Living in Fantasy Land

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Growing up I read a lot of books, and my genre of choice was fantasy.

Castles, knights, dragons, elves, dwarves, creatures like trolls/orcs/goblins etc; quests for mystical objects to save the world from some impending doom or evil.

I love that stuff.

For me, the fantasy genre was a way to escape into a world that was completely different from the one I knew.  There was nobility, intrigue, betrayal, redemption.  And there was usually the romantic notion of good triumphing over evil.

 

In the fantasy world, everything people did had a purpose.  You don’t see a lot of people doing things like eating, going to the bathroom, cleaning up the yard, or paying the bills.  They don’t even really talk about their day.  But when they do, it’s known as “character development”.

In the world of fantasy, things are always exciting!!!

(Alright, I know.  In Lord of the Rings the characters do a lot of walking.  And I mean A LOT.  But hey, they had to cross all of Middle Earth and it’s not like they had cars or anything.  So even all that walking was done with a noble purpose in mind).

 

The main draw of the fantasy world is, it’s just that.  Fantasy.  It’s not real.  It’s an escape.

When we read about knights and dragons, it’s pretty clear that this is just a make believe world.  Same as the world of superheroes, science fiction, and Disney princesses.

It’s less clear when the fantasy world more closely resembles that of real life.  TV shows, movies, books.  Often they are set in “the real world”, but they are just as separated from real life as the world of Fantasy.

And problems can occur when fantasy starts to interfere with real life.

 

 

Romantic Love

I write about relationships, and with that I truly believe in love, romance, and all the stuff that comes with that.

But I completely reject the way love is often portrayed.

True love.  The One.  Two people’s eyes meeting across a crowded room, and they know they will be together forever.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m a romantic so I understand the appeal of that stuff.  But it’s a load of crap, and I think it does a lot of damage to people’s understandings of real, healthy relationships.

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Let’s look at dating, and love.

Love is supposed to be altruistic.  It’s about genuinely caring about another person, and being able to (at times) put their needs and wants first.  It’s about being part of something that’s bigger than you.

In the dating world on the other hand, you see a selfish form of love.  When you first meet someone, do you REALLY care about them?  Umm, no.  Dating is primarily about what YOU want, and how you can find someone who will be able to satisfy YOUR needs and wants.  Sure, you give to the other person.  But that giving isn’t done freely, it’s done because of what we get out of it.  Either it makes us feel good to give, or we are expecting something in return.

In the dating world, you (usually) aren’t even YOU.  Instead, you are portraying a version of you.  And usually, you are putting forth what you believe to be the best version of you, or the version that you think the other person will be most interested in.

And the other person is doing the same.

You are exchanging carefully constructed facades, which have elements of the “real people” underneath.  But there is a lot that is left hidden, or unsaid.

Dating may have elements of a deeper relationship.  But like Fantasy it’s only a part of it, it’s not based on reality.

In a perfect world, as you get to know each other better you come to value the other person as more than just a vehicle for your needs.  You come to understand them, and genuinely care about them.  And eventually, you start to think of the relationship with them as something larger than use yourself.  You are contributing to something, and building something.  You are still “you”, but you are now also part of an “us”.

 

Romance stories and movies usually depict the early stages of relationships.  The excitement, the passion and the romance.  And often they end with the couple finally “making it” (usually after going their separate ways after a misunderstanding, and then at the last minute realizing they do belong together after all).

Romance stories usually end with the wedding.  Really though, that’s where “easy” stops and the real work begins.

 

When Life Gets in the Way

Life is mostly routine.  We work, pay bills, shop for groceries, prepare meals, do yard work, etc.  All of this is stuff we “have” to do, and there’s nothing particularly exciting or romantic about it.  But really, this is where most of our energy gets spent.  Add kids to the mix, and often it seems there’s little time left to focus on being lovers and being a couple.  So people settle into patterns, and what may have started as passionate love becomes a love based more on comfort and familiarity.

