A Relationship without Empathy

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I little while back I watched the Netflix series “Mindhunter”. It is about the development of the FBIs behavioral science unit in the 1970s, as they start to study and try to understand the mindset of serial killers.

It’s a cool show. It’s slow moving at times, but starting to get into the psychology of killers (and specifically serial killers) is fascinating in its own way.

The was one scene in the series where the main characters are investigating a murder, and one of them says that he anticipates additional victims. I can’t remember the specifics, but he says something along the lines of how he believes that with serial killers they have probably played out the scenes of killing someone in their heads many times, and with the first victim it is often a case of opportunity. Maybe that first victim fell into their lap, and they got away with it. It gave them a sense of power, and excitement, and they get “a taste for it”. So after that first victim, it’s only a matter of time until they kill again.

It’s a disturbing thought, but also one that makes a lot of sense to me. The realization of fantasy can make it so fantasy isn’t enough anymore, and it starts to spill into reality.

This got me thinking about affairs.

Yes, really.

And if you bear with me a moment hopefully this will make at least *some* sense.

Within law, there are different classifications on the severity of what it means when you kill someone.

  • Manslaughter is a scenario where you killed someone, but it was an accident. There was no intent. Negligence perhaps, but not intent.
  • Second degree murder is intentional, but it happens in the heat of the moment and wasn’t planned in any way.
  • First degree murder is the most serious offence. It is not only intentional, but it is also planned/premeditated.

And then you have serial killers.

Serial killers engage in a series of first degree murders (though going with the idea from Mindhunters, I suppose their first victim *may* have been second degree). In law, they are charged with multiple counts of first degree murder.

But I think most would agree that serial killers are a whole other class of nastiness.

I’ve said before in these pages that I don’t think all affairs are created equal. Don’t get me wrong, they are all bad. They are all destructive, and it’s up to each individual and couple to think about what the affair means for their existing relationship. But that doesn’t mean all affairs are equal.

I have heard people claim their affair was an “accident” and they “never meant for it to happen.”

I don’t buy that excuse at all.

There is no affair equivalent to Manslaughter, because affairs can’t be accidents.

It’s not like someone is walking around one day and they slip, and they accidentally make out with/have sex with someone else while they are falling. I’m *pretty* sure it doesn’t work that way.

However I can buy the notion that affairs can be like second degree murder. They can be something that wasn’t planned and happens in the heat of the moment. THAT I can buy. And when affairs *are* like that I suspect there is a lot of regret and remorse, and “oh my god what have I just done” feeling after.

Affairs are frequently a point of no return for relationships, because trust is at the foundation of any relationship and when an affair is revealed that trust is gone.

That being said, in these scenarios, I do think it’s actually possible for couples to work through rebuilding that trust and continuing the relationship. Both people would need to be willing to face it, work through it, and let it go. But I believe it IS possible.

Calculated affairs (which are more like first degree murder) are different though. These are planned, and the adulterer knows exactly what they are doing and getting into. They are fully aware of the damage they are doing to their relationship, they simply don’t care.

Perhaps they do care at some level, but they have decided that what they are getting out of it (pleasure, a feeling of being desirable, a feeling of power, living out a fantasy, or whatever they are looking for) is worth the risk.

In these scenarios I would caution someone to think long and hard before they give the adulterer a chance.

Healthy relationships require mutual respect and caring. When someone has intentionally gone down the road of an affair, they are showing exactly who and what they value in the relationship.

And what they value is themselves.

In going ahead with this sort of affair, they are showing a complete lack of empathy for their partner.

Perhaps more alarmingly, when someone has been able to detach themselves enough from the relationship to have this sort of calculated affair; it rarely ends after the first time (if they “get away with it”). Rather, they will continue to engage in the affair or perhaps even have a series of affairs with different people.

