A Relationship without Empathy

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I little while back I watched the Netflix series “Mindhunter”. It is about the development of the FBIs behavioral science unit in the 1970s, as they start to study and try to understand the mindset of serial killers.

It’s a cool show. It’s slow moving at times, but starting to get into the psychology of killers (and specifically serial killers) is fascinating in its own way.

The was one scene in the series where the main characters are investigating a murder, and one of them says that he anticipates additional victims. I can’t remember the specifics, but he says something along the lines of how he believes that with serial killers they have probably played out the scenes of killing someone in their heads many times, and with the first victim it is often a case of opportunity. Maybe that first victim fell into their lap, and they got away with it. It gave them a sense of power, and excitement, and they get “a taste for it”. So after that first victim, it’s only a matter of time until they kill again.

It’s a disturbing thought, but also one that makes a lot of sense to me. The realization of fantasy can make it so fantasy isn’t enough anymore, and it starts to spill into reality.

This got me thinking about affairs.

Yes, really.

And if you bear with me a moment hopefully this will make at least *some* sense.

Within law, there are different classifications on the severity of what it means when you kill someone.

  • Manslaughter is a scenario where you killed someone, but it was an accident. There was no intent. Negligence perhaps, but not intent.
  • Second degree murder is intentional, but it happens in the heat of the moment and wasn’t planned in any way.
  • First degree murder is the most serious offence. It is not only intentional, but it is also planned/premeditated.

And then you have serial killers.

Serial killers engage in a series of first degree murders (though going with the idea from Mindhunters, I suppose their first victim *may* have been second degree). In law, they are charged with multiple counts of first degree murder.

But I think most would agree that serial killers are a whole other class of nastiness.

I’ve said before in these pages that I don’t think all affairs are created equal. Don’t get me wrong, they are all bad. They are all destructive, and it’s up to each individual and couple to think about what the affair means for their existing relationship. But that doesn’t mean all affairs are equal.

I have heard people claim their affair was an “accident” and they “never meant for it to happen.”

I don’t buy that excuse at all.

There is no affair equivalent to Manslaughter, because affairs can’t be accidents.

It’s not like someone is walking around one day and they slip, and they accidentally make out with/have sex with someone else while they are falling. I’m *pretty* sure it doesn’t work that way.

However I can buy the notion that affairs can be like second degree murder. They can be something that wasn’t planned and happens in the heat of the moment. THAT I can buy. And when affairs *are* like that I suspect there is a lot of regret and remorse, and “oh my god what have I just done” feeling after.

Affairs are frequently a point of no return for relationships, because trust is at the foundation of any relationship and when an affair is revealed that trust is gone.

That being said, in these scenarios, I do think it’s actually possible for couples to work through rebuilding that trust and continuing the relationship. Both people would need to be willing to face it, work through it, and let it go. But I believe it IS possible.

Calculated affairs (which are more like first degree murder) are different though. These are planned, and the adulterer knows exactly what they are doing and getting into. They are fully aware of the damage they are doing to their relationship, they simply don’t care.

Perhaps they do care at some level, but they have decided that what they are getting out of it (pleasure, a feeling of being desirable, a feeling of power, living out a fantasy, or whatever they are looking for) is worth the risk.

In these scenarios I would caution someone to think long and hard before they give the adulterer a chance.

Healthy relationships require mutual respect and caring. When someone has intentionally gone down the road of an affair, they are showing exactly who and what they value in the relationship.

And what they value is themselves.

In going ahead with this sort of affair, they are showing a complete lack of empathy for their partner.

Perhaps more alarmingly, when someone has been able to detach themselves enough from the relationship to have this sort of calculated affair; it rarely ends after the first time (if they “get away with it”). Rather, they will continue to engage in the affair or perhaps even have a series of affairs with different people.

Take the description of serial killers that I paraphrased from Mindhunter earlier, and replace the words “victim” and “kill” with “affair partner” and “cheat”:

“with the first affair partner it is often a case of opportunity. Maybe that first affair partner fell into their lap, and they got away with it. It gave them a sense of power, and excitement, and they get a taste for it. So after that first affair partner, it’s only a matter of time until they cheat again.”

I truly believe this is what happens here.

In fact a few years ago I interviewed two people (one male and one female) who had gone down the road of affairs and although it’s a small sample size they both furthered this belief.

The guy spoke of the affair becoming an addiction, and how he couldn’t stop thinking about her. He acquired that “taste for it”, and he described it as euphoria when they were together. He eventually ended the affair and to my knowledge has spent the last few years trying to rebuild the relationship with his wife.

The lady was a bit different. From our discussions I believe she once loved her husband, but she loved how the affair made her feel. The excitement, the power, the fantasy world. She continued the affair and I believe had at least a few different partners. She had no intention of stopping, but also had no intention of leaving her husband because she enjoyed the life that he provided.

