Making Choices

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Choice.

In life, there is very little we have control over.

We all come from different walks of life, and have had different things happen to us.  Sometimes life goes relatively according to plan, while at other times life throws us curveballs we never could have anticipated (both good and bad).

Yet no matter what happens to us in life, we are never just passive observers caught in the wake of events.

The one element we are always in control of is how we respond to the events in our life.

That response is always our choice.

 

When things go wrong in our lives it’s understandable to be upset.  And it’s natural to look for someone to blame.

But blame doesn’t help us.

Whatever has happened has already happened, and we can’t change it.  Plus sometimes there isn’t even anyone to blame.  Sometimes things just happen and all we can do is accept them.

That doesn’t mean we have to like whatever has happened, but the reality is we can’t change it.

Our only choice is in deciding how we want to move forward.

That decision is an important one, because we have to move forward.  When we get caught up in blaming and we don’t move forward, we are allowing ourselves to remain stuck in the past.

 

I’m not suggesting people try to hold in their feelings and emotions.  We’re human, and we are emotional beings.  When something bad happens in our lives it’s understandable (and normal even) to be upset.  Anger, sadness, fear – these are all natural responses to events and it’s important that we accept them.

However it’s also important that we process them and deal with them.  Because when we don’t, those emotions can control us and keep us trapped, unable to move forward.

 

When someone has hurt you, it’s easy to be angry at other people for things that have happened.  It’s easy to blame, and want to lash out.  It’s easy to let that hurt shape you, and change you.

It’s much harder to work through it, and then let it go.

I don’t pretend to have any magic answers for how to do this, but when facing challenges in life I ask myself a number of questions:

  • How am I spending my energy, and more specifically is it in a positive way?
  • Can I change something?
  • Can I influence something, or do I need to accept it.
  • What can I learn from something?
  • In the big picture, does this really matter?
  • How can I best move forward?

If my energy is being spent focused on what has already happened, then I am allowing myself to be stuck in the past.  Our past shapes our present, and beyond being part of our journey our past also gives us an opportunity to learn from it and try to better ourselves.

 

How we move forward is always our choice.

We only stay stuck if we won’t move forward, and if we can’t let go.

Sometimes letting go means letting go of the hurt and resentment that can keep us stuck.  Other times it means letting go of the people in our lives who are hurting us.  Letting go of people isn’t always an easy choice, but we can’t change others.

If there is something or someone is hurting us, we can’t keep doing the same things and expecting a different outcome.

Something needs to change.

And if we aren’t willing to make changes, then staying where we are is also a choice.

Because the only person who can change where we are, is our self.

The-purest-form-of-insanity-is-to-leave-everything-the-same-and-the-same-time-hope-that-things-will-change.-Albert-Einstein

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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.

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.

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Ruled By Fear

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When I was younger I wanted to be a physiotherapist.  Actually, before that I wanted to be a comic book artist, and before that I wanted to be an animal trainer (come on, you KNOW that would be awesome).  But in late high school I started thinking seriously about a career, and physio was what I wanted.

I was serious about it too.  In grade 12 I volunteered at a physio clinic in order to better understand what was involved, and as I saw it in action I knew it was something I would not only enjoy, but would also be good at.

So off I went to university, and in my first year I took all the prerequisites for Physiotherapy.  To get into Physio you need to apply to the faculty, and due to a limited number of spots available every year there was an interview process to get in.  I was confident I had a shot if I could get to the interview stage; but only the applicants with the top marks received interviews.

My marks were good, but not good enough.  And I tried for two years before coming to accept maybe physio wasn’t going to happen for me.

One day I was talking to someone about it, and they suggested I apply at different schools (out of town) as I would have a much better chance to get in.  That idea had never occurred to me, but even after hearing about it I never even tried.  I DID want to get into physio, but I was also an 18-19 year old kid who had never been away from home.  The reality was, I didn’t even consider trying to get into school somewhere else.  That wasn’t an option to me at the time.

Although I didn’t see it, my fear of being away from home, my friends and my family was greater than my desire to get into Physiotherapy school.

And so I didn’t even try.

I didn’t think of it as fear, but at some level that’s what it was.  I wanted something – I really did.  But I didn’t want it enough to make the take a chance, and to do what needed to be done to pursue that dream.