Take the description of serial killers that I paraphrased from Mindhunter earlier, and replace the words “victim” and “kill” with “affair partner” and “cheat”:

“with the first affair partner it is often a case of opportunity. Maybe that first affair partner fell into their lap, and they got away with it. It gave them a sense of power, and excitement, and they get a taste for it. So after that first affair partner, it’s only a matter of time until they cheat again.”

I truly believe this is what happens here.

In fact a few years ago I interviewed two people (one male and one female) who had gone down the road of affairs and although it’s a small sample size they both furthered this belief.

The guy spoke of the affair becoming an addiction, and how he couldn’t stop thinking about her. He acquired that “taste for it”, and he described it as euphoria when they were together. He eventually ended the affair and to my knowledge has spent the last few years trying to rebuild the relationship with his wife.

The lady was a bit different. From our discussions I believe she once loved her husband, but she loved how the affair made her feel. The excitement, the power, the fantasy world. She continued the affair and I believe had at least a few different partners. She had no intention of stopping, but also had no intention of leaving her husband because she enjoyed the life that he provided.

Take a look at this list of characteristics:

  • Sensation seeking
  • Lack of remorse or guilt
  • Lack of empathy
  • Impulsivity
  • The need for control
  • Shallow emotions
  • Lack of responsibility
  • Cunning and manipulative

This is a list of characteristics exhibited by serial killers, and I believe it can also be used to describe serial adulterers.

To engage in a long term affair or multiple affairs, you can’t really have empathy. You can’t truly care about your partner.

You also can’t really be bothered by guilt.

I’m sure at some level you know what you are doing is wrong, but you’ve found ways to justify your actions to yourself. You’re special. You deserve this. Your relationship isn’t that great to begin with. In fact, it’s probably your partners fault because you wouldn’t be cheating if they were taking care of your needs.

A few years ago a number of my readers were women who had stumbled across my site while trying to understand and deal with the fallout and emotions of discovering an affair.

There was always pain, a sense of loss, but also frequently a sense of guilt (along the lines of maybe it wouldn’t have happened if I had been a better partner) and questions about whether I felt the relationship was still worth working on.

I never really wanted to answer that question because I think each person needs to make whatever decision they feel is right for them. But I do caution anyone to consider the following question:

If you find your partner has been cheating and they have continued it for a long time or had multiple partners, do you think they actually care about you? Is it you they want, or are you simple a means to an end – a way to have a life, a lifestyle and perhaps keep a family together? And if it’s the latter, are you really any more than a tool?

For anyone dealing with the pain of discovering an affair, remember that the affair is not about you, and it is not a reflection on you.

Maybe your relationship isn’t what it could be, and maybe you’ve played a part in that. Own that part of things, and only that part.

Having an affair is always a choice, and there was always a different way.

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When a Relationship has ran its Course

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Last night I was at a party, and I overheard two people talking about one persons impending divorce.  They were talking about some of the things that naturally happen at the end of a relationship, and one of them told the other that “the relationship had ran its course”.

Hearing this had me thinking about the saying that some people come into our life only for a season.

People Come Into Your Life For A Reason Quote Quote About People Come Into Your Life For A Reason, A Season, Or

It’s true, people come into our lives for different reasons and for different durations.  And people also impact our lives in different ways.  Some people barely touch our lives, while others change it forever.

So yes, there are definitely times when relationships have ran their course.

Times when peoples time together has passed.

When their “season” is done.

 

Thing is, this was a marriage.  And I think all of us go into marriage with the belief that it will last.

No one goes into it expecting it to just last a season.  No one says in their vows “for better or for worse, and until the relationship has ran its course“.

We all go into marriage with a belief in the permanence of it, or we wouldn’t do it.

Yet divorce rates show us that it often doesn’t work out quite the way we expect.  Maybe people change and grow in different directions.  Maybe they find out that neither of them was quite what the other expected.  Maybe they realize that forever is a lot harder than they ever anticipated.

Ultimately the “reason” doesn’t matter; eventually many couples come to the conclusion that they are better apart than together.  So their time together comes to an end.

