End of a Generation

EndOfEra

It was almost 25 years ago when I first started to become aware of mortality; of life and death.

I remember sitting at the food court of a downtown shopping mall with my buddy Scott.  We were young, just out of high school, at an age we believed we were invincible.  And for the first time we were faced with death.

One of Scott’s grandparents was sick, and dying.  I can’t remember which one and I can’t remember if any of my grandparents had passed yet.  But I remember Scott and I talking, and him saying that in life you largely have three generations – the young people, the adults, and the old people.

Up until that time we had always been the young people, our parents had been the adults, and our grandparents had been the old people.  Yeah, sometimes you get a fourth generation in there; but usually it’s not for very long.  Most of the time you only have three generations overlapping – young, adult, and old.

And that day at the food court, we recognized that a transition was starting.

Our grandparents’ generation was starting to go, and with that Scott had started to see his parents in a different light.  They were still the adults, but suddenly he was starting to see signs of age with them that he had never noticed before.  And he recognized that before too long they were going to be the old people.  The new generation of young people was still a number of years away (for us), but it also meant we were starting the transition to becoming that middle generation – the adults.  And it was a change that neither of us were sure we were ready for.

 

This afternoon my Grandmother passed away.  Peacefully, at the age of 98 with some of her family at her side.

I’m not sad for my Grandmother, as it was her time.  She had a good, and incredibly long life.  The last few years were hard for her, and she’s now at peace.

But it’s hit me – she was the last of that generation, and now the transition is complete.

My parents are now “the old people”, I am part of the “adults”, and there is a new generation of “young people” that my own kids are a part of.

 

I look back at the last 25 years; from the people Scott and I were that day at the food court to the people we are today.

Since then we have finished school, started careers, and had relationships come and go.  We each met people who we thought would be our “forever person”.  We were each other’s best men when we married, and then we lost touch for a number of years as we built up our own lives and families at slightly different speeds, putting us at different stages of life.

We’ve both had our marriages fail, and it was happening at the same time, though neither of us knew what the other was going through at the time.

25 years of lives filled with experiences.

With emotions.

With happiness, joy, pain, sadness, anger, fear, and love.

I don’t think life has gone where either of us thought it would that day.  I’m not sure if that’s a good thing, but it’s also not necessarily a bad thing.  Because really, I doubt anyone’s life goes quite the way they once expected.

But the passing of my Grandmother has served as a reminder of what is important in life.

 

In my Grandmothers last few months there were periods of confusion where she didn’t know who people were and seemed to be living out her past, and there were also periods where she was lucid and able to laugh, joke and even sing (and play the harmonica, though I missed that).

A few weeks back during one of the periods of confusion, my Grandmother thought my dad was her husband (who has been gone for over 20 years).  She told my dad “thank you for finally coming to take me with you”.  I find that sweet, sad, and beautiful all at once.  All these years have passed, and as she was dying she wanted to be reunited with the man she loved.

Her last few weeks on this earth, my Grandmother was surrounded by her family.  At least one of her children was almost always by her side, and there were also visits from her grandchildren, and even her great grandchildren.

That is what is important.

 

I’ve been writing about relationships for a long time now; about how I believe they should be one of the most important things in our lives.  And nothing I have seen over the past few months has changed that belief.

Our relationships with friends, family, children, and especially our chosen partners should be important to us.  And our actions should reflect that.

So if you have someone in your life, hold them, tell them you love them, SHOW them you love them, and don’t let them go.

 

Goodbye Grandma.  Grandpa is waiting for you.

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Relationship Limbo

Cracked clay landscape in the Atacama desert.

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

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

 

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

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

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

So I fought for us.

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

Today I hope to share lessons I learned, painfully.

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

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

 

My story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Limbo

Limbo is defined as:

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

And that’s what my life had become.

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

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

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

So I waited.

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

I told myself that would be us.

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

I was an idiot.

 

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

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

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

option

 

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

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

I wasn’t respecting myself.

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

It wasn’t.

 

I needed her to make a decision.

