Life can change in the blink of an eye

mdeLast night I was driving home, just like any other night; when everything suddenly changed.

I’m still not entirely clear on what all happened, but one moment I was driving full speed through a controlled intersection, when I saw lights in my periphery that were much closer than they should have been.

I both heard and felt the impact, and I remember screaming.  The next thing I knew my car was full of smoke and I was breathing in the rancid air from the air bag that was deflating in front of me (seriously, that stuff smells/tastes awful).

The next 10-15 minutes were a blur.

I had been hit on the driver side from a black truck, but by the time I wedged the door open and got out of the car the truck was long gone.  My car had been pushed 10-15 feet sideways, completely out of my lane and almost into the vehicles that were waiting at the lights.  There was a witness, who I only know by the name Liam, who was concerned for my well being and told me I could rest in his car while he phoned the police.

Another witness named Mike followed the truck and managed to get its plate number at one point stopping the guy and talking to him (I don’t know how), before the driver took off – apparently down a set of train tracks.  Based on Mike’s assessment, the driver was clearly drunk.

Both guys, and a third witness whose name I didn’t catch stayed and made statements with the police on my behalf.  Eventually the police took my statement, my car was taken to a compound, and the tow truck driver brought me home.

 

I could have died last night.

I was hit on the driver’s side, and although I’m a bit sore today I’m fine.  No cuts, and no bruises that I’m aware of.  It was a bad situation, but it turned out about as well as it could have.

Still, a few moments different and I could have died.  And that’s something that’s been in my head all morning.

 

Any long time readers know I’m going through a divorce.

My wife blindsided me back in 2012 with the fact that she had “never truly loved me” and she “wasn’t sure if she wanted to be married anymore”.  And after that day, we really weren’t.

Whether it was poor communication or ignorance and naivety on my part really doesn’t matter.  Ultimately I didn’t see it coming any more that I saw the truck last night.

We loved each other, didn’t we?  How could we have gotten to that point?

I spent the next few years trying to understand what had gone wrong, and trying to make things better.  But nothing I tried mattered.  She had decided “something was wrong with us”, and who knows, maybe something was.  However that belief ultimately meant things just spiraled further and further as the years passed by.  Until eventually, I made the choice to take my life down a different path.

For a chance at a fresh start.

 

I had heard all the horror stories about divorce, and how people can become angry, petty and bitter.  I knew that wasn’t me, or what I wanted out of my life.

My marriage had failed.

Actually, failed is probably the wrong word.

Rather, my marriage had concluded.  Based on the road we had been on, it came to its logical conclusion – the only place it really could have gone. It was up to us to get it off that road before it was too late, and we didn’t, or couldn’t. That wasn’t a failure so much as it was simply an ending that was different from the one we had once hoped for.

Still, we had kids together that we both loved.  And due to those kids, we would be in each others lives still for many years to come; for the rest of our lives really.  For the betterment of everyone, the best thing that could happen would be for us to treat each other kindly and with respect for what we had once been together.  And to come up with a solution that may not have been quite what either of us wanted; but one that was amenable to both of us.

Well, I can’t exactly say that’s happened.

Things have devolved to the point where it’s impossible to have constructive dialogue, and everything has to be done through lawyers.  Thousands and thousands of dollars have been spent.  And yeah, it’s just money.  But it’s also money that would have been better split between us.  Money that could have helped us each start anew.

With the way things have gone, I suspect before too long we will be two people who hate one another.  And that makes me sad.

 

Last night something terrible happened, yet a number of complete strangers stepped up to the plate to help me out as best they could.  I’m sure they had places to go, but they put their lives on pause for a while to help someone they didn’t even know.

All I know them as is Liam, Mike and the other guy.  But I’m still grateful for the kindness they showed me.

Yet two people who once stood at an altar in front of assembled families and friends, who spent almost half their lives together, and who brought two children into the world together; can’t even find a way to walk away from that life with kindness and respect.

As I said, it makes me sad.

 

This isn’t about me.  My story is far from unique though.

I know a number of people who have gone through divorce, and so many stories are similar.  So many people end up completely hating each other, and can’t even be in the same room as the other person when it is all said and done.

I understand that divorce can be emotional for some people.  And I understand all too well what it means to be hurt by someone.

But some of the things people do, and some of the ways they act?  Anger, bitterness, pettiness, looking for “little wins”?

I don’t get it.

How does that help anyone at all?

That’s not the person I want to be.

 

I could have died last night.

I realize I’m idealistic, and I know I can be naive.

But if two people once came together out of love, even if that love is now gone they should be able to walk away with respect for what they once were.

anger-is-an-acid

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Showing your “True Colors”

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I’ve been blogging for around 3 years now, and in addition to writing I try to follow a number of blogs.

One of the blogs I follow regularly is another relationship blog, written by a guy who went through a divorce a number of years back.  His divorce broke him; so he started writing about all the things he did both consciously and unconsciously that ultimately led to the breakdown of his marriage and his divorce.