 

But if the goal of marriage is “forever”, how can we ever hope to achieve that?  Some relationships do last, so not everything has to run its course.

And if some last, the question becomes why do some relationships last while others don’t?

Is it just dumb luck?

 

I don’t buy either of these notions.

Luck means it’s completely random.  And although a lot of pop culture talks about the idea of finding “the one”, I don’t buy into that concept (in fact, I can’t stand it).

The idea of “the right person” takes responsibility out of your own hands.  Because if things aren’t working out, then hey, obviously you just aren’t with the right person.  So why own anything?  Why work on anything?  Why look at what YOU are bringing to the relationship?

None of that matters if you just need to find the right person.

 

I have a different thought on this.

To me, when it comes to the success of relationships the why, what and how matters more than who.

Why are you in the relationship?

What are you expecting out of your relationship?

How do you treat one another, not on when times are good but also when they aren’t?

I can’t give you the answers to these questions, and I can’t tell you what is right or wrong.

However I CAN tell you that I think the honest answers to these questions plays a much larger role in the success of the relationship than the the question of who the other person is.

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Of course, the other person does matter too.

A relationship requires two people, and one person cannot keep things alive on their own.

Both people need to want to be there.

Both people need to actively choose each other.

And both people need to try to be the right person.

 

That won’t always be enough – nothing in life is ever guaranteed.  People still do grow in different ways.  People still change.  And sometimes relationships will run their course.

However all we can ever control are our own contributions to a relationship.

So owning our part in things, and focusing on being the right person gives us the best chance of building something that will last.

 

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Lessons from the Past

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In the last year plus I’ve found myself single again for the first time in almost twenty years.

When I last was in the dating world I was in my early 20’s; and although I was legally an adult (and thought of myself as mature), looking back I was nothing more than a kid. I didn’t really know very much about life, relationships, or even myself for that matter.

People often imagine what they would do differently if they could go back in time with the knowledge they have gained since. How would they approach life differently with the benefit of that knowledge?

Well, I kind of have that opportunity now.

I can’t go back and do things differently. However I *do* have an opportunity in front of me to take the knowledge I have learned and try to apply it. To try to have the best future I can possibly have.

Even still, todays’ post is about that idea of going back in time. If I *could* write a letter to the younger me, what would it look like?

Although I know I can’t go back, I do have two children who will probably be starting relationships of their own in the next few years. Yeah, I know that they will have to go through their own experiences and learn in their own way. That’s a necessary (and often painful) part of personal growth.

But if I could share knowledge and experience, what would I tell them?

What would I tell myself?

 

Hey there, it’s me.

So you’re starting to notice women, or girls I guess (given your age). Yeah yeah, I know. You really don’t want to talk about this kind of stuff with me. I get that. But still, there are some things I want to tell you that may make life a bit easier for you, if you’re willing to listen.

You’re probably not even thinking about the word “relationship”. You’re probably more focused on the fact that you’re feeling an attraction towards someone. Maybe it’s her smile, her laugh, the sparkle in her eyes, her body.

Maybe it’s just the way you feel when you’re around her.

You want to spend time with her, and learn about her. And you hope that she’s thinking and feeling some of the same thing you are.

If she is? Well, hanging out becomes dating, and you find yourself building some form of a relationship. It will go through different stages and different levels of seriousness, but it’s still a relationship.

 

It’s human nature for us to seek relationships with other people. Family, friends, and of course romantic relationships. These relationships help give us a sense of connection and belonging.

It’s important to realize however that the most important relationship you will ever have is the one you have with yourself.

I really can’t overstate how important this is.

You need to know who you are, and what you want out of life. I get that you’re a kid, and you probably have no clue what I’m talking about. And really, it’s unfair of me to expect you to know who you are at this age. Honestly you’ll probably spend the rest of your life trying to figure that out. It doesn’t matter how old we are, we are always changing and always growing.