Love based on comfort and familiarity isn’t a bad thing.  At the same time though, romance doesn’t have to die.  In fact, it should NEVER die.  But it will change, and unless a couple works at it they will end up waking up one day and finding they are more roommates than a couple.

Romance doesn’t just happen.  Passion doesn’t just happen.

In the early days it’s there because it’s new, we are learning each other, and we are putting energy into it.  When we stop putting in, it fades.  And it’s not the responsibility of one person to keep things “alive”.  Both people in a relationship need to be willing to put the effort in, and prioritize being lovers.

 

Finding Passion again – the WRONG way!!!

A while back I interviewed a guy who cheated on his wife, and posted the story of his affair.  I’ve talked to a number of people and read a number of stories about affairs, and often the story is similar.

People get caught up in the “routine” side of life and find themselves longing for the “old days”.  They find themselves missing the early stages of love – the passionate side.  And they convince themselves that is “real” love, and they will never be able to find it again with their current partner.  They feel “dead inside”, so they start to look elsewhere in order to feel alive again.

In talking about his affair, he wrote:

I was lonely and dying for attention, which is what led me to look for it elsewhere. I did not do this looking for an affair, but just some attention that validated I was worth something. Then I met the other woman (OW), one thing led to another until I was in a full blown affair.

 

Affair are like a return to the world of dating, and it’s important to note that they are not real life. Rather, they are a way to escape from the pressures and stresses of real life.

Just like an alcoholic turning to drink, or an addict turning to a chemical high, affairs are a way to escape from reality.  Affair partners meet up in secret, and it’s all about need fulfillment.

There’s no real responsibility; no worrying about mortgages, bills or the kids.  Rather, the relationship with the affair partner is like being on a constant vacation.

Really, they are an “easy way out”.   Instead of actually facing and dealing with problems within a relationship, or accepting that the problems within a relationship are significant enough that the relationship should end; an affair is a way for someone to “have it both ways”.  They are able to pick and choose the parts of the relationship they want to deal with in their primary relationship, and then find the parts that are missing elsewhere.

Of course, they also destroy lives and do a tremendous amount of damage to everyone involved.

They are also not sustainable. 

Eventually, if the affair partners see each other enough the “vacation” will end.  Real life will start to intrude, with issues and responsibilities.  When this happens the carefully constructed facades crumble, and the real person beneath starts to show.  A real person, who has real problems just like anyone else.  And when this becomes apparent, the appeal of the affair is often broken.

It was euphoria when were together and agony when we were apart. This is what fed the illusion that it was such a great “relationship”. The reality was, it was just fantasy land and as I began to see her with everyday problems like us, the less and less I wanted to be with her.  I think I was finally really realizing what I had done. I was seeing that the OW was really just fantasy land and none of it was real.

 

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When the fantasy of the affair was broken and reality hit, he found himself trying to understand “why” he did it.  Why he felt such chemistry and passion with his affair partner but not with his wife.  And his answer was simple:

It is a funny question to me now. What did she see that my wife didn’t? I can answer it without a problem. She saw someone who had an interest in them. Who made them feel attractive and interesting. So she never saw me, she saw what I was giving her. So the real question I should have been asking myself was not “What did she see that my wife didn’t?” but “What I am giving her that I am not giving my wife?”

 

He had chemistry and passion not because of anything special about his affair partner.  No, it was there because of what he put into the relationship.  Time, energy, and effort.  He put that in to his time with his affair partner, and this led to the passion he had been missing.

 

Fantasy land is just that.  Fantasy.  It’s great as an escape, but it’s important to remember that it is not real life.  And it’s an escape that should only ever occur within the mind.

When the lines start to blur between fantasy and reality, often many lives are affected.

And no matter how great the fantasy world may seem, eventually reality always comes crashing down.

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Learning to Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deep Roots

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

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

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

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

sapling photo

Nurturing Love

So how do we nurture love?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s look at each of these…

The Actions of Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Choosing Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

still learning to love

Why and How Matters More Than Who

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Love.

That’s why we are all here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Right Person

The “right person”. The “one”.

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

And there is some truth to them.

