I spy the basket full of folded newspaper pages. They are the pages pulled from The Oregon Coast Today and Lincoln City News Guard – two local papers my dad picks up from the grocery store on Tuesdays and Thursdays. In my six-month absence from a coastal visit, the accumulation is large. Comprised only of 5 star or highest difficulty puzzles, my dad has silently offered the challenge and I feel wonderfully loved.
It takes me back to the beginning of this tradition with my dad from another spring break visit with him on the coast. Eleven years ago, when I was in marriage counseling, my counselor Bob taught me about the concept of “accepting influence.” This principle is used by Dr. Gottman (world-renowned for his work on marital stability and divorce prediction over the last 40 years) in his analysis of whether marriages will fail or succeed. “Accepting influence” means that you are willing to relinquish control in a relationship and accept the influence of your partner and respect their feelings and opinions. Sounds basic, maybe, but most people find they are unaware and do not practice this.
To demonstrate accepting influence, you do not give a gift or do something nice based on what you think would be nice, but what your loved ones would most love and appreciate. You relinquish control over your opinion and defer solely to what they would value. You can accept influence with anyone – this is not limited to marriage.
My dad and I talked about accepting influence on my trip that year as I was struggling with how to do and be better in my marriage. My dad, without words, went on to show me. He would pay attention to what I liked, my preferences. One morning when I was visiting him, there was peppermint extract next to my coffee mug. He knew my favorite creamer was peppermint mocha, but the store was out. He made an effort for the next best thing. I felt loved. He observed that I liked to do the sudoku and crossword puzzles from the paper. He too began enjoying the sudoku. He started saving the hard ones just for me. I felt loved.
So last week on a visit with my parents, as I pulled out my morning sudoku from the pile he created for me, I once again was reminded about how we can best demonstrate love or care for those in our lives with which we want to shine that light. Even better, we can accept influence from ourselves. This is a particularly helpful focus when going through divorce when it feels like there is an absence of all love.
You can tell yourself you should do this or you should do that or you can accept your own influence and relinquish control of what you should be doing and instead respect your own feelings and opinions as you make your way through your divorce. Pay attention to what you need most and honor it. Need a good cry? Grab the tissue and do it. Don’t keep a stiff upper lip to “show him or show her.” Need a nap? Take one. Don’t wear yourself thin because you think a parent going through divorce should be engaged in every minute of parenting time you have. Accept your own influence and the self-love is sure to follow.