Embracing Uncertainty

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

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

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

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

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

 

Then I look at the numbers.

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

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

Are those number accurate?  Who knows.

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

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

 

I think that’s a pretty scary thought.

An even scarier thought is, maybe people do learn.

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

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

At that point, why bother?

 

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

 

Personally, I can’t accept that.

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

Will it happen for me?

Honestly, I don’t know.

But I believe it CAN.

I also think believing gives me the best chance.

 

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

And maybe that’s alright.

 

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

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

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

 

Really, what actually matters?

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

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

All you really have is today.

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

And maybe that’s all we can really ask.

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

buildTillTheEnd

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Reflections on 2017…

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So 2017 is coming to a close…

Wow, where did the time go?

In late 2016 someone I don’t even know reached out to me and changed my life forever.  All I know her as is “Chelsea Relano” (though I believe that to be a psuedonym).  She told me she was opening a door for me, and it was up to me to decide if I wanted to step through it.

Well, step through it I did.  And although in the short term it threw my life into chaos, in the long term it will position me to live the sort of life I have always believed possible – a life of love (I hope 😊).

 

2017 has been a year of significant change in my life.

After spending much of the last decade plus where my identity was primarily defined by being a dad, I’ve re-defined what it means to be “me”.

I’ve focused on my education, almost completing a certification.

I’ve taken on additional responsibilities in my job, and although it can be stressful at times my job is somewhat of an extended family, and not just somewhere I go to pay the bills.

As a father, I’ve had some of my most difficult moments this past year; trying to support and help my children through the changes in their lives.  But although they haven’t always been easy, these moments have also been some of my most rewarding.  I’ve watched my children grow and I am beyond proud of them and the young men they are growing into.

This past fall I lost my last grandparent, marking the end of that generation in my life.  My parents are officially the “old generation”, my siblings and I are approaching our middle years, and their children and mine are transitioning to young adults (my oldest neice will graduate from high school this year!!!).

I took my first ever solo trip this year, heading off on a two week tour of China.  I wasn’t sure of what to expect going in, but it was something I needed to do at that time.  I met some great people and had some amazing experiences; and I hope to continue travelling in the coming years.  My travel bucket list has always been extensive, and although it just seems to grow I will hopefully make a dent in it in the coming years.

Less than a month ago I was in what could have been a very serious accident.  Although my car was wrecked, I walked away unscathed.  It was a reminder of my mortality, and that we should never leave things unsaid.

I also re-entered the world of dating, though that’s a story for another day 😊.

 

2017 has seen many changes for me, and really, almost all of the change has been positive.

There have been some bumps along the way, and there always will be.  But  looking back I feel blessed.  My life is my journey, and I try to live it well.

I look at who I was at the start of the year and who I am today, and I can truly say I’ve grown.  At the end of the day, I think that’s all you can really ask for.

 

Going into 2018, I know there is a lot more change ahead of me.  But that’s alright, because in life change is one of the few things we can actually count on.

Things happen, and people are always changing.

We can either fight against it and try to hold onto what our lives “used to be”.  Or we can embrace it, and try to enjoy the journey of what we are always becoming.

To Chelsea, whoever/wherever you are, thank you.  That door wasn’t easy to face, but it was a needed step in my journey.

 

I know my blogging has slowed recently, but that’s primarily because my computer died in early October, and events of recent months have kept me busy.

Blogging for me has been a great outlet these past few years, and my little community of readers has definitely help me transition through the changes in my life.

So to all of you, thank you; and know that I’m not going anywhere (blogging wise).

 

To everyone out there I hope you had a great 2017; and all the best as we move into 2018!

Andrew

Loss of Innocence

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I love music, and growing up largely in the 80’s and 90’s one of the bigger bands was REM.  I like a lot of their stuff, but my favorite song by REM is Losing my Religion.

Michael Stipe (of REM) has said the song was written about loving someone who doesn’t love you back, but to me the song has always represented a loss of belief; not just in love, but in anything.

 

Belief for me has always been very important.

I’ve never done well with the idea that I should do something just because someone says I should.  I mean, I get that sometimes you need to, but I’ve always been the sort of person to ask “why”.  Once I understand the why of something it gives me a sense of buy-in.

I’ve also believed that when you do “the right thing”, things will work out in some capacity.  At some level I know life doesn’t always work that way.  Bad things happen to good people sometimes, and bad people sometimes get away with things.  But still, I’ve largely tried to life my life according to the principle of “doing the right thing”.  I fully accept that “the right thing” can be open to debate, but by and large I’ve tried to live this way and perhaps as a result my life has been pretty blessed.