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

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

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

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

ALL relationships run into challenges over time.

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

Why are you with your Partner

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

There are two levels to this question.

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

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

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

Why did you want a relationship in the first place?

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

Relationships start with our own needs.

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

But why do we want to be with them?

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

Are we looking for someone who makes us happy?

Take a look at this quote on happiness in relationships:

bewithsomewhomakesyouhappy

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

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

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

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

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

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

makesomeoneelsehappy

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do we treat our partner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How well do you support each other?

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

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

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

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

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

What Really Matters?

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For years I ran a mens league basketball team. Running a team for what is essentially a beer league can be surprisingly difficult (it’s also a thankless job).

At first glance it seems simple:

Find some guys who like basketball, get them together and make a team.

Right? Well, unfortunately there’s a bit more to it than that.

See, there are a lot of different facets to basketball.

At the simplest level, basketball has offence and defense. With those areas, there are a number of different skills that make them up.

For example, on offence you have shooting (from different areas), post play, ball handling, setting screens, court vision, etc.

On the defensive end of the court you need to a type of awareness that allows you to anticipate and react to an opponent. Some of the “skills” on the defense include boxing out, rebounding, blocking shots and stealing the ball.

If you make a checklist of all the different skills that make up a basketball player, very few people check all boxes. Generally some people are skilled in some areas, but not in others. So when building a team you need to find a balance of skills and abilities with the different members of the team.

When building a team I look for a mix of players that bring different skills to the table. Players who complement each other, in order to maximize strengths and hide weaknesses.

And that’s just the basketball side of things.

That checklist lists the skills and abilities that make up a “good” basketball player. But basketball is a team sport.

To be a good teammate, someone had to be unselfish. They also had to be reliable, have a positive attitude, and be able to deal with adversity. It’s easy to be positive when things are going well, but it’s really important that guys stick together and not point fingers when times are tough.

Oh yeah, being able to pay was pretty important too. As the guy who had to collect from others and pay the bills, it really sucked when fees were due and someone only had $20, and would get me “next time”.

Over many years of playing and trying to build a team, I found that the “team” skills were MUCH more important than the actual basketball ones.

Someone could be an amazing basketball player, but if they weren’t also a good teammate then it was not worth having them on the team.

When building a basketball team, “basketball” was only a small part of the equation. A team is much more than just a collection of individuals.

Building the “Perfect” Partner

When meeting a potential partner, what are some things you look for? Just as there are many characteristics and traits that make up an ideal basketball player, there are also many traits people look for in a partner.

Because a relationship only involves two people (unless you are into bigamy, which is frowned upon in most parts of the world), it’s a lot harder to find a balance.

An additional complication is that the traits that are important to you may change over time.

Think about early relationships, when you are around 17-22 years of age. At that stage, most people are probably looking for someone they find attractive that they can hang out and do things with. At this point a similar sex drive is probably the most important trait.

But while hanging out and having a regular partner for sex may seem great at the time, it doesn’t really make for much of a relationship. In fact, some people actually differentiate between what they feel is acceptable in someone they will just “date” vs someone who is “marriage material”.

If you are looking for a long term relationships (with the possibility of marriage) then there are other characteristics that become very important. Commitment, loyalty and a shared vision of the future are a lot more important than just hanging out with someone who you find attractive.

And if you are at a stage that you hope to have kids, stability and responsibility are also very important.

The “Non-Relationship” Stuff

When you first meet someone there may be characteristics that you notice, and those may or may not stay important over the life of the relationship.

But those traits are only a small part of the traits that matter over time.

Self-confidence, motivation, the ability to hold a job, handle criticism and handle stress are a few things that come to mind. These aren’t things you necessarily think of when looking for a partner, but at the same time they all have a significant impact on the success of relationships.

Times won’t always be good, and they won’t always be easy.
Sometimes relationships seem to go well for years, and then *something* changes and things fall apart.
What happens then times get hard?

Does someone start to retreat into doing what is best for them? Do they start blaming the other person for any problems the relationship is facing? Do they ignore the problems and pretend they aren’t there?