I guess the important part is, always accept yourself for who you are.

Right now.

Today.

Don’t worry about what you “are not”. Or about the things other people can do that you can’t.

You’re you, and the only person you should ever be competing with is yourself. Just try and be the best version of yourself that you can be.

Believe in yourself, and know that you can do anything you set your heart to. And on the days that you’re struggling to believe in yourself (cause those days WILL happen), know that I believe in you.

 

This relationship you have with yourself is SO important, because we teach others how to treat us. We show them our worth by how we value ourselves. And how can we ever expect someone else to treat us well, never mind love us, if we don’t love ourselves first?

It’s a process, I get that. And it can take years to truly be comfortable with who you are. In the meantime, when thinking about relationships with other people here are a few pointers…

It’s really easy to want to impress someone, and I’m sure you’ll do that to some degree. But the best thing you can do is to be yourself. Be authentic. Let the other person see you for who you are, flaws and all. Cause let’s face it, we all have them.

So many relationships fail because someone is trying to be what they think the other person wants. Trying to be someone they aren’t.

That really doesn’t help you.

It’s better that someone see’s you for who you are instead of seeing you for who you are pretending to be. What good does it do you to get someone to fall for a you that doesn’t really exist? Eventually you’ll start to resent doing that, or you’ll have to be you. And if they don’t like that when they see you? Well, I hate to say it but will be your own fault. So you may as well just be honest from the beginning.

And guess what, you need to be able to accept them for who they are too. Don’t look at them as someone who would be great if they would just change a few things. You can’t change people, and you shouldn’t try. If you can’t accept them for who they are, then they aren’t the right person for you.

 

In addition to being authentic, be vulnerable. Be willing to let people in, and be willing to show them emotion. Let them see and feel the things you care about, the things you are passionate about. That can be really hard for us, because as guys we’re often taught to hide our emotions and taught that it’s weakness to show them. That’s a load of crap. Women, men, it doesn’t matter. We are all emotional beings, and we need to be able to accept our emotions. I’m not talking about being an emotional basket case, cause that just means you can’t self-regulate. But you need to be able to let people in.

You might get hurt. In fact, I’m pretty sure you will.

That’s alright though, it’s part of it. Over time, the people closest to us will hurt us. It’s up to us to determine how we handle that hurt.

 

One of the things we are rarely taught is how to deal with conflict. Often conflict is seen as this terrible thing, and if you have conflict it becomes a sign that something is wrong.

That thinking is so incredibly damaging, and wrong.

People are different, with different experiences and beliefs. And conflict is just a natural result of these differences. Instead of seeing it as a bad thing, think of it as a way to get a deeper understanding (and hopefully acceptance) of the other person.

Conflict in and of itself isn’t a bad thing. It’s how we deal with conflict (or not deal with it in some cases) that can potentially be a bad thing.

Do we assume that anything different from our beliefs is wrong, or inferior to our beliefs? Are we willing to communicate the things that bother us, or do we keep it in and let it fester? Do we learn and move forward, or do we hold onto the past and refuse to let it go?

 

If we can’t learn to let things go, we’re in for a lifetime of unhappiness and resentment. The past has already happened, and it can’t be changed. All we can do is apply the lessons the past has taught us to building a better future.

That’s not to say we should just accept and put up with anything – another concept that is really important to learn is boundaries.

Personal boundaries are really important to determine. Basically, what truly matters to you? What is acceptable and what it not acceptable to you. Learning this is a process that can take a lifetime, as we often don’t even know what our boundaries are until they have been violated.

When they are violated, defending our own personal boundaries is about calling people out and telling them “hey, you did/said this and this is how it made me feel.” As I said earlier, we teach people how they can treat us. So defining our boundaries and enforcing them is about making the people around us understand what is acceptable and what is not. If our boundaries are constantly violated and we do nothing about it, we are teaching people that how they are treating us is actually alright.