 

We all have little failures and losses from time to time, and these are important as they help us grow.  But the first time I truly experienced rejection was when I lost my job in my early 20’s.  I had been working as a consultant for a few years, and a few weeks after my client contract ended the consulting company let me go.

I remember my confusion as I sat in that room.  I had heard the words, but they didn’t make sense.  Being let go?  How was that possible?  I was a good worker, well-liked by my co-workers, and I would like to think I was respected for the work I had done.

So why?

To this day I don’t really know why I was chosen (a handful of people were let go).  But I would be lying if I said it didn’t hurt.

It was a difficult experience, and was both good and bad.  It made me realize that sometimes things happen that won’t make sense to you, and there’s nothing you can do about it.  It also made me change my approach to work.  Prior to that I would have always “gone the extra mile” for the company I worked for.  But when I realized that in the end it’s a numbers game, work started to become just work to me.  I still took pride in the work I did, but I detached myself a bit from my work.  I started to see it as something that allowed me to pay the bills and life the life I wanted, and not much more.

 

The next time I experienced that sort of confusion was in 2012, when my then wife told me she didn’t love me, never really had, and wasn’t sure if she wanted to be married anymore.  I was stunned, caught off guard.  I was hearing her words, but they weren’t making sense.

We were married.  We had children, and had built a life together?  How was this even possible?

In an attempt to describe the emotions of losing a relationship/marriage, a few years ago I wrote the following:

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.

 

When I wrote that, I still thought there was a chance for my marriage.  In retrospect it was long dead because I was the only one who still wanted it and was putting in any effort.

Yet I still believed I could turn things around.

Not because of any tangible evidence (as my wife’s actions and body language clearly showed she was done), but because I believed in me.

This belief in myself is at once my strength and my weakness.  It’s a strength because it allows me to keep going when times are hard.  But it’s a weakness too, because sometimes it’s better to accept failure as a learning experience, and move on.

 

Any long time readers know that I believe in love.

Not the sort of Hollywood love where you meet “the one” and your life somehow magically becomes amazing.  But a different kind of love, where two people with shared values and vision come together and feel a connection – probably physical and emotional at first.  And over time it develops into something deeper.  Where two people allow themselves to be vulnerable with each other, as they share experiences and build something together; and where they continue to choose each other each and every day.

When my marriage ended, I didn’t want the experience to change me.  Which is ridiculous in some ways, because of course it changed me.

What I meant was I didn’t want it to cause me to change my approach to life, and to love.

A lot of people get hurt and start to build walls to protect themselves from being hurt again.  It’s understandable, but for years I’ve believed doing so ends up creating the exact situation you are trying to avoid.  Closing yourself off to prevent yourself from being hurt simply ensures you will never have the type of closeness you are hoping for.

So being yourself, and being willing to take a chance and let people in seems like the best way to approach things.  Yeah, you may get hurt, but that’s a chance you need to be willing to take.  It’s the trade off for hopefully finding something good.

 

Since my marriage ended I’ve met a few people where I thought that maybe things would happen, and I saw the potential for “something more”, but nothing has really gone anywhere.

I’ve seen that different people bring different things to the table relationship wise; and dating in your 40’s is a bit different, because everyone has gone through something.

 

Belief.

As I said, it’s at once a strength and a weakness.

Is it better to go into things accepting that statistically most things fail?  If you take that approach, aren’t you just setting yourself up for failure?

Don’t you need to believe that something can and will succeed in order to put in the appropriate energy to allow something to succeed?

Maybe the key is learning to temper belief, and re-defining what is an appropriate level of belief for a specific situation.  But what does that actually look like?

I still want to believe, and don’t want to imagine a day where I stop believing.

But some days it’s hard.

 

That’s me in the corner
That’s me in the spotlight
Losing my religion
Trying to keep up with you
And I don’t know if I can do it
Oh no I’ve said too much
I haven’t said enough

I thought that I heard you laughing
I thought that I heard you sing
I think I thought I saw you try

But that was just a dream, try, cry, why, try
That was just a dream

Just a dream

REM – Losing My Religion

 

When Do You Actually “Know” Someone?

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I recently read an interesting post over at Lisa Arends excellent blog, lessonsfromtheendofamarriage.com, where she discusses a number of misconceptions about marriage (and relationships in general).

