Emotions can be marvelous, but they’re also messy. There’s a middle ground between being in complete despair and having positivity without consciousness, which is equally annoying. I call this in-between place the “marvelous messy middle,” and it’s where I live most of my life. We need to feel all our emotions, but we don’t need to stay in the negative ones, constantly complaining and finding more evidence for how hard life is. Instead, we can make a choice to spend more time feeling love and appreciation.
When you’re in a relationship and your partner feels in despair, it’s really tough to stay centered and keep your actual feelings intact. It’s so tempting to join your partner in feeling bad, to avoid them, or to try to cajole them out of it. However, if someone’s in despair, it’s not helpful to say, “Wait—it’s a beautiful day.” For them, it’s not a beautiful day at all, and if they don’t feel that despair all the way down to their toes, they’re going to keep encountering it.
I lived with my fiancee, psychologist Dr. John Waddell, almost four years, and I was happy almost every single day. He was diagnosed with stage IV cancer shortly after we wrote Succulent Wild Love (New World Library, 2015), and he died this past year. In the book, we wrote about six powerful habits for feeling more love, more often.
The first habit of people in succulent wild love relationships is listening to their Inner Wise Self and taking action. People know they have an Inner Wise Self, but they usually think it’s only for big things. It can be for anything! It’s about asking yourself what you really want and matching your desire—while not collapsing into what the other person may want that doesn’t honor you.
Here’s an example: Once John and I were going out, I was all dressed up, and I wanted him to admire me. He was very romantic and loving, but he was not given to flowery statements. I was prancing around trying to get him to notice me. He said, “Okay, I’m ready. I’m going to go out to the car.”
I was about to follow him when I decided instead to ask my Inner Wise Self what I should do. I ended up going to the mirror and saying, “Oh, Susan. You are such a darling girl. Your eye shadow is beautiful and sparkly, your skin is so soft and peachy, and I love that shirt. I love your heart—you’re so kind to John, and you have such a loving spirit.” I spent about three minutes on self-love in the mirror, and then I came skipping down the stairs all filled up. The Inner Wise Self is there to help fill you up every single day.
The second habit of people in succulent wild love relationships is that they use their feelings as a guide to know when their relationship is off track and to constructively evoke cooperation. We tend to think that the bad feelings are bad and we have to go away and be by ourselves to have them. We’re scared they’re going to engulf us and we don’t have time for that. But feelings just want your love, attention, and acknowledgement. They tend to get louder and larger when we don’t pay attention to them.
So you could just say, “Anger, I see you. I hear you. I acknowledge you.” Just doing that will allow the feeling to soften. People have midlife crises and meltdowns because they aren’t caring for their feelings consistently.
The third habit is recognizing your inner critic. You are never fighting with your partner—you’re always fighting with your inner critic. I once asked John to lift my suitcase. He said, “Wow, this is really heavy. What do you have in here?” I thought he was criticizing my weight and I had a complete meltdown in the airport. Once you know how your inner critic works, you will never again be in these endless fights with people.
The fourth habit is respecting boundaries—that was one of John’s big gifts to me. He told me that he would see me as self-lovingly separate with beautiful boundaries. This was very important because I am very independent and autonomous and want to remain that way. I was always scared when women would say they’d lost themselves in a relationship, or when men would say they’d become consumed by a woman and her needs. You don’t have one boundary conversation and then it’s all set. Boundaries are meant to be flexible and to support you. The biggest gift you can bring to a relationship is to stay and be you.
The fifth habit of people in succulent wild love relationships is Joyful Solutions, where no one needs to compromise or sacrifice. Compromise is not wrong and neither is sacrifice, but they just don’t go far enough. Their underpinnings are scarcity: Everybody has to give up a little bit and everybody feels a little bit bad, but at least we got to the end. Joyful Solutions sound so much better and they work everywhere, not just in romantic relationships.
My neighbor sent me a really crabby email asking me to trim my tree branches, which I didn’t want to do. I had been avoiding these neighbors for years, but when we went to their house and I walked into their kitchen, all I saw was tree branches out the window. They had no light! We came up with a way to at least clear the canopy from her kitchen window so she would be flooded with light. Now we’re friends! I go over there sometimes to share a glass of wine. The basis of Joyful Solutions is you help the other person get what they want too.
The sixth habit of people in succulent wild love relationships is seeing the perfection in their partner (and in everyone else too). John told me he promised to see me as perfect, and any way that he didn’t was his responsibility. (Of course, then I realized he would expect me to see him as perfect, and that was really scary.) This means you can state your preferences but don’t require your partner to fulfill your every expectation. Only you can fill yourself up, from the inside—that’s not your partner’s responsibility.
In other words, if you believe your partner needs to change something for you to feel better about them, then you aren’t seeing them as perfect. Every time you’re reminded of this part of them you think they should change, then you can’t love them unconditionally. So seeing someone as being perfect just as they are means not judging them as being flawed, and this is the basis for being able to feel unconditional love. John’s ability to practice unconditional love with me in this way—and it is a practice, by the way—changed my entire life.