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Getting Past Being Polite with Sam and Jennifer

Updated: Nov 18, 2019

Are you a polite person?

Do you find that sometimes being polite inhibits you from truly expressing yourself and your emotions?

Well, you aren’t alone.

It’s quite common for many of us to cover our true emotions and feelings with politeness.

This was definitely true for Jennifer and Sam, our guests on the podcast this week.

Jennifer and Sam attended our Couples Alive workshop and have since learned how to get past politeness to get deeper in their conversations about their true feelings.

They’ve learned how to loosen the grip on their expression, how to hold strong emotions in a healthy way, and are sharing with us their top tips for growing in relationships.

We absolutely love what they share as the practices they use in their own relationship to remain aligned and think you can take some of these easy practices to use for yourself.

So we hope you enjoy the episode and if you are interested in more relationship tips like Sam and Jennifer share, we’d like to remind you that our new book, The Beauty of Conflict for Couples, is available for pre-order until Sunday!

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The Beauty of Conflict for Couples

Full Transcript:

CrisMarie: Hey. Today we have some special guests, Jennifer Hilton and Sam Mack. They're a couple. They live in Vancouver, British Columbia. We're thrilled to have you both here. It would be great, Jennifer and Sam, if you could give us some background about who you are as individuals, who you are as a couple.

Susan: I mean, we know you through The Haven.

CrisMarie: Yes. We've known you a long time thru The Haven. But we'd love to let our listeners meet you. So, go ahead.

Jennifer: Okay. Thanks. Thanks, CrisMarie and Susan. Happy to be here. A little nervous but happy to be here.

I'm originally from Nova Scotia. I moved to Vancouver BC in 2007, I think, actually to begin my relationship with Sam, after we met at The Haven. I am a life coach. I have a practice here in Vancouver. And I work at The Haven. That's our common meeting place.

CrisMarie: Cool.

Susan: For sure.

CrisMarie: I guess I never put it together that you guys had actually met there. Probably should know that, you've probably told me but it's like, "Oh, of course."

Jennifer: Yep.

Susan: Oh, okay. Now.

CrisMarie: Those month long programs.

Susan: Yeah.

CrisMarie: Yeah. It's where relationships begin.

Susan: I did know that. It just took me a minute to register. Okay.

How about you, Sam?

Sam: Hi, there. I'm Sam. I'm a little bit nervous, as well. I was born in Hong Kong, of Asian descent. I immigrated to Canada at the age of eight and growing up in Vancouver. Being in a mixed relationship is a little bit different although my family tells me I'm more white than I am Asian. I am divorced. I divorced when I was 30. I'm 61 now and a new grandpa. For 19 years after my marriage ended, I remained a single person because I was petrified of a committed relationship.

Susan: Wow.

CrisMarie: Wow.

Sam: Yeah.

Susan: You had me at 61, Sam. I had no idea. You look fabulous for 61, I'm just saying.

Our listeners can't see you. There's no threat there, Jennifer, I'm just saying.

Jennifer: I am 40 years younger, so ...

CrisMarie: Okay. You don't look your age either, so there we go.

Jennifer: Yeah. Thank you. I, too, am divorced and have had many, many relationships. I think to the theme of your podcast and conflict, I think my pattern has been to actually leave relationships when the conflict began. I think that's where this relationship with Sam is very different because we decided, I guess, with what we were learning at The Haven to actually bring that stuff into our lives and our relationship. So, it's been a journey, let me tell you.

Susan: Sam, I'm curious, when you said you were terrified, was it around conflict or was it around intimacy? Do you know?

Sam: I think intimacy was a big one. In fact ... This is a funny story. When I was at the lawyer's office, I was served the divorce notice and that, the lawyer read out the document to me and said, "Oh, your wife wants to divorce you because of lack of intimacy." I asked him, I said, "What does that mean?"

CrisMarie: She wasn't talking about sex, I'm going to guess.

Sam: No, no, no. She wasn't. I had to look up, he had to tell me the definition of what that meant.

CrisMarie: Just for our listeners, the way we define intimacy is in, to, me, see. The willingness to reveal oneself, one, to your own self, but also to your partner, and creating that connection, that, I think, so many of us crave, is that knowing, feeling known and knowing of another.

