Cheating to “Stay In” a Marriage

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I came across a fascinating article on CNN.com this morning, on infidelity by women and some of the reasons why they cheat.

It’s definitely worth a read, but for a quick overview it talks about how there has been a 40% rise in the number of women who admit they have had affairs in the last 27 years; while the incidence of affairs for men has stayed fairly static during the same time span.

In looking at reasons, the article cites things from feelings of resentment due to a disparity in the amount of labor that goes into maintaining the life and the marriage, to basically boredom in the marriage because marriage has turned out to be something very different from what they expected it to be.

 

I’ve been writing about these things for years, so nothing in there really surprised me.

But at the same time, reading the article kind of pissed me off.

ESPECIALLY when it talks about people who were able to admit that they had a pretty good life.  They had a good friendship with their husbands, they had built a life together, had a family with children that they were raising together.  Really they had a lot of things, but at the same time they felt that there was some need that wasn’t being met inside the marriage, so they started going outside of the marriage to try and fill that need.

As the article stated:

In an earlier generation, this might have taken the form of separation or divorce, but now, it seemed, more and more women were unwilling to abandon the marriages and families they’d built over years or decades. They were also unwilling to bear the stigma of a publicly open marriage or to go through the effort of negotiating such a complex arrangement.

These women were turning to infidelity not as a way to explode a marriage, but as a way to stay in it.

 

Turning to infidelity not as a way to explode a marriage, but as a way to stay in it?

Give me a f*cking break.

The narcissism of that statement is mind boggling to me.  And sadly, I know that many people buy into that exact line of thinking as a way to rationalize their own behavior to themselves.

Let me phrase that idea in a slightly different way…

Hmmm, I “like” my husband.  I like the life/lifestyle we’ve built.  I want my kids to grow up in a home with both parents full time.  But there’s something missing, and I want more.  At the same time, I’m not willing to give up what I’ve built in order to go take a chance at trying to find something more.  So I’ll just try to keep what I’ve built, and go do whatever I want on the side.  After all, I “deserve” to be happy.

It’s a load of crap, it’s selfish, and it’s driven purely by ego.  I’ve heard some people use the excuse that they are doing it (“staying” in a marriage where they are checked out) “for their kids” but that’s another cop out.  It really amounts to:

I want this.

I deserve this.

I’m entitled to this.

I want to have my cake, and eat it too.

These sentiments seem to be on the rise.  And they are sentiments that are all about you.

 

Yes, people can look out for themselves.  And doing so isn’t necessarily a bad thing (in fact, sometimes you need to).

Here’s the thing about life though – you don’t get to pick and choose the things that work for you while ignoring and avoiding the things that don’t.

Perfection doesn’t exist.  EVERYTHING comes with both good AND bad, and as individuals it’s up to us to choose things where we believe the good makes the bad worthwhile.  We need to try and find something that is enough for us.

I’m a parent, and there are times that it’s very rewarding but there are also times that it’s extremely challenging.  I can’t just be there for the good stuff, and the fun stuff.  In fact I would argue that the challenging times are often the times that are most important to my children.  Those are the times where they need me the most, and HOW I respond to them in those moments has the biggest impact.  They may not be easy times for me personally, but they’re pretty damned important.

I have a pretty good career, and there are some parts of my job that I really enjoy.  There are also parts of my job that kind of suck.  I can’t just do the stuff I enjoy and ignore the rest.

Well, I could.

But I would be pretty delusional to think I could do so while still holding onto my job.

 

And that’s exactly what this mindset is about.

It’s delusional.

It’s about focusing on me, and what I want in the moment.

 

The article is about women’s affairs, but I don’t want to give the impression that this is a mindset that is unique to women, because it’s not.  In fact, when the article talks about the 40% increase in affairs by women it’s probably because they are catching up to men in the frequency of affairs.

Look, I’m all for equality.

But I don’t care if men have been doing it for years, of if lots of people cheat.

That doesn’t make it alright.

 

I think this increase in focusing on “self” is a social problem (if you see it as a problem, which I do), where people have increasingly put themselves and their immediate needs and wants at the center of everything.  Where people believe they have a “right” to happiness, and they believe they should be able to “have it all”.

It’s a broken mindset.

 

The article mentions that people often have needs that were not being met inside their marriage, so they choose to go outside the marriage to get them fulfilled.

Yes, people have needs.

Yes, couples have problems and sometimes marriages and relationships aren’t very fulfilling.

However I’ve always believe that when faced with a problem in life you have three choices:

  1. Accept the problem as it is (in which case it’s a want, and not a need)
  2. Try to make the problem better (bring something that is unacceptable up to an acceptable level)
  3. Decide it is truly a problem, and the current situation is unacceptable

Comparing this approach to unmet needs in a marriage, if you are able to accept your situation because you realize it’s a want, but not a need, then good for you.

However that’s probably not a great option, because if you’re unhappy then probably something is wrong, and it would be good to have positive change.

So option two becomes working on the problem.  This involves communicating it, and being open to the possibility of positive change.

And I think this is where things really fall apart for most couples.

One person is convinced that they have communicated their need/want, while it reality their partner really doesn’t get it.  Then to make things worse, the frustrated person ends up closing the door to positive change, because they believe they have tried and are not being heard.  When that happens, once the other person does get it, it’s too late.  Because their partner is no longer willing to accept their efforts.

This is likely where many affairs come in.

But affairs are a cowards way out.

If it truly is a need, and it is truly an unacceptable situation then the real solution here is option 3.

If the current situation is so bad, get out.

It doesn’t matter if you have a nice lifestyle, family, friends, kids, or if it will be hard on your own.  If your needs aren’t being met to the point that you want to cheat, get out.

If the benefits of lifestyle, family, friends, kids, whatever are worth staying for, then don’t cheat.

It’s called integrity.

 

Your actions don’t just impact you.

Make choices, and make ones that are right for you.

But understand consequences.

Understand who will be impacted by your choices.  And then, after weighing those things make the choice that’s best for you.

 

I have no problems with someone leaving an unhappy marriage.

But I have huge problems with someone thinking they can just do what they want to pursue their own needs/wants without caring about how it impacts their partner.

Part of the beauty of marriage is having someone to be with you, to share experiences, and to grow old with.