To defend our boundaries we may have to walk away and reduce our exposure to that person, or even remove them from our life completely. It’s not easy, but sometimes it’s the only way.

 

Lets say you can do all that, and find yourself in a relationship with someone where things are going great…

When you get to that point, I want you to be conscious of something called hedonic adaptation. I know, it has a crazy name. But really, it’s probably one of the most important concepts you’ll ever come to understand.

I also think it’s one of the biggest killers of relationships.

So what the heck is it?

 

Think about a time you’ve been excited to get something, and you finally do. Even if it’s awesome at first, over time you stop appreciating it for how awesome it is – because you have it now. It’s yours. So those awesome qualities/features/whatever just become its regular features. And over time, because you get used to having those features you stop noticing them and instead you start noticing the things that are missing.

That’s hedonic adaptation.

It’s part of our psychology, where we are basically hard wired to start taking things for granted once they become our norm. And it applies to everything. New job, car, apartment, cool new gadgets…

And yes, relationships.

 

It doesn’t matter how amazing the person you are with is. Over the long term you WILL start to take her for granted. You will stop noticing all the little things that make her special to you. Because once you’re around her enough, it’s just her. It’s who she is. Nothing can be “new” forever, and we tend to stop appreciating what we already have.

As I said, I think this is probably the biggest killer of relationships out there. This probably doesn’t make any sense to you because you’re thinking “no way, this girl I’m interested in is amazing”. I’m sure she is. So my suggestion to you is, keep that in your heart and in your head.

Be conscious of it.

Think about it.

And on those days when things aren’t going great and you’re having issues, focus on what is it you like about her. Focus on why you wanted to be with her in the first place.

The only way to fight against this natural tendency to take things for granted is to practice active appreciation. Focus on the good, not the bad. I’m not saying ignore the bad, as I’m sure there will be some. Work on that, and have your boundaries. But don’t let it cause you to lose sight of the good.

And remember, she’ll be doing this (taking you for granted) too.

For some people, once they stop seeing the good they start looking for something new. If that happens and they need to be chased, let them go. Because they’re looking for excitement, and you’ll never be enough.

 

So I guess that’s my advice to you. Those are my lessons:

Accept yourself. Be authentic. Be willing to be vulnerable. Accept conflict as natural and learn to work through things. Understand and enforce your own boundaries. And last but not least, learn to appreciate what you have, each and every day.

Beyond that? Smile, laugh, and love.

Nothing in life is guaranteed, but I think doing those things will give you the best shot at something great.

And really, that’s all we can ask for.

Owning your Choices

A number of years ago I remember watching some talk show that was interviewing Charlie Sheen.

The timing of this interview was fairly significant.  He had just gone through a fairly public downward spiral, where he had displayed all sorts of strange and erratic behavior.  I don’t really follow celebrity culture, so I don’t remember the details, but I *do* remember some of the things he said in the interview.

He was asked about whether or not he had any regrets about the things he had done, and he said no.  He said the past was the past and he couldn’t change it, so he wasn’t going to worry about it.

 

I’m a big believer in the notion that our life is our own person journey.  Along the way we are having all sorts of experiences, and we are constantly making choices.  Our experiences and choices are sometimes good, and sometimes bad.  But they ultimately shape us into the people we are today.  This process never really ends, as we are always growing and changing.

So I understand the notion of trying not to get caught up in the past.

He’s right, the past IS the past.  For good OR bad, it’s already happened and can’t be changed; so it really doesn’t make sense to waste energy on something you can’t change.

In fact focusing on the past, getting caught up in it and refusing to let it go, is extremely unhealthy.  Often this is referred to as rumination, and it’s something that’s commonly found in both anxiety and depression.

But (and this is a BIG but)…

That’s not to say the past doesn’t matter.

The past may have already happened, and we may not be able to change it.  However we can ALWAYS learn from it.