It’s refreshing, and self-aware.  Like myself, the guy who writes it seems to believe most relationships can be improved by looking inward at the things you are doing as a person, and BEING BETTER.  And a big part of being better is gaining an awareness of what often goes wrong and trying to better understand and accept the other person.

Anyhow, his blog seems pretty successful, and has a really active community in the comments section.  Great group of people by and large, but like any “family” it sure has its own dysfunctions.  And a few months back the comments section broke down.

A new reader came along with a very different set of beliefs compared to most readers.  Beliefs that were frequently offensive and hurtful to others.  These comments started to disturb what had been a pretty happy/healthy commenting community, and many (myself included actually) became upset that this one commenter was, for a lack of a better term, poisoning the comments.

Some asked for this commenter to be banned, or at least something to be done.  But nothing was, and things became worse for a while.

Eventually, when multiple requests to do something to improve the comments section were ignored, one readers suggested that by not doing anything the author of the blog was “showing his true colors.”

Communication can be difficult and frustrating at times; so I can’t say exactly what was meant by that.  But my interpretation of that assertion was, in writing his blog the author talked about things like equality and improving relationships between men and women.  However by allowing dysfunction in the comments section he was showing inconsistency with this.  So perhaps the reality was, he really didn’t care.

This post really has nothing to do with the issue with the comments section story.  Similar to how my last post opened up with a story about renewing a mortgage, and then went on to actually be about how people can place differing values on the same thing; that’s just a backdrop to a larger idea (or at least that’s my intent).  And that’s the idea that in life, there are always nuances.  And things are rarely as straightforward as they may seem.

 

Patterns of Behavior 

I like to think I am a good person.  I have a strong moral compass, and I try to live my life with integrity.  Truly, I try to do “the right thing”, whatever that is.  And I would *like* to think I’m a fairly empathetic person, who does his best to think through the consequences of his actions before he does them.

But you know what?  Sometimes I hurt people.  And sometimes it’s a lot.  In fact, even for the people I care about the most, I PROMISE I will hurt them.

I hurt people in different ways too.  Sometimes by something I do, and sometimes by something I don’t do.  Sometimes I do things that get interpreted in ways I never meant.

Does that make me a bad person?

 

If I do 50 “good” things and 5 “bad” ones, do those bad ones show “the truth” about me?  Do they show that I’m actually a bad person?  That my “good” actions were just a show?

Yeah, I’ll acknowledge there are differing degrees of what good and bad are.  So yes, I suppose it’s possible that one bad action (particularly in the case of extreme behaviors, which again is subjective) can completely undo the good.  But by and large, I say no.

 

In statistical analysis, there is the concept of outliers.  Outliers are values that “stand out from other values in a set of data”, because they are aberrations in some way.

We are all going to have good days and bad days.  We are all going to do things that hurt others sometimes.

What REALLY matters is not each discrete individual action.  A bad action is a bad action.  A bad choice is a bad choice.

What matters is the PATTERN OF BEHAVIOR, and it is these patterns that speak to a person’s true character.  How you consistently act is a much more accurate measure of who you are than any specific action.

 

All or Nothing Thinking 

Cognitive distortions are broken thinking patterns that are often found in mental illnesses and mood disorders.  They are commonly found in anxiety disorders and depression, and are also believed to be part of why it’s so hard to break the cycle of anxiety and depression – these thinking patterns reinforce negative thoughts and emotions, “feeding” the issue (as an aside, one of the most effective ways to deal with/manage depression and anxiety is cognitive behavior therapy, which is intended to rewire the brain to correct these thinking patterns).

There are a number of different cognitive disorders found in anxiety and depression, and perhaps the most damaging is Splitting, or All or Nothing Thinking.

 

All or Nothing Thinking is kind of self-explanatory.  It is a form of thinking where we look at things in extremes, or as black and white.  You are a success, or a failure.  Someone loves you, or they hate you.  Something is perfect, or it is broken.

To be clear, we ALL fall into this sort of thinking once in a while (so when I reference the “comments” situation at the top I am in NO way suggesting anyone there is mentally ill).  But although we all do this sometimes, this type of thinking becomes a HUGE problem when it becomes a common or default form of thinking, or a pattern of behavior.

 

A while back I talked about the primal brain, and how the primal brain overrides reason and logic.  Well one of the big issues with all or nothing thinking is that it’s rooted in emotions, and normally extreme emotions.  It’s part of the automatic fight or flight response that you generally see with depression and anxiety.

 

Impacts on Relationships

Hopefully it’s clear that an automatic form of thinking, which overrides rationality and is rooted in extreme emotions is unhealthy.  But just in case it’s not, here’s a common way it impacts relationships:

In the early days of relationships, we all have a tendency to idealize our partners.  We see them as we want to see them (not as they actually are), and are often blind to their flaws.

This is normal, and science has shown that in the early days of love, brain chemicals are actually altered, contributing to this.

Eventually though (generally between 6 months and 2 years), this altered chemical state goes back to normal and we are able to see the person more clearly.  Normally we see a few rough edges, but are still able to accept the other person for who they are.