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

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

 

limbo2

 

Establishing Boundaries

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

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

I know I didn’t.

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

But I was wrong.

 

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

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

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

Love, affection, kindness.

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

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

 

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

 

Finite Resources

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

And that’s true.

 

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

Time.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

And as time passed, nothing changed.

 

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

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

But my best wasn’t enough.

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

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

 

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

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

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

Because time wasted is time you will never get back.

 

Time-decides-your-life.jpg

Escape With Each Other

Hug

In my last post I presented the idea that relationship issues are frequently (and perhaps usually) not actually issues with the relationship. Rather, they are issues with stress management.

I think it’s safe to say the following is true:

  1. people have different amounts of stress in their lives
  2. we are different in how well we manage the stresses we do have
  3. some ways of coping with those stresses are healthier than others

We all have stress in our lives, and studies show just how damaging stress is. It’s extremely bad for your own health, and it’s also extremely bad for relationships. In fact, high stress jobs tend to also be associated with high divorce rates.

So stress management is pretty important for both your own health and the health of your relationship. We all have things we do to de-stress. Ways to escape, however temporarily, from the stresses of life.

My idea in my previous post was that over time, in our heads our partner comes to represent our stress. We start to incorrectly see them as the source of our stress instead of seeing them as someone who is dealing with the same (or at least similar) stresses as us at the same time.

In a healthy relationship, our partner is our shelter in the storm of life. They are the first person we go to in order to let go, or relax. So once we’ve started to associate them with the stresses of life, our relationships get into trouble.

It is often said that bad relationships cause stress. That may be true, but stress doesn’t only happen in “bad relationships”. People can have relationships that have all the ingredients to be amazing, but they can still be destroyed by stress.

Allowing Escapism

In my last post I talked about escaping from stress, and how many forms of escapism are unhealthy ways of dealing with stress. For example, I believe this sense of escapism is actually one of the leading causes of affairs. But there are also healthy forms of escapism.

One reader (bac4sccr) made the following comment:

I believe the trick (I am no expert though) is to allow the escapism. You may think I am crazy but if it is allowed you can get away from the stresses of life. The catch is can you do the escapism together as a couple. Zombiedrew2 already used sex as an example of escapism. I agree that it can be used but it cannot be the only form. It could be weekly dates where you are not allowed to talk about money or kids or your car breaking down. You do something with your partner to escape. You associate this escapism (positive) with your spouse and then your relationship grows because you associate it and your partner with positive thoughts and feelings.

I absolutely love this comment, and wanted to expand on it a bit – stealing some of my reply to his comment.

As a side note, many thanks for the people who write in and leave comments. I try to respond to every comment I get, and feel it is the interaction between bloggers and readers that really drives a site. If you have any thoughts on any of my posts I encourage you to write in. I am always interested in different ideas and insights, and believe we can learn a lot from each other as well as provide a bit of support for each other at the same time. Plus when you comment (or even just hit the “like” button) it lets me know someone is actually reading – which is always nice.

Back on topic, I think escaping together is probably the lifeblood of a relationship. And it’s also the area that MOST couples fail.

Miserably.

Escaping Alone

The hardest part of a relationship is balancing the “me” and the “we”. It’s not healthy to completely lose yourself in your relationship, but at the same time you don’t want to be roommates who simply share bills and sleep in the same bed.

It’s important that you maintain the couple. You should never use the excuse of there being “not enough time”, because it’s pretty damned important. Important enough that you need to MAKE time. And when you actually do have time, you need to let go of the distractions of life. Turn towards each other and focus on each other.

Yeah, you still need to do things as an individual. It’s important to have time to yourself, away from your partner. But when most or all of your escape time is as a “me”, here’s what happens…

Your escape time is when you can let go of the stress of life. So when your escape time is usually on your own (or at least away from your partner) at a subconscious level you start to associate the feelings of being relaxed, and being free from stress with the times that you are away from your partner.

If you had already started to associate the stresses of life with your partner, this just deepens it.

And if those stresses have led you to have any doubts about your relationship? Well, this will just “prove” those doubts to you.