So tell me, why in the world would you ever want to grow old with someone who has so little respect for you that they are willing to cheat on you?  Why would you want to share your life with them? 

Because that’s sure not love.

  • Accept things
  • Work to improve things
  • Or walk away

Each of those choices I can accept.  Each involves courage.

But cheating, and then rationalizing it to yourself as “a way to stay IN the marriage”?

That’s not a marriage I would want any part of.

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How Does Parenting Affect Your Relationship?

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A while back I read a post where someone was wondering how kids change your marriage. The guy who wrote it was fairly recently married.  He and his wife were thinking about starting a family and he was worried about how it would impact their marriage.

It was a thoughtful question.

What do kids do to your marriage?
Do they make it better, or worse?
Do they alter the bond between husband and wife?

I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that most people don’t even consider this. They just think hey, we know we want to have kids one day (though they probably can’t say why they want them).

And so they do.

And then they find themselves woefully unprepared for what comes next.

At first, it would seem as though children should make the bond between a couple stronger; after all, children are a product of your love for each other, right? Fine, they may also be the product of one night of bad decisions; but let’s assume for the moment that they are wanted by the couple who decided to have them.

In that case, do they strengthen the bond?

Well, it seems the reality is a bit complicated.

In fact most studies state that relationship satisfaction decreases after kids are born. According to The Wall Street Journal:

About two-thirds of couples see the quality of their relationship drop within three years of the birth of a child, according to data from the Relationship Research Institute in Seattle, a nonprofit organization focused on strengthening families. Conflict increases and, with little time for adult conversation and sex, emotional distance can develop.

In theory a baby can help strengthen the bond between a couple. But for some reason when I think of “strengthening the bond”, emotional distance is not one of the things I think of.

So why does this happen? What changes?

 

Life Changes

When you go from being single to being part of a couple your life changes. But for the most part, you are still you. Yeah some people lose themselves too much in the relationship, but their identity is still as a person (who is fitting someone else into their life). When you need some “me” time, it’s usually not that difficult to do.

When you become a parent however, your life changes irrevocably. You are now a parent fulltime, 24-7, every day of the year.

And for the next however many years, the needs of the child will always trump your own.

It’s not better, or worse (though I suppose it could be argued that some aspects are definitely better while others are worse). Looking at it on the whole though, the best way to describe it is that it’s simply different.

And in addition to your life, it also fundamentally changes the nature of your relationship.

The needs of the baby/toddler/child don’t just trump the needs of the individual – they trump the needs of the couples as well.

So as a couple one of the biggest and most noticeable changes is that you no longer have nearly as much time for each other as you used to.

This seems obvious, and something people should know going in. I mean, it’s simple math. People only have so much time and energy, and kids take time and energy. So adding them to a relationship will reduce the amount of time the couple has to focus on each other.

But I don’t think most people really realize exactly how much it changes their “couple time”, or how much of a toll it can take.

 

Increased Stress

A while back I posted on stress, and on the impacts stress can have on relationships.

Basically, stress is corrosive to relationships.

When stressed, we tend to become inwardly focused. We see how the stress is affecting us and tend to forget that it is also affecting our partner as well. We are also more likely become more sensitive to and notice smaller things and allow them to become blown out of proportion. There are other issues, but basically high levels of stress can kind of make us selfish jerks.

Well, kids can be rewarding but they can also be a great source of stress.

First, they are a responsibility that doesn’t go away. In the early years they basically need us 24-7, and the weight of this responsibility can take a toll. We want the best for our kids, and we want THEM to be the best they can be. This leads to immense pressure on our ability to be a parent. When we are struggling, it can make us feel like we are failing our kids and this can make us feel like failures as parents.

Add in things like kids getting sick, fighting, trying to figure things out on their own and just being kids? Well, it can be at once stressful and exhausting.
All of which can make us less patient with our partners.

And this is even before you start looking at the breakdown of who is taking on the lion’s share of parenting duties (hint – it’s usually the woman).

 

Parenting Conflicts

Which brings me to the next fun part – parenting conflicts, which tend to come in a few different ways.

The first of these is the approach to parenting. It would be great if parents agreed on “how” they wanted to parent in advance, but chances are they haven’t even thought of it. Instead we often just go with what was modeled to us growing up without even thinking about it.

When we do this there are bound to be differences, and these conflicting parenting styles can cause serious conflict.

It’s usually pretty easy to accept that your partner is different from you and has different outlooks on the world. When those differences impact your children however, it’s easy to become possessive and defensive (mama/papa bear will ALWAYS protect their cub). Approaches to discipline is often a prime example of this

When we can’t agree on an approach to parenting, often each side is convinced that their way is right while their partner is wrong. This attitude is terrible for a couple, as instead of being a “we” it becomes a case of you vs. me.

 

Changing Roles

Perhaps the biggest change that happens when a couple becomes parents is a change in roles. Before they were both individuals and a couple – probably in fairly equal parts. This is not only a life change but also a role change, as the role of parent becomes the primary one.

As a couple you likely started as friends and lovers, but now you are primarily parents and this change can result in a sense of loss and cause conflict in couples.

Marriage counselors talk about how one of the biggest complaints couples have is that they don’t feel their partners make enough time for them anymore. While they understand that the kids are the priority, they don’t feel like they are a priority anymore.

Maintaining being a couple even after kids is extremely important, and many counselors talk about the value of ensuring there is still time for the couple by carving out time in the schedule for things like date night.

Although most couples seem to understand why that’s important it is still something that often goes ignored. It’s one thing to understand why it’s important, but actually making time is not always easy when there seem to be a million other things that need to be done.

 

Diminished Sex Life

Going hand in hand with the changing roles comes a diminished sex life. This is an unfortunate yet understandable side effect of having kids – especially in the early years. It’s hard to feel sexy when you are always exhausted or worried about the kids. Stress has huge negative impacts on sex drive, and as discussed earlier kids are a source of stress.

Many couples say that after the first few years of kids they see their sex lives bounce back somewhat. Likely not to the levels they were at before kids, but generally to a level both partners can accept.

In some cases however, the sex drive doesn’t come back at all.