 

In life, we are often ruled by our fears.  We fear failure, and we fear rejection.  And these fears often end up shaping our behaviors and decisions.

 

Fear of Failure

When we fear failure, there are a few different ways it can manifest.

The most obvious one is removing ourselves from a situation, and not even trying.  When you don’t even try, it may be because you’ve convinced yourself in advance that you were going to fail – so why bother when you know how it will end up.

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Not trying may also be so you can convince yourself you didn’t fail.  I’m sure we’ve all seen and heard people say something like “I would have done X, if not for Y”.  Things like I would have been a professional musician if not for my mom and dad needing my help, or I would have been a doctor if I didn’t have kids, or any number of things.

When you don’t try it’s easy to lie to yourself and tell yourself these things.

Maybe it’s true and you would have been X; then again, maybe not.

You’ll never know.

The “what if” game is a wasted exercise, because no matter what you think may have happened – it didn’t.  You made the choices you made.  And life worked out the way it worked out.

 

Sometimes people do put in some effort, but fear of failure becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.  They don’t believe they can succeed, so they sabotage themselves by putting in minimal effort.

Then, when things don’t work out they tell themselves “see, I knew it wasn’t going to work out.”  Not accepting that the way they approached it was a significant contributor to how things ended up.

 

When this happens, one of the lies people tell themselves is if it didn’t work out it wasn’t meant to be.

Meant to be.

Fate.

To me that’s a cop out.  “It wasn’t meant to be” turns us into victims, and absolves us of any responsibility for the course of our life.

Things work out sometimes, and other times they don’t.  But if it’s all about “meant to be” then why are we here?  “Meant to be” turns us into nothing more than observers, it means we are passive participants in our own lives; and I can’t accept that.

Rather, I think life presents us with opportunities, and it’s up to us to determine what we want to do them.

Sometimes we pass those opportunities by, maybe because we are scared we will fail or we feel we aren’t ready.

Life doesn’t care if we’re scared – it doesn’t care if we think we’re ready.  Opportunities arise, and we need to decide what to do with them.

Sometimes we embrace those opportunities and give them our all.  And sometimes we still fail.

When that happens it can hurt like hell.  But if it’s something that mattered to us and something we believed in, at least we know that we’ve tried.

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Fear of Rejection

I’ve written a lot about authenticity in relationships, and about how important it is to just “be yourself”, whoever that is.  And I DO believe that being authentic and vulnerable in a relationship is key to both happiness and long term success.

But one thing I tend to gloss over when writing about authenticity is how hard that is to do sometimes.

See, we all have egos and want to be liked and accepted.  And rejection hurts.

 

Fear of rejection can lead us to hide parts of ourselves, or even to pretend to be something we are not.

We probably all do this to a degree, because we want to impress and we want to be accepted.  And in the early days of a relationship it’s somewhat understandable.

It’s a paradox, where we need to feel accepted in order to feel emotionally safe with the other person.  At the same time, we need to be vulnerable and let our partners in in order to feel accepted and safe.

So usually in the early days it can be a gradual process of sharing and revealing ourselves.  Ultimately we need to let the other person in though, as much as we can.

Similar to how not trying out of fear of failure can CAUSE us to fail, holding back out of fear of rejection will limit the closeness in our relationships and ensure we will never be accepted for who we are.  After all, our partner can’t ever fully accept us if we won’t let them truly see us.

When that happens, that’s not a failure of the relationship.  That’s a failure within ourselves.  Because often, when a fear of rejection is causing us to hold back (or try to be someone we’re not), it’s because we have not accepted ourselves.

 

Accepting ourselves can be very, very hard.

We all have damage.

We all have insecurities.

We’ve all been hurt.

When that happens it’s very easy to build walls around ourselves in order to “protect” ourselves from further hurt.  It doesn’t work though, because our fears just hold us back from the life we really want.

 

Facing our fears is hard.

Letting go is hard.

Embracing life and opportunities is hard.

And being vulnerable and authentic is hard.

Each of these things comes at a cost, but the cost of not doing so is even higher.

 

We all have fears, of failure and of rejection.  You have them, and I have them.  And we all need to address them in the way that seems right for us.