I think this happens to couples with kids more than couples without, and there’s a reason for it that is at once sad and ironic.

Kids are awesome, but they require a lot of care and attention. Often it can be hard to find care, so one parent ends up home with the kids while the other is off having “me” time. So they are able to relax on their own.

Why?

Because they actually trust their partner with the kids.

They can relax because they know that their partner will take care of the kids. This sense of trust allows them to relax. But if they only relax when they are away from their partner, over time that negative association is made.

Hmm, I have fun and I can relax on my own. But when I’m with my partner I’m stressed and can’t relax. Shouldn’t I feel differently? Maybe this indicates a problem in our relationship? Maybe I’m better off on my own?

Yeah, when it comes to the health of the relationship that’s not really a good association to make.

Trends in Divorce

Divorces can happen to couples at any time, and for any number of reasons. But if you look at stats on divorces you will see that there are a few trends, and times in life and marriage where they happen more frequently.

The first group are marriages last less than two years. Chances are those are couples who were simply a bad match, and they couldn’t get along.

The next group is probably in their late 30’s to early 40’s. They are hitting midlife, and are probably at one of the hardest stages in life for dealing with the stresses of “day to day” life. This is when people are most likely to have young kids and tighter cash flow. But it’s also when they are most likely to question “is this it” about their relationship and life in general. If your marriage is going to fall apart, chances are this is when it happens.

And the last is after the kids have grown up and moved out. This couple was probably in trouble when they hit group 2, but due to the kids they were able to hold on and get by. Suddenly they look at each other and realize they have grown apart and the only thing they had in common over the past 15-20 years was the kids. Some stay in the marriage and live largely independent lives. Probably because they’ve invested so much time and they don’t want to start over.

Holding On

I guess my point in all this is that you start a relationship because you saw something in each other once.

Something wonderful.

Something beautiful.

Something you wanted to hold onto, forever.

But a lot of us screw things up. We lose the very things that brought us together, and we don’t realize it until things are in a bad spot – and for many it’s too late.

And when it fails, often it wasn’t the relationship that was the problem. It was the stress of daily life, and the fact that instead of tackling it together stress caused us to retreat into ourselves and focus more on being an individual.

Finding time as a couple and making it a priority is the ONLY way out in my opinion. But to do that you need to recognize the difference between relationship stresses and life stresses. The life stresses are ones you are both experiencing at the same time, and changing the relationship won’t make them any better.

So yeah, you will need to escape sometimes.

But do it together.

Focus on each other, and always make time to connect (or reconnect if need).

Remember that you are supposed to be each others shelters from life. When times are hard, don’t turn away from your partner.

Turn towards each other, and just love each other.

Asking the Right Questions

asking-right-question

I suspect everyone has gone to see a doctor at one point in time or another.

Let’s say you hurt your hand somehow, and it’s bothering you enough that you decide to see a doctor. What happens?

Does the doctor put your arm in a cast? Does he/she send you straight to surgery to amputate your hand? Do they remove your liver?

You know, while they may ultimately give you a cast or amputate the hand (your liver is probably safe), it’s a pretty safe bet that those (fairly drastic) measures aren’t where they start.

Instead, they start with something simple.

A question.

They start by asking why you are there – what is bothering you? Then they ask a series of questions related to your reason for coming in. Maybe they ask when the hand started hurting, and they may ask you to try moving it in different ways while describing any sensations.

I hear complaints sometimes that doctors don’t always “get it right”. But really, if you think about what they have to do I suspect their job is quite difficult.

People go to them with a list of symptoms, and based on these symptoms the doctor has to determine what the underlying issue *could* be. Sometimes there are multiple potential issues matching the symptom list, so they ask additional questions to try and narrow things down; to ultimately find the actual cause of the problem.

What does the doctor base their decision on?

They base it on knowledge gained through years of schooling and experience. We go to them because we trust that they have built up sufficient skills to help us. And if they haven’t, hopefully they refer us to someone who is better qualified.