Take a look at this list of characteristics:

  • Sensation seeking
  • Lack of remorse or guilt
  • Lack of empathy
  • Impulsivity
  • The need for control
  • Shallow emotions
  • Lack of responsibility
  • Cunning and manipulative

This is a list of characteristics exhibited by serial killers, and I believe it can also be used to describe serial adulterers.

To engage in a long term affair or multiple affairs, you can’t really have empathy. You can’t truly care about your partner.

You also can’t really be bothered by guilt.

I’m sure at some level you know what you are doing is wrong, but you’ve found ways to justify your actions to yourself. You’re special. You deserve this. Your relationship isn’t that great to begin with. In fact, it’s probably your partners fault because you wouldn’t be cheating if they were taking care of your needs.

A few years ago a number of my readers were women who had stumbled across my site while trying to understand and deal with the fallout and emotions of discovering an affair.

There was always pain, a sense of loss, but also frequently a sense of guilt (along the lines of maybe it wouldn’t have happened if I had been a better partner) and questions about whether I felt the relationship was still worth working on.

I never really wanted to answer that question because I think each person needs to make whatever decision they feel is right for them. But I do caution anyone to consider the following question:

If you find your partner has been cheating and they have continued it for a long time or had multiple partners, do you think they actually care about you? Is it you they want, or are you simple a means to an end – a way to have a life, a lifestyle and perhaps keep a family together? And if it’s the latter, are you really any more than a tool?

For anyone dealing with the pain of discovering an affair, remember that the affair is not about you, and it is not a reflection on you.

Maybe your relationship isn’t what it could be, and maybe you’ve played a part in that. Own that part of things, and only that part.

Having an affair is always a choice, and there was always a different way.

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Navigating Life

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Over the past while I haven’t been very prolific when it comes to blogging.

Its not that I’ve stopped.  In fact I’ve written quite a bit.

Yet for some reason very few things are ever finished and published.  I have this backlog of partially written entries that I don’t know if I’ll ever finish.  Because quite frankly, when I look over them I come to the conclusion that not many of them are very good.

When I write (or do anything in life really), I need to have a spark.  I need to be fully immersed and feel it.  But over the last while I haven’t.  There are a number of reasons, and I think the biggest one is – I’m completely at peace with myself, and fully happy in my life.

It’s kind of funny actually.

When I started writing thezombieshuffle.com, it was because my world had pretty much fallen apart and I was trying to understand and make sense of it.  I really enjoyed writing, but I didn’t just enjoy it…

I needed it.

I needed the outlet that it provided.

And now?  Well, I don’t.  I still really enjoy writing; but haven’t had that same spark in doing so.

A few days ago however I was in a communications course through work, and the facilitator started talking about navigation.  And as he spoke, the words really resonated with me.  I have always loved metaphors, and to me this brief discussion can be applied to all areas of life.

 

He opened with a question.

When you are trying to navigate, what is the most important thing?

My first thought (shared by many in the class) was that you have to know where you want to go.  But no, apparently that’s not the most important thing.

According to him the most important thing is knowing where you are, right now.

After hearing that, it seemed obvious.  I mean, of course you need to know where you are right now.  But the fact that it seemed obvious was kind of the problem.

We think it’s obvious.

We think we know where we are currently.

And because of that we don’t actually take a hard look at where we are, and instead we focus on where we want to go.

Here’s the thing though…

We are generally pretty terrible at knowing where we really are.

It’s very difficult to be honest with yourself.  It’s very difficult to look at a situation, and truly see the part we have played in the situations we are in.

It’s much easier to either be overly optimistic or overly critical of ourselves.  But we need to be honest.  We need to own our part in things.  Because until we do, we can’t ever really learn and grow.

 

Let’s assume we are relatively self-aware and we have spent some time doing some soul searching and we actually do know where we are (ish).  At that point, what is the next most important thing?

 

Again, my immediate thought was knowing where you want to go.

And again, I was wrong (hey, at least I’m consistent!!!).

 

No, once you know where you are the next most important things isn’t where do you want to go.  It’s why do you want to go there?  What are your motivations reasons for wanting to be somewhere other than where you are right now?   And why are you choosing this destination over a different one.

This really makes sense to me.  On its own a destination doesn’t really matter.  What matters is why we want to go there.

I think often in life we want to be somewhere other than where we are simply because we feel stuck.  So we tell ourselves that somewhere, anywhere else would be better than where we currently are.  This is where we get that “my life would be better if only…” idea.  Thing is, it’s usually misguided.  We are looking for answers without asking the right questions.

 

Lets says we know where we are.  We know where we want to go and we also know why we want to get there.

The next important thing is…

figuring out how we want to get there.

I actually got that one right, yay!