With all or nothing thinking however, these “flaws” often become proof that “something is wrong with the relationship”.  And if something is wrong, then this person is not “the one”.

 

All or nothing thinking has a perfectionist view of relationships; where there is a belief that if you can just find the right person, everything will be perfect and you will be happy forever.

But no one is perfect, and not being perfect doesn’t mean someone is a failure.  A relationship isn’t good or bad, rather it will have good and bad elements.

 

Popular dating site eharmony even talks about this thinking pattern and what it can mean to relationships:

Rather than seeing people as having both positives and negatives, overly critical people hold their romantic partners to an unrealistic expectation of having no faults whatsoever. Sadly, this type of “all-or-nothing” behavior can repeat over and over in one relationship after another until a person realizes that they themselves are the problem.

 

Basically, all or nothing thinking does a lot of damage to relationship.

 

And in addition to doing damage, it also makes is so people fall into a sense of hopelessness and a belief that things can never get better.

I’ve talked about loss of hope before and how destructive it is to improving a relationship.  With all or nothing thinking, the mere existence of problems shows that the relationship is flawed.  And if it can’t be perfect, what’s the point?

It makes it hard to see or appreciate incremental improvements, as the relationship is all or nothing.

 

 Seeing Shades of Grey

All or nothing thinking puts tremendous strain on relationships.  And unfortunately, people who suffer from it usually don’t even realize that their way of thinking is unusual and damaging.  It’s a thinking pattern, so for them, that’s their reality – or just who they are.

A question to ask yourself is, do you often think in terms of extremes?  Do you get caught up in thinking that things have to be perfect, and if they aren’t they are ruined?  Do you give up on things easily because you “know” you can’t do them, or you feel they are impossible?  Do you think in terms of “always”, or “never”, “terrible” or “awful”?

If those sorts of thoughts are common, you may deal with all or nothing thinking.  And it may be doing a lot of harm to your relationships, and your personal life in general.

 

Life isn’t all or nothing.

You can love some parts of your life and not others, and still have an amazing life.

You can be terrible at something, but still be able to improve it.

Your partner can love you, but still be a bit of a jerk sometimes.

 

And nothing in life can ever get better, until you can accept that it doesn’t have to be perfect.

How The Primal Brain Damages Relationships

Before I became a parent, I had a vision of the type of parent I wanted to be.

I thought I would be someone who would talk “to” his kids –not down to them.

I would treat them like “people”, with kindness and respect.  They were small people, sure; but they were still people.

Because of this I figured I wouldn’t need to raise my voice or yell, and I definitely wouldn’t ever do anything like spank them.  Instead, I would be patient.  I would explain things to them, and use reason when dealing with them.

Ha.

Man was I ever naive.

Nice idea in theory, but in practice?  It doesn’t necessarily work.

 

See, kids are still learning how to interact with the world around them, and they are just learning about their own emotions.

Sometimes kids (mine included) will have tantrums.  And experience has shown me that during time of high emotion (such as during the heat of a tantrum) there is no reasoning.  There is no logic.

In those moments, they are simply REACTING, and are completely out of control.

After the moment has passed and they have calmed down, THEN I can talk to them.  That is when they will be able to actually hear me, and reason will kinda/sorta/maybe work.

In a heightened emotional state though, reason has no chance.

 

 

I see this a lot in life.

Times where people do things and make choices that leave me dumbfounded.  Often I’m left wondering “what the hell are they thinking?”

And that’s just it.

Sometimes people aren’t thinking.

Sometimes people WILL made decisions that are absolutely TERRIBLE, and have long term ramifications that seem so obvious I can’t understand HOW people could possibly make the decisions they do.

But maybe in those moments people aren’t actually thinking.  Maybe in those moments they are just reacting, and aren’t actually CAPABLE of understanding the implications of their choices.

 

The Primal Brain

Now, a bit of a disclaimer here.  Usually my posts have a fair bit of research to them, and I have facts to support what I’m saying.

For this one, I’m kinda flying by the seat of my pants and throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks.  So hopefully this makes sense to someone other than me.  Maybe there is data to back it up, maybe not; but it still “feels” right to me.

I first started thinking about this stuff when reading up on anxiety, and the fight or flight response.

The fight or flight response is something we’ve all probably experienced at one point in time or another.  It occurs when you are in a situation that you feel threatened, or uneasy, and it’s largely a physiological response.  Biology takes over, and (as the name implies) a person gets ready to either stand and fight or run away.  It’s a survival mechanism that is built into our DNA.

I’ve seen this described as being part of the primal, lizard, or reptilian brain.  And it’s described as follows (from brainupfl.org):

Our most primitive piece of brain anatomy is responsible for basic functions (i.e. breathing, heatbeat) and primal instincts (i.e. survival, dominance, mating).

 

Think about this for a moment:

Survival, dominance, mating.

All of these things are kind of important, and they are also things that often get people in a TON of trouble!!!

In each of these areas, you hear stories where people sometimes do things that they never believed they were capable of – sometimes for good, but usually for bad.  And when these things happen, those who know them look at these people and struggle with reconciling the action with the person.