When we have problems, it’s important that we turn to the right sources. In the example above, the “problem” was a sore hand. For a sore hand do you call an auto mechanic? A gynecologist? No, you need to turn to someone who has knowledge and expertise in the problem area. Even skilled professionals sometimes make mistakes. But by turning to an “expert” we better position ourselves for the best results.

Dealing with Problems

The human body is a pretty complicated thing. But at least it’s tangible. At least you can point to an area that “seems” to be the problem (though due to the interconnected nature of things, sometimes that is actually just a symptom and the real problem lies somewhere else).

When we are dealing with feelings and emotions though, things get much more complicated.

We all have problems and issues that we deal with, and often our hallmark of “good health” is our level of happiness. If we’re happy then things must be going well. And when we aren’t, well then that indicates some sort of issue – right?

Things like issues with anger management or chronic unhappiness let us know that something is not right in our life. So we try to figure things out, or “get by” on our own.

And that’s where we go wrong.

The thing is, we are terrible judges of our own problems because we are too close to them. We can’t see past the emotion of our involvement in order to see clearly. And because of this frequently we can’t see the difference between a symptom and the actual problem.

Sometimes we really have a splinter, and we end up doing makeshift surgery on ourselves – amputating the arm and the liver instead.

One of the areas this manifest itself the most is with relationships. Our relationships are some of the central things in our lives, so if we aren’t happy it’s easy to look at the relationships for what is wrong. All relationships have problems, so once you start looking it’s usually pretty easy to find something.

But a question you need to ask is, is the relationship issue the actual problem? Or is the relationships issue actually a symptom of something else?

Looking for Help

For most of us, there are a few people in our lives that we are able to turn to when we need to open up and talk about our problem. Ideally our partner is the person we open up to the most, and beyond that it’s usually close friends or family.

It’s great to have sounding boards, and often these people can provide a different perspective and help ground us. Even then you need to remember that they only have your side of the story, and only have what you give them.

If we go in to a doctor and say “I’m sore”, but aren’t able to (or won’t) tell them where it hurts, when it started or what it feels like, they really don’t have much to go on.

Here’s a larger issue though…

…these people have only their own personal experiences to draw upon, and this colors their ability to give you advice. Even if they have been through something similar, it doesn’t matter. Every person is different. Every situation is different. What worked for them or what was best for them isn’t necessarily what is best for you.

Shopping for Answers

Sometimes when there is a problem people have come to conclusions about what is wrong and what they need to do, but a part of them is scared to act. After all, what if they are wrong?

So they turn to others for their “opinions”. But those opinions don’t really matter, because they are really looking for opinions that match their own.

They could get multiple opinions that aren’t what they want to hear, and those are ignored. But when an opinion matches the one they want? Then it provides validation that they were right (that sort of thinking reminds me of this scene from the Lego Movie).
When you have already decided what the appropriate answer is, all the questions in the world don’t really matter.

Starting Fresh

A buddy of mine was recently divorced, and he’s loving being single again. He had been married a number of years and had a family.

When I asked him what he’s enjoying the most, he says it’s the freedom and the time to himself. He doesn’t have to answer to anyone, and has been able to pick up some new hobbies.

Well, except for when he has his kids. When he has his kids, his week revolves around them and he has no time to himself to do his new hobbies.

Oh yeah, and he’s started dating again so during his *me* weeks he has to make time to fit in his new girlfriend.

It makes me wonder, is that new freedom real or is it just an illusion? Was it really the marriage that was the problem?

Maybe.

But perhaps it was actually the sense of responsibility that came from going to work everyday and coming home to a wife and children who both put demands on his time.

Maybe he just needed to find a way to carve out a bit more time for himself. Marriage and families definitely restrict you. You aren’t “free” to do what you want. But maybe he could have found a way to get a bit of balance back in his life.

My worry is, if/when he hits the point where he’s either married or living with someone again he will find himself back in the same spot he was in before. And he’ll have broken up his family in the process.

For many people, there is often a sense of relief after a separation or divorce. A sense that “yeah, I made the right decision. I’m happier now”. And that sense really comes from the nature of changing up a stagnant situation.