Susan: Sadly, I think, Sam, when they served you those papers, it was probably, yes, you may have been at fault at not wanting to see yourself, but too often, other people ... It could have been that your wife didn't really want to see herself, either. Intimacy is one of those tricky definitions. I may want it, with CrisMarie, but the first place I have to find it is with me. It's kind of a tricky ground.

Jennifer: Yeah.

Sam: It sure is, yeah.

Jennifer: I agree with that 100%.

Susan: How long have you two been together? Did you mention that?

CrisMarie: Well, they said 2007-

Susan: Oh, then I have to do math.

CrisMarie: ... so, I don't know if you started right away.

Jennifer: Yeah. I think it's about 14 years now.

CrisMarie: Oh, okay.

Sam: Yeah, 14 since we've known each other and about, almost 13 that we've been in a relationship.

Jennifer: There.

Susan: Oh, cool, all right then. How do you think you're doing with intimacy at this point? On a scale of one to 10, each of you?

Jennifer: I think it varies on the day, let me tell you that. I would say, overall, I mean, for me, it's a seven, on average.

Susan: Okay, Sam. What about you? Do you want to give a number or is this already going to create conflict?

Sam: Without giving a number, I can break down, I think, in our 12, I'm going to say, 12 to 13 years of being together, I'd say that I can break it into three segments of four years each. Every four years, I think we've made some strides towards to have better sharings, especially during times of conflict.

CrisMarie: That's great. Okay.

Susan: You're still not giving a number. What's the latest four years?

Sam: I would agree with Jennifer. I think it varies. Certain topics are hotter than others and maybe the number isn't quite as high. Other topics are reoccurring, that we are a little bit more practiced on, that we've worked over and over again, perhaps, we seem to have reached a slightly higher number.

Susan: This would be helpful, if you're willing, to talk about what topics are because this is ... I mean, every couple has topics that they're more cautious about and ones that they rehash. If you can be more specific as to what are your stumbling blocks, or the harder topics, for you? What are the kind of reoccurring ones that you do go through and hash out?

Jennifer: We're looking at each other, kind of smiling. But I would say the one that sort of stands out to me, in the past ... and it has been getting better over time but ... has been money.

That's a big one. In terms of our value systems and really learning. I mean, I think overall, our relationship has been about learning about our differences and how to tolerate.

Susan: Yes. I love that. I totally feel warm when you say money. That's a big one for us, too.

CrisMarie: Oh, my.

Susan: We have very different styles and values around it that ... Yeah. We've had to spend a lot of time talking about it.

CrisMarie: Yes.

Jennifer: A lot of time, a lot of really, really digging into the deeper value that we each have about it and understanding that it's different for both of us. That's been a big one.

Sam: I think sex is the other one.

Jennifer: Yes. Sex is another one. The two top ones, isn't it?

Susan: I think those are pretty ... It's good that you're spending some time talking about these different-

CrisMarie: I mean, so often, people don't talk about them because that has been ... I mean, maybe because of fear, because of uncertainty, because this is going to break us apart. And yet those-

Susan: Or we think we should know why ... I don't know. I think people got to despair, like, "Oh, my gosh. We don't have enough sex," or, "I don't like the sex." But they don't actually ... So, they complain about it to somebody else versus bringing that conversation in with their partner.

Jennifer: Yeah.

Susan: In a productive way.

Jennifer: Yeah. Yeah. I think it's been about discovering that, again, from a value place, what we each value, in regards to sex. But also recognizing that that doesn't have to define our relationship. Just like money doesn't have to.

CrisMarie: Exactly.

Jennifer: I think what's been meaningful to me in our relationship is, actually, having a way to communicate even in conflict or after we have conflicts, and coming back to someplace of connection again. To me, it's this in and out dance. Like I'm in and then I'm out. And then I'm in and then I'm out. Of course, when I'm in conflict, if we're having an argument, I pretty much want to be out. So, I've had to learn to actually find ways to stay in. That's been confusing for me, honestly.

It's been a bit of a learning journey to actually see that I can hold the conflict. A lot of that has to do with my past and not having good experiences around arguments and conflict and family dynamics and background from when I was young. I think that that's been a big, big process in us discovering more about each other.

