I met some wonderful people when I enlisted in the Air Force, one of whom is Audrey Burton, now a relationship coach who lives in Michigan. Thanks to her efforts and Facebook, we reconnected after decades. I interviewed Audrey on the skills people develop when going through personal changes.
Here are her top success tips:
Q. What kinds of major life changes taught you new skills? Enlisting in the military, getting married, having children, moving every 3-5 years, being a caregiver for family members and my husband’s retirement were all major life changes.
Q. What did you learn? What kind of major relationship changes have you seen people face?
As a couple, we had changes in income levels and always had to adjust because of the type of work my husband did. There was no guarantee of income and there were times when money was no issue. That had a big impact on us. Here’s what I learned along the way and what I try to teach my coaching clients:
Be Flexible & Accept Responsibility
- When you share your life with someone else, be flexible in decisions and embrace change instead of being worried, upset or feeling negative.
- Try to find the positives and look at it as an adventure. Our kids never had trouble adjusting because we cultivated that attitude. Now that they’re adults, they thank us for the experiences of having to make adjustments. It’s made them better people and better able to handle their own life changes.
- Accept the responsibility that you could have made better choices. That’s a hard thing to do. Have a mindset that it happened because of me vs it happened because of him or her.
Prioritize and Protect Your Relationship
- I made sure my husband came first but he always understood what I needed too. We knew someday the kids would leave home and we should stay strong as a couple for each other, not just as parents.
- Learn compromise because everyone’s making sacrifices to make things work. You have to find that common ground.
- Make a conscious effort to remember why you liked each other and fell in love in the first place. We’d talk about our history and things we’d done together and why they were important.
- Too often we let outside influences pile things on top of us vs causing division. Nip it in the bud early on. We were both hurting in our own way during the time we were taking care of his family. It was seven years of an impossible situation.
- Other people aren’t going to care about you so you have to care about each other. You learn how to protect your marriage and protect your sanity. Ask yourself, what’s it going to take that I need in this moment to take care of myself? You’re not a whole person giving your best if you don’t ask that question and make it happen. Once you are in a good place, it’s much easier to be able to then meet your partner’s needs. We are a very self-absorbed population and it’s getting worse. Unfortunately today’s attitude is, “I’m going to take care of me and you have to take care of yourself.”
Work as a Team
People fall in love for the wrong reasons and then fall out of love for those very same reasons. What you thought was cute at the beginning isn’t so cute anymore. People tend to live separate lives in hopes of meeting up at the end of the day and they take each other for granted. Trying to figure out who’s got the time to manage certain chores and responsibilities is never going to be an even-Stephen kind of thing. It’s never going to be equal. There’s going to be times when one is giving more than the other and vice versa. If you don’t recognize that, after a while one partner asks themselves why do I even need this other person?
The marriage isn’t a priority anymore. People are so consumed with making money. They end up meeting other people, having affairs, getting divorced. If you have challenges like caregiving, a child with challenges, it’s hard to continue feeling love for people when you’re in that state. There is a tendency to shut down and stop feeling things; they don’t want to feel everything or it’ll all come crashing down on them. Those who are in difficult situations make adjustments to cope with the situation. It could be financial, illnesses, a disabled child, etc. But when the couple is not working together as a team, everyone starts finding fault.
Successful people are always working on their relationships. They try to get away together, they put down the cell phones, learn to communicate better, listen more, talk more. It’s really a choice to decide the relationship is what’s important to them.
Q: Who is more likely to be successful navigating personal change and why?
If your head and feet are buried in concrete, you’re not going to be able to successfully navigate changes. You’ve got to get your head in the right place to get your feet moving in the right direction. Someone once told me he made the conscious decision to be happy and reminds himself of this several times a day no matter what’s going on or how difficult things would be.
- create a mindset that this is something to look forward to; they believe it’s tough but they’ll get through it and will be just fine
- have a philosophy that nothing is permanent; you’ll stay stuck if you’re not willing to have that belief
- cultivate a desire to improve their circumstances and the ambition to see it through
- set goals and try their best to meet them
- stay motivated and even if they get off track, have the desire to get back on track
- are willing to recognize their own faults and weaknesses and what they’re willing to do to change them
Finally: nothing is permanent and change is inevitable — for better or worse.
Audrey’s Personal Story
Some of the major changes in my life started with going into the military. Life was quiet before that. I left home for the first time at 17 years old. Military service was a logical progression with the intention of going to college. But circumstances changed on me and I never made it to college. The service taught me how to get out of my shell. When I was young, I even had trouble going to a store and buying something on my own. Now, I had to do it myself and if I didn’t speak up for myself no one else would. I learned what it was like to be away from family and not have any support. It wasn’t the same back then with no cell phones or social media. It was a huge thing to call home, so you didn’t do it very often. It was my first time learning a job and meeting different people because I had little exposure to people outside my school and family.
Getting married. As I grew up, getting married was one of my main goals, but I had to understand what it was like to marry a man and marry his family. It took a lot to feel like I could fit in. There was that concept of sharing everything with another person. I now needed to run everything by another person and include him in every decision. That was a huge change for me.
Having children. They were less of a change for me. It seemed like a natural progression. It didn’t impede me. I just thought, oh another little person to love! We knew we’d have kids right away and we did.
Our family moved frequently. We moved every 3-5 years to build houses, remodel houses, get out of the area because we didn’t like the way the area was changing. There were always major adjustments and changes: schools, work availability, etc. We were self sufficient. We had fruit trees, animals, gardens. We bought books that taught you how to tan hides and other survivalist skills. We had 2.5 acres at the time and out in the middle of nowhere. As the kids got older, we needed to be more involved so we moved to more populated areas.
Becoming a caregiver. I’m a daughter, daughter in law and now, a grandmother. It’s been a long process, but all involved the same behavior: a lot of routine, being very settled, changes in your family life, marriage and staying on top of that. There was not a lot of free time for me. We still watch the grandkids every day, have doctors appointments, etc. We’re seriously considering home schooling at this time. I can handle it at this point because the kids are younger. The oldest is going into second grade. This is a temporary thing. They will return to school when it’s safer after the Covid virus. K-12 program vs paid home school program.
Husband retiring. I helped him adjust because my life didn’t change that much. He had a specific purpose each day and now we’re together all the time. He feels like he wants to help me so he does what I consider doing my jobs. I tell him, “I know you want to help, but…” I’ve loosened up some and now he understands when I say, “Uh no.”
I learned what skills I needed to keep my marriage strong and healthy through all of our changes.
You’ve got to educate yourself. When we raised chickens, we bought books and used an old shed. Our chicks couldn’t get back up the ramp we’d set up. But I suggested we should put sandpaper on the ramp. My husband did it and it worked. It’s always been that way, I just seem to know how to solve problems. I’ve always had a store of information in my head, but never felt the freedom to say what I knew because I was so shy. It took all these life changes for me to realize people are going to ask my opinion and I can provide good answers. It has helped me build confidence.
Always keep learning.