Her first “misconception” really got me thinking, and it’s about how long it takes to “get to know someone” before you know the relationship is solid enough to consider something like marriage.

I won’t rehash her post as you can give it a read on your own.  But I do want to explore this idea of getting to know another person, and how long it can and potentially should take; not just for marriage but also before relationships “go through milestones”.

 

First, what are some of the milestones that relationships go through?   Off the top of my head, here’s a quick list (that I’m sure is missing some important things) in an order that is probably fairly common:

  • Holding hands
  • Kissing
  • Sex
  • Spending the night together (which may or may not include sex, but let’s be honest, probably does)
  • Introductions to friends
  • First fight
  • Meeting the parents
  • Living together
  • Making major purchases together
  • Marriage

 

Notice that I didn’t include “getting to know someone” as a milestone?

I left it off because there is no event or milestone for getting to know someone.  Getting to know someone is a continuous process that will probably go on for your whole life (or at least the duration of the relationship); I don’t think it’s something you ever finish.

You can never fully know another person, because they are always growing and changing.  Hell, I don’t think you ever fully know yourself!  I’m 43 this year, and consider myself to be a pretty self-aware guy.  But even now events occur that change me, in ways both big and small.  Sometimes things happen and how I respond surprises me.  So if I can even surprise myself sometimes, it’s a pretty safe bet someone else will never be able to accurately predict everything I will do.

We are always growing, and changing.  And our partners are too.

 

If accepting that continuous growth and change means we will never fully know our partner, the question becomes when do we know them enough (for whatever the next step in our relationship is)?

Going back to my list of relationship milestones, when do we know them enough to hold hands?  For the first kiss?  To have sex?  To meet the parents?  To get married?

Does it depend on the number of days/weeks you’ve known each other?  The number of hours you’ve spent together?  The things you’ve shared?

 

Looking at these milestones I’m not convinced there’s a “right” way to do this, or a “right” timeframe.

Don’t get me wrong, there is still a fairly common flow here.  I would say in most cases, a couple will at least kiss and hold hands before having sex.  The time gap between those things could be counted in months, weeks, or it could be counted in minutes.

If you somehow are having sex before kissing or holding hands, then you’ve probably got some sort of Pretty Woman thing happening where you’ve fallen in love with a prostitute.  Probably not common, but hey – if it’s happened to you who am I to judge?

Meeting friends, parents, living together – these are all things you probably don’t do until you have a belief the relationship has a shot at lasting a while.

And marriage (for those who go down that road) is something you REALLY shouldn’t do until you feel you know the other person fairly well; and have a high degree of confidence the relationship will make it.

But looking at marriage – what’s the “right” time?  How long do you need to know someone before you can feel you know them enough to have that confidence and make that sort of decision?

A year?  Two years?  Twenty?

 

I’ve seen it recommended that you should wait one of two years before getting married, and I guess that makes sense.

But I know a couple who were engaged on their first date, and 50 years later they are still together.  I can’t say I would recommend that, and statistically the chances of success are pretty slim.  But for them it worked.

I also know a couple who dated for almost 20 years before getting married (and are still together).

I know couples who dated for the commonly recommended one to two years and are happy 20+ years later.  I know others who married after two years and divorced a few years later.

 

Here’s the thing …

Almost 50% of marriages end in divorce, and often the very characteristics that endeared people to each other as they “got to know each other” in the first place are ones that contribute significantly to the relationship falling apart.

So it’s not like there’s some magic way of measuring whether or not you know each other “enough” for things to work out.

Things sometimes go wrong.  Relationships don’t always work out.

 

So, what do you do?

It seems obvious that how well you know someone DOES matter.  But how do you best position your relationship to succeed?

 

Let’s start with you.

If you need to know someone, then it stands to reason that they also have to know you.  For this to happen I think you always need to be willing to be authentic; which means you need to be willing to be you – whoever that is.

Of course this means you actually have to have some idea of who you are (which isn’t always the case).  Are you self-aware?  Are you accepting of yourself and your faults, and are you willing to let someone else see them?

A common paradox in relationships is we want to be accepted for who we are, yet at the same time we are afraid of being rejected for who we are.  So we often try to be who we think the other person wants us to be.

Some people will play a role and try to become someone else.  Other will be themselves, but will be careful about which sides of themselves they show – hiding the parts that they don’t feel will be accepted.

 

In the short term, these strategies may work.  But if they do, what have you really accomplished?  You’ve succeeded in convincing someone to like…

…umm.

Not you (at least not the real you).

Help me understand, how exactly is this a good thing?