The point is, life doesn’t just happen.  It’s pretty rare that people just luck into things.  Generally they have to have some sort of plan on how to get there, or it doesn’t happen.

When we don’t have a plan is when we are liable to wake up one day and come to the realization that  years have gone by and we haven’t actually done anything.

And that is when we start to feel stuck.

So having some sort of ambition or plan for our lives is pretty important.

Now lets say you have a plan…

The instructor told us that the shortest distance between two points in navigation is called the track.  So when people talk about something being “on track” or not, they are essentially asking if it is heading to where it wants to go.

However we were cautioned – almost no journey follows the shortest distance (track).  This is because there are always different forces at play, both externally and internally.

 

External forces are those that are out of our control.

They can be anything.  Thinking of life, stuff happens – both good and bad.  Life is constantly throwing us curveballs, and it’s up to us to determine how we want to deal with them.  Do we let them drive us away from our goals?  Do they make us reexamine our goals and find that maybe they weren’t great goals in the first place?

 

Life is unpredictable.

Lots of things can and will happen.

But it’s still up to us to set goals, be willing to take a hard (yet fair) look at ourselves and be honest about where we are, make plans to achieve our goals, and recognize that we will have to periodically do course corrections.

Because when we do these things we give ourselves the best chance at the life we want.

When a Relationship has ran its Course

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Last night I was at a party, and I overheard two people talking about one persons impending divorce.  They were talking about some of the things that naturally happen at the end of a relationship, and one of them told the other that “the relationship had ran its course”.

Hearing this had me thinking about the saying that some people come into our life only for a season.

People Come Into Your Life For A Reason Quote Quote About People Come Into Your Life For A Reason, A Season, Or

It’s true, people come into our lives for different reasons and for different durations.  And people also impact our lives in different ways.  Some people barely touch our lives, while others change it forever.

So yes, there are definitely times when relationships have ran their course.

Times when peoples time together has passed.

When their “season” is done.

 

Thing is, this was a marriage.  And I think all of us go into marriage with the belief that it will last.

No one goes into it expecting it to just last a season.  No one says in their vows “for better or for worse, and until the relationship has ran its course“.

We all go into marriage with a belief in the permanence of it, or we wouldn’t do it.

Yet divorce rates show us that it often doesn’t work out quite the way we expect.  Maybe people change and grow in different directions.  Maybe they find out that neither of them was quite what the other expected.  Maybe they realize that forever is a lot harder than they ever anticipated.

Ultimately the “reason” doesn’t matter; eventually many couples come to the conclusion that they are better apart than together.  So their time together comes to an end.

 

But if the goal of marriage is “forever”, how can we ever hope to achieve that?  Some relationships do last, so not everything has to run its course.

And if some last, the question becomes why do some relationships last while others don’t?

Is it just dumb luck?

 

I don’t buy either of these notions.

Luck means it’s completely random.  And although a lot of pop culture talks about the idea of finding “the one”, I don’t buy into that concept (in fact, I can’t stand it).

The idea of “the right person” takes responsibility out of your own hands.  Because if things aren’t working out, then hey, obviously you just aren’t with the right person.  So why own anything?  Why work on anything?  Why look at what YOU are bringing to the relationship?

None of that matters if you just need to find the right person.

 

I have a different thought on this.

To me, when it comes to the success of relationships the why, what and how matters more than who.

Why are you in the relationship?

What are you expecting out of your relationship?

How do you treat one another, not on when times are good but also when they aren’t?

I can’t give you the answers to these questions, and I can’t tell you what is right or wrong.

However I CAN tell you that I think the honest answers to these questions plays a much larger role in the success of the relationship than the the question of who the other person is.

the_right_person

Of course, the other person does matter too.

A relationship requires two people, and one person cannot keep things alive on their own.

Both people need to want to be there.

Both people need to actively choose each other.

And both people need to try to be the right person.

 

That won’t always be enough – nothing in life is ever guaranteed.  People still do grow in different ways.  People still change.  And sometimes relationships will run their course.

However all we can ever control are our own contributions to a relationship.

So owning our part in things, and focusing on being the right person gives us the best chance of building something that will last.

 

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Lessons from the Past

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In the last year plus I’ve found myself single again for the first time in almost twenty years.

When I last was in the dating world I was in my early 20’s; and although I was legally an adult (and thought of myself as mature), looking back I was nothing more than a kid. I didn’t really know very much about life, relationships, or even myself for that matter.

People often imagine what they would do differently if they could go back in time with the knowledge they have gained since. How would they approach life differently with the benefit of that knowledge?

Well, I kind of have that opportunity now.

I can’t go back and do things differently. However I *do* have an opportunity in front of me to take the knowledge I have learned and try to apply it. To try to have the best future I can possibly have.

Even still, todays’ post is about that idea of going back in time. If I *could* write a letter to the younger me, what would it look like?

