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]

5 Ways I Beat Depression

2013 was probably the hardest year I ever faced in my life, and God willing, it will remain the hardest. For those who follow my articles, you will know that in spring of last year, my wife left me, and ended our relationship despite my wanting to work through it. And it hit me hard. I've never faced a pain like that before. The result was what I can safely say was a very real, deep depression.
It took me a while to understand what it was because I was not really accustomed to this kind of sadness. It was only natural to be sad and grieve, but I always hesitate to declare anything as a depression because I feel that the term is overused by the public... or perhaps underused when it comes to those who are actually going through it.
It is important to recognize when you're actually depressed and one of the ways I found out was looking it up and making the connection that the signs of depression were my reality. That sounds obvious, but not everyone is aware that what they feel from day to day is unusual. Depression is more than just being sad; it is intrusive. It is natural to be sad from time to time, especially when things in life are stressful or you go through a loss. But sadness should not continue to be a pervasive presence in your day to day life.

Now, I'm not a psychologist. I can only speak from my own personal experience and some articles and videos that I've seen on the subject. I'm definitely not an expert, but what I can do it help out with some practical steps into helping curb your depressive thoughts. This may not help everyone so if things don't get better, you may be going through something much more severe than what I was going through. At which point, I would recommend seeing a professional for help. I'm not against the notion of medication for depression, but I also believe that some cases don't need to go as far as drugs and it's healthier to adjust your life style before your body chemistry.

1.) Don't feel blame.
Rationalizing anything when you're depressed is not easy. Negative thoughts spiral out of control and become irrational all too quickly. There is a certain thought pattern that follows people where they feel guilt for feeling depressed which makes them feel even worse. This wasn't as much the problem with me as I knew I was depressed due to circumstance. My thought pattern was that of immense loneliness and feeling completely inadequate as a person. I felt that I would never be loved again and that no one could accept me for who I was. But there was a deep down more rational side of me who knew that these thoughts weren't true and that it was just a season of sadness. But no matter how many times I tried to tell myself this, the negativity would maintain a stronghold. That's when I recognized the disconnect between who I was and how I felt. I had no control over my emotions. As if I were in a life boat trapped on the ocean, I could not avoid the storms, I just had to survive them.
But that was the first step to overcoming the depression; the knowledge that I was helpless to do anything about it released me from the notion that if I were only stronger or smarter that I could be cured of this. That, in a way, lessened a build up of negativity toward myself.

2.) Talk honestly with friends or family
One of the things that I feel our generation really struggles with is being open and genuine with people. And while I don't think you should open up to everyone, you shouldn't be afraid to open up with some. It is shocking how many people just don't want to hear what it is that you're going through. I remember that if I talked about it because people asked