Sunday, 11 January 2015

10 Ways I Wish I Saved My Marriage...

If you've been reading my writings on Sour Grapes Winery you know I've made mention of my wife in a few reviews and probably one or two of my society articles. Well, the unfortunate thing is that now I've found my marriage in the 50% that has failed. It's been a very rough few months for me emotionally. It's one of the main reasons why my writing output has been slowed to a crawl. And while I was against this separation, I have to admit that this has been a very exposing and intense time of self reflection, probably the most in my entire life. I've had a real long hard look at the bad and good things about myself. It's better than stewing in bitterness toward the other person because I think that when you put all of the blame on the other person, you lose out on an opportunity for bettering yourself. And most of the time, it can't all be the fault of one person. If someone does something wrong or selfish, it is still wrong and selfish, but more than likely a reaction to a need that they feel is unfulfilled.

But I'm not a foremost expert on the subject of relationships, perhaps if I was I wouldn't be in the mess I'm in now. But what I do want is to put my failures to some use by sharing with you some of the things that went wrong with us and the lessons I learned from them so maybe you can avoid such things yourself. And the truth is that these things are, while easy concepts, extremely difficult to live out, especially in the heat of the moment when you're feeling hurt by the other person. This is going to be a very difficult and exposing article for me. This sort of intense self reflection is very emotional and taxing on me. But I feel that this is something I have to do. I have learned so much in my break up that I feel it would be wasteful not to share it. And I wish I had the opportunity to take what I've learned and use it to save my marriage, but it seems that it is out of my hands now.

All that being said, I will try and be fair, but I fear that some of my biases will show. I can only speak from my point of view, but I have no intention of starting a smear campaign. In specific examples, out of respect for my wife, I will try and focus on my own failings rather than what I perceive as her's. So, for the most part, I want to keep my examples fairly general and not about our problems specifically. But in any case, forgive anything you see as being too slanted, keep in mind that neither party in the relationship is without blame and perhaps if we were both able to follow the advice on this list, we'd still be together and much happier.

1.) Love Fearlessly

This was a philosophy I thought about a little too late, as it wasn't until we were separated that I discovered that this was something we should have been doing from the start. And it's more than just a fun little bumper sticker slogan, but if you really take the time to think about what it means, you'll see how fear in relationships causes a lot of stumbles. Most of the forthcoming items in this list can be tied to this one.
But if you think about the sheer number of sitcoms or movies where the man is deathly afraid of his wife, falling into comedic antics that wind up doing more damage to his relationship than not, you get a glimpse of a goofy hyperbolized version of real life.
We get so caught up in worrying about angering our partners that we try and pretend that we're people that we're not. We walk on eggshells and watch what we say because we fear judgement or being looked down upon. There needs to be security in the vow of “for better or for worse.” That vow is made for this reason; to declare that no matter what you do, no matter how you act, you will continue to love that person. It is what separates dating and testing the waters from the full commitment of marriage. You literally put it down in ink. It should not be something that can just be walked away from and the fact that it so often is just perpetuates the fear of one another. But I urge you, not just for your sake, but for the sake of other marriages, be stronger and more committed than that.
Angering your spouse is something you should generally try to avoid, but it will happen. Just know that you will love each other anyway. And it's not the end of the world if that person is angry at you. If you act as if it is, you might cause a cycle in which one person become afraid to express their anger in fear of the emotional consequences. Do you see how it can spiral into something ugly? It turns into us having to deny who we really are or how we really feel and we can only do that for so long before something snaps. It is a cycle that can be avoided if you can just finish your fights with the intent of coming to an agreement and being closer in the end.
Often we are the instruments of our undoing. I should have loved my wife without fear and her me. When we fear each other, it breaks down communication which is vital to the survival of a relationship. We have to be comfortable letting our partner know how we really feel, what makes us hurt, and why. That communication will lead to the kind of problem solving you will need to make your home functional and safe. Remind each other often that no matter what they do, you will love, respect, and care for them.

