experience to a gizmo Michael and Sara often used just to fill the time. They talked about spicing up a quiet coffee hour at Starbucks in the Encinitas Lumberyard with questions like: What was your high school prom like? What is your fondest food memory? Did your mom or dad actually write checks out for the bills? Etc. Just one of these questions led to conversations that brought new and interesting information to the table. While watching Coast Highway traffic trickle by, this couple found a way out of familiarity and into curiosity. They have a 25-year marriage that has been through enormous challenges and still serves them like a warm quilt cocooning them on a blustery day on the beach in La Jolla.
So, I’m curious, can I ask you a question?