Or do they try to work together, and find ways to move forward that may not be perfect for either person, but attempt to find a balance that works for both?

I believe empathy is the key.

With empathy there is both give and take. There is a recognition that although each individual is important, sometimes the couple needs to come first.

Kind of like my experiences with basketball, you find that all the wonderful characteristics and traits in the world don’t matter if someone can’t embrace the concept of team.

The Perfect Partner

So what does the “perfect” partner look like? There’s really no right answer here, and even for a single person it depends on where you are in life and what your priorities are at that time.

But there is no such thing as a perfect person. Each are different, and no one “has it all”. Well, maybe some people do. But if so, those people are like unicorns and Sasquatch.

Accepting that people aren’t perfect is not about lowering standards. It’s re-evaluating priorities.

Each of us has a different “skill set”, and the mark of a successful couple probably depends on how well they are able to accept each other for who they are, and find ways to make those skills work together.

What matters isn’t what’s perfect, it’s what’s perfect for you.

Forever is Now

forever

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

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

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

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

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

Opportunity Lost

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

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

Why were opportunities missed and words left unspoken?

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

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

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

But we don’t.

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

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

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

Promises For The Future

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

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

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

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

To me love is deeper.

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

End of a Relationship

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

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

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

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

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

Reaching For Each Other Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s a fact for you:

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

Building Forever

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

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

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

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

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

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

Forever is now.

It Will Never Be The Same

NotTheSame

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

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

My Story

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

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

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

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

It destroyed me.

See, I believed.

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

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

And suddenly she wasn’t.

She didn’t believe what I did.

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

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

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

And if I was wrong about that?

Well, what else was I wrong about?

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

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

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

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

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

Lost Innocence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now that magic was broken too.

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

That magic.

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

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

Shifting Landscapes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

everyonechanges

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

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

Accepting Change

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

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

My wife and I are still together.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I choose the latter.

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

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

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

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

Then our relationship will fail.

It’s that simple.

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

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

And I still believe.

 

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

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

From Watch Me Rise by Mikky Ekko

It’s Not About The Sex

holding-hands-1

I read a number of relationship blogs, and a while back I ran across something written by a woman commenting she didn’t want to just be a “receptacle for her partners sperm”. I have to admit, it made me laugh. It was kind of crude, but funny. And it got across the point of what she felt her role had been reduced to in the relationship.

I recently read another blog by someone talking about what she wants in a man. It was something along the lines of wanting a man who will love her for who she is. For her mind and her soul, being someone who would be willing to support her and grow with her, and not just want her for sex or her body.

I agree. Any man worth being with should want her for all of her, and want to be there for all of her. But guess what? He’ll still want her physically, and he’ll still want sex. And that should never be a bad thing. Actually, she would probably be upset if he didn’t want her.

Reading other blogs, this sentiment seems fairly common. There seem to be lots of women out there feeling some variation on the receptacle idea.

Somehow, somewhere along the way sex seems to go from being this special thing a couple shares that happens to feel good to almost being something bad. It seems to have become a chore or a duty for many women.

If that’s the case, it seems clear that there is some sort of a disconnect between how men and women are expressing our sexual needs as well as our understanding each of other.

Generally I don’t buy into gender differences. I think there are a lot of guys out there with “female” traits and vice versa. But maybe this is one area where we ARE fundamentally different. After all, if you think of the very act – we experience it in a completely different way. I know how it feels as a guy, but as a woman? I have no clue, and never will.

I’ve written in the past about the benefits sex has for a relationship, so I won’t rehash them here.

But here are a few facts:

  • Sex provides many benefits to a relationship
  • Sex drives between partners vary, and are not constant over time
  • Sexual problems can spill over into the rest of the relationship
  • Sexual issues are cited among the leading causes of divorce

How is it that something that should bring us together drives us apart? Some guys may be jerks, but I think most truly do care. So how can any guy make their partner feel like a receptacle for sperm?