We are always going to do some things well, and we are also going to make a lot of mistakes.  The value of this experience is LEARNING from it, and trying to grow as a person.  To improve, and minimize those mistakes moving forward.  To try and do better, and BE better, each and every day.

That is what growth and experience is all about.

And PART of that process is OWNING our mistakes.

Because if we can’t even own our mistakes, then how in the world are we ever supposed to learn from them?  How are we supposed to grow?

We don’t grow if we are blaming someone else or rationalizing away our behavior.  If we say “sure I did that, but it was because…” then we aren’t truly owning it.

To own our choices we need to be able to say “yes, that was me.  I did that.  It was MY choice”.

It’s only THEN, that we can recognize how our choices may have impacted or hurt others.  And it’s only when we do this that that we can truly apologize for something we have done.

 

That was my issue with the Charlie Sheen interview back in the day.

I didn’t sense remorse.

I didn’t sense learning or growth.

There didn’t seem to be any real ownership.

Rather, it was “yeah, I did that.  But I can’t change the past so it doesn’t really matter”.

He didn’t seem to get the impact his actions, his CHOICES, had on others.

 

We all do stupid things sometimes.  We all have moments where we will say thing or do things that will hurt the people we care about.

And these are moments that over time have the potential to seriously damage a relationship.

I believe that when relationships end, it’s usually not because of a particular incident or event.  Sure that happens sometimes, but more often it’s a series of smaller things that allow resentment to gradually build, and over time allows apathy to set in.  Most relationships die the death of a thousand cuts; and maybe there’s an incident that pushes things over the edge – but it’s really all the smaller things that have done the real damage.

And that’s where ownership comes in.

 

People talk about how they would never do anything to hurt someone they love.  Well, I have a different take on that.

We may not *want* to hurt those we love, but if you are around someone long enough you will hurt them.  That’s just human nature.

 

And once you have hurt someone, it’s already happened.  You can’t take it back.

That doesn’t mean you can’t try to make it right though.

Ownership to me is about recognizing what we have done, and how it has impacted those around usIt’s about showing remorse for how we have made the other person feel, and trying to learn from those moments.  It’s about taking steps to prevent those sorts of things from happening again in the future.

It may be true that we cannot change the past.  But we CAN avoid making the same mistakes.  And if we can do that, then we can use the mistakes of our past to build a better future.

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Differing Opinions

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As a boy growing up in the 70’s and 80’s, Star Wars had a huge impact on my life.  My buddies and I played with Star Wars figures, I’m pretty sure I had Star Wars bedsheets (it was either my brother or I, I’m not sure which), and I remember my dad making an awesome R2D2 birthday cake for me one year.  Luke, Han, Vader, the cool ships and creatures, Leia’s slave girl oufit (hey, that was pretty memorable as a 9 year old boy!)…

Star Wars was awesome, and in many ways I see myself as part of the “Star Wars Generation”.

When I was in my mid 20’s it was announced that George Lucas (creator of Star Wars) would be revisiting the Star Wars universe, and myself and a bunch of buddies were pretty excited.  A group of us got together and got tickets for the first of the prequel movies – “The Phantom Menace”.  I remember the anticipation and the excited buzz from the crowd as we waited in line to see it…

And, well, it kinda sucked.

Over the next few years two more prequel movies came out, and they weren’t very good either.  Sure they have some good scenes in them, and some of the character designs are pretty cool (Darth Maul was awesome).  But as movies?  Well, they are almost unwatchable at times.

I remember thinking maybe it was just nostalgia.  Maybe the early movies were just as bad, but I was a kid at the time and I have all these great memories of playing with buddies in the yard.

I don’t think that’s it though.  I know the original trilogy really well, and when I go back and watch them they still hold up as solid movies.

The prequels on the other hand?  Well, they weren’t great to begin with and the past 15 or so years have not been kind to them.

Over the years I’ve wondered – why are they so bad?

I won’t pretend to *know* why they are so terrible, but based on an interview I remember seeing I have a guess.