This is usually (though not exclusively) an issue faced by women. Last I checked I’m not a woman, so I won’t pretend to understand all the reasons. But from what I know it can be a combination of things, from body and hormonal changes, to feeling solely like a mom instead of feeling like a woman, to sheer exhaustion and resentment from the unequal burden that is normally faced by women when it comes to child rearing.

Sexual problems are often associated with feelings of guilt and shame, so this is an issue that often goes ignored. Some couples convince themselves that it’s not that important, or that it’s just a natural part of getting older. Or things will just come back on their own if they give it time.

It’s only true that it’s not important if both people in the relationship agree with that, and a lost sex drive is not simply a natural part of getting older. If this loss of sex drive occurs it shouldn’t be ignored as it is often a significant factor in the breakdown of relationships.

 

Support Systems

In a relationship it’s always important to have time for “me”, and making time for yourself is even more important once kids are in the picture as it allows people to retain a bit of their own identity and not get completely lost in the role of parent.

It’s still very important to balance this with time as a couple (without kids) though.

A challenge here is that many couples don’t have a strong support system that allows them to get time as a couple. So each partner ends up taking turns, going out as individuals while the other partner watches the kids.

This time is valuable, and important. The danger is that without sufficient couple time as well, each persons only real break or “fun” time comes as an individual. And when you start to associate fun, and a freedom from the stress and responsibilities of kids as also being time away from your partner it can start to create doubt about the relationship.

Family time is not couple time. And couple time is not me time. Finding a working balance between all three is needed to keep the relationship alive and well.

 

Financial Impacts

Another challenge presented by kids is financial. Adding kids to a family adds a new expense center. Food, clothes, activities; all these things cost a fair bit. And maybe it’s just my job, but I don’t think people get pay increases to offset these costs. So the end result is couples have less money to do things.

They also have less freedom, as things like holidays soon are limited to times that they kids aren’t in school.

It’s not that you can’t do the things you did before. It’s just that it takes a lot more planning, and you probably can’t do them as frequently.

 

Adding It All Up

Reading over this it probably seems as though I have a negative view on having kids, and that’s not the case at all. I’m a father, and I love my kids and wouldn’t change a thing. In fact I believe my children have enriched my life considerably.

Kids do introduce all of these things though, and they all require adjustments and take a considerable toll. In fact, indirectly I’ll go so far as to say that the additional stresses caused by kids are probably one of the leading causes of divorce. Which is ironic, as they are a product of the love a couple shares.

Kids put additional stresses on relationships, but I want to be clear that I don’t think this has anything to do with the kids themselves. They aren’t to blame, ever. What IS to blame is that people generally don’t talk about these things, so couples aren’t prepared.

They run into these challenges, and they start to believe that something is wrong. And since people rarely walk away from their kids the relationship is often blamed, when what they are going through is actually fairly normal.

Being a parent is a fantastic experience, and it can be very rewarding. But it can also be very hard, and many couples can’t handle the strain it puts on their relationship.

 

Making it Work

I’ve heard a lot of couples who have “made it” confirm the challenges of being a parent. And often I will hear them say things like “stick it out, and things will get better”.

Sometimes couples that are having troubles stay together “for the kids”. 90% of me is completely against that. You need to stay together because you love each other, and want a life together. If you no longer love each other for whatever reason, then it does the kids no good to have a loveless relationship modeled to them as they grow up.

The remaining 10% of me thinks that if kids give you another reason to stay together and stick it out through tough times, then that can be as good a reason as any. But that’s only if you then use this time the kids have bought you to actively work on and improve your marriage. I’ve heard of some couples who stayed together “for the kids” who then learned to love each other again and rebuild, and were happy they had done so. I think that’s great.

Ultimately you need to be with each other because you still love each other, and still want to share your lives.  Not just because of kids.

More often though I think couples who split up do still love each other. And it’s really just the stress that comes with being parents that has put emotional distance between them. I think often they do still want to love each other, and have just lost sight of how. In being parents and not making time to be friends and lovers, they have lost each other.

Learning to Love

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Love. We all use the word, but there is no real consensus on what it is or what it means.

One of my first posts was my attempt at figuring out what love is, and looking back on it now I think I had a lot of things right, but at the same time it seems somewhat lacking.

Some say love is a feeling. Others say love is a choice. I think it’s probably a mix of both.

Maybe it’s best to say that love is a feeling that comes with certain choices, and the ability to maintain love (and feelings of love) over a long period is a result of continuing to make loving choices towards your partner.

I don’t think love just happens. Attraction may just happen, but you still have to choose to get to know the other person. To look at them, to listen to them, and to be with them. When you make those little choices, you are letting yourself allow love to develop.

And once love has developed, it needs to be maintained. I’ve talked before about whose responsibility love is. I truly believe that it’s not your partners responsibility to keep you feeling in love with them – it’s yours. You need to nurture your love every day, in countless little ways.

And if you choose not to express love? To turn away from love and not let it in? Or to not accept it when it’s given? They you only have yourself to blame if feelings of love fade away.

Deep Roots

I like to think of love like a tree. Trees need nurturing (sunlight, water, soil) to stay alive. When they are young they are fragile, and need more attention and care. As trees age their roots start to run deep, and they no longer need the same sort of care.

Even when their roots are established though, they still need nurturing. They still need sunlight, water and nutrients in the soil to stay alive. Established trees are strong, and can weather difficult periods. Trees can even be cut down. But as long as the roots are alive, the tree can survive, and come back. It may look a bit different, but that doesn’t make it any less beautiful.

Other times the tree can start to die from the roots, and although the tree may still appear healthy at first it has started to rot from within.

The key is the roots, and keeping those roots alive and healthy.

sapling photo

Nurturing Love

So how do we nurture love?

How do we ensure our roots run deep, to allow us to weather the storms of life?

And how do we keep the roots of our love alive?

It seems obvious to me that love requires nurturing. And this nurturing comes in the form of action.

But what actions are needed, to not only maintain but also to grow our love?

A while back I came across a great article on the characteristics of love. Look at the following quote:

Loving involves being in a relationship with another. In a functional loving relationship there are mutual expectations. If I love you and you don’t accept my love then the relationship is dysfunctional because the primary purpose of love is not easily accomplished. If you don’t let me love you, then my love will be squandered on you.