For me, I don’t want to let fear hold me back.  When life presents me with opportunities, I don’t want my fears to cause me to pass them by.  If it’s something I believe in, I want to embrace it.  I want to be the authentic me, and take a chance.

I may be hurt.

I may fail.

But whether I succeed or fail at something, for the things that matter I want to be able to face the mirror at the end of the day and tell myself I gave it my all.

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Dealing with Grief

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I recently watched the movie Wild, with Reese Witherspoon.

I guess it’s supposed to be a positive/inspirational movie about someones personal growth when they hit a difficult time in their life.  And in some ways I guess it is, but it’s also pretty messed up.

The movie is based on a true story, and it’s about (Spoiler alert!) a woman whose life falls apart while she’s dealing with grief over the death of her mother.  It cause her to shut down, and go down a very self-destructive road, destroying her marriage and her life with drugs and promiscuous sex, until she finally hits rock bottom and decides to reboot her life by going on a hike down the Pacific Crest Trail (with no prior outdoors experience).

 

One of the things the movie drives home is that grief can really mess people up.  And while grieving, people will often do some crazy, self-destructive things.  This doesn’t just happen in movies though, you see this in the real world too.

There are so many stories where someone suffers some sort of a personal tragedy – maybe a loved (parent, child, close friend) dies or gets a serious illness, maybe THEY get a serious illness.  And in response to the situation, sometimes a person just (for a lack of a better term) “breaks”.

They shut down, retreat into themselves, stop caring, and stop “feeling” – becoming numb to the world around them (or some combination of these things).  They become like the walking dead, going through the motions of life but not really being engaged in it anymore.

During these times of grief, it’s not uncommon to hear about people falling prey to addictions (or just addictive behaviors) such as drugs, alcohol, affairs, gambling or any number of issues; as a way of “dealing” or coping with their grief.

 

Why does this happen?

I think this quote sums it up pretty well:

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Think about this for a moment…

The story wasn’t finished.

 

Why wasn’t it finished?

Because we weren’t ready.

We thought we would have more opportunities.

And we thought the story would have a different ending.

 

Grief is about loss we weren’t prepared for, where we are left feeling helpless and powerless to change things.

And I think maybe this sense of helplessness is where grief is strongest.

Helplessness.

A lack of control.

A feeling that it doesn’t matter what you do, you can’t change anything, and you can’t make things any better.

 

Elisabeth Kubler Ross defined the 5 stages of grief (a series of emotional steps people will experience while dealing with grief) as:

  1. Denial – refusing to accept that something is actually happening, and clinging to the hope that maybe it’s a mistake.
  2. Anger – accepting that something has happened, but lashing out because it shouldn’t have happened, or it isn’t fair.
  3. Bargaining – a way of trying to avoid the grief.  A promise (often internal) of changes that would be made if only this problem would “go away”.
  4. Depression – accepting that this has happened (there’s no denying or bargaining), but despairing at what it means and at the sense of loss that comes with it.
  5. Acceptance – coming to terms with the event.  Fully accepting that is has happened, and cannot be changed.  And realizing that life will move on – maybe not in the way you once expected, but that things will still be alright.

 

I think when grief causes people to break, they are stuck somewhere in those first four stages.  To them, the story wasn’t finished and they are unable to accept that.  They are unable to cope with the pain and the sense of loss, so they don’t actually deal with it.

Instead, they shut down to insulate themselves from that pain – often acting in a self-destructive fashion in order to escape from it.

However no one can escape forever.

Eventually all things need to be faced.

 

The final stage of grief is Acceptance; and I think acceptance is when we finally realize that yes, the story actually WAS finished.  It just didn’t end the way we thought it would.

Life doesn’t always work out the way you want it to, and not all stories have a happy ending. 

And maybe that’s alright. 

 

Because in life, what can you actually control?

The reality is, we control almost nothing.

Through our own efforts and actions we can exert a degree of influence on the things around us.  But we can’t change anything.  We can’t force people or events conform to the way we want.

Bad things happen to good people sometimes.  And sometimes people do terrible things and don’t face consequences.  Sometimes things don’t make sense, and there is no “reason”.

Sometimes things just happen, and all we can really do is try to manage the fallout.

And we do that through the things we CAN control.  The primary thing we can control being our own responses to the events that occur in our lives.

We control our own choices.