Speaking Different Languages

My thought, maybe we just don’t understand each other. And maybe if we can understand each other better we can start to break down these walls of resentment that take what should be a special act and turn it into a cause of conflict. I don’t pretend to represent all guys here, but these my thoughts on the subject…

Sex is not about sex.

Huh? What?

Let me explain…

Who do you have sex with? Random strangers? Unlikely. Your parents? If so, first – too much information. Second, ewww. Your buddies? Some people have “friends with benefits”, but generally that’s because they are not in a relationship and are looking for a regular outlet. In that case, yeah, I guess it’s about the act. But it still has a tendency to run into complications.

No, generally it’s reserved for a couple in a relationship. Why? And why is it that having sex with someone else while in a relationship is often defined as an affair, instead of having dinner with someone else or going for coffee with them? (Incidentally, I think it’s a huge misconception when people draw the line for affairs at sex. The line for affairs should be drawn LONG before that, and could potentially be extended to something as “simple” as dinner. But that’s a topic for another day).

No, sex is clearly different. There’s something special about it. But what?

Being Naked

Years ago one of my buddies caught me off guard when he started talking about his girlfriend and how beautiful and sexy she was when he saw her naked. There are all sorts of stereotypes of guys talking in the locker room about their “conquests”, or constantly talking about women. Maybe it’s just my peer group but we REALLY don’t do that, so it was a bit disconcerting to me when he mentioned this.

First, there’s the unwritten bro-code. You don’t look at or think about a buddies girlfriend/wife/whatever in a sexual way. That’s just not cool. So having him talk about her naked was awkward, as of course it meant my mind instantly imagined her naked.

Ahh!!! Brain what are you doing? Noooooo!!!

As my traitorous brain was processing these unwanted images, I was also thinking “dude, ummm, your girlfriend’s really not that attractive” (I didn’t say that of course). Everyone has their preferences, but for me? Even trying to be objective she didn’t do much for me.

But here’s a secret about sex and desire. Being sexy and beautiful has very little to do with your physical appearance – it’s mostly mental. Is it only young attractive people who desire each other? No (at least, it shouldn’t be).

Being naked with someone you love isn’t about admiring their “naughty bits”. It’s about vulnerability. You are being open with each other. It’s about safety, closeness and trust.

For years I thought sex was about sex. But it’s not. It’s about that feeling, that sense of complete vulnerability and openness. That feeling is intoxicating, and arousing, and will likely lead to sex. But I don’t think it’s the sex that we want, it’s the sense of connection.

The physical act is just insert A into B. The emotional act is one of wanting to connect with and give pleasure to someone you love in a way that is only shared by the two of you.

Because of this I actually believe sex in a long term committed relationship can be better than any other sex. “New love” may have sex more frequently, but it’s more lust than love at that point.

love

Different Drives

Young guys may hope they will be having sex all the time. As you get a bit older, you realize that it doesn’t work that way. It doesn’t mean you wouldn’t be happy to be having sex more frequently, but sex is just part of the relationship and the relationship is more important.

Drives fluctuate. It may be frustrating at times, but we get that. What really matters is that we feel valued, and feel as though our needs in the relationship still matter. There has to be a middle ground where the lower drive person isn’t constantly being pressured, but the higher drive person isn’t left feeling unfulfilled.

If you say no one day, that’s fine. But when one person is consistently rejecting the other and shutting them down sexually then there is a problem.

For anyone who isn’t having sex with some regularity, I ask you this – what is the general level of non-sexual touching and affection like in the relationship. If sex isn’t happening, I’ll guess affection is at a shortage too. How about communication? How easy is it to talk to your partner? Can you tell them anything? Do you? When you are unhappy in parts of your relationship do you tell them? Or do you hold things in? Do you still tell them that you love them?

When there is limited to no sex, the affection and communication has also usually broken down. If affection and communication were still there, the lack of sex would probably be bearable. But then, if the affection and communication were there, chances are the sex would be too. They go together. Sex is simply the natural extension of that affection and communication.

As such, sex is about much more than the physical act. It is symbolic of all the closeness and affection that makes a couple a couple.