As such, to be in love is to be engaged in an activity that can be done well or not so well. One can be good at loving or poor at it depending on how good (or bad) one is at accomplishing the purpose or goal of loving someone. The statement, “I love you very much” may sometimes be a deep expression of a feeling that comes with being in love; but it can also be uttered by people who do not know the first thing about how to love another. This is because this statement, if it is meaningful, is not simply a report about a subjective feeling going on at the time that it is uttered.

To be meaningful, you must put your actions where your mouth is. This means doing things that promote the other’s happiness, welfare, and safety

So how do we nurture our love? What actions do we need to take? This article talks about love as being shown with the following core actions:

  • Being there
  • Being beneficent
  • Being considerate/non-maleficent
  • Making a commitment
  • Being loyal
  • Being consistent
  • Being candid
  • Being trustworthy
  • Being empathetic
  • Being tolerant

Let’s look at each of these…

The Actions of Love

Being there. This means you are there for the person in times of need. They know they can count on you, and they can rely on you. Sometimes they may need you at times that aren’t convenient to you, but that’s fine. Some sacrifice may be required, and you may not always be able to be there. But you should always want to.

Being beneficent. This goes one step further than just being there. This means you want to do things FOR them. You want to see them happy (in fact, I think true happiness comes not just from the things that make you happy, but from deriving happiness from seeing your actions bring happiness to someone you love). You value their welfare, and want what’s best for them.

Being considerate/non-maleficent. This is about not wanting to do things that are harmful towards the other person. Trying not to hurt them, or embarrass them. It’s about taking them, and how your actions impact them into account. Over the long term, we all screw this up occasionally. Everyone has moments that they are selfish in their actions, and they end up hurting those they love. But those sort of things should be exceptions, and should be accompanied by remorse when we realize we have hurt the other person.

Making a commitment. This is pretty obvious – you are committed to the relationship.

Being loyal. This involves being loyal and faithful to the person you love. As the article says, “loyalty is not optional if one is to enjoy a happy relationship”.

Being consistent. Consistency is very important. Love and relationships aren’t something that you only engage in when it’s convenient to you. They aren’t a part time job, and you can’t just take time off when things get tough. This goes hand in hand with commitment – and means that acting in a loving way is the normal behavior.

Being candid. Love requires openness and honesty. Lying and deception damages relationships, while honesty (even about difficult things) tends to bring people closer together. It’s important to be careful how you word things though – there’s a difference between honesty and being rude.

Being trustworthy. In loving relationships, you need to be able to confide in the other person and know that they are able to confide in you.

Being empathetic. This is about trying to see things from your partners perspective. We are all different, and “my way” isn’t necessarily the best or the only way. You need to be able to value your partners perspective an opinion even when it doesn’t line up with your own. Relationships require meeting halfway sometimes, and that requires empathy.

Being tolerant. Relationships also require patience, and the ability to let things go, forgive, and move on. Insisting things need to be “your way”, or holding on to grudges and resentment is one of the quickest ways to poison a relationship.

All of these are important characteristics in a loving relationship. And more importantly, all of them are things that can be developed and improved.

Choosing Love

I think it is these actions that people talk about when they say love is a choice. Yes, there are feelings associated with love. But these feelings need to be shown, and we show them through the actions we take and the way we treat our partner.

If you say you love your partner but you strike them out of anger, are you showing love?

If you say you love your partner but you are having an affair, are you showing love?

If you have no interest in spending time with them and connecting with them on an emotional level, are you showing love?

How does your partner know you love them? Should they “just know”? Or do they know because of the way you treat them and interact with them?

Love may involve feelings, but it is more than that. Love is actions.

It may not always be declarations of undying love and passion, but love still needs to be present in all our interactions. We can learn to love, and we can get better at it each and every day.

still learning to love

Why and How Matters More Than Who

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Love.

That’s why we are all here.

It may sound cliche, but I think it’s true. Humans are social animals, and we are all looking for acceptance and belonging.

No one wants to be alone. We all want to find that “someone” we will be with for the rest of our life. And sometimes we think we’ve found the person we can imagine ourselves growing old with.

But even still, many relationships don’t work out.

When we sort through the aftermath of failed relationships, it’s always easy to find the reasons it didn’t work out.

Maybe we had different interests, or different values. Or different attitudes towards any number of things.

And looking at the differences that we had can provide validation for why it didn’t work out.

We just weren’t a good fit. They weren’t the right person for us.

Next time we just need to find a person who is a better fit for us. If we can do that, then we would have our forever.

The Right Person

The “right person”. The “one”.

These concepts are driven into us through romantic notions of love.

And there is some truth to them.

It seems obvious that “who” you are with has some bearing on the success or failure of a relationship. Some people ARE more compatible than others, and certain personality traits seem to mesh with our unique makeup better than others.

There will always be differences though. Those differences are actually one of the strength of a relationship, because although they can be sources of conflict they also allow us to complement each other and bring out different sides of ourselves.

Due to this I think the “who” is actually a smaller factor than most people think.

There are no magic wands in life. There is no one person who, once you meet will turn your life into rainbows and unicorns.

ALL relationships run into challenges over time.

Who you are with is only a piece of the puzzle. What’s more important than the who is the why, and the how.

Why are you with your Partner

I am a huge believer in intention, and the question of why you are with your partner is perhaps the most important one you can ever ask yourself.

There are two levels to this question.

The first one I touched on in my last post. What was it that drew you to them? What made you decide this was someone you wanted to be with?

Depending on where you are in life, “what” you want in a relationship may change. What matters to you at 20 or 30 may not hold the same importance at 40 or 50.

If we hope to find someone we can be with for the rest of our lives (in spite of thse changes) perhaps the more important question is:

Why did you want a relationship in the first place?

I believe an honest answer to this question goes a long way towards determining the success of any relationship.

Relationships start with our own needs.

We find someone who we enjoy being around. We hopefully find them attractive, or at least feel we have some sort of chemistry with them.

But why do we want to be with them?

Are we looking for someone who will take care of us and fulfill our needs? Someone to share bills with? To provide a safe environment (physically and emotionally)? To provide a periodic sexual outlet? To potentially raise children with?