Abuse, affairs, murder even.  The term “crimes of passion” is used to describe actions someone took because of a strong sudden impulse, but was not premeditated.

In these cases, I think the primal brain is at work.

To be clear, I don’t think the idea of people reacting to the primal brain means they aren’t responsible for their choices.  They still are – ALWAYS.

But this does highlight the importance of people being more responsible for their own emotional state (more on this below…).

 

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

I think this idea of the primal brain and certain instinctual behaviors being able to override logic and reason (and the ability to think through consequences) is supported by Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Maslow’s hierarchy is an idea about human motivation and personal growth.  In it he breaks down different levels of needs, with the fundamental ones at the bottom and the “higher level” needs at the top.  One of the primary ideas is that we need to be in a position where our lower level needs are being met before we can move up the hierarchy to the higher level needs.

maslow-pyramid

 

Taking a look at the bottom level (or basic needs) you have things needed for survival, followed by a need for safety and security.  And although it’s not depicted on the chart I have here, often sexual instinct is seen as a need that sits at the level of basic needs.

Psychological needs such as love and intimacy are next, which means they can’t be met until our physiological and safety needs are met.

This makes a ton of sense.

Love and intimacy is based on trust, and when issues occur in relationships that break down trust usually the sense of intimacy soon breaks down as well.

 

Coping Mechanisms

Any regular readers will know that I talk a lot about coping mechanisms.

Over the past few years I’ve come to believe that the coping mechanisms each individual brings to the table are probably the most important things that contribute to the success and longevity of the relationship.

So what are coping mechanisms?

Well, here’s my take on it…

Our coping mechanisms are the default behaviors we exhibit when confronted with threat or conflict.  These behaviors are our automatic responses, and are probably a combination of nature and nurture.  Although there may be an inherent component to them, they are also learned behaviors.

Going back the Fight or Flight response, I think everyone’s coping mechanisms fall someone on a spectrum, where we have aggression and anger (fight) on one side of the scale, and we have withdrawing or shutting down (flight) on the other end of the spectrum.

BOTH of these approaches are TERRIBLE for both individual health and for relationships.

The way I see it, both extremes of fight and flight are responses of the primal brain.  In both scenarios, someone is simply reacting to a situation, and during those moments they are incapable of reason, logic, or thinking of consequences.

But these responses aren’t either/or, they sit on a spectrum.

So a goal we should ALL have is to work on our coping mechanisms.  We should work on regaining control, and not letting our primal brain take over.

If we are someone who reacts with anger when things go wrong, we need to learn to control that.  If we are someone who shuts down and withdraws when times are hard, we need to learn to work with other people and stop retreating into ourselves.

 

As kids, we are learning the world around us and learning to manage our feelings and emotions.  And sadly, some of us don’t really learn that very well.

But the key word here is learn.

Shutting down and withdrawing, or becoming aggressive and angry in the face of perceived threat or challenge is never the answer.  We should always strive to find a way to push back the primal brain and respond with reason.  Because caring, compassion and empathy are all higher level functions; and they require us to be able to stay in control

Our coping mechanisms, no matter how broken, can always be improved.

And in many cases our very relationships depend on it.

Broken Trust

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I’ve talked before about my love of basketball, and in the news recently there was an incident that hit headlines.

Although they are terrible these days, the Los Angeles Lakers are still one of the “glory” franchises in the NBA. They hit headlines though because a video was leaked where one of their top newcomers (D’Angelo Russell) was talking to another player (Nick Young) about his relationship, and in it Nick Young apparently admits to cheating on his fiance.

Interestingly, the furor over this video has nothing to do with Nick Young cheating on his fiance. Instead, it has been about the actions of D’Angelo Russell – filming and then purportedly posting this video (he denies posting it, and insists he doesn’t know how it got out).

See, regardless of what was being said the discussion between Young and Russell was private. And in letting it out there, Russell has violated his trust.

In the sports world the outcry against Russell has been considerable, with some even going so far as to say that Russell (who is a rookie) will never be able to recover from this, because his teammates will never be able to trust him again.

A sports team in many ways is the same as any other team. The players don’t necessarily have to be friends, and they don’t even have to like each other. But to be successful they need to be able to effectively work together. And that requires a degree of trust. When that trust breaks down, it damages the chemistry between players. And trust once gone, is very difficult to rebuild.

Breaking Down Trust

I’ve written before about honesty in relationships, and although I don’t believe anyone is always honest I do feel it’s important that our actions toward each other are characterized by empathy and respect.

In relationships trust can break down in different ways. Sometimes it is big events, and other times it is an accumulation of smaller events over time. At the end of the day though, trust is about the questions “can I count on you?”, and “will you be there for me when I need you?”

When the answer is no or there is significant doubt, then trust has broken down. When this happens, often our entire perception of the other person changes. They aren’t the person we thought they were. And this realization can leave us feeling betrayed and hurt.

If trust has broken down, can it ever really be rebuilt? Or is it something that once broken is gone forever?