Because eventually the real you will surface.  And if your partner doesn’t like the real you once they see you, then all you’ve done is waste time.

 

So being always being true to you is the best approach.  And if someone doesn’t accept you for who you are?  Then they probably aren’t someone you want to be with anyhow.  That doesn’t mean you should never change – because change in the form of self-growth is a positive thing.  But any changes you make need to be because you want them, or see a need for them yourself.

 

Let’s say you do everything right.

You accept yourself for who you are and go into a relationship being honest and authentic.  That’s great, and is (in my opinion) the best and healthiest way to approach things.

But YOU are only half of the equation – and you have no control over how the other person is approaching things.  For the best relationship to occur, both people need to be honest, authentic, self-aware, and willing to be vulnerable.

When that does happen and two people are being authentic and are willing to let each other in, I think you can know each other well enough to know if things can work pretty quickly.  Within a few days you can get a pretty good sense of each other’s core character and value.  Within weeks, you should have a strong idea if the two of you are compatible.

And within a few months you should start to see if there are any “red flags”, showing that perhaps the other person isn’t being as authentic as you think they are – because it’s hard to keep a mask up over extended periods of time.

 

Looking at relationships, what are the things that actually matter?

  • Are your core values aligned?
  • Do your personalities complement each other?
  • Do you accept that a relationships is about more than just you?
  • Are your love languages in alignment with your partners, and if not are you willing love your partner in the way they need to be loved?
  • Do you know enough about each other’s hopes and dreams that you can see the two of you growing, building and sharing together?
  • Are you both willing to accept that periodic issues in relationships are normal, and are you willing to deal with them when they occur?
  • Are you both self-aware – willing to accept that you each have faults and willing to take responsibility for your own contributions to the relationship?

 

If you can answer yes to at least most of those, then I think you have a pretty solid foundation and everything else should be pretty easy.

 

Thinking back to the question of when do you know each other enough; it doesn’t matter what the milestone is – whether it’s holding hands, living together or getting married there will always be risk involved in taking that “next step”.

But there is no magic timeline.  What works for one couple may not work for another.  I believe that if both people are self-aware, authentic and open with each other, they will quickly know enough about each other to know with a high level of accuracy if the relationship can work or not.  When things feel natural and easy, you know that it’s a good fit no matter how long it’s been.

After that, it’s up to you.

Because the success of a relationships is less about how well you know each other than it is about how well you accept that you will need to grow together and choose to continue to choose each other each and every day.

FeelingofLoveAsChoice

Showing your “True Colors”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Patterns of Behavior 

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

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

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

Does that make me a bad person?

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

All or Nothing Thinking 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

Impacts on Relationships

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

 Seeing Shades of Grey

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

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

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

 

Life isn’t all or nothing.

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

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

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

 

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

What is Marriage?

marriage_header

For a few years now I’ve been writing about relationships, and marriage.  I consider myself “pro-marriage”, and a lot of my writing (in my mind at least) has been about trying to help others make their marriages into the best marriages they can be.

But one thing I’ve realized recently is, I don’t actually give a crap about marriage.

Wha?

Wait a second, what am I saying here?

As of right now I’m up to almost 150 posts over almost three years of writing; mostly about love, relationships, and how I believe long term monogamous relationships can and should be this wonderful thing; and how we can all strive to take what we have and make it better.

Isn’t marriage kind of the culmination of that ideal?  And if so, shouldn’t I be all “rah-rah” pro-marriage?

Well, yes and no.

Let me explain…

 

I do believe in marriage, very deeply.  But to me marriage isn’t about a piece of paper, or a title.  It’s not about being someone’s husband or wife, and it’s definitely not to give “legitimacy” to children that come from the union of two people.

Instead, marriage is a symbol.

And it’s a symbol of a RELATIONSHIP; a symbol that a relationship has reached a certain level of depth of caring, compassion, and commitment that a couple is now willing to make a promise to each other that they will be there to support each other and be there for each other for the rest of their lives.

 

Marriage is supposed to be about the relationship.  But for some reason, over the long term people often lose sight of that.  The relationship comes to be seen as a “given”.  After all, you’re already married – so what else is there to do?

Btw, that’s probably the worst line of thinking ever, and one that kills MANY relationships.

But even so, we often do it.  And instead of being about love and the relationship, the marriage comes to represent all the “other” stuff.  The house, the chores, the bills, the kids.  All the stuff that is part of the grind of regular day to day life starts to become associated with the marriage, even when that was NEVER what the marriage was initially supposed to be about.