Often within six months to two years though, people find that their “new” situation is really no better than the old one. Some parts are better, and others worse.

The grass isn’t greener on the other side. Both sides have patches of green and patches of brown. But unfortunately the grass often looks greener from afar, and it’s not until you actually get there that you realize it’s only green where you water it.

Keep an Open Mind

When trying to understand our problems, one of the most important things is being able to keep an open mind. It’s easy to have an idea of what is wrong and then latch onto that. But is it the problem? Or it is a symptom?

Depending on the nature of the problem you are dealing with, the consequences of mistaking a symptom for a problem can be considerable.

When dealing with issues that can have serious implications (such as issues with long term relationships or when kids are involved), I would definitely recommend looking into professional counseling services when possible.

Not all counselors are good, and even the goods ones aren’t always a good match for a couple or individual.

But it’s always a shame when someone mistook a symptom for a problem, and amputated an arm when they really had a splinter.

It Will Never Be The Same

NotTheSame

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

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

My Story

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

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

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

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

It destroyed me.

See, I believed.

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

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

And suddenly she wasn’t.

She didn’t believe what I did.

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

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

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

And if I was wrong about that?

Well, what else was I wrong about?

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

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

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

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

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

Lost Innocence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now that magic was broken too.

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

That magic.

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

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

Shifting Landscapes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

everyonechanges

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

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

Accepting Change

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

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

My wife and I are still together.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I choose the latter.

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

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

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

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

Then our relationship will fail.

It’s that simple.

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

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

And I still believe.

 

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

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

From Watch Me Rise by Mikky Ekko

Losing the Spark

dimmingflame

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Operations of Relationships

Think of the progression of a relationship.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Signs of Distress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hah. Unfortunately life isn’t that simple.

Accepting a Problem

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

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

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

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

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

Digging Out

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

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

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

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

Do things together.

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

But actions speak louder than words.

Think back to my earlier question:

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

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

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

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

Momentum Shifts

Momentum

Momentum is defined as:

“the strength or force that something has when it’s moving”

Looked at this way momentum is often thought of in terms of a physical object, but physical objects aren’t the only things that can have momentum.

Momentum is also found in the world of sports. Take basketball (since that’s what I know best):

Maybe a player hits a few shots, then makes a great defensive play. Next thing you know the game is coming easily and the player (or team) is “in a zone”, confidence builds and everything seems to be working. In this case momentum is more like a feeling or an energy; and this energy can be seen through body language. When things are going well players are loose, carefree, and seem to be having fun. It can’t really be quantified, but anyone who has felt it or even just witnessed it knows it real.

One thing about momentum though, you can’t always control it and it’s not always positive. Just as positive momentum can build, players or teams can go cold and the momentum can shift. Sometimes a team appears to have a game well in hand, and then something happens. Maybe they start missing a few shots, or have some defensive lapses. At first it’s not a big deal as they still have the lead. But as the game becomes closer the energy starts to shift, and instead of playing freely players start to tighten up. Doubt starts to creep in and they start to rush. The opponent senses the shift, as do the fans.

When this happens a coach will often call a timeout to give the team a bit of a pep talk and try to prevent the negative momentum from building any further. See, momentum in this sense comes down a lot to confidence and belief. It is a form of energy visible largely through body language.

Momentum in Relationships

Relationships also have momentum. The early days of a relationship are often generally marked by a sense of positive momentum. The couple may just be getting to know each other, but they are relaxed, comfortable with each other and having fun.

Unfortunately just as there is positive momentum, there can also be negative momentum. And when you find yourself getting caught in negative momentum you can feel powerless to stop it.

The problem with negative momentum in relationships is that there is no coach to call a timeout and try to get things under control. Instead, this negative momentum can feed off itself and build, potentially spiraling out of control.

The Downward Spiral

I recently read an article by couples therapists Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt talking about how negative energy impacts relationships.

The therapists were a couple themselves, and as their own marriage was struggling they made an interesting discovery. Their discovery was that this negative momentum makes it very difficult to get out because people start to guard themselves, misinterpret things and look for offense even where none is intended.