Trust2-perfect again

Making Mistakes

Are you perfect? Have you made mistakes?

We all make mistakes, both big and small. And it doesn’t matter how kind, or caring, or devoted you are – we all have days and moments where we are tired, frustrated, or selfish.

At some level we know this, but we still expect more from the people we care about the most. After all, we care about them – and we expect them to care about us. So we don’t expect them to be the ones who hurt us. We expect better from them.

However the ones we care about the most are often the ones we hurt the most. When I look at my life, overall I think I’m a pretty good guy. Yet I know I’ve done things that have hurt those closest to me.

It’s the law of averages – for the people who see us the most, they are more likely to see us at our worst moments. While being around people more gives us more opportunities to “be on our best”, it also provides more opportunities to hurt them.

Unfortunately, it’s often the bad stuff that people remember the most.

There’s No News Like Bad News

Take a look at any newspaper, or any media outlet. Sure, sometimes there are “feelgood” stories that get traction. But by and large it’s the bad news that sells. And it’s the bad news that sticks with people.

That’s just human nature – and unfortunately it’s bad news for relationships.
In his work on relationships John Gottman talks about this – and he even has a formula for what it takes to have a successful relationship. According to him, healthy relationships need 5 positive interactions for each negative one.

We remember what affects us more, and the bad often outweighs the good.

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Letting People In

As the saying says, trust takes years to build and moments to break.
There are definitely different degrees of bad choices, but if a person has done a lot of good for a long time and then does something bad, does that make them a bad person?

Some would argue that it depends on the severity of the bad choice, and there’s truth to that. Some choices are so terrible that it’s hard to ever accept. I still think history matters though. As does a person’s reaction after the fact.

If someone continually exhibits selfish or disrespectful behavior then that’s one thing. But if someone takes ownership for their actions, shows contrition and demonstrates changes in their behavior, we should be able to rebuild trust over time.

When we can’t?

I think that often issues with trust aren’t only issues with the actions of the person we are struggling to trust. Instead, they are issues with us being unable to let go and being unable to forgive.

When we’ve been hurt it’s good to be cautious, and it’s good to try to protect ourselves. But it’s important to remember that building walls and not letting the other person back in will ensure the relationship is never able to move forward.

 

D’Angelo Russell made a mistake, and that mistake cost him the trust of his teammates. Does that mean he’s untrustworthy?

I don’t actually know anything about the guy in question, but I would say no, one mistake no matter how big does not mean someone is untrustworthy. Right now all it means is that he made a selfish decision that hurt his teammate. If that mistake is part of a pattern of behavior, then I would say yes.

That’s not to say the affected teammate should just forget it and trust him blindly moving forward. Some mistakes are bigger than others, and Nick Young needs to decide if he is willing to even consider trusting Russell again.

Trust isn’t just about one person though. So if they do want to move forward as teammates Russell needs to consistently show he’s worthy of that trust, and Young also needs to let him back in. If Young doesn’t, then nothing Russell does will ever be enough, and trust will never be rebuilt.

Letting Go

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When feelings are gone, how do you (and your partner) convince yourself to like one another again?

This question was posed to me recently by a buddy, it’s a loaded one.

He’s married, and longs for the “old days” when there was love and passion and the time they had together was special.

He and his wife have been together for many years, and one day he woke up and realized things weren’t the same. They were friends, and companions; and although there was a lot of good in the relationship still, his feelings for her just weren’t there anymore.

This lack of “feeling” led him to question what was wrong, and to start distancing himself from her (which in turn just increased tension in the relationship). He felt they had become a couple who were just going through the motions of day to day life; and although he felt it *could* get better, his heart wasn’t really in it.

And that recognition hurt.

I wish I could help him, I really do.

I wish there was a surefire answer that could solve his problems and make him fall in love with his wife again (and she with him if she’s feeling the same way).

Of course if I knew the answer to his problem, it’s a pretty safe bet I wouldn’t be writing this blog anymore. Or maybe I would be but it would look a lot more professional, and be full of product placement for my “revitalize your marriage with these quick steps” self-help program.

How Do We Get There?

My buddy’s problem isn’t unusual. He’s in a spot I think many, many people find themselves in. And often these people wish things were different, but don’t know what to do. They don’t necessarily want out of the relationship. But they aren’t happy in the spot that they are in, and they don’t know how to make it better.

I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few years thinking and writing about this type of thing, and although there is no “one size fits all” explanation for how people get there I think there are some common patterns that emerge.

Unrealistic view of love

I believe part of the problem comes from an unrealistic view of love. Love as depicted in the movies/media is all about passion; and when people remember back to the “old days” there’s a pretty good chance they are remembering those passionate times.

Here’s the thing though – excitement is based on unpredictability. When you are still learning each other there’s naturally more of a sense of excitement, because everything is new. One of the strengths of long term relationships is a sense of security, of knowing the other person will be there. There is comfort in knowing the other person completely, but comfort often comes at the cost of excitement.