 

Rather than a celebration of love, a marriage becomes associated with the mundane.  And when people start to lose sight of what brought them together in the first place, problems start to set in.

That’s when connection and communication starts to break down.  And where resentment and apathy can start to set in.  That’s where disillusionment with marriage can start to set in, and a couple will often start to drift apart.

To prevent this, they need to be able to go back to what brought them together in the first place.  They need to find the love and the connection again.  And they need to focus on the RELATIONSHIP instead of the marriage.

If they can’t?

Well, I’m going to steal my own words from a post from almost two years ago:

Let’s say you meet someone and fall in love with them, but they don’t feel the same way. Is that a relationship? No. You may love them and accept them for who they are. You may think of them all the time and have pictures of them in your house, wallet, at work whatever. But if they don’t feel the same way about you, then that’s just creepy (and probably puts you at risk of a restraining order).

If you believe you are in a relationship but the other person sees you as one of the many people they are dating, sorry, again it’s not a relationships.

It doesn’t become a relationship until they return the love, and there is an acknowledgement that the two of you share something together and you are committed to each other. So although love may be unconditional, relationships aren’t. Relationships do have expectations, and some degree of reciprocity is required.

Lets take this idea one step further….

Let’s say you are in a relationship, and the other person checks out emotionally. They stop doing the little things, they stop showing you that they care. You become two people, effectively living individual lives. If that happens, are you in a relationship? It doesn’t matter if there’s a piece of paper saying you are married, or you are living together. Even if one person still loves the other with all their heart, the relationship has effectively ended.

Relationships require reciprocity. They are about intent, and effort.

So I ask the question – if the relationship has died, what’s the point of the marriage? 

Why stay?

Either work on the marriage, and get back to a place where the relationship is at the heart of it; or get out.

 

Personally I don’t care about marriage as a piece of paper or a contract.  When people lose sight of the relationship and marriage has come to represent the routines of day to day life, I don’t see the point in continuing it.

Because to me, that’s not what it is.

When people are married, vows are usually spoken.  And if those vows are not being actively practiced, then the marriage is broken.

Commitment doesn’t just mean someone is “staying” in the marriage.  They have to be living it.  Staying in it without practicing the vows is just a waste of everyone’s time.

But when people ARE living it?

When the marriage continues to represent the love and the relationship that brought people together?  And when the marriage is a symbol of that active commitment and love?

Then I think marriage is one of the most beautiful things there is.

Empty Love

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Relationships are hard.

That’s a simple fact – borne out by divorce rates which continue to hover around the 50% mark.

And then there’s that additional question – for every relationship that “makes it”, how many are actually happy?

How many people get up each and every day, and actively CHOOSE their partner?  How many are grateful for what they have?

Instead of that, I really wonder how many are just going through the motions and living day by day.  Still married on paper, but no longer in mind or soul?

 

All couples are different, but I think the story of a failing marriage is all too familiar.

A couple meet, and fall in love.  Everything is great, or at least good enough that they decide to get married.  And those first few years they are pretty happy.

Then over time, life starts to get in the way.  Jobs, mortgages, bills, kids, extended families.  All the stresses of “everyday life” happen, and this person who started as your friend and lover morphs into something more like a business partner.  Instead of fun and exciting, things become safe, and mundane.  And instead of actively showing each other how much we care about them, we often start to take each other for granted.

Fact for you – MOST couples don’t do a very good job of keeping the romance and the fun alive.

And then one day they wake up, and realize the passion is gone.

 

What Makes a Couple a Couple?

Let’s rewind a bit, to the early days of a relationship; and think about what it actually is that makes a couple a couple.

Is a couple defined by two people who live together?  No, you can live together and just be roommates.  Conversely you can be in a relationship without living together.  So living together has nothing to do with it.

Is it because you are close friends?  Again, no.  Yeah, friendship is an important *part* of a relationship but being a couple implies something more than that.

The term “friend zone” is used to describe when one person is looking for a relationship with another person, but in return they are just viewed as a friend.

When you have feelings for someone and you are stuck in the friend zone, this is seen as a bad thing.

Having it happen with someone you are hoping to have a relationship with is one thing – if things don’t develop into anything more you can just move on.  But when it happens when you are already IN a relationship (or worse, married)?

Well, that sucks all around.  And realistically, I’m pretty sure it’s not what anyone thought they were signing up for when the relationship started.