2.) Marriage is hell on selfishness

This was a piece of advice from a wise pastor who briefly counselled my wife and I and it was the part that really left an impression on me. This is another piece of advice that takes some time to consider what it means beyond the obvious surface. There are big selfish decisions made that are obviously damaging to a relationship such as cheating on someone, or putting yourself in debt by gambling or something along those lines, but selfishness is sneakier than that. It comes in smaller packages. It is ingrained in our culture. We make multiple selfish decisions every single day because our culture is self serving. Sometimes those are okay, but the thing is that when you get married you need to reevaluate your decision making process. With everything you do, you must consider the other person because you need to think of yourself as half a person, the other half being your spouse. Every bit of money you spend and how you plan your day should require at least a little bit of consideration for the other person. And it's not easy to not be selfish. We love getting our way. But you will need to put your spouse's needs ahead of your own sometimes and that kind of goes against our instincts. Retrain your instincts. Unfortunately, this means that there are things which really mean a lot to you that you may have to give up or not participate in and it may hurt a lot. But hopefully your spouse will appreciate the sacrifices you make and it will pay off with a more firm and trusting relationship.

3.) Know you're on the same team

Conflict is inevitable. You put any two animals in a confined space together and they will eventually fight. This goes for humans also, no matter how madly in love with someone you are. There will be conflict and one of the best ways to get through it is to trust and remind each other that you both want the same outcome out of the argument; you want peace, understanding, and compromise. Sometimes it just takes a bit of a reminder as things get heated up. Literally tell your partner that you still love them and just want them to see your point of view. You'd be surprised how much it can help just to be reaffirmed of the simple things like knowing that you're loved no matter what and you have each other's best interests in mind.
This can change a fight into a discussion and it's far more pleasant to have a discussion to overcome a problem. But this also means that you have to be loving and respectful to one another. Don't just say you're on the same team and still take a demeaning tone. You must show that you want a level playing field and be willing to listen and understand their point of view. Don't go into the discussion with the intent to show the other person that you're right. More on that later...

4.) Make sure your partner knows that they're important to you.

This is one of the aspects where I feel I failed the most. My wife didn't feel like she was important to me, and while I did things to try and show that and I tried to tell her that, somehow it was not expressed in a way in which she could believe it. And I think that's because there were a lot of times where I did not convey that she was the most important part of my life. My own personal projects and preferences often took the front seat to what she wanted out of me. And while it is important to have your own projects in life so that you can keep your identity and sanity, if your spouse is feeling left behind, it's time to do something special and remind them how you feel and why you feel it. And sometimes you need to remind yourself how important and special this person is to you. It's too easy to take that person for granted because they've been with you so long, but I'll tell you right now, if they remove themselves from your life, you'll miss them and all of those things that you kept yourself busy with instead of spending time and valuing them, will seem completely inconsequential. I resent some of the things that I did instead of spending time with my wife, though these things were not inherently bad. For example, I spent a lot of late nights writing reviews for Sour Grapes Winery. And I'm proud of many of the reviews and articles I wrote, but sometimes I should have just dropped it and spent the time sleeping with my wife because in the end, who really cares if I wrote a review on Moonrise Kingdom? I've lost the most important person in the world to me and part of that is because she felt like these trivial things were more important to me. But I didn't show the truth through my actions. And at the end of the day, your thoughts and feelings don't matter nearly as much as your actions do.

5.) Practice the fruits of the spirit with one another.

Whether or not you are Christian or practice any sort of spiritual lifestyle, I think it can be agreed on that these are great things to practice, especially when interacting with someone you care about. Show your partner love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. It seems to me to be just an overall great rule of thumb. I wish that we were both better at practising these, but we fell short on a few of them.
Unfortunately, I think that, while these principles are simple in concept, once you introduce the unstable human element into it, they become extremely difficult to live out. How often are we short and impatient with our spouses? I know I was too often. How easy is it to growl requests when we could be more kind and gentle toward the person we love? Or how about being faithful? Even if you aren't cheating on your spouse, even entertaining the notions of being with other women or men is something that breeds inside of a person and has the potential to become something more. Many men still indulge in pornography while married and that's a difficult thing to break, but is something that needs to change because it can do a lot of damage to your wife. And yes, it is a way of being unfaithful.
But the biggest one that I feel that I could have improved on was joy. I should have taken more joy in the fact that I was married and spending my life with someone. What a wonderful gift to have the love of a woman; a gift that should be celebrated, not squandered. Someone has promised to love you for the rest of your life, no matter what. How can you not take joy in that? It's sadly very easy not to after life with each other becomes more normal.
It can be difficult when you're filled with negative emotions, but try reflecting on all of the things you love about your partner. Take notes if you have to. Write all the things that you fell in love with, all the things you find attractive, and all of the things you are going to do to reconnect with them. Finding reasons to take joy in your partner takes a fearless love.