That’s not to say anyone should ever accept the loss of passion. It should never completely go away in long term relationships, but it changes. And it’s up to both people to keep it alive.

More than a Feeling

Related to the above point, another problem people face is searching for a feeling.

I’ve always hated this one, because to me thinking of love as a feeling is saying that love is a passive thing. It’s something that just happens to us (or doesn’t). So if it fades, you are left feeling lost. After all, what can you do if you have no control over it?

I’ve never viewed love as just a feeling. Yeah you start with feelings, but it’s your actions that determine how well your love will be sustained. It helps when you partner is kind, caring and shows affection. But ultimately, staying in love is your own responsibility. Love isn’t passive, and keeping it alive is based on our actions.

ChoosingFeelings

Learning to Love

I’m a big believer in continuous improvement, and I think that’s another area where people get love wrong. Love isn’t just a feeling or a choice. It’s also a skill. We may have some inherent capacity to love, but we can always improve on it. We can always strive to understand each other better, and learn new ways to show and express that love to each other.

Learning to love each other is important, and we should never think that because we’ve been together for a while, we “get it”.

When I think back to what I though “love” was at 18, 20, 25, I’m struck by how little I understood it. I’m not saying I get it now, but I definitely have a better understanding of love now than I did a few years ago. And most importantly, I accept that I still have a lot to learn, and I can be better tomorrow than I am today.

Making Time

A huge issue relationships face is taking each other for granted. I think every couple probably goes through this, and some never get out of it.

Repeat the following after me:

Your relationship is important.

Seriously, it should be. And if it isn’t, why are you in one? Yet couples continually find ways to take their relationship (and each other) for granted. And we do this by not spending enough time on it, and not making it a priority.

Life will always get busy. There are always other stresses that can get in the way of taking time to focus on each other if you let them. And because they know their partner “will always be there”, many couples let their relationship slide while other things take precedence.

And then they end up surprised and saddened when they start to realize the connection has broken down. I mean, really? What do you expect?

If your relationship is truly important to you, show it. Make it a priority and put in a bit of time each and every day.

Not Accepting Each Other

In my mind, a relationship should be a partnership. Both people should feel valued, and appreciated, and feel like they are contributing to something larger then themselves.

But behind the scenes there are often power struggles. People often need to be right, or to have things work “their way”. After all, their way is clearly the best. So they put their opinions and beliefs above those of their partner.

Here’s the thing though – we’re all different. We all have different backgrounds and experiences. And what works for one person necessarily work for the other.
It’s possible for two people to walk away from the same experience with completely different understandings of it, and when that happens it’s also possible that both people are right.

Power and control have no place in a relationship, and insisting things need to be a certain way is guaranteed to cause conflict.

All of these issues contribute to couples finding themselves in a bad spot. And like my buddy, many one day wake up and ask themselves what went wrong, and where the love they once felt has gone.

Where Do We Go From Here?

One of my core beliefs is we are the sum of our experiences. If your relationship is currently in a bad spot, it is there because of whatever has come before.

Maybe you’re hurting. Maybe you’ve felt ignored and not valued for a long time. Maybe bad things have happened – apathy, cruelty, cheating, whatever.

No matter what the past is, if you want to move forward you need to let go.

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When people talk about letting go they often talk about letting go of the relationship. Walking away, and starting fresh.

That’s one option. And truly, sometimes it’s the best one.

But it’s not the only one.

Accepting Who You Are Today

My buddy longs for the old days, when he and his wife were younger and everything was better. He needs to accept that those days are gone. Things will never be the same as they were when they first met. He’s not the person he was then, and neither is his wife. They are the people they are now, today. A little older, and perhaps a little more disillusioned.

That’s not to say he needs to accept the emotional disconnect between them and say it’s just part of getting older. They can rebuild closeness and connection. But it’s only when they accept their current reality that they can truly move forward.

Letting Go of Past Hurts

A big part of moving forward is allowing your past to remain in the past. Couples go through a lot of different things, and often they hurt each other very badly, and do things that break down trust. Sometimes those things cause relationships to fail, and I totally understand that.

But if someone truly wants the relationship to work out, no matter has happened they need to let it go. Holding onto anger and resentment will never allow a couple to heal, and move forward.

Think of your past hurt like a physical wound. The human body is an amazing thing, and left alone it will try to heal. Over time it will form a scab, and eventually that scab will fall away leaving a scar as a reminder of what happened.

Holding onto anger and resentment is like picking at the scab. When you pick at it, it can never truly heal. And worse, the constant irritation can cause the wound to fester and become infected, making the problem worse.

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Letting People Back In

A while back I came across an interesting study that found one of the biggest roadblocks for couples in trying to rebuild their relationship came not from a lack of effort or desire to rebuild. Rather, it came from an unwillingness to recognize and trust genuine attempts at rebuilding.

When you’ve been hurt, it’s natural to try and protect yourself from being hurt again. And if your trust has been broken, rebuilding that trust is something that takes time. But putting up walls and not letting your partner back in ensures that any attempts to improve the relationship will fail.