A Symbol of the Relationship

Guys see sex as symbolic of the relationship, and because of this a lack of sex can REALLY start to mess with them.

First, they start to question themselves:

  • Is there something wrong with me?
  • I desire my partner, what is wrong? Am I terrible at sex?
  • Does my partner no longer find me attractive?
  • Does my partner not desire me?

There’s a good chance that the lack of sex is at least partially because their partner isn’t feeling good about themselves. But this lack of sex results in both people feeling bad about themselves, and can start a downward spiral of negative momentum.

If the problem persists for any length of time, guys start to question the relationship itself:

  • The person I committed to won’t touch me, do they not care about me anymore?
  • Do they not love me?
  • Is our relationship failing?
  • My needs are being ignored here, what about me? Don’t my needs matter?

At this point, the sexual drought is spilling over and affecting the rest of the relationships. Chances are you got here due to poor communication. Unfortunately improved communication is what you need to get out, as over time this will do considerable damage threatening the relationship itself.

People say that they don’t want to be bothered for sex. But someone pestering you for sex isn’t a problem. It becomes a problem when they have stopped asking, because when that happens resentment has set in and they have given up hope.

All About Sex

I opened with the idea that guys seem to be making women feel like they are only wanted for their bodies, and that things are “all about sex”.

I’m pretty sure that’s not the intent. Making your partner feel that way is simply going to cause any sexual rift to deepen, and that’s not something anyone wants. So why in the world do guys do it?

Here’s my theory:

One of the biggest issues that couples face is they get to a point where they feel they have lost “the spark”. They feel like roommates, and maybe feel taken for granted. They no longer feel special when they are around their partner. And likely they ARE being taken for granted somewhat. It’s easy to get caught up in day to day life and let the relationship suffer, but it doesn’t mean someone loves their partner any less.

I think this is the stage where some people start to resent sex.

For guys, sex is symbolic of the relationship. They need it on a fairly regular basis (“regular” being different from person to person) in order to feel that things are alright. But without enough focus on each other, to the woman it starts to feel as though all they are wanted for is sex. After all, if you aren’t taking time to nurture the relationship (which is usually the fault of both members) but still want sex, then it does start to seem like you are roommates who happen to have sex sometime. No one wants that.

I’ve heard it said that women need connection for sex, and men need sex for connection. I don’t think that’s quite accurate. Instead, I think maybe for women sex goes along with connection while for men sex is symbolic of connection. But even for the guys it’s not actually about sex. It’s still about connection.

I think maybe men and women are both actually looking for the same thing. We both want connection, and to feel valued in the relationship. We are just speaking different languages, and becoming resentful as a result.

Keeping Love Alive

The worst feeling in a relationship is the sense that you have become just roommates, and the sense of being lovers is gone. When this happens, men often seem to think that sex is the way to rebuild the connection, while women want the connection before the sex.

Both approaches are probably wrong. Sex without connection will feel devaluing for both parties. But going long periods without sex while trying to rebuild connection will undermine your ability to rebuild connection. The relationship has to be the focus, but sex needs to be included as part of that.

For any ladies out there who are feeling like they are just wanted for sex, chances are your partner is not just looking for the act (alright, maybe sometimes but not usually). Instead he’s looking for everything it means to him. He’s looking for connection, and a feeling of closeness. He doesn’t want just anyone, and he’s not looking for a repository for his sperm. He wants YOU. He’s looking for feeling loved, and valued by you.

And he sees sex as a way of expressing all of that.

I don’t know if this makes any sense, or helps anything. But to any ladies out there who are feeling used solely for their bodies, please be open to the possibility that there is a lot more to us than just that.

You may drive us crazy sometimes (just as we do to you). But we do love you for who you are. We love your personality, your quirks. The way you can make us laugh and how just thinking about you sometimes can bring a smile to our faces. We want to be there for you emotionally as best we can (which admittedly isn’t always the way you want). And we do want to grow with you and have a life with you. We just need sex to be a part of it.