CrisMarie: You know, Jennifer, you bring up a good point, which I think people tend to miss. You want to leave because that's your pattern. What it sounds like ... Tell me where I'm wrong ... what you're learning to do is tolerate that tension, that desire to run, and hang in-

Jennifer: Yeah.

CrisMarie: ... or recover with Sam. Tell me if that fits.

Jennifer: Yes, absolutely. The staying in piece is sometimes elusive to me. Where I'll think I'm in and all of a sudden, I realize, "Wait a minute. No, I'm really defended right now or I've disassociated in some way or I've physically left the room."

CrisMarie: "Oh, look. I'm in a different room. I didn't even know that was happening."

Susan: I mean, I love that you're saying that, Jennifer, because I do think this is probably similar to-

CrisMarie: To me.

Susan: ... what CrisMarie talks about, in terms of really having to really learn how to breathe and stay present for quite a big ... Become more embodied because most of the time, often, when you get into conflict, you flip into your more rational brain or you check out altogether-

CrisMarie: Yeah.

Susan: ... or you go back in the past.

CrisMarie: You're running an old pattern in your nervous system. Most of us aren't even aware that that's what been triggered. It's a predictable cycle that keeps repeating, which I imagine you know, like with the running. Until you start to become aware of it and at least watch yourself do it and then get closer and closer to the event, you can change it.

Susan: I joke with CrisMarie because I think sometimes she ... It sounds like with you ... would just sort of pop out, flight, and go away. And me? I just thought I was there but I was actually in another time zone altogether. I was in some historical event, thinking, projecting out onto anyone around me, something that was very historical. I hadn't even realized, "Wait a minute. I'm not in the present moment. I think I am." Yeah.

CrisMarie: Yeah.

Susan: It's a big deal for me to be able to say, "No, I'm actually operating like I did in the past. This is not the same storyline."

Sam: Most recently, our two most recent conflicts, I consciously wanted to be in, even when everything felt like it was an out. I consciously ... I care for Jennifer, even in that time of conflict. So, I made an effort and I wanted to experience what it was like to be with her even though I was really angry at her.

So, we had one incident where I was angry with her for, oh, gosh, like three, four hours in the morning. It was something that happened overnight. When it was time for lunch, I said, "So, do you want to go get something to eat?" She was befuddled. Like, she thought, "Why would you want to have lunch with me? You're mad at me." Yet, I just wanted to experience ... Well, we have lunch together all the time. Just because I'm mad at you doesn't mean we don't eat.

Susan: I love it.

CrisMarie: I love it. I think that's great.

Susan: How did the experiment go?

Jennifer: Well, for me, it was befuddling, as he said. And uncomfortable, at the beginning. But there was a point in the lunch where I had this awareness of, "Oh, my God. We're just talking about our food and we're sitting here with our friend." We're still together. I can actually be here even though I'm holding the tension of, "Okay. We haven't quite got to resolving what the issue was." It was really quite profound awareness for me. Then we talked about that, afterwards. It has been difficult for me to actually do that in the past. I think having that new awareness has been helpful.

Sam: So, instead of going to a buffet lunch, as I kind of framed it this morning, it's like going to a buffet lunch and there's a few things out I really don't like. But I don't want to stop eating. I mean, there's all kinds of good things about our relationship that I can remember, at those times of when I just want to be out.

CrisMarie: That is really, I think, a huge step forward, Sam, in the willingness to hold on to these other things that Jennifer is for you, in the relationship, while also being really mad at this, this particular whatever behavior or topic. I think that's pretty awesome.

Susan: Yeah.

Jennifer: I really started to, in that day that that happened, it was befuddling to me that he wanted me to go to lunch. At the same time, I had a deep, deep appreciation that he wanted that, that I don't think I actually took in a lot of times before that. This has been recent. It's been valuable to actually talk about it.

Susan: I mean, I can imagine ... I was thinking about myself in that situation. When somebody, where I grew up, when somebody was mad at me, it was like my whole world was over until they were not mad at me. It was so threatening, whether it was my dad or my sister. So, I can imagine having that larger ... Like, "I am safe even though we have this ..." It's like carving it down to size is a really valuable relationship skill. And life skill, really.

CrisMarie: I think because we live and work together, that actually comes up quite a lot, where, okay, we are in the midst of something, going into a client or dealing with something. It's like, "I really don't like you right now." We have, actually, developed some key things we'll tell each other to remind ourselves we can stay balanced and we'll come back to this. But it's a similar type of thing. I think that may have been, maybe, harder for you or I don't know whether it's harder ... I just think we've done that so many times.