Accepting Differences

Another way to let go is to accepting that you (and your partner) are both different, and that’s alright. Your partner will likely have traits you don’t like, and they will likely do things differently than you would.

Maybe you’re a neat freak and they are a slob (to you). Maybe they like to live for today while you like to plan for the future. There are countless ways that people are different.

Accepting differences is about letting go of control. Accepting that “your way” is not the only way, and that different doesn’t mean less or worse. In fact sometimes differences are complementary, and accepting them can allow each of you to grow in different ways.

Holding On by Letting Go

My buddy believes he has lost the feelings of love for his wife. My guess is, he probably still loves her but his love is buried under feelings of hurt, resentment and neglect that have built up over years.

He needs to decide if he wants to make it work, or if he wants to move on. Every situation is different, and there is no right or wrong answer. Well, other than waffling forever and trying to avoid making a decision – that’s not fair to anyone.
If he decides he truly wants the relationship to work, then he’ll have let go in order to give it a fair chance.

For anyone in a bad spot, the past may be what brought you to where you are today and there may be a lot of hurt. But to truly move forward you need to let go.

The past can’t be changed. Learn from the past, but don’t let it define your present.

The Last Mistake

brokenRock

I’ve played a lot of basketball over the years, and during that time I’ve been part of many wins and loses.

Often the losses that hurt the most are the close ones. The ones where we gave up a lead in the last seconds, or the ones where we made a run that just felt short. For those games, I can still remember some of those closing moments. I can remember the mistakes made either by myself or other teammates, and I can remember the feelings of loss and disappointment that came with it.

When you lose like that, it’s easy to look for what “cost you” the game. And often the things you remember are the mistakes made in those final moments, when it all fell apart.

The thing is, those mistakes are really just the last mistakes. The final ones. They may hurt the most, but in a close game they were never the deciding factors.
Basketball is a game with many possessions. And with all these possessions one of the things that often gets lost is this – every moment you are on the court, whether you are looking to score or looking to defend, you are influencing the outcome of a game.

Every. Single. Moment.

The final score is really just the sum of all the decisions made in the whole game. Positive or negative, each one counts.

So in a close loss, was a missed shot at the end of the game really more important than a miss that happened at the beginning?

Not really.

The final mistake often takes on more meaning because you know time is running out. When you are down two points with thirteen seconds left, you can feel the weight of your decisions in those seconds. You know this is your last chance.

If you are down two with six minutes left, it doesn’t seem as real, or as immediate. You can tell yourself “there’s still time”. And one unfortunate side effect of feeling there’s still time is a tendency not to take those early mistakes seriously, and to treat them like they aren’t as important as the later ones.

But no game is ever won or lost in the last moments. And on a team, no one member is ever entirely at fault.

Breaking Down Over Time

Often when relationships either struggle or fail, there are strong feelings of loss and disappointment. So we search for answers.

What happened? How did it go wrong? When did it go wrong?

In those moments it’s easy to focus on the latest mistakes. With the immediacy of “the game running out”, they often take on greater meaning for us. But although the final mistakes can be big ones, with people checking out emotionally, and displaying selfish and destructive behaviors, no relationship fails due to the final mistakes.

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Like the stone-cutter hammering away at a rock, the final mistake seems to be the one that causes a relationship to fail. But the failure was being built in slowly, with hundreds of little decisions and mistakes over time. All the little times someone was hurt, or didn’t feel valued or appreciated. Taken individually these instances may seems small, but when you add them all up, the relationship has really suffered death from a thousand cuts.

It’s important to understand that for good or for bad you are influencing your relationship every single moment.

When relationships fail, it’s usually due to years of little problems and neglect, combined with poor communication leading to resentment. When this happens, instead of being a place of safety and security relationships become sources of tension and struggles for control.

Sometimes I read other blogs, and I hear people talk about withholding things from their partner. Whether conscious or subconsciously, this is a passive aggressive form of punishment. Sex is a big one, but often kindness, caring and even basic signs of affection and respect are held back.

At some level I understand this. When you are upset with your partner, you probably aren’t feeling loving or affectionate. But at the same time, when this happens I mourn for the people involved. Withholding is a form of control, and love and control do not go together. When a relationship hits this point, it seems it’s just waiting for that final mistake. And that final mistake will not be the one that caused the failure.

Winning and Losing

Thankfully, while a series of mistakes over time will cause anything to break, the opposite is also true. The initial bond of a relationship may be forged in the years when you are first getting to know one another, but to keep that relationship strong you have to work at it and maintain it over time.

In one of my favorite posts I talk about using this idea that every single decision matters, and applying it in a more positive way. If you truly want your relationship to last forever, it doesn’t just happen. You need to work forever into your life with the actions you take each and every day.

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Behaviour. Decisions. These are choices that we make.

Don’t wait until your relationship is in the brink before you start fighting for it. Fight for it by not letting the little things go unsaid. Fight for it be accepting that no matter where things are, they can always get better. Fight for it by trying to let go instead of holding onto hurts and withholding affection. Fight for it with consistent effort, each and every day.