6.) Be uncompromisingly honest

Think of this one as a long term investment because sometimes being completely honest gets you into trouble. Sometimes being honest about how you feel or mistakes you've made will hurt your partner. But this ties in with fearless love, in that you have to overcome your fear of getting in trouble or hurting the other person's feelings for the sake of building a reputation with each other as people you can trust. Sometimes this will bring about some ugly truths about yourself and your spouse. As a general example, perhaps you feel like your wife is being really disrespectful toward you and you decide that, whatever, your just going to keep your mouth shut and leave it alone because it's not worth the conflict. Well, maybe it is worth the conflict. Try your best to approach the subject as peacefully as you can, but I think it's better for the other person to know that certain things they do make you feel bad because if they keep it up, it will build into resentment and eventually the truth will come out and it will be compacted and really ugly. That will be a conflict that will be a whole lot worse than if you just brought it up in the first place.
But more ways you can be uncompromisingly honest is just keeping your spouse in the loop as to where you are and what you're doing. Keep in touch. So, even when things are fine, little things like letting your wife know that you're going out with some friends after work will build more of that trust. Give no reason for suspicion to build. And for the other partner, if suspicion is building, talk to them about it and let your fears known. If you are both being honest, these fears will lessen and then disappear in time.
Remember, this is the person you are connected to the most. This is the person, God willing, you will spend the rest of your life with. There should be no secrets. No secrets.

7.) Forgive. Really forgive.

Honesty can only really be a tool for building trust if there is an understanding that you're with each other no matter what, through thick and through thin. And since mistakes and betrayals are inevitable because we are flawed humans, you need to be ready and willing to forgive your partner. As a general example, that can be the little things like your husband forgetting to vacuum before guests came over or big things like your wife kissing another man. Honesty and forgiveness do not work without each other. A person can't put themselves out on a line and risk everything to admit their wrongs when there is no history of letting mistakes go. Otherwise everything wrong you do is just being put onto a list... and if there is a list, it will fill up. And if that list fills up, that's it. You've done one too many wrong things. You yelled one too many times or you said the wrong thing that pushed them too far and now it's over.
If you have a list, destroy it! It will do neither one of you any good. And don't even look at it before you do. It will hurt you to hold onto their wrongdoings and it will hurt them that you hold it against them. No one will benefit from that list.
Look at the person in front of you and see them for what they are: broken, insecure, imperfect. Love them regardless. Love them fearlessly. Tell them that you love them no matter what.
But back to being honest, it's okay to be hurt by something that's they've done to wrong you and it's okay to let them know that you've been hurt. It's fine to take time to forgive, but let them know that's what you're doing. Do not use it as arsenal in the next argument you have.
And if it's something that they did that's really big, like abuse or infidelity, I believe that forgiveness can overcome that too, as long as they show genuine remorse and are taking the necessary steps to make sure it doesn't happen again. I'm no expert on what that looks like, but there are people who are.
But whoever the other spouse is; don't abuse this. Learn from your mistakes and do what it takes to not repeat them. If you respect your partner, you'll make sure of it.
On the note of making lists, try making one of all the things that your partner has done right and have shown that they really care about you. Sometimes memories fail us and we forget all of the loving things our spouse has done for us. But these are worth remembering and perhaps bringing out when you're having a tough time forgiving. It will be invaluable. If you dwell on the negative, things tend to spiral and become more negative. See what happens when you dwell on the positive. Put it next to the other list of why you fell in love with that person.

8.) Keep promises.