Although I know I can’t go back, I do have two children who will probably be starting relationships of their own in the next few years. Yeah, I know that they will have to go through their own experiences and learn in their own way. That’s a necessary (and often painful) part of personal growth.

But if I could share knowledge and experience, what would I tell them?

What would I tell myself?

 

Hey there, it’s me.

So you’re starting to notice women, or girls I guess (given your age). Yeah yeah, I know. You really don’t want to talk about this kind of stuff with me. I get that. But still, there are some things I want to tell you that may make life a bit easier for you, if you’re willing to listen.

You’re probably not even thinking about the word “relationship”. You’re probably more focused on the fact that you’re feeling an attraction towards someone. Maybe it’s her smile, her laugh, the sparkle in her eyes, her body.

Maybe it’s just the way you feel when you’re around her.

You want to spend time with her, and learn about her. And you hope that she’s thinking and feeling some of the same thing you are.

If she is? Well, hanging out becomes dating, and you find yourself building some form of a relationship. It will go through different stages and different levels of seriousness, but it’s still a relationship.

 

It’s human nature for us to seek relationships with other people. Family, friends, and of course romantic relationships. These relationships help give us a sense of connection and belonging.

It’s important to realize however that the most important relationship you will ever have is the one you have with yourself.

I really can’t overstate how important this is.

You need to know who you are, and what you want out of life. I get that you’re a kid, and you probably have no clue what I’m talking about. And really, it’s unfair of me to expect you to know who you are at this age. Honestly you’ll probably spend the rest of your life trying to figure that out. It doesn’t matter how old we are, we are always changing and always growing.

I guess the important part is, always accept yourself for who you are.

Right now.

Today.

Don’t worry about what you “are not”. Or about the things other people can do that you can’t.

You’re you, and the only person you should ever be competing with is yourself. Just try and be the best version of yourself that you can be.

Believe in yourself, and know that you can do anything you set your heart to. And on the days that you’re struggling to believe in yourself (cause those days WILL happen), know that I believe in you.

 

This relationship you have with yourself is SO important, because we teach others how to treat us. We show them our worth by how we value ourselves. And how can we ever expect someone else to treat us well, never mind love us, if we don’t love ourselves first?

It’s a process, I get that. And it can take years to truly be comfortable with who you are. In the meantime, when thinking about relationships with other people here are a few pointers…

It’s really easy to want to impress someone, and I’m sure you’ll do that to some degree. But the best thing you can do is to be yourself. Be authentic. Let the other person see you for who you are, flaws and all. Cause let’s face it, we all have them.

So many relationships fail because someone is trying to be what they think the other person wants. Trying to be someone they aren’t.

That really doesn’t help you.

It’s better that someone see’s you for who you are instead of seeing you for who you are pretending to be. What good does it do you to get someone to fall for a you that doesn’t really exist? Eventually you’ll start to resent doing that, or you’ll have to be you. And if they don’t like that when they see you? Well, I hate to say it but will be your own fault. So you may as well just be honest from the beginning.

And guess what, you need to be able to accept them for who they are too. Don’t look at them as someone who would be great if they would just change a few things. You can’t change people, and you shouldn’t try. If you can’t accept them for who they are, then they aren’t the right person for you.

 

In addition to being authentic, be vulnerable. Be willing to let people in, and be willing to show them emotion. Let them see and feel the things you care about, the things you are passionate about. That can be really hard for us, because as guys we’re often taught to hide our emotions and taught that it’s weakness to show them. That’s a load of crap. Women, men, it doesn’t matter. We are all emotional beings, and we need to be able to accept our emotions. I’m not talking about being an emotional basket case, cause that just means you can’t self-regulate. But you need to be able to let people in.

You might get hurt. In fact, I’m pretty sure you will.

That’s alright though, it’s part of it. Over time, the people closest to us will hurt us. It’s up to us to determine how we handle that hurt.

 

One of the things we are rarely taught is how to deal with conflict. Often conflict is seen as this terrible thing, and if you have conflict it becomes a sign that something is wrong.

That thinking is so incredibly damaging, and wrong.

People are different, with different experiences and beliefs. And conflict is just a natural result of these differences. Instead of seeing it as a bad thing, think of it as a way to get a deeper understanding (and hopefully acceptance) of the other person.

Conflict in and of itself isn’t a bad thing. It’s how we deal with conflict (or not deal with it in some cases) that can potentially be a bad thing.

Do we assume that anything different from our beliefs is wrong, or inferior to our beliefs? Are we willing to communicate the things that bother us, or do we keep it in and let it fester? Do we learn and move forward, or do we hold onto the past and refuse to let it go?

 

If we can’t learn to let things go, we’re in for a lifetime of unhappiness and resentment. The past has already happened, and it can’t be changed. All we can do is apply the lessons the past has taught us to building a better future.