Every moment counts.

And it’s up to you to decide what you want to do with them.

Communication Is Hard

In life, communication is probably one of the most important skills we can learn.

But it’s also one of the hardest.

I recently had a bit of a back and forth with my sister, and it became clear that we were not “getting” each other. The communication was through email, and while written communication allows people an opportunity to get their thoughts out in an organized fashion, it is also prone to misinterpretation.

See, we all have our own triggers and filters. So no matter how clear one person *thinks* they are being, they can’t control how the other person will receive the message. This idea is summed up pretty well here:

what we see

It’s true, we don’t see things as they are presented. We see things as we interpret them. These interpretations are based on our own experiences, and sometimes they can be quite different from the initial intent.

This concept was definitely played out in our interaction.

She had some thoughts and ideas she wanted to share, I received them, interpreted them in a different way then what was intended, and responded accordingly. Sadly, this sort of thing happens all the time.

What makes matters worse though is that when she saw my response, she thought she had offended me. And because she thought she had offended me, she felt it was best to apologize and not address the issue any further.

How We Can Help

Maybe it’s just me, and my own poor communication skills – but I see this everywhere. We all have moments where we are scared to say the wrong thing, or do the wrong thing, and hurt someone we care about. So often, we say or do nothing.

It’s natural, and understandable. But I feel this approach is very broken.

When you care about someone, you will hurt them sometimes. You will piss them off sometimes.

And that should be alright.  That’s part of what a relationship is about.

When you genuinely care about someone, you care when you see them hurting. And you want to support them and help them however you can. Thing is, you can’t actually “do” anything. With the people we love, we can be there to listen and support them. And we can try to make suggestions and advise them. But that’s about it.

Incidentally, this is one area that guys seem to get themselves in trouble. Guys are “fixers”. We have a hard time listening without thinking solution. Not sure why, but it seems to be something that’s hardwired into us. And from what I read/hear/see, women don’t actually like that. Sometimes they want to talk and have us guys just listen and not say anything. Ladies, I have to tell you – sometimes it’s really freaking hard to do that.

In any case, everyone has their own battles to face, and only they can face them. So even when someone you care about is hurting, or you think they are making poor decisions, or you think you can help them – you can’t actually do anything more than listen, support and advise.

It’s the advising part that gets us in trouble though.

 

Dealing with Advice

When offering advice, how you do it is very important. It always has to be done in a way that is about the issue or behavior at hand, and not the person. No matter how careful you are though, you still have no control over how the other person will interpret what you say.

And sometimes the recipient will not to be receptive to what you have to say.

People don’t like being criticized, told they are wrong, or feel they are being told what to do.  And advice can often feel like all of those things.

It’s important to remember advice is often an attempt at constructive criticism, and not the same as being critical of the other person. It’s only when it is poorly presented or when we are oversensitive that they things can appear the same.

If you are someone who can’t take criticism (constructive or not), consider this. People often provide advice for two different reasons:

  • they feel they know everything, and they are more than happy to share their opinions (solicited or not). Often trying to force their ideas on someone else
  • they feel they may have experiences/knowledge that gives them insight into what someone is going through, and they want to share that to try and help the other person

These are two very different approaches. And when in doubt, it’s probably a good idea to assume that someone is giving advice because they do actually care, and want the best for you.

Learning to accept criticism is very important.

Everyone’s experiences are different, and no two situations are exactly the same. Even if they were, we are all different so what works for one person won’t necessarily work for another. But we can still try to learn from each other. Learning is all about doing things, seeing flaws in our approaches and learning from them.

We can’t learn unless we accept the flaws and limitations in how we do things. And sometimes we are blind to those flaws, and need some guidance from the people who care about us.

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If someone can’t take criticism, often this is more an issue with them and their own insecurities.  But it means they often remain stuck, and unable to improve on where they are.

 

Afraid to Offend

When people care about each other, they shouldn’t be worried about hurting each other. They should be careful about what they say and not hurt the other person intentionally, but hurting each other is part of caring about the other person. They tend to go together.

It’s only when you do care about someone that they have the capability to hurt you.

I think good communication is about being able to say what you feel is right without fear of how the other person will interpret it. And also being able to accept that your thoughts may or may not be accepted the way you want, and that’s alright.

A big issue with communication is that people worry too much, and end up scared to say the important things because they feel the other person will not see it as information/advice, and will instead take it as an attack.
So instead they say nothing.

When it comes to the people we love and the people we care about, I think one of the most important things we can do is learn to say “no”, or to say “I disagree”. If I’m being selfish, a jerk, or an idiot – I WANT the people I care about to call me out, to tell me that how I am acting or what I am doing is not acceptable.

It may hurt, and it may piss me off. But that’s alright.

To my sis, I know she cares. We won’t always see eye to eye, and that’s alright. If there’s something she wants to say, I don’t want her to ever be scared to say it. If I think she’s out of line I will tell her. But I’ll also listen, and consider what she has said.

And to me, that’s a big part of what relationships are about.

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