I think it's easy in concept to keep promises, but this covers more ground than you think it does. Some people think that a promise is something that you say is a promise, but I think that a promise is everything you say you're going to do. Basically, honour your word. This is something I only recently thought about. When I was moving my stuff out of my wife's apartment in the end, one of the things I retrieved from there was my bike helmet. Even before we got married she picked my up a free bike on Craigslist in hopes that we would go bicycling together. I said I would. And as I held the helmet, she made mention that it was something I didn't do with her. And there is was plain as day in front of me; I didn't honour my word. Though I saw the bike riding as inconsequential and thought it more important to focus on other things in life, it was a way that I was letting her down. It was a way of saying to her that she can't necessarily trust that I will follow through with the things I said.
And this is something I do a lot in many aspects of my life. I say that I will do things with the best of intentions, but not wind up doing them. It's not lying. When I said that I would go bike riding with her I fully meant it. But keeping promises is building trust in a more proactive way than just telling the truth; it's turning your words into truth. Perhaps that's why, in the end, when I spoke of changing and making things better, she couldn't take the words I said seriously. I did not have the precedent of making my words into truth.
If you have no intention of doing something, don't say you're going to do it.
If you say you're going to do it, do it. Do it soon so you don't forget and let daily life take control again.

9.) Being 'right' doesn't really matter.

Arguments will happen and that unfortunate, but I found that they spiralled the most out of control when I was trying hard to show my wife that I was right. And look, it's not that I wasn't ever right. Sometimes I was right, sometimes I was wrong. But it doesn't even matter when it comes down to it. I would get so caught up in showing how her thought patterns were illogical or how my reasoning made so much more sense that I was overlooking what was the real problem; she wanted to be heard, understood, and sympathized with. She wanted to know that I cared about her feelings.
I think what happens when we get so caught up about a particular subject is that we lose sight of the fact that your partner is a person and not that point of view. It's too easy at that point to become short or sound condescending. More often than not, it's more worthwhile to just stop, take a moment, and reaffirm that you love and respect your spouse. Apologize for miscommunications, listen to the other person, and sometimes you might need to agree to talk about the subject later when emotions aren't so high. This will take that fearless love, because you need to trust it when the other person says they love you and want to solve this problem.
More often than not, the root of the issue is not actually the issue itself, therefore, whether or not you're right really doesn't matter. Sometimes it's about identifying what it it your partner needs from you in that moment. I thought of something to ask yourself in moments like these. Ask yourself “How can I love my wife/husband best right now?” Take emphasis off of yourself, who is right, and even the argument at hand, and move your focus to the person you love. Find a way to help them feel safe with you. Who knows? Maybe after they feel safe with you and take time to reflect on the issue, perhaps they'll admit that you're right. Don't let it get to your head though or do these things with that objective in mind. You might also just have to agree to disagree and be okay with that.

10.) Get help, sooner rather than later.

Don't be proud. If you're having marital problems it's okay to admit it. You're not alone. The divorce rate is so high these days that it's pretty clear that people have problems. But I'm telling you right now, don't sit on it. Don't think that the problems will just smooth themselves out with some time and that you can figure things out on your own. Marriage isn't easy. Ask anyone who is married.
My suggestion is that you see a counsellor sooner rather than later. Don't be afraid to look at other ones if the first counsellor doesn't work for you. But I think that you can gain a lot of knowledge and tools for problem solving through counselling. Sometimes money is a problem, but again, if your spouse is important, you should make the necessary sacrifices to pay for it. Money saving tips? Well, eat out less maybe? Don't go out drinking? Quit smoking? You would be surprised how much money you can save by cutting back on unnecessary things like lunches out or iPhone apps. Whatever it takes to get the help you need to save your marriage, do it. You'll regret it if you don't. And as you make these sacrifices, perhaps your partner will see how serious you are about making things work which is a good start for the counselling. It means you both know how willing you are to do what it takes to make it work.
My wife and I did go through counselling, but by the time we did, there were already some bad habits in place and a pretty bad foundation laid out for us. I wish we had gone sooner, but I thought that we'd do fine on our strength alone.
And there are other ways to get help too. Find friends that you trust and visit them. Find another couple that you both feel comfortable talking to. Don't be afraid to talk about your problems with them. In fact, you may even find that you go through a lot of the same issues. I think you could get a lot of insight by getting a feel for other people's relationships.

Divorce is a dirty word in my vocabulary. I hate it and I don't believe it's right. No one should have to go through this. Love is wonderful and to have it degenerate into something broken is something that I pray you avoid. So, I hope my words are helpful.

Love each other fearlessly.

[Originally posted on Sour Grapes Winery in September, 2013]

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