Are we looking for someone who makes us happy?

Take a look at this quote on happiness in relationships:

bewithsomewhomakesyouhappy

I get the sentiment behind this. Obviously we want to be around people that make us feel happy. But I think the idea is actually quite messed up, and can become twisted into something it was never intended to be.

To be happy, you have to first be happy with yourself.

No matter how good your relationship is no one can make you happy all the time – and in fact, your partner shouldn’t have to. You will always have times that you aren’t happy. And if you associate your level of happiness with the quality of your relationship, then during those unhappy times it can feel like something is wrong in the relationship.

When you are looking for someone to “make you happy”, you are putting a stress on your relationship that it will never be able to meet.

So instead of looking for someone to take care of us and make us happy, we should be looking for someone to share our life with. We should be looking for someone to share experiences with, and looking to enrich each other’s lives.

When we take this approach, the concept of happiness is better represented by the following:

makesomeoneelsehappy

This is a much healthier state both for the individual and the relationship. In either mindset, the actions and interactions in a relationship often look the same. But there is a big difference between wanting someone to make us happy and looking to share our experiences and happiness with someone.

When we want to “be happy”, we are in a selfish state of mind. Our relationship is one where we take more than we give, because we are interested primarily in what we get out of it. Our focus becomes how the relationship is meeting our own needs, and what it provides for us.

That’s not to say that our needs aren’t important, because they are. But a relationship needs to become about more than that.

We need to truly care about our partner and their needs. Their needs should not be viewed as part of an exchange, where we are meeting their needs in order to have ours met.

We should *want* to meet our partners needs and take enjoyment from the act of doing so. We should finding happiness within ourselves from the enjoyment of sharing our life with our partner.

The “we” has to become as important as the “me”.

How do we treat our partner

The next important thing in a relationship is how we treat our partner.

I suspect this is actually related to the “why”. When our focus is ourself (and how well the relationship meets our needs) we have automatically set up an antagonistic approach to our relationship.

When this happens couples get into patterns of conflict and withholding. “Oh, you didn’t do this (for me)? Well fine, then I won’t do this (for you)”.

Everyone falls into this sort of behavior occasionally, but hopefully not often.

It’s petty, it’s destructive, and it’s about power. In fact, intentionally withholding as a form of “punishment” is generally considered abuse.

By focusing on the couple and looking at what is good for the relationship, we can see the relationship in a different light. We are definitely an important part of it, but it’s not all about us. It’s not all about our partner either. We need to be in a position where we are both able to thrive at the same time.

Think about how you interact. About how you treat each other, not just when times are good but also when times are hard.

When you are stressed, do you take that out on your partner? Or do you try to work with them to ease any burdens.

How well do you support each other?

People use “we just weren’t compatible”, or “it just didn’t work out” because it’s the easy answer. When we say this, we are absolving ourselves of any responsibility.

“Who” you are with IS very important. But why you are with them, and how you treat them is equally important.

So instead of focusing on “the one”, focus on what you can do to improve your approach to your relationship each and every day. Don’t look for someone to take care of you. Don’t look for someone to make you happy.

Instead look at the good you have, and find joy in what you are able to provide.

You may find that giving and putting in effort provides it’s own rewards, and as you build you may also receive more in return.

Forever is Now

forever

Recently there was a death in the family, and although it’s not a happy topic it’s had me thinking about mortality and loss.

Death is a strange thing. Someone is in your life one day, and suddenly they are gone. It doesn’t feel real at first. At an intellectual level you know they are gone, but it’s almost as if they have just gone away for a while. A part of you almost expects them to call, or show up at your door. But at the same time you know they never will again.

There is pain and a sense of loss that comes from their absence. Depending on how close you were to them, this absence is felt in different ways.

Different experiences bring memories of them. You have moments where you can still see them, and imagine them. You visualize the look they would have on their face if they were with you, and the things they would say. And in those moments they are still with you.

They live on, but now it’s only in memory.

Opportunity Lost

When thinking of those who are gone, there is a sense of loss from their absence. This sadness is for all the future moments that you will never get to share, as well as past opportunities that have been missed and things left unsaid.

And these past opportunities are probably the ones that hurt the most.

Why were opportunities missed and words left unspoken?

This happens because a part of us thought they would always be there. We thought there would always be more opportunities, so we never made it a priority to take those opportunities or say those words.

Chances are there were good reasons. We have jobs, families, friends and hobbies; never mind things like laundry, dishes and other chores. There are only so many hours in the day, and *something* has to give.

I suspect for many of us who have lost someone, once they are gone all of those reasons seem somewhat hollow, and we would give almost anything to turn back the clock and just have one more moment with those we cared about.

But we don’t.

In the moment we decided other things in our life were a greater priority than they were.

That’s not always a bad thing. Life does get busy and those other things do need to be done, and there are only so many hours in a day. We can’t do everything, and make time for everyone. Choices do have to be made.

But the sad reality is, often when you “know” the person is there, at a subconscious level you don’t feel you have to put in the effort.

Promises For The Future

This makes me think about marriage. When people commit to marriage, they are committing to forever.

They are making a promise to each other that they will be there for each other no matter what life throws at them. To me, there is something at once beautiful and powerful about this concept of forever.

When people talk about love and romance, often the focus is on passion and hormones. People kissing, unable to keep their hands off each other as they leave a trail of clothes on the way to the bedroom.

Being lovers IS very important, and it’s something I’ve written at length on maintaining in a relationship. But that’s not all there is to love.

To me love is deeper.

It’s rooted in commitment, trust, and being there for each other. Keeping that vow to each other to be there “no matter what life throws at you”. Growing old together, and reaching out for each other physically and emotionally each and every day.

End of a Relationship

The reality is, many couples don’t get to see forever.

They start full of love and promise, and build a life together. But somewhere along the way it goes wrong, devolving into resentment, hurt and apathy.

For those who can see past the hurt and resentment, the cause is often lost opportunity. All those times that something else was a priority. The latest show on TV, putting in long hours to get that promotion, going out with your buddies, and ironically even focusing on the kids.

All those things are prioritized over our partners, because we know our partners “will always be there”. So we spend months and years losing the connection we once had, and slowly drifting apart.