When the original trilogy was made, George Lucas was George Lucas.  By the time the prequels game out however, he was GEORGE FREAKING LUCAS!!!  He was this visionary genius who created a series that was beloved by millions of people and multiple generations across the world.  And I suspect he was at a point that people were scared to say no to him – or if they did, he probably didn’t have to care.  He was in full creative control.  He could make the movies he wanted, however he wanted

So he did.

 

Looking back at my early dating days, I remember an argument I had with my first serious girlfriend.  We had been out with a group of friends and she said something about one of my buddies (who was with us at the time) that was both inappropriate and out of line.  I was pretty upset with her about what she said, so I called her on it; and she didn’t appreciate it.

When we got home that day, we had a fight where she told me that she expected me to always back her up and support her.  I told her that in calling her out on what she had said, I *was* actually supporting her – just not in the way she wanted.

As a disclaimer here we were really young at the time, probably in our early 20’s.  And at that age she felt that part of “loving someone” was always agreeing with them.

I didn’t see it that way.

Even at that age, I saw value in having your own mind and your own opinions.  And in being both able and willing to stand up for them – even when it made things uncomfortable around the people you care about.

 

Most people don’t like conflict.  And perhaps as a result we find ourselves drawn towards people who have similar beliefs.  Things are nice and easy when people agree with us, and when we don’t have conflict.

But in some ways, we NEED conflict.  We NEED people to challenge us – our ideas and beliefs.  In fact, we should be willing to challenge them ourselves.  As we grow and change, we need to be willing to ask ourselves if the things we believed in the past are still true.

Maybe they are, maybe they aren’t.  But if we aren’t willing to challenge them and look at things differently, we will never know.

 

I’m not the same person I was at 20.  Or even at 30.  In many aspects I am, but in other aspects I have changed.  Sometimes I look back on the person I was, and I shake my head.  I wish I could go back in time and shake that younger version of me, and teach him some of the things that I know he struggled to learn.  And in another 10 or 20 years, I’m sure I will look back on who I am today and think, geez, I had so much to learn.

We should ALWAYS be wanting to grow, and learn.  But that doesn’t happen unless we see reasons to.

And often, to see those reasons we have to first accept that we are wrong.

 

Thing is, we don’t usually see that on our own.  If we knew that our ideas or beliefs were wrong, then we would likely adjust them.  But due to our own naiveté or ego, we don’t easily see that.

We only see that when we are forced to face it.  Because we have done something wrong or something that has caused harm, either to ourselves or those we care about.

 

I suspect that I’m no different from most people.  It’s nice when people like me, or agree with me, or say nice things about me.  And when people don’t, it can be difficult to hear.

But I know I’m not perfect.

I make mistakes, sometimes I’m ignorant, I say stupid things sometimes, and hurt others – just like anyone else.

So for me, I don’t WANT to be surrounded by people who will tell me how great I am.  If I had that, how would I grow?  Why would I need to?

No, I would argue that perhaps the most important thing in the world is having people around you who are willing to call you out on your bullshit.  People who are willing to say no, and to tell you when they think you are wrong.

I want that in all aspects of my life – in my work relationships, in my friendships, and especially in my romantic relationship.

I’m not saying I want to be around people who are disagreeable and will argue for the sake of argument.  But I want the people I care about to be comfortable enough with me to argue with me when they feel they need to.  And I want to do the same for them.

To me that’s a big part of what love is about.  Being each other’s editors; our balances, and our voices of reason.

It may not be comfortable, and we shouldn’t necessarily change our stance to accommodate others.  But we should always be willing to listen without getting defensive, and try to understand others points of view.

Because sometimes understanding alternate views will allow us to look at our own in a different light.

And only when we can do that can we truly grow.

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Making Choices

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Choice.

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

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

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

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

That response is always our choice.

 

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

But blame doesn’t help us.

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

How we move forward is always our choice.

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

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

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

Something needs to change.

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

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

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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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