That’s not to say we should just accept and put up with anything – another concept that is really important to learn is boundaries.

Personal boundaries are really important to determine. Basically, what truly matters to you? What is acceptable and what it not acceptable to you. Learning this is a process that can take a lifetime, as we often don’t even know what our boundaries are until they have been violated.

When they are violated, defending our own personal boundaries is about calling people out and telling them “hey, you did/said this and this is how it made me feel.” As I said earlier, we teach people how they can treat us. So defining our boundaries and enforcing them is about making the people around us understand what is acceptable and what is not. If our boundaries are constantly violated and we do nothing about it, we are teaching people that how they are treating us is actually alright.

To defend our boundaries we may have to walk away and reduce our exposure to that person, or even remove them from our life completely. It’s not easy, but sometimes it’s the only way.

 

Lets say you can do all that, and find yourself in a relationship with someone where things are going great…

When you get to that point, I want you to be conscious of something called hedonic adaptation. I know, it has a crazy name. But really, it’s probably one of the most important concepts you’ll ever come to understand.

I also think it’s one of the biggest killers of relationships.

So what the heck is it?

 

Think about a time you’ve been excited to get something, and you finally do. Even if it’s awesome at first, over time you stop appreciating it for how awesome it is – because you have it now. It’s yours. So those awesome qualities/features/whatever just become its regular features. And over time, because you get used to having those features you stop noticing them and instead you start noticing the things that are missing.

That’s hedonic adaptation.

It’s part of our psychology, where we are basically hard wired to start taking things for granted once they become our norm. And it applies to everything. New job, car, apartment, cool new gadgets…

And yes, relationships.

 

It doesn’t matter how amazing the person you are with is. Over the long term you WILL start to take her for granted. You will stop noticing all the little things that make her special to you. Because once you’re around her enough, it’s just her. It’s who she is. Nothing can be “new” forever, and we tend to stop appreciating what we already have.

As I said, I think this is probably the biggest killer of relationships out there. This probably doesn’t make any sense to you because you’re thinking “no way, this girl I’m interested in is amazing”. I’m sure she is. So my suggestion to you is, keep that in your heart and in your head.

Be conscious of it.

Think about it.

And on those days when things aren’t going great and you’re having issues, focus on what is it you like about her. Focus on why you wanted to be with her in the first place.

The only way to fight against this natural tendency to take things for granted is to practice active appreciation. Focus on the good, not the bad. I’m not saying ignore the bad, as I’m sure there will be some. Work on that, and have your boundaries. But don’t let it cause you to lose sight of the good.

And remember, she’ll be doing this (taking you for granted) too.

For some people, once they stop seeing the good they start looking for something new. If that happens and they need to be chased, let them go. Because they’re looking for excitement, and you’ll never be enough.

 

So I guess that’s my advice to you. Those are my lessons:

Accept yourself. Be authentic. Be willing to be vulnerable. Accept conflict as natural and learn to work through things. Understand and enforce your own boundaries. And last but not least, learn to appreciate what you have, each and every day.

Beyond that? Smile, laugh, and love.

Nothing in life is guaranteed, but I think doing those things will give you the best shot at something great.

And really, that’s all we can ask for.

Why Do Guys not “Get It”?

JimCarrey

A while back I was talking to a friend of mine, and we were talking about those final sputtering gasps of relationships and how they often look the same.

Usually it looks something like this…

A couple stops doing things together, they stop having fun together, they stop having sex, and often even stop sleeping in the same bed.

The sense of “we” breaks down, and they increasingly become two people living separate lives; simply occupying the same space instead of being “a couple”.

Maybe they start fighting a lot, or maybe they just stop talking and interacting AT ALL.

 

Even still, when one person finally decides to initiate the breakup – the other person is often caught completely off guard.

 

The way the scenario was presented to me, it was the woman who was the one initiating the breakup; and the question was asked of me:

“why in the world are guys surprised when this happens?  You’re not getting along.  You’re not having sex.  Why is this a surprise?”

Yet for the person on the receiving end of the breakup, it often is.  Sometimes the other person is completely blindsided by the loss of the relationship.

 

As I thought about it, I realized it was a great question.

Why is it a surprise?

Why in the world doesn’t someone see it coming?  Especially when there are usually a significant number of signs that something is clearly wrong.

Is the person on the receiving end of the breakup stupid?

I suppose it’s possible that stupidity, ignorance or naivety plays a role here.  But often I think the issue goes a little bit deeper than that.

And I think it’s a sign of a relationship where there is very poor communication.

 

One of the biggest issues plaguing couples is an (often unspoken) belief that if your partner “knows you” then they will know what you are thinking, or be able to read your body language.

News flash – it’s not true!  People *aren’t* mind readers.  Well, I suppose some might be – and if you actually can then great, I’m not trying to downplay that ability.