Dealing with it is akin to dealing with death – except the person is still physically there.

Reaching For Each Other Again

All too often, when a couple has lost the connection it marks the end of the relationship.

Personally I don’t think it’s ever too late (but then, I’m a bit more optimistic than most).

I hear stories about couples who were on “on the brink” and were able to rebuild their relationship – often making it stronger than it had been before in the process. It’s not easy to do, and for those that have been successful there are a lot of common characteristics.

It requires honesty – brutal honesty at times about what has gone wrong and why things have broken down. And it requires an ability to hear those things, and not treat them as criticisms or attacks, but instead see them as facts, and issues that need to be addressed in order to succeed.

It requires checking your ego at the door, and accepting that things will never be exactly the way one person wants it. Compromise is needed on the part of both partners.

It requires accepting conflict and issues as part of life. As part of the reality of two people building a life together.

If requires focusing on what you do have, and the good that exists in your life, instead of focusing what is missing or wrong.

It requires focusing again on the couple, and carving out time for each other even when life is busy.

And it requires empathy. Empathy in a relationship is about taking your partner into account, and understanding that your actions impact them. Understanding that even if something isn’t important to you, it still needs to be a priority if it’s important to your partner.

Here’s a fact for you:

Many couples who divorce wish that they had been able to “make it work”. Even when they have been able to rebuild and move on with their lives, they still wish they had put in a bit more effort and had made their partner a little bit more of a priority than they did. Many believe that they “could have made it” had they just shown a bit more empathy.

Building Forever

Forever isn’t something that just happens, and it’s not something that exists in the far off future.

No matter how strong you believe your relationships is, no future is ever guaranteed. Things happen. Tragedy or illness can strike at any time.

Don’t assume your partner will always be there, and don’t leave things unsaid. Yes, people get busy and life gets in the way. But don’t use that as a reason to not maintain and build your relationship.

People talk about drifting apart or falling out of love. That only happens if you let it. That only happens when you stop making each other a priority and putting in effort.

Forever is something you need to build into everyday life. It is built through looks, touches, smiles, and words of caring and support.

Forever is built by not just saying you love someone – but by reflecting those words with your actions each and every day.

Forever is now.

It Will Never Be The Same

NotTheSame

A lot of people who write blogs on relationships write because *something* has happened or gone wrong in their relationship. So they turn to writing to help make sense out of their world, and as an outlet for the pain they are feeling. A lot of people write about the loss of a relationship they didn’t want to lose. Others write as a way of working through their emotions while holding on (or at least trying to hold on) to a relationship that has been altered by whatever has gone wrong.

For the people who are trying to hold on and rebuild love, a common theme that I come across is both a fear and a sense of sadness that due to whatever has happened, things will never be the same. The relationship that they once had seems irrevocably altered, and accompanying this belief is a sense of loss.

My Story

I write about life and love, but although I cite examples and experiences from my life, I don’t talk much about “me”. This was never intended to be an online diary, but rather is a way of developing and expressing my philosophies about life and love. I believe in love, and long term relationships. And my goal with this blog has been to try and give hope to people who may be feeling lost, and remind them that we all go through the same struggles.

In this case however I feel my experiences are very relevant.

Like many others I came to blogging when my relationships was in crisis. Although I try to stay away from talking about my relationship any many of the topics I cover don’t really apply to me, my own personal crisis was the catalyst for my writing.

My wife and I had been together for many years, and I thought life was pretty good. Then I found out she wasn’t sure if she wanted to be married anymore. She wasn’t sure if she loved me. In my mind, she gave up on our marriage. I won’t pretend to understand what was going through her head at that time. That’s her story. But I do know how it impacted me.

It destroyed me.

See, I believed.

I believed marriage was for life. I knew she and I would always be together, and we would always support each other. I knew that no matter what challenges life presented us with, we would get through them. Together.

For years she was my one true certainty in life. My safe haven, and my shelter in the storm of life.

And suddenly she wasn’t.

She didn’t believe what I did.

I knew life came with challenges, but I never expected the challenge to come from her. I never expected her to question something that (to me at least) was the best part of my life.

I waited to wake up one day and find out it was all a bad dream. To find out that it was just some cruel joke. But weeks turned into months, and the reality of my situation hit home.

When I say it destroyed me, that isn’t drama or exaggeration. It messed me up worse than anything I had ever experienced before. The world I felt I “knew” crumbled around me, and that led me to question absolutely everything. For her to feel the way she was feeling, she obviously didn’t feel the same things I did – the things I thought she felt.

And if I was wrong about that?

Well, what else was I wrong about?

Had she ever truly loved me? If so, when had it changed? Why had it changed?

Looking at our life, what was real? Was anything real?

I had always believed in myself, and even that belief was now shaken.

I guess a lot of people have been there, but even after all this time it’s hard to articulate just how fundamentally my world was shaken by the experience.

We were on a dark path for a long time, and the only thing that allowed me to keep my head above water was belief. My belief in “us” was now shattered, and my self-confidence and belief in my self was badly damaged. But I still believed I had done my best. I still believed I had always tried (and would continue) to do the right thing – whatever that was. I just hoped my belief in the good we had and the good that could still be would be enough.

Lost Innocence

We all start innocent, and growing up you believe in different things. You believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, maybe even the tooth fairy. You believe mommy and daddy love each other, and will always be able to keep you safe. Actually you probably don’t even understand “safe”, because you don’t know threats, you don’t know fear, and you don’t know pain. You only see the light and good in the world, and not the darkness.

Over time, this innocence fades. You find out Santa is just a man in a suit, and there is no Easter Bunny (the tooth fairy IS real though, I’m pretty sure about that one). You start to find out that the world isn’t quite as safe as you thought. Bad things happen to good people sometimes. People get hurt. Tragedies happen. Relationships fail.

In early relationships we experience heartache firsthand, and we hear the rather sobering stats on divorce.

But that early heartache we experienced was simply to prepare us for the person we would be with forever. And divorce only happens to people who give up, and stop loving each other. We know that won’t ever apply to us, because we are different. We believe.

Sure, Santa wasn’t real. And yes, bad things happen in the world. Maybe the world around us had lost it’s magic and wonder.

But for me? My marriage one of the last pieces of magic left in the world.