As a result, even when partners are making attempts to improve the relationship and “make things better”, it often doesn’t work. People can become unable to recognize genuine love.

Harville ticks off the ways we deflect what we secretly crave: by devaluing praise; by assuming the other person is insincere; by criticizing the sender of a positive message for not getting it right, not doing it on time, or not doing it often enough; by not listening; or by feeling embarrassed.

For instance, there was the wife who told her husband she needed him to express more affection—then resisted his kisses and kind words because, she said, they didn’t feel genuine. Another husband admitted that when his wife offered verbal support, he shut down and didn’t respond. And when a new father took time off from work to help his exhausted wife with their twins, she refused to let him do his share.

“The common wisdom,” they write, “is that romantic relationships would stay happy if people did a better job of giving to each other. But that’s not what we’ve discovered. We’ve found that many people need to do a better job of receiving the gifts their partners are already offering. It’s surprising how often the compliments, appreciation and encouragement of a well-intentioned partner make no dent in the armor of an unhappy partner.

Ulterior Motives

When we are unhappy, we start to put up barriers, perpetuating our unhappiness and making it difficult for things to improve. One of the big problems is when we start looking for ulterior motives. If you are looking for hidden meanings and slights, you will always be able to find them.

This causes people to discount genuine attempts at improving and strengthening the relationship. People take the approach of “oh, he/she is only doing this because they want something”.

Yeah, they probably do want something. They want to make the relationship better. They want to see their partner smile again. They want to experience a loving relationship the way they once had. They want to be happy again as a couple. “Wanting something” doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

So they do their best to try to make things better, but they don’t know how. And when all their attempts at improving things are ignored or looked at suspiciously eventually they will give up.

That is when relationships die.

Loss of Hope

I’ve said before that I don’t think it’s ever too late. Sure, there are some cases where it’s best for everyone if a relationship ends. Often when relationships end I think that both people do still love each other. But that love is buried under layers of hurt and resentment, and it has gotten to the point where they don’t believe they will ever be happy again.

Consider the following:

suicide

It’s kind of a morbid thought, but I think the same thing happens in relationships. I don’t think anyone “wants” a divorce (alright, maybe some do but those are probably exceptions). They just want to be happy again, and they have lost hope that they will be able to.

Frequently when long term relationships fail, one or both members wish they could have made it work. And often long after the relationship has ended, people hold out hope that they will somehow be able to reconcile.

A buddy of mine ended up divorced after his wife walked out on him, and even after the divorce he wore his ring for 6 months hoping that somehow they could figure things out. Eventually he gave up and moved on with his life (only to have her come back wanting to patch things up after it was too late). Reading other blogs and comments sections, for the person who was dumped/scorned/left there is often a wish that things could be different, and they could be back together.

The failure of a long term relationship is not an easy thing, and the only people who seem to be unfazed by it are people who have already started a new relationship prior to ending the old one. Incidentally, those affair relationships are almost always doomed to failure. Stats say that 40-50% of first marriages fail (pretty depressing), but when you look at numbers on the affair relationships that cause marriages to end, the stats jump to around 80%.

Changing Perspective

I think people give up on their relationships too easily. Long term love isn’t always easy – you need to build it, and keep building it every day of your life.

Negative momentum can threaten to tear things down, so we need to find ways to recognize when it is happening, stop it and turn it around when it occurs.

We need to start opening ourselves up to genuine gestures of love, and stop looking for problems and issues. You will always be able to find things to be unhappy about if you are looking for them.

You get out of life what you put into it. It can be hard when you are unhappy, but you need to start focusing on the positive, and appreciating the things that are good. I’m sure there is a lot of good, but it can be hard to see when you are caught in negative momentum.

No matter what state your relationship is in, things can always get better. Things can always improve. But you need to open yourself up and allow love back in.

For any readers out there who have “been through the fires”, I would love to hear from you. What are some things that you have used to hold on and maintain your love when times were tough? Feel free to comment below or email me at thezombieshuffle@outlook.com