Searching for the Truth

Truth.

Truth is something that is seen as an absolute.  Something that either is, or isn’t.

Truth can be differentiated from opinion or supposition, because truth is based on fact.  It is supposed to be objective rather than subjective.

And the search for truth is seen as a positive and perhaps even noble thing.

But truth can also be elusive.

Because it is also based on belief.

When I look at dictionary definitions of truth, I find two categories of definitions that are very distinct in their meanings.

The first category talks about reality.  Things that are factual, verifiable, and indisputable.

The second category talks about that which is accepted as the truth.

And these are two very different things.

Why does this matter?  Think of the following quote:

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Often, that which we think of as truth is simply our perception.

All of our experiences come through our senses.  We see things, hear them, and feel them.  We don’t experience things objectively; instead all of our experiences are filtered through the lens of our own experiences.  You and I may witness the same event, and come away with a completely different understanding of what we experienced.

One person has had different experiences from the other.  The things they notice, things that resonate with them, and the way they interpret an event can be very different from the other person.

And as the quote above says, each of those interpretations may be real.

That’s not to say that no one is every lying – because people definitely do.

People lie for many different reasons.

Sometimes people will lie because they are ashamed or embarrassed.  Maybe they don’t want to admit that they don’t understand something.  Maybe they are trying to deny doing something that makes them embarrassed.  Or maybe they are “exaggerating”, to either make a story more interesting or to cast themselves in a better light.  I think we all do these things to some degree – though hopefully it’s not often, and we feel uncomfortable when we doe it.

Other times people will lie in order to intentionally deceive or manipulate others.  I suppose in some scenarios this may originate from shame/embarrassment as well, but I am talking about a different level of lying here (I know, it’s kind of grey where one type of lying ends and another begins, but hopefully you get what I mean).

With this type of lying, the belief portion of truth is often used as a tool.  Someone is intentionally deceiving other people, and they are using systematic layers of deception to try and convince another person of the truth of what they are selling.

When their lies start to become apparent, they simply change the narrative.  They may try to twist the meaning of words to support what they are saying, or they may simply deny ever saying or doing the things they have done in the past.

Gaslighting is a term that describes a form of “psychological manipulation that seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or in members of a targeted group”.  The person who is using gaslighting uses “persistent denial, misdirection, contradiction and lying in attempts to destabilize the victim and delegitimize the victim’s belief”.

See, in some cases the “truth” is what you can make people believe is true.  People who gaslight understand this, and they use this to their advantage.

The foundation of all interpersonal relationships is trust.  We trust people to actually mean what they say.  We trust them to be upfront with us.  We know people make mistakes and we know people will sometimes lie, but we *want* to take people at face value and believe them.

Personally I like to assume the best of people, and I think it would be exhausting to constantly question and doubt the things I hear.

There are times that I’ll be talking with a buddy about something that has happened in the past, and we will have very different takes on the same event.  Sometimes it’s details, sometimes it’s what we took away from the event.

I think this is expected, because memory can be faulty and we also experience things through the filter of our own experiences.  Still, when it happens it often makes me pause for a moment and wonder – am I wrong?  Is he/she wrong?  Are we both wrong and we are just walking away with our own interpretation of events?

Usually, it doesn’t matter.

However if this happens a few times with the same person, I would suggest trusting your feelings and starting to ask yourself “why”.  Is this a matter of perception?  Of memory?  What is it you are questioning if you are wrong about?  Does the other person have anything to gain by you being wrong?  And most importantly are there patterns of behavior that are making you uncomfortable?

Often people who victims of gaslighting realize after the fact that all the pieces were right there – they just couldn’t see them.  And that inability to see them was often because they were being intentionally misdirected and led to question their own thoughts and beliefs.

In addition to people shaping our understanding of the world through lying and gaslighting, we can also do this to ourselves.  Sometimes when we come into something with a preconceived notion of what we want to believe, we end up focussing on the evidence that validates that belief (and ignoring the things that may make us question it).

Let’s say you have an argument with your partner so you tell a friend about it – and that friend doesn’t understand your perspective or “sides” with your partner.  So you tell a different friend, and again they don’t understand your perspective.  So you keep telling other people until you tell someone who finally “gets you”.

I call this “shopping for answers”, and it may make you feel good in the moment but all it does is help solidify a belief that you already had.  To me this is simply a form of lying to yourself.

 

Truth seems like it should be a straightforward thing, but it can be elusive to find.

Between experiencing the world through the lens of our own beliefs and experiences, and having a distorted view of things because we lack information, have been provided the wrong information, or are only seeing the things we want to see; what we consider truth is often really just a matter of belief.

So what can we do?  How do we search for the truth?

I think the best thing we can do is accept that what we believe is simply what we believe right now, and we may be wrong.

This doesn’t mean we need to constantly live in doubt, but maybe we just don’t shop for answers.  Don’t just look for things to prove you are right.  Look for things that challenge you, and accept that you may be wrong.

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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.

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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.

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Showing your “True Colors”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Patterns of Behavior 

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

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

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

Does that make me a bad person?

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

All or Nothing Thinking 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

Impacts on Relationships

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

 Seeing Shades of Grey

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

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

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

 

Life isn’t all or nothing.

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

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

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

 

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

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.