It was my fairy tale. It was my love story.

And now that magic was broken too.

I believe for me, and many others, this is where things will never be the same again.

That magic.

That belief that no matter what, you will always be there for each other. That your love is somehow special, and different.

When you experience heartache with the person you truly committed your heart and soul to, to the person you believed you would always be with; that changes you forever.

Shifting Landscapes

I watched a video on relationships recently where the speaker made a comment I found particularly poignant. She said (paraphrasing here):

In todays world many people will have more than one marriage in their lifetime.

And in some cases, that marriage is to the same person.

I suppose she could have been talking about splitting up and eventually remarrying. But I saw the comment as a recognition that the nature of relationships change.

If you think about it, you aren’t the same person you were at 20, or 30. You change, you mature. Your life situation changes, and your needs change. Sometimes you have a better job and more money, other times less. You go from single and on your own, where you can do things how you want when you want, to having someone in your life. And now you need to fit that other person in and they are impacted by all the little decisions you make.

And in a relationships you not only see your partner at their best, but also at their worst. And likewise them with you.

Situations change. Maybe you add kids to the mix. Or a promotion, or a loss of a job, serious illness, the loss of a close loved one. There are any number of things that can happen that affect us. Some in small ways, and some in large. Life is all about change.

One of the most common mistakes people make (and I include myself in this) is not realizing or understanding that. We meet someone, we are happy with them, so we get married. We think “great, we are married” and now we will be together forever. Time goes by, life happens, and we continue to mature and change. But we lose sight of the fact that our loved one is changing too. Their needs aren’t the same as they were, yet we continue to treat them the same way, and they do the same with us.

The changes are subtle, so we don’t even see them at first. We “think” things are fine, but over time a number of little changes add up. This causes a distance to start to develop between a couple, as they have become so caught up in day to day life that they fail to see the changes that have happened right in front of their eyes.

everyonechanges

Sometimes we catch it in time, and we are able to accept that the person we are with is not the same one we married, but that’s alright because neither are we. Other times people fight the change, and spend their time resenting that the person isn’t the same.

I haven’t really figured this stuff out yet, but it seems imperative to me that a couple keeps the lines of communication open, continues to communicate their needs, and accepts that change is part of life and will be one of the few constants. If we want to stay together we need to keep growing and learning each other as we change both as individuals and as couple.

Accepting Change

It’s true, things WILL never be “the same”.

But that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. If your relationship has been challenged, then there is something about the way “it was” got people into trouble. Even if one person was happy, obviously the other wasn’t. Relationships involve two people, so you need to find a new path, one that works better for both people. You have to find a way that you can both be happy with the path you are on.

My wife and I are still together.

I wish with all my heart our marriage never been challenged. I wish “happily ever after” meant our love was never tested or challenged.

The experience sucked. I hated it, and wish it had never happened. I wish I could turn back the hands of time and change things. Somehow fix things before they went wrong.

But I can’t. All I can do is determine how to move forward. Ask myself what can I learn, and how I can use the issues we faced to make our relationships stronger.

And I HAVE learned, a lot. I’ve learned about myself and what I want and need out of life. I’ve learned a better understanding and appreciation about love. And hopefully I’ve learned more about my wife.

I still believe in “us”, but it’s different now. Now I believe we CAN make it, not that we necessarily will.

I wish I was still that person who knew we WOULD make it, instead of just knowing we CAN make it. And that distinction saddens me. I mourn that loss of innocence.

But I was faced with a choice. I could either hold onto the image of what I believed we had, and likely end up bitter and alone. Or I could embrace the fact that life goes through phases, and people and relationships change.

I choose the latter.

Maybe the loss of innocence was actually good. I’ve said before that I don’t believe in perfection, and I don’t believe in “meant to be”. I believe life presents us with opportunities, and it’s up to us to determine what we want to do with them.

We almost squandered our opportunity, and hopefully we will never do that again.

I recognize now that love is fragile. I believe that as long as we prioritize time for each other and ensure we focus on our relationship, we will make it through. I believe we need to continue to learn each other, and hope that we both grow and change in ways that allows our love to survive.

If we don’t do that? If we take each other for granted and lose sight of being a couple?

Then our relationship will fail.

It’s that simple.

Before I “knew” we would be together forever. Now doubt is there, and I hate it. But I know we have a chance. We have an opportunity, and it’s up to us to determine what to do with it.

So yeah, maybe things will never be the same. But then again, things will always change.

And I still believe.

 

Now paranoia’s setting in and I’m falling from these stars again
While every part of me screams, “hold on”
Cause if you can’t learn to bend then you break
Oh my God, how long does it take?
Every lesson we learned took so long
But it made us strong

I-I-I-I’m still standing, I-I-I-I’m still climbing
Even when the rest are falling, the rest are falling
The rest are falling

From Watch Me Rise by Mikky Ekko

Losing the Spark

dimmingflame

I spend my days in the world of business, and increasingly I see parallels between what it takes to succeed in business and what it takes to succeed in long term relationships (and life in general actually).

Two of the central concepts in business are Operations and Projects. Any business has *something* that they do, and the operational side of a business is the day to day tasks that allow the business to function in the here and now. This is the stuff that keeps money coming in, and sometimes you’ll hear this referred to as the things a business needs to do to “keep the lights on”.

A business can’t only worry about today though. They also need to keep their eye on the future and plan where they want to be tomorrow. See, even if they have a great business, markets change. New products appear (potentially reducing interest in existing ones) and new competitors appear with fresh ideas and approaches.

In addition to worrying about today, businesses have at least part of their energy and resources dedicated to ensuring there is a tomorrow. At the very least, they need to monitor the ongoing health of the business. This side of business where there is long term visioning is referred to as projects.

Operations may keep a business running and alive today, but the future still matters. A business needs to grow, or at least ensure that they aren’t becoming obsolete. It can be tough balancing both of these things, but it’s necessary to stay alive.

Those who don’t balance the present and the future tend to fail.

The Operations of Relationships

Think of the progression of a relationship.

The early days of relationships are all about building. You meet, and spend time together learning each other. It’s exciting, and it’s new. When you get together it’s an event. Even if all you do is rent a movie or watch some TV, you still made plans to get together. Think of this as your “business start-up”.