Susan: Yeah.

CrisMarie: But I hadn't even realized or heard it articulated the way you were talking about it, Sam. So, that's a-

Susan: That's neat.

CrisMarie: ... neat way to say it.

Sam: I think, for me, I just really wanted to experience that. When I left my marriage, my ex-wife didn't talk to me for six months, while we shared the house. We didn't know, we hadn't figured out all the logistics of the separation. It was just horrible to be shut out like that.

Susan: Yeah. Wow.

CrisMarie: That's pretty significant.

Susan: Yeah. When you guys think about ... What would you say have been the most powerful tools or things you've learned that you've been able to apply with each other that have helped you? They may be very different. I know for us it is, sometimes. That have helped you in dealing with a particularly hot topic. Like you said money was one you may come back and forth to. What's something you use on a regular basis?

CrisMarie: That helps you hang in or recover.

Sam: I think, for me, when I'm really upset and I'm just letting Jennifer have it, I can't help myself and I just can't stop myself, I think most recently I ... Even as I know and as I'm aware that I'm not stopping myself, I'm just being perhaps even dumping on her, I keep reminding myself and telling myself, "Okay, what is going on with me that I am so charged up?" There's something going on, for me. This can not be just about her.

Susan: Okay.

Sam: ...or that I keep using for me.

Susan: I love that you're saying it. You may going at that kicking and screaming or yelling at her but something inside of you is realizing this is not-

CrisMarie: It's not just about Jennifer.

Susan: Yeah. It sounds like asking yourself why am I so charged up?

CrisMarie: That's great.

Susan: That great.

Jennifer: I think for me, similar. I think what you're saying, in some ways, Sam, is becoming more aware of what's going on for me, in the moment. I think the biggest awareness for me, in our relationship has been how much I can ping back to being very young in my responses to him. It's sort of like the whole thing around you marry your parent, one of your parents, right?

If Sam shows any kind of anger, I can ping back very young and be responsive, or reactive, that way. I think holding that is a key for me. If I'm in my reactivity, my trigger, or my defense, it's usually because I'm quite young. I can grow myself up, in the moment.

Susan: I like that.

CrisMarie: What helps grow yourself up, in the moment, Jennifer?

Jennifer: First, awareness. Then, oftentimes, I think ... I learned with you and Susan in the Couples Alive that we helped assist you with ... I think it was around the nervous system stuff. So, recognizing, "Oh, my gosh, my body is reacting here. What do I need to do to take care of myself, first, before I can even respond to him appropriately?" That has been a huge help. It may mean that I have to take a timeout. I use a signal like, "I need a timeout here because I'm very reactive right now. I need to go and take care of myself." Could be going and doing some breathing or ... Usually, it does require me having to move away, to distance, in some way, first. And that's okay.

Susan: It sounds like that is a path, that interruption for you, is a path that can get you out of the dynamic in your head, whatever has triggered you back. And bring you back into your body, in the present.

Jennifer: That's right.

Susan: I like that. And I love that line, "I have to find a way to grow myself up." Often, that does mean ... So often, we want to project onto the other person. Like you have to provide me-

CrisMarie: Change.

Susan: You have to change because I need to grow up here.

Jennifer: Yeah.

Susan: I mean, I don't think we're doing that consciously. But it can seem like that. Whereas, I think what you're saying is, "I don't even know yet what you're up to. I've got to take care of myself and help myself grow up so that I can even be present."

Jennifer: That's right. And it's not always perfect. I mean, there are times that I won't do that at all. But again, what I think is the beauty of our ability to intimate is that we can come back around after an episode, after an argument, and then I can get clear when I'm not in my reaction and be able to communicate with him about it. I think that's what I appreciate most.

CrisMarie: That's neat. I was thinking about you said the beauty and some people, when we're being interviewed on podcasts, and people are like, "Really? The Beauty of Conflict? You've got to be kidding." So, I wanted to hear, from your point of view, have you experienced beauty in conflict? If so, how has that shown up for you two, in your relationship?