But by and large?  Ummmmm… no, things don’t work that way.

When you’ve spent enough time with someone you often can make some guesses as to how they will react to events.  And you probably get pretty good at reading their body language (when you’re actually paying attention) over time.  But no, you can’t read their mind.  You don’t actually know what they are thinking – it’s just guesses.

In fact, believing people should be able to read your mind (or thinking you can read theirs) is one of the leading thinking patterns (or cognitive distortions) associated with things like anxiety and depression.  Or on a lesser scale, unhappy relationships.

So if we can accept that the person who is caught off guard on the receiving end of a breakup can’t actually read minds, and we can accept that they aren’t necessarily stupid, then maybe something else is happening here.

Maybe, just maybe

They are caught off guard because although they knew *something* was wrong, they had no idea what it was, or they had no idea how severe the issue was.

 

Going back to the common signs of a relationship in distress, I mentioned things like a couple no longer  doing things together, not really having fun anymore, not really having sex, and even not sleeping in the same bed.

Basically, a couple ceasing to be a couple.

When this happens, usually one person has pulled away or started to check out of the relationship.

Depending on what is going on in their lives, maybe the other person doesn’t notice at first.  But eventually they clue in that *something* isn’t quite right.

And I think what happens next is what will likely determine the outcome of the relationship.

 

There’s a pretty good chance shitty communication and a dislike of conflict on the part of one or both parties has gotten the couple to this point.

So chances are, the person who notices things aren’t quite right will wait it out for a bit.  After all, people and couples have good days and bad days; maybe this is just something that will pass.

Maybe they try engaging their partner a bit more.  Or maybe they actually ask them something like “hey, is everything alright?”

No one *likes* to discuss difficult things.  No one likes conflict.

But the worst thing people can do is say “yeah, things are fine” when they really aren’t.

Issues and concerns need to be out in the open, and they need to stay out in the open as long as is required to either get things resolved, come to terms with the fact that this is an issue that will always be there (and you can accept that), or realize that the nature of the issue is one which means a couple may be better apart.

People may not like to admit that last one.  But really, sometimes couples are simply not good together.  Sometimes there differences are things that they will never resolve, and if they can’t accept each other for who they are then ending a relationship is actually an act of kindness and compassion.  Time is the one thing we can never get back, so if you don’t actually WANT to be there, get out.  Don’t waste someone else’s time.

 

If someone notices that their partner is withdrawing from the relationship, yet their partner claims things are “fine” or won’t talk about it; it becomes very easy to mentally fill in the blanks and find other reasons as to why they may be withdrawing.

Perhaps they are stressed with work.  Perhaps they are unhappy with something else in their life.

There can be any number of reasons why someone can check out for a while, and often those reasons can have nothing to do with the relationship.

And if they are telling you it’s not the relationship, not being clear about the issues in a relationship, or being passive aggressive in addressing these issues?  Well, it’s easy to tell yourself it’s something else.

Maybe it’s a form of denial or wish fulfillment, but when there are signs of trouble yet your partner won’t tell you what is wrong, it’s really easy to find other reasons to explain away their behavior.

And when you start to tell yourself that the issues are due to something else, then it’s easy to feel blindsided when things completely fall apart, even when there’s ample evidence that something is wrong.

So to me, it really comes down to communication.

 

Let’s look at this another way.

When you are the person on the receiving end of a person who’s checking out of a relationship, yet they aren’t articulating to you (in a way that you understand) that there are problems, what’s really happening?

Maybe they are scared to communicate and avoiding dealing with things.

Maybe they they’ve tried communicating, but they feel they haven’t been heard.

Or maybe they’ve communicated in a way that made sense to them, but really wasn’t understood by you.

Personally, I think it’s often the latter of these.

 

I’m operating from the premise that people aren’t actually stupid (alright, some are).  I also believe most people are in the relationship because they actually “want” to be there, and DO want things to work out.

People communicate in different ways, but communication is a two way street.  It’s not just about one person describing what they are thinking or feeling.  It’s also about the other person actually understanding those things, and not just hearing the words.  Without understanding, you have a monologue – not communication.  And without actual two way communication, a couple is in a world of trouble.

communication model

In the above communication model feedback is the key piece, and if you note the arrows, it’s a two way street.  It involves two people going back and forth, as much as they need to in order to ensure the message is understood.

It’s this feedback that is often missing piece with couples.

It can be frustrating and exhausting to go back and forth ensuring you are understood.  It may result in arguments, and your partner may never fully agree with what you are saying.

But that effort to ensure there is two way communication is incredibly important.  Because think of the alternative…

  • One person speaking but not feeling heard.
  • Resentment and apathy setting in.
  • The relationship slowly breaking down as one or both people emotionally detach, until you are two people occupying the same space instead of two people sharing and building something together.