Our own actions.

Our own responses.

And really, that’s about it.

 

We can’t control how other people will treat us, or what they will do.  We can’t control external events.

When we try to, it’s understandable that we will feel powerless – because we are powerless to control these things.

Instead of feeling powerless over our lack of control though, I find it freeing.

We can influence thing, but not control them.  The ONLY thing we can control is our own actions and responses.  Accepting that and focusing on these actions and responses is a form of power.

For me, it allows me to understand that life can’t be fit into a box.  I may have ideas on where my life is going, but those ideas are only how things look right now.  Things happen, and things change.

So maybe the most important thing we can do is learn to be resilient.  To accept that some things are beyond our control, and to adapt accordingly – directing our energies towards those things we CAN control.

 

Grief happens when we believe the story wasn’t finished.  But if we are able to let go, we can see that our own personal story is always being written.  And it’s up to us to be open to new roads, and to be willing to see where they take us.

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Relationship Limbo

Cracked clay landscape in the Atacama desert.

One of the main premises of my blog is, although each relationship is unique there are often common problems and issues affecting many of us.

So by looking at those “common problems”, in theory there will be many people out there who will be able to relate to what I’m trying to say.  Some of what I write is from experience while some is from things I have read or even just from personal observation.  But in my writing I try to look at things in terms of ideas, or beliefs.  I try not to write about me or my experiences directly.

 

In that regard, today’s post is a bit different.

Like many, my marriage was challenged; and that became the flashpoint event that caused me to turn to writing.

When I found out my wife was unhappy in our marriage; I wanted to understand, and to make things better.  I knew there was a lot of good, and I believed that if we could go back and find that good our life could be great again and we could have the “forever” we once promised each other.

So I fought for us.

I tried to grow to be a better person, and in that regard I would like to think I’ve succeeded.  But even though I grew personally, I still failed and our marriage failed.

Today I hope to share lessons I learned, painfully.

Every situation is different and what is right for me isn’t necessarily what is right for others, so everyone needs to judge for themselves what is right in their own situation.

But for me, these are “truths” I wish I had learned earlier.

 

My story

A number of years ago my wife told me she was no longer happy in our marriage.  She didn’t feel she loved me anymore, questioned if she ever “truly” loved me, and wasn’t sure if she wanted to be married anymore.  I’ll guess she felt that way for a while, but it was over 4 years ago when she finally told me those things.

“Why” doesn’t really matter, and honestly I don’t actually know if she or I will ever really understand it.

I was caught off guard, as I hadn’t seen it coming.  To me, marriage was forever.  We had been together a long time and had a young family; so I didn’t want her to do anything rash.

I wanted to understand what was wrong, thinking if we could identify the problems we could improve them.  After all, isn’t that what you do?  Try to be there for each other and try to be better?

She told me she didn’t want “us” anymore, and further she didn’t even want to try because “what was the point”.  She had never communicated this to me before, but apparently for her she had been feeling this way for a while.

I was able to convince her to stay, but it was only ever in body.

She never seemed to buy in to the notion we could still be happy, and she never seemed to *want it* the way I did.

It felt like a self-fulfilling prophecy.  She wasn’t sure she wanted to be married anymore, so her effort was sporadic, and never sustained.  And not putting in consistent effort undermined our ability to ever improve.

She wasn’t sure if she wanted to be married anymore, and after that day we really never were.

I continued to love her, but she didn’t seem to love me back.  Instead, we were in this limbo state where we were a bit more than roommates who co-parent, but not really a couple.  Any passion she once had for me or for us had long been gone.

In that situation, it was a struggle to remain positive and stay strong, holding on to hope things would get better.  But I tried.

Occasionally things would improve for a day or two; sometimes even weeks at a time.  During these moments I would feel connected again, and get a glimpse of what our life once was and what I felt it could be again.

But these moments were always fleeting, then her body language would change and the walls would come back up.  Emotional walls, where I could feel her holding back.  She either didn’t love me, was unable to express it, or didn’t believe she should have to.  But in the end it amounted to the same – my perception had been one of a number of years in a relationship where my love was not returned.

 

John Gottman (Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work) said a successful marriage needs 5 positive interactions for every negative interaction.  I disagree.  Tension and negative interactions may be bad; but apathy is worse. Living in limbo, without expressions of love and affection was a slow death, and in some ways I think a major issue or incident would have been better.