Sam: I think most ... This was an event that happened in July, just before we were leaving for a one week holiday. I don't know. I guess travel anxiety, whatever, what have you, we got into a really heated argument. Basically, Jennifer said she was going to leave. For sure, the vacation was going to be canceled and we weren't going to board that plane. It was a big deal. In fact, she said, well, yeah, you said you were going to take the cab and you were going to go.

So, we were sitting there. I sat with her. I wasn't coming up with anything. Usually, I don't until I go to sleep and think about it in the morning kind of thing. For me, there was a moment of heart-opening. I don't know how I got to it. But I looked across the room. We were sitting across the room from each other. Jennifer was in a lot of despair, weeping, crying. I said to her, I said, "Can I come and sit beside you?" It was met with a lot of rejection, of course. She didn't know my intentions. I just said, "Boy, you just look so upset. I think it's just sort of humanity that I want to sit beside you. Just like if somebody was in a lot of shock, that you want to sit beside them on a curb, after they come out of a car accident or something." It was like that kind of reaction for me and that kind of heart response. I just wanted to be beside her because she was so upset.

CrisMarie: I think that's, to me, that's quite beautiful, Sam. It sounds like, in that moment, you were able to suspend whatever might be up for you, to just experience that loving of her and where she might be. Which I get. I can totally get, Jennifer, why, in the moment, you may not have trusted that. But it sounds like, at some point, you did. Did you invite him over?

Susan: Did you let him in, at some point?

Jennifer: I did. It took a while. But, once I heard that, there was a shift for me. I was pretty stuck that night. Again, we talked about it afterwards. I think that was a moment of shifting where he actually saw beyond what was going on and got with my humanness, in the moment, my struggle in the moment. It was beautiful, in some ways.

I love the word beauty, actually. I think it has a richness to it. I mean, I can think of a beautiful thing that came out of a lot of struggle for us, which was a renovation, a house renovation that we did, that took six months, eight months. It was hell. It was like, "Whoa." We were really up against our differences and expectations and stuff that we hadn't even thought about before we went into it. Almost to the point of leaving. I mean, you can get now, that that's my little, my little dance is, "Okay, I'm out of here." But afterwards, it was so ... After it was all over and we actually saw what we created and we started living in the new space that we had co-created through hell, we actually acknowledged how beautiful it really was. No matter how tough it was, no matter how much the struggle it was, and full of conflict, we had created something of beauty. I can get in touch with my feelings about that now. There's a poignant example.

CrisMarie: That is so neat. I mean, they talk about brain science and how creativity, those ah-ha moments, the eureka moments that we have are from when our brain is trying to hold two opposite ideas that it can not really resolve. Like, Sam, when you go to sleep and all of a sudden, you're taking a shower, and you're like, "Ah," it comes out of those differences in our brain. I think, when we're working on a project, just like your home renovation, the conflict, actually, is a creative juice for new ideas. It doesn't feel like that in the moment. But we have experienced it over and over again. So, I love that story.

Susan: Yeah.

Sam: I just want to say something about the July. We did go on our holiday.

CrisMarie: I wanted to know.

Susan: I'm glad to hear.

Sam: Over the next couple of days, we were able to process through what happened. Not that we came up with any solutions of all the things that were said. But we did have an acknowledgment and an agreement with each other that, "Man, you know what? Each of us, in our own way, we're just really difficult to live with."

CrisMarie: That's so cute.

Susan: I really appreciate what you're saying, Sam, because that is one of the toughest things, I think, in working with couples and even, I think for us, the desire to want to solve it, or fix it or get to some sort of resolution, versus, "Wait a minute. We may have to be in this just listening and trying our best to understand each other. Even when we each think we're each difficult." That's really what that ... That's going to eventually, potentially, lead to something new and different. But it's so hard in the moment, like, "Let's fix this. Let's resolve this."

I was laughing about your vacation thing because we had our own experience of ... CrisMarie does not take vacations. When we were heading off on one of our vacations, we arrived at our beautiful, seven day vacation, which we never take. We walked into this beautiful palapa. We put down-

CrisMarie: It was a yoga retreat in Mexico.

Susan: She said, "I don't like our relationship. I'm really unsatisfied with my life." I just remember like, "What the ..." Now, for me, I remember, I mean, I was like, "We're using the tools we teach. I'm not going to spend hours on end talking about this. We're going to do a five, five, five every day. I'll commit to that. Then, we're going to go to yoga." She demanded a couple more five, five, fives.