No one should ever be blindsided by the ending of a relationship.  If they are, then somewhere along the way the communication has broken down; or it was never really there in the first place.

Communication isn’t always easy, but some things are worth fighting for.  And if you want your relationship to last, communication needs to be built so that both people know they are being heard.

Embracing Uncertainty

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Recently I have talked a bit about the fact that I’m currently at the tail end of a divorce that has been brewing since late 2012.

Although I am not someone who will ever “celebrate” a divorce, having it finalized will be relief.  It will allow me to finally close the door on one chapter of my life (well, as much as you can when kids are involved), and truly start defining my new future.

My marriage may have turned out differently than I expected, but that doesn’t change how I think of love.  I still believe in marriage.  I still believe two people can allow time to deepen the bond between them, instead of letting it pull them apart.  I still believe you can achieve “forever” with someone, and have that forever be a beautiful thing; where you are actively choosing your partner each and every day.  I still believe it’s possible to one day be part of a couple who after decades together can walk hand in hand, still very much in love with each other.

Any longtime readers will know I’m a big believer in continuous improvement.  No matter what happens to you in life, to me it’s important to take situations and try to learn from them.  To look at what you may have done right, or wrong, and how you can try to improve for a better future.

I would like to think I have learned, and grown from my experiences.  So maybe that learning will prepare me for the future I want.

 

Then I look at the numbers.

For marriage in North America the divorce rates are as follows:

  • First marriage – 50%
  • Second marriage – 67%
  • Third marriage – 73%

Are those number accurate?  Who knows.

When looking at divorce stats sometimes I see those numbers and sometimes I find different ones.  I don’t think the accuracy of the numbers is as important as the trends they show.  And in every set of number I have seen the trend is the same – as the number of marriages increases so does the frequency of divorce.

Statistically at least, it looks like your first marriage is actually your best shot at “forever”.  And if that’s true, maybe people DON’T actually learn.

 

I think that’s a pretty scary thought.

An even scarier thought is, maybe people do learn.

Maybe they are learning, about their own boundaries and about the things they will not put up with in the future.

But if learning that means the failure rate actually increases with subsequent marriages, then what does that tell you about long term relationships?

At that point, why bother?

 

Do we just need to accept that relationships are fleeting?  That we will only have a few good years together and then things will invariably go to shit?

 

Personally, I can’t accept that.

I don’t really care what the stats say.  Maybe it’s the exception to the rule, but I believe it’s possible to hit 20, 30, 40+ years with someone and STILL be in love with them.  To wake up every day and actively choose each other (alright, maybe not *every* day, but most of them).  To accept each other for who we actually are, flaws and all, instead of focusing on what we are not.

Will it happen for me?

Honestly, I don’t know.

But I believe it CAN.

I also think believing gives me the best chance.

 

Here’s the truth – there are NO guarantees in life.

And maybe that’s alright.

 

Maybe one of the keys to lasting 40-50 years is not necessarily caring if you hit 40-50 years.

Wanting to, sure.  As I think that’s an important part of commitment.  Plus you need to have a sense of where you want get to in order to actually get there.

It doesn’t just happen though, and you won’t actually get there if you don’t put in consistent effort.

 

Really, what actually matters?

The past can and should be a learning tool, but beyond that it doesn’t matter.  It’s already happened.

The future gives you goals and things to work towards, but it’s not guaranteed.

All you really have is today.

 

So what really matters is how you treat each other today.

Are you making time for each other, even when life is busy?  Are you trying to listen to and understand each other?

Do you understand your partners needs and wants in life, and are they a priority to you?  Do you feel like you are a priority to them?  If either of those are a no, what are you doing about it?

Do you set goals together, and try to share in each other’s victories and support each other through challenges?

Are you actively choosing them, each and every day?  And not just on the days when things are easy?  If so, do they know it?

 

Things happen.  People change.  The future is never certain.

But I would like to think if we actively choose each other and make each other a priority each and every day, then we always have a great chance at tomorrow.

And maybe that’s all we can really ask.

After all, 40-50 years is really just a whole heck of a lot of tomorrows.

buildTillTheEnd

Do You Believe in Divorce?

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Do you believe in divorce?

That is a question I struggled with for a long time.

Because for me, the answer was no.

I definitely did not believe in divorce.

I believed marriage was a serious commitment, and one that once made, was made for life.  Almost two decades ago I stood in front of a group of family and friends, and spoke my vows:

For better or worse,

In good times and in bad,

Till death do us part

And when I spoke those words, I meant them.

 

Back in 2012, my wife at the time told me she “wasn’t sure if she wanted to be married anymore”, and after that day we really weren’t.  She checked out on me then, though if I’m honest with myself she had checked out on me prior to that – I just didn’t see it.

I thought I was a good husband, and a good father.  And doing it all over again, there really isn’t much I would do differently.  However I recognize now that I was probably a better father then a husband.