No, when you are a couple it is implied that each person views the other as something more, something special.  There is a degree of connection that exists, and often this connection is tied to feelings of closeness, affection, and trust.

 

Triangle Theory of Love

A while back I came across the idea of the “Triangle Theory of Love”, and I think it’s brilliant.  Love is a really difficult concept, and if you ask people to describe love, you are liable to get a different answer from every person you ask.  That’s because there are different elements to it.

triangular_theory_of_love

 

This diagram breaks love down into three basic components:

  1. Passion
  2. Commitment
  3. Intimacy

 

When we look at “romance novel” or “movie” love, the focus is always on the passion.  THIS is the part of love that people are often led to believe IS love.

But it’s not.

It’s a starting point, and a component of love.  But passion on its own does not make a sustainable relationship.  If a relationship is based only on passion, eventually it will burn itself out.  So there has to be more.

 

Although passion is great, I think Intimacy is actually a MUCH more meaningful part of love.  Intimacy is vulnerability.  This is where you have let down all the walls, and truly let the other person in.

Passion is a physical connection, which often seems emotional as well.  Intimacy however is something deeper.  I think of intimacy as almost a spiritual connection.

 

Lastly you have commitment.  People talk about commitment as if it’s this great thing, but I’m not so sure if it is.  Commitment is simply saying “I will always be there for you, no matter what”.  It’s the “in good times and in bad times” part of a relationship.  And that part IS important, because there will always be bad times.  There will always be challenges.  So commitment is what keeps you together, even when it’s not easy.  Even when maybe you don’t even want to be.

 

Empty Love

Common complaint for couples in trouble is that they feel like nothing more than roommates.  They are still together, but they are more two individuals occupying the same space.

The passion is gone.  The intimacy is gone.  And the connection is gone.

All that’s left is commitment.  And when that’s all you have left, it’s a very hollow and lonely way to love.

 

Robert Smith (The Cure) sums it up beautifully in the song Bare

 

But holding onto used to be

Is not enough

Memory’s not life

And it’s not love

 

Think about that for a moment – memory is not life, and it’s not love.

When all you have left is commitment, you have empty love.  You have history, memory, and nothing more.

I think THIS is the biggest challenge in long term relationships.  THIS is the problem that happens to SO many couples.

And THIS is why so many relationships fail.

Empty love.

Commitment, when both the passion and the intimacy have gone.

 

Choosing Love

When you have Passion, Intimacy AND Commitment all together, you have a beautiful, incredible thing.

But it’s something that is SO easy to lose.

How does this happen?  WHY does this happen?  And what can we do about it?

 

A while back, one reader (apensiveheart) gave me this comment, and I think it sums things up beautifully:

Love isn’t a feeling. Love is a verb. It is action. It is work. Part of the reason it is so successful and feels so good in the early part of a relationship is because we are willing to put in the work and make the effort to do what our companion desires. Over time, we lose that need or that desire to put that same level of effort in, and things begin to deteriorate. I think we forget just how hard we tried in the beginning simply because the feelings made it feel so easy and natural. We go from asking what can I do for you, to instead asking what can you do for me. The whole dynamic changes because our perspective changes from caring about them to caring more about ourselves.

This is one of my core beliefs about love – it’s an action, a choice.  If we want to maintain intimacy and passion, we need to work on it.

And I guess this is the real value of commitment.

Commitment ISN’T about staying together no matter what.  Commitment does not mean accepting empty love.

Commitment means always choosing your partner, each and every day.  And not just choosing them, but also putting IN to the relationship.

Working on it – working on intimacy.  Working on passion.  Making ALL aspects of love a priority in your relationship, and doing your best to prevent it from failing.

 

When relationships fail, couples often say that they “fell out of love”.  Or they still love each other, but they were no longer “in love”.

I think they are talking about empty love.  Commitment, without passion or intimacy.

When that happens, I think the fault lies with the person who fell out of love.  Because love is not supposed to be passive.  It’s not just something you “feel” one day, and not another day.

Instead, I believe each person in the relationship is responsible for their feelings of love for their partner.  Part of that commitment involves nurturing that love.

Waking each day, and looking at the good side in the relationship.  Appreciating their partner for who they are, instead of who they aren’t.  And working together to improve the things that need to be improved.

When people “fall out of love” they often believe it’s some sort of incompatibility with their partner.  Or it’s a sign that something is wrong in the relationship.

But love isn’t just a feeling.  It’s not supposed to be passive.

So if they aren’t actively choosing love, each and every day; the person they should really be blaming – is themselves.