CrisMarie: We did a five, five, five in the morning, on the state of our relationship. And then a five, five, five in the evening. It actually was enough. For those of you who don't know, we'll put it in the show notes about the five, five, five tool. We've talked about it a lot. It really did create digestion of ... Turns out what I was most unhappy with, that I was projecting all onto Susan, is I wasn't doing things that I wanted in my life. I wasn't being creative, acting, and painting. It really wasn't about Susan. But it's so easy to make it about the other person.

Susan: I don't know why those things happen on vacation. But it's really-

Jennifer: It's so disappointing.

CrisMarie: You know what I appreciate about you two? I don't know if you even recognize it. We certainly do. Your willingness to get messy. Like, Sam, when you said, "When I'm letting Jennifer have it." And, Jennifer, your reaction. A lot of times, couples are trying so hard like, "Well, okay. I guess we just won't talk about it." Or, "I can't bring this up." Your willingness to lean in, and even knowing, Sam, that you were saying, "Yeah, I'm giving it to her. There's got to be something else going on. But I'm still giving it to her." But that willingness to go through that and get to the other side. I think a lot of couples don't feel that trust to be willing to do that.

Susan: There's a huge level of vulnerability one, for you to even be able to recognize it and identify it. And then, to actually be able to share that with each other. I think so often we, even though we want to be vulnerable, I think there's a deep longing to be seen and understood. It is such a terrifying process to go there.

And you guys consistently seem to learn to go there and know that it's not always going to look pretty.

CrisMarie: Yeah. Which I really appreciate about you two.

Susan: Yep.

Sam: Well, I mean what I said earlier, that I break down my 12 years into three trimesters. I don't think that the fighting ... We fought politely for the first one and a half, for sure. We were six years we were very polite with each other.

Jennifer: Yeah.

Sam: We had to learn to be less polite.

Jennifer: Yeah.

CrisMarie: Ha.

Susan: What is ... Go ahead, Jennifer.

Jennifer: That took me back to what do we apply. I think that's something that we had to learn, how to actually express our anger with each other in a way that could be held in the context of the relationship. I think that gave us more depth in our relationship. I think expressing our anger ... The first time, after being so polite, of course, I had done a program at The Haven and come home with all of this revelation that, "Okay, now I'm going to express my anger. " We did create some agreement around it and created the space. It was intense. We stayed in and we cleared everything afterwards. But that was the beginning of our loosening the grip on the politeness, the tightness, and actually brought a lot more juice and excitement into our relationship.

CrisMarie: Yes! I love that. It's like I think people don't recognize that willingness to go there is really the juice of passion, the differences in our energy allowing that. But we've all been ... Anger is so velcroed to violence in our past, certainly mine, and in many people's. So, I love that you found a path through that. I love the arc of your relationship where you were nice and polite and then broke through and the juiciness you found through that process. It's very inspiring. I love that.

Jennifer: It's not comfy.

Susan: No.

Jennifer: It's really not for sissies.

Susan: Right, right.

Jennifer: It does take a lot of building a bigger container within myself to withhold the tensions and withhold those kinds of strong emotions. Yeah. It's a journey of commitment to myself, I think, number one. And to being present with him. That's been my wish for myself is to be more present and not actually hang out in the past so much.

CrisMarie: That is fabulous.

Susan: That's great.

CrisMarie: Any tips that you want to share, if you were sitting there talking to another couple about what you thought the keys to success, especially around conflict in a relationship, what might you share? Either one of you or both.

Sam: Well, I think just to expand on this anger expression piece, for me to witness or to be part of ... to be present with Jennifer when she's expressing her anger is to really understand that we each have our own responsibility in that. A lot of what she's angry about is her stuff. Not all of it is mine. To really know that. Because otherwise, I can't stay. It was really difficult to stay in the present with that. But to have that knowledge was key for me.

Susan: I think that's huge. To be able to say, "Wait a minute. I'm going to create the space that I need to have to hold in my own shoes," so to speak, versus not taking on what you're hearing.

CrisMarie: But letting it be that it's Jennifer's expression of her energy and what she's upset about. That doesn't necessarily mean that you're wrong or bad or you have to do anything.