 

Limbo

Limbo is defined as:

“an uncertain period of awaiting a decision or resolution; an intermediate state or condition”.

And that’s what my life had become.

A life where I was married, but not.  I was with someone who wouldn’t commit to me, but was also unable to let me go.

In those early months and years, I thought I was doing the right thing.  I stayed with her, and accepted the lack of reciprocation of my love.

I told myself she just needed time.  I knew what we had, and I knew how great our life could be.  So all I had to do was stay positive and I would be able to get her to come back to me.  I could be the light that would bring her out of whatever dark place she was in.

So I waited.

I had visions of those romantic stories where people are separated by circumstance, and eventually they are reunited in their love.

I told myself that would be us.

One day she would see me again with fresh eyes, and she would love me again.  I even imagined us one day renewing our vows together.

I was an idiot.

 

What I failed to see was, this was different.  We weren’t separated by circumstance, this was choice.  This was someone who knew me, and knew everything about me.  She had every opportunity to be there and to choose me.  But she wouldn’t, or couldn’t.

She was a priority to me, but for her I wasn’t a priority anymore.  For whatever reason, I was just an option.  She wanted time to “figure stuff out”, to figure out what she wanted out of life.

And while she figured stuff out I was supposed to sit there and wait; and be there IF and when she decided she wanted us again, no matter how long that took.

option

 

In staying with her I thought I was doing “the right thing” for us and our family.  I thought I was respecting my vows, and being there for her in good times and in bad.  After all, marriage was supposed to be for life.

But the reality is, I wasn’t doing the right thing.

I wasn’t respecting myself.

By allowing us to stay in this limbo state where I wanted things but she didn’t, I was enabling this.  I was saying “this is alright, it’s okay for you to feel this way.  It’s okay for you to treat me this way”.

It wasn’t.

 

I needed her to make a decision.

I needed her to recommit to us.  To work on improving whatever was wrong, and to choose me, each and every day.

And if she couldn’t, I needed her to let me go.

 

limbo2

 

Establishing Boundaries

What does a relationship mean to you?  What do you need from your partner?  What behaviors from them are acceptable, and what aren’t?

I don’t think most of us know that.  I don’t think we understand what those things mean to us.

I know I didn’t.

I believed I loved someone, and she loved me, and that should be enough.  With that, everything else would just fall into place.

But I was wrong.

 

Living in limbo was difficult, but the one positive is it allowed me to try and understand those things.  I didn’t just mope at how sad my home life had become.  I took the time to understand who I really am, and what I need out of life and love.

There are things we want, and there are things we need.  Learning what these are is part of understanding ourselves, and establishing our own boundaries.  And once we’ve established them, we need to enforce them.

But nothing is either/or.  Everything exists on a spectrum.

Love, affection, kindness.

All of these things exist on a sliding scale.  Some days you will have more, other days less.

You can always have more, but at what point do you have enough?

 

My broken marriage was an awful experience, but it allowed me to learned what enough looks like for me.  I’ve learned what things I need, and what things I can’t and won’t do without ever again.

 

Finite Resources

In the investment world, people talk about how property is one of the safest investments you can make because there’s a finite amount of it.

And that’s true.

 

But there’s another thing there’s a finite amount of.

Time.

We have a finite amount of time on this earth, and each day should be precious.  Things aren’t always easy, they aren’t always fun, and that’s alright.  Getting through the hard times with someone you love is part of what makes a couple stronger.

But you have to believe in what you are doing.  You have to WANT it – even when it’s hard.  And if you DON’T want it?  That’s when you fail.

 

When things start to fall apart, it doesn’t mean you need to bail right away (if people did, I doubt ANY marriage would last).  When you have history together, it’s always good to give things a bit of time to turn around.

So the question becomes, when things aren’t working how long do you hold on?

I think that’s a question there’s no right answer for.  Initially I told myself I was going to give things 6 months.  That became a year, and then two.  Eventually we hit four years in this limbo state, where we were more roommates that co-parented then we were a couple.

And other than a handful of little moments, there was no real sign we would ever be able to find middle ground which would allow us to both be happy.