Then the relationship gets to another level, and you move in together or get married (and then move in together). What happens? We are no longer building the relationship, we have already built it. We know each other, and although there is still more to learn the pace at which this happens slows considerably.

We now start worrying about day to day life. Our “planned” time together gets taken up with things like grocery shopping, laundry and dishes. Then maybe we have kids, and for a number of years they become the priority. Life becomes all about feeing and changing the baby. It’s about teaching them, raising them. Helping with homework, and shipping the kids off to various events.

These things are all important, and we have to do them. And hey, maybe we even enjoy doing them. But all the while the energy we were once expending on our partner and our relationship is slowly diminishing.

If you talk to couples who are having problems, one of the biggest issues they face is they get to a point where they feel they have lost “the spark”. When this happens, couples will often say things like “they feel like roommates”, or “they feel taken for granted”.

I think this is the biggest killer of relationship, but what exactly is it that has happened here?

The couple has gotten caught up in “operations”. They have lost sight of the future (the fact that they need to have one). They aren’t monitoring the health of the relationship.

Instead, they are simply living life day to day, doing the things to keep the lights on. They haven’t focused on each other enough and spent enough time growing the relationships – or even just ensuring that they aren’t falling apart.

Part of it is “comfort”. Life gets busy, and when you *know* that the other person will be there it’s easy to let them slide. After all, when all the chores are done and the kids have been put to bed both of you are often tired. But over time this takes a considerable toll.

Some couples wake up one day and realize they no longer know the person sleeping next to them. And chances are both of them have a bit of resentment and a sense of loss for where they once were, and what they have become.

Look at your interactions with your partner. Look at the hours you spend together. How much of it is actually focused on them? How much time are you investing in being a couple? Now look at how much of it is time where you simply happen to be occupying the same space, but you are really focused on the kids, the chores, whatever.

Yes, all the “stuff” of day to day life has to happen. But you need to nurture the relationship too.

Signs of Distress

In long term relationships, I think all couples go through some sort of variation on “losing the spark”. Eventually we realize we have got caught up in running a household and raising a family (the world of operations), and we have lost sight of each other as a couple.

What matters is how far things are gone before we really notice, and what we do about it.

People talk about how communication forms the foundation for any relationship, and that becomes especially true when we recognize problems. People are different, so often one person will be the first to really notice “a problem”.

When this happens the biggest mistake people can make is to do nothing.

From reading books and other blogs, often women are the first to get the sense that something has gone wrong (us guys tend to be oblivious). It’s not always women noticing first, and the relationship may not even be a woman and a man – but let’s assume it is for this example.

She notices *something* has gone wrong by realizing that she isn’t really happy.

Maybe she says something to her partner, but he doesn’t get it. He hears her, but doesn’t understand. He thinks, “I love you, I’m providing for my family and I’m a good parent, I don’t understand what the problem is. I’m being a good partner here.”

He is stuck in the world of operations. Those things are important for keeping the relationship going, but not for keeping it ALIVE.

When she says something another response is to get defensive. Having his partner say “I’m not happy here” become misinterpreted, and in his head it becomes “you aren’t a good partner” causing him to start to withdraw (hey, we are emotional creatures and can be a bit sensitive sometimes).

A worse situation is when she doesn’t say anything at all. Rather, she pretends she’s happy and tries figuring out what is wrong on her own. All the while resentment towards her partner is growing, and he doesn’t even know anything is wrong.

Actually guys may be dumb, but we’re not stupid (mostly). So he has picked up on the fact that something is wrong, but he thinks it’s just a phase that will pass, or he completely misreads the severity of things. After all, they’re a couple and they’re committed to a life together, right?

Hah. Unfortunately life isn’t that simple.

Accepting a Problem

When it comes to relationships people REALLY don’t like to accept the existence of problems, so they deny it for as long as they possibly can. People are stubborn, and our natural response to things is to look for things to blame reasons, and we really don’t like change.

Eventually though, we accept that there’s some kind of problem.

I once read that most couples get to a counselor about 2 years later than they should have, and I believe it.

For the person who “caught on” late, they’re hurt and a little scared, so they do what they can to try and make things better. But by now the relationship is caught up in the resentment that comes with negative momentum, so there is a risk that the partner who noticed things first has withdrawn from the relationship, and ignores the efforts to improve things. They think it feels forced, and not genuine.

The couple is now in a downward spiral that does not have a happy ending unless they can both buy in that they want things to improve. And if they do, they need to realize that yeah, things will seem a bit forced at first – but that doesn’t make it any less real.

Digging Out

A LOT of relationships fail at this point. And a lot more stay together, accepting the “truth” that this is normal and long term relationships are simply doomed to a loss of love. Some are fine with a somewhat happy existence, and others stay together in name only – basically living separate lives.

I think there’s more to life than that. I think your relationship should be a source of joy. You should WANT to spent time with your partner whenever you can. After a long day at work, you should look forward to getting home and seeing their face. You should want to share experiences with them. And no matter how long you have been together, nothing should feel as good as being with your partner, holding each other and knowing you’ll never let each other go.

To get back to that spot, you need to focus on the relationship. Day to day life will always be there, but that can’t be your only interactions. You can’t use that as an excuse to not nurture the relationship.

Like a business that monitors it’s day to day health while having a plan for the future, the relationship HAS to become a priority. You need time focused on each other. You need to not only maintain the relationship, but build it.

Do things together.

I don’t think couples intentionally take each other for granted. Most couples will SAY “of course the relationship is a priority. Of course my partner is a priority”.

But actions speak louder than words.

Think back to my earlier question:

Look at your interactions with your partner. Look at the hours you spend together. How much of it is actually focused on them? How much time are you investing in being a couple?

Now ask yourself how much time you think you should be spending on being a couple. Everything needs some sort of sustenance and maintenance to survive, and relationships are no different in this regard.

If you feel the spark has been lost, rest assured that you aren’t alone. Many, many couples go through the same thing. But as long as there is still a flicker, no matter how faint, you can rebuild a flame.

But it’s up to you to do it. If your relationship is a priority, don’t let that only be in words. Back your words with action, and focus on it again. And this time, don’t let it go.