There’s no point trying to think back on *what* went wrong.  Realistically, I’ll never truly know.  All I know is, by the time I knew we were in trouble it was already too late.

I had already lost her.

 

2012 to 2016 was a dark period in my life.

My marriage was in shambles, and really the only thing keeping it together (on my end, I won’t pretend to speak for her) was the fact that I didn’t believe in divorce.

I saw divorce as giving up.

I saw it as breaking my commitment, and that commitment meant the world to me.

I saw divorce as a failure, and having a broken marriage made me feel like “I” had failed.

 

I believed (and still believe) that how you are when times are good tells you almost nothing about yourself or your relationship.  You don’t truly learn what you are made out of until you are challenged, until you struggle.

To me, how you respond to adversity and how you deal with those struggles shows who you truly are – both individually and as a couple.  I did not want give up, and I did not want to quit.  Not when the stakes were so high, and the future of my family depended on it.

 

So instead of giving up, I tried to look at things as an opportunity – an opportunity to identify whatever had gone wrong and make it better.  An opportunity to improve things, and have the life we believed we could have.

I put my heart and soul into trying to make things better, for everyone.  I learned as much as I could about relationships and what makes them succeed and fail.  I learned about people, about motivations.  And as I learned, I built this blog; as a way of trying to solidify ideas for myself plus share things that I wish I had known earlier (in the hopes that I could help, or at least give hope, to at least someone out there).

Nothing I did or learned helped my home situation, and ultimately the decision was made to end the marriage.

The early years were pretty good, and I will always be thankful that my children were born in what I look back on as a time of happiness.  When we ran into challenges however, we didn’t rise to the occasion.  Our marriage ran its course, and was no longer good for either of us.

Those four plus years were difficult, but I would like to think it was a period of significant growth for me personally.  Growth that will hopefully be beneficial to me as I move forward.

 

Looking back, one of the things I ask myself is why?

Why was I so against divorce?

Why did I see it as a failure, or giving up?

 

In retrospect, I realize I was looking at it wrong.

The question should never have been do I believe in divorce.  Rather, the question should have been what do I believe marriage should look like?

Saying I didn’t believe in divorce was operating from a position of fear, and that’s never a healthy place to be.

 

When I was able to re-frame the question for myself, I realized that I wasn’t actually afraid of divorce.

What I REALLY wanted was a strong marriage.

To me, a strong marriage was a marriage where two people were working together as partners.  Where they set goals together, and supported each other as individuals while also not losing sight of the importance of being a couple.  Where there was a focus on the relationship, and each person felt valued and heard by the other person.  And where a couple is comfortable discussing anything, and actively works to improve upon the things that either partner feels needs improvement.

I didn’t have that anymore.

And although I spent considerable time and effort trying to understand what had gone wrong and what we could potentially do to “make things better”, nothing changed, and I had no reason to believe it ever would.

 

I don’t want to get into who was right and who was wrong, because truly, that doesn’t matter.

Our ideas on what we wanted out of life and marriage no longer fit.

WE no longer fit.

As a result, the best thing either of could do was accept that we were not good together anymore, and let the other person go.

 

I married at 25.

I always thought of myself as someone who was fairly mature for my age, but looking back I was still just a kid.  I didn’t know very much about life, about people, or even about myself.

One of the dangers of getting married when you are young is, you are both still in the process of becoming the people you will one day be.  I guess this happens at every age, but it seems especially pronounced when you marry fairly young (as you are going through so many changes).

It’s a beautiful thing when two people are able to grow together, supporting each other as they build their life.

Increasingly though, I think that’s a very difficult thing to do.

And over time if a couple doesn’t put in the day to day work of prioritizing and nurturing the relationship, it’s very easy to one day wake up and realize that they aren’t really sure who the other person is anymore.

When that happens, a couple has a decision to make.  They either use this as an opportunity to re-learn each other and see if they still want a life together.  Or they accept that their journey together has ended, and it’s now time for each of them to continue their journey’s separately.

I think that decision should never be made out of fear of divorce, or of what life will look like when they are “alone”.  Rather it should be made based on that question of what they want out of life, and if they believe they can achieve that together.

If they can’t achieve that together, divorce is not a failure.  It’s simply an acknowledgement that the relationship they once shared has run its course.

 

Divorce should never be an easy decision, and it’s not something to do lightly.  It IS a serious commitment, and I think people *should* try to work things out if possible.

Sometimes they can’t though, and that’s alright.

 

So no, I still don’t believe in divorce.

But I DO believe in marriage where two people are building a life together.  Where they are invested in the relationship, and are able to wake up and choose each other, each and every day (or at least most of them, hah).

If you don’t have that, then divorce isn’t something to fear.  Sometimes, it’s actually an act of kindness, and the best chance at a healthy future.