If we were actively working on things together, that time would have been an investment in a better future.  That’s not what happened though.  She just wanted more and more time to “figure things out”.  Her way.  At her pace.

Me, and my needs ceased to matter.  And I never got the sense that she actually wanted US.  She would “say” she wanted us, but her actions never reflected her words.

And as time passed, nothing changed.

 

Maybe it would have come had I waited another year.  Another 6 months?  Another week?  Who knows.

That’s the thing, you never know.  You can only ask yourself if you’ve done “enough”.  To that I can definitely look my children in the eye and tell them yes.  Their daddy did everything he could to keep his family together and hold on to his dream of forever.

But my best wasn’t enough.

I’ve learned you can’t make someone else love you.  And you can’t make someone else want something they no longer want.

But you CAN make it clear that certain things aren’t acceptable, and that you matter too.  You CAN stand up for yourself, and what you need out of life.

 

To the woman who was once my wife, and anyone out there in the same situation I say:

No one is entitled to a relationship.  If someone isn’t sure about what they want, they need to make a choice.

Commit, or get out.  Don’t hold people lives hostage because of your own uncertainty.

Because time wasted is time you will never get back.

 

Time-decides-your-life.jpg

Living with Guilt

Guilt-Pain

I’m a big believer in personal accountability, and feel it’s often missing today.  Too often people are looking to blame, and while that’s and easy road to take it’s also completely non-productive because blaming doesn’t allow us to grow, or change.

To me, accountability is all about accepting responsibility for those things that you should be/are actually responsible for, and only those things; no more, and no less.

Accountability doesn’t always come easily though, and there are a number of mental processes that we go through before truly accepting responsibility and becoming accountable.

I’ve written about this process before, but for a recap the idea is as follows:

 

Some sort of stressor occurs (an issue, and argument, a disappointment, whatever it is); and when this happens our primal brain kicks in and goes through a series of steps to determine how to deal with this stressor.

This process starts with Denial, and then moves to Blame, Justification, Shame/Obligation, and only after that does it move to Responsibility.

The first three, denial, blame and justification are easy to explain. In these, rather than taking any sort of ownership we are deflecting the issue away from us. In denial there is no problem. In blame the problem is seen, but it’s not “my” problem, it’s someone else’s. And in justification I only partially accept that it’s my problem. I am saying that yes, it’s my problem – but there are a number of reasons as to “why” it happened (and these reasons somehow absolve me of any blame).

What I’m interested in today is the next mode – when we operate out of guilt or obligation.

 

Operating out of Guilt

In many ways acting from a state of shame or obligation is worse than denial, blame or justification. When you do any of those, you are deflecting an issue away from yourself.  With shame or obligation though, you are doing something but you feel as though you are being compelled to do it by some external force.

It’s almost as though your choice to do something is being made under duress.  You aren’t doing it because you want to, or because you believe it’s the right thing to do.  You are doing it because of a fear of consequence.

With guilt and obligation the consequence we are trying to escape is usually other people’s perception.  Saying I need to do this because so and so expects me to is really saying I need to do this or I will disappoint so and so.  And really, that’s a crappy reason to do something.

When this happens you are liable to build up resentment that you “have to” do something, and you are also liable to build up resentment for the person that you are trying to not disappoint.

Doing something from a state of shame or obligation is fine when done occasionally, but if it is a common state for you then are liable to give up or quit.

 

Guilt and Shame

Brene Brown (a prominent writer who has researched shame and guilt) says:

I believe that guilt is adaptive and helpful – it’s holding something we’ve done or failed to do up against our values and feeling psychological discomfort.

I define shame as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.

I don’t believe shame is helpful or productive. In fact, I think shame is much more likely to be the source of destructive, hurtful behavior than the solution or cure. I think the fear of disconnection can make us dangerous.

Brene Brown

 

According to her guilt is positive, and is a way of telling yourself “I have done something bad”.  Shame is negative, because instead of just believing we have done something bad, we start to believe that we are bad as a result.

With shame, it’s like we have internalized the action and believe it comes to represent who we are.  So shame starts to touch on self worth, and feelings of adequacy.

 

I think I understand what she’s saying about guilt and shame, but there is one problem with the idea that guilt is positive.

If guilt occurs when you are doing something that you know is wrong, then it’s dependent on what you have been taught.

