Dear Vicki

An overly sunny outlook?

I like this magazine and your column, but get a tired of what seems to be an overly sunny outlook. There are real losses and problems with aging and life at this end of things and it isn’t always so great. Sometimes, all the “being a senior is so wonderful” stuff makes me feel like a failure because I often do not feel that way. What do you think of that?

Well, you are correct in pointing out that there are significant issues and losses involved with aging. Nobody gets to this point in life without some suffering along the way and all of us should know there will be more before our lives are over. However, each stage in life has both joys and challenges. Why should this stage be any different?

This is the thing though: Pain and loss may be inevitable, but dwelling in a state of misery is not. In any given circumstances, we have the freedom to choose our own attitude. Geraldine, an elderly acquaintance who had dealt with many losses through her life, faced a painful and terminal illness with acceptance and grace. When asked how she was able to handle her diagnosis and treatment, she had this to say: “Life? You just have to take it as it comes.” Her wise words remind us to rejoice in the good times, to focus on the present and to strive to be positive even in the face of loss and pain.

For some of us, maintaining a positive attitude can be more of a challenge than for others.  We have to work at it because, like a muscle, the ability to be resilient may be weak. If we practice by dealing with more minor problems in a positive manner, we strengthen that muscle and build our resilience. This quality of character, resilience, is a hallmark of good mental health and will stand us in good stead during darker days.

Yes, life isn’t always wonderful at this end of the life cycle. But there are positives too. Claim, celebrate and hold on to those. When the harder times come, there will be enough time for sadness and grief. There will be time to take that as it comes too.

Guilty of nagging

My husband is always calling me a nag. I hate to admit it, but he is right. Of course, I say that I wouldn’t need to nag it if he was only more responsible. Sometimes, I think he “forgets” things on purpose. Am I crazy to think that? 

You might be on to something. It goes kind of like this: You ask your husband to do something. He agrees, but forgets. You are angry and nag. He feels mad and “forgets” again. This unpleasant and unproductive pattern can continue for a long time and undermine a couple’s happiness. Of course, both men and women can be guilty of nagging but the usual complaint is that men don’t listen and women nag. What’s going on here?

Much of what underlies a nagging cycle is simply a power struggle. You want things done a certain way. Perhaps your husband disagrees, but doesn’t want to “start something.” So, he might concede without having given it much thought except for how to avoid a conflict. Then, when the task isn’t done and you nag, he is angry but, again, wants to avoid a scene. Thus, he says OK, but then “forgets” which in a way gets you back.

Tiring, isn’t it? Since we can only change ourselves, alter your own behavior to break this pattern. How? Involve him in the decision. If the gutters need to be cleaned, ask his opinion. “Honey, I notice that the gutters aren’t draining. Do you think we should call someone to clean them?” If he says, he will do it, say thanks with enthusiasm! If he fails to carry through on his promise, ask again, but add a qualifier. Tell him that because you know he is busy, you will take this off of his plate and call a handyman if he can’t do it this next week. Then follow through with that plan. Make this your new pattern. Ask twice and then take action. Be pleasant, but firm.

If you feel the urge to nag, remind yourself with a pinch on your arm. Patterns take time to change and we often revert to them when we are tired and stressed. Be patient with yourself, give lots of affirmations when he does remember, and be prepared to follow up with your new plan when he doesn’t. It will take time, but when he sees that you are no longer nagging as much and that you will make other arrangements when he fails in his tasks, I’m betting that he will somehow remember much better.

Vicki is a licensed professional counselor and welcomes your questions. She can be reached at [email protected]










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