Unfortunately, right and wrong aren’t that straightforward.

 

The Problems with Guilt

There are some “big” things I suspect most will agree on.  Killing others is bad.  Stealing from others is bad.  Hurting other people is bad (though we seems to have a lot less of an issue with hurting people emotionally than we do physically).  Those are fairly obvious.

Guilt is tied to morals though, and morals can get very murky.

LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) rights are in the news a lot these days, and many LGBT people struggle a lot in their early years because they are taught that the way they feel is not normal.  There is a lot of guilt and shame that has to be overcome in order to accept who they are.

Going beyond LGBT issues, anything to do with sexuality is often a HUGE source of guilt and shame for people, and most of us struggle with feelings of embarrassment when the topic comes up.  Why?  It’s a natural act, and none of us would even be here today without sex.  But we are taught that it is “adult stuff”, and therefore taboo; so many people struggle with accepting that they are sexual beings.

 

Another area where people struggle with what they have been taught is emotions.

Men are often looked as emotional Neanderthals, and sadly we often are.  To me, this is an example of misdirected guilt.

Little boys (and girls, but more commonly boys) are often taught they are supposed to be “strong”, and that crying is for “sissies”.  This causes them to try and hold negative emotions in, and over time feelings of sadness will make boys feel guilty.  Holding things in can lead to suppressing emotions, and can cause people to start to disassociate themselves from emotions in general.

Emotions are natural responses to external stimuli.  Yet they are often suppressed, or associated with guilt – simply because of what someone has been taught.

 

An additional problem with guilt is that it is often rooted in comparison, or perception instead of in reality.  Often guilt is related to not wanting to disappoint another person.  Yet the feelings of guilt are based on our own interpretation of how the other person would feel about us; and that interpretation is often completely flawed.  It’s something that WE project.  So it really comes from us more than from the other person.

 

Lastly there is the subjective side of guilt.  Look at some of the areas that are often considered major conflict areas in relationships:

  • Money
  • Sex
  • Work
  • Children and Parenting
  • Chores

In each of these areas, conflicts are usually because each person has different ideas about what is right and what is wrong.  The problem is, there IS no right way or wrong way to deal with any of those topics.  It’s easy to believe that our way is the right way – after all, it’s what we know.  But when we insist on things being our way (because it’s better), we are saying that our partners approach is inferior to ours.  And that can cause feelings of guilt (and shame) in our partner.

 

Letting Go of Guilt

The way I see it, guilt does have some value.  As Brene Brown has said, guilt provides us with psychological discomfort when we do something that goes against our values.  Essentially it’s our conscience saying “hey, should you really be doing this” or “c’mon, you KNOW you shouldn’t have done that”.  That side of guilt can be helpful, as it can help guide us to make better choices in the future.

It’s important though to remember our understanding of right and wrong is based on what we have been taught, and due to this I think it’s always valuable to question our beliefs and be willing to adjust them as needed.

So a huge element of guilt is really about identity, and self-acceptance.  If you accept yourself, love yourself and believe in yourself then it really doesn’t matter what other people think.  If you KNOW you are making good decisions, and are doing the right thing then what is there to feel guilty about?

Are you worries about disappointing parents?  Disappointing your partner?  Realistically, if you can honestly say you accept yourself, and try to do the right thing (balancing your needs with the needs of others) than any disappointment on their part is their issue – not yours.

 

I don’t understand doing things out of guilt or obligation.  If you REALLY don’t want to do something, then don’t do it.

Don’t get me wrong, we all have times that we need to do things we don’t really want to do.  That’s part of life, and part of being an adult.  But doing something you don’t want really want to because it needs to be done is doing it from a position of responsibility.

If someone finds themselves continually doing things out of guilt or obligation, then it seems there is at least some part of a person that believes they should be doing this.  Either that or they have been taught to believe something they don’t truly agree with.

So question things.

Accept yourself.

Accept that “your” way isn’t necessarily the “right” way.

Accept that others won’t always agree with you, and that’s alright.

 

When you do that, if you accept that sometimes things have to be done (even though you don’t want to) then approach them from a position of responsibility.  If you determine that it’s not something you should have to do, then don’t do it.

If you do that knowing you have done the right thing for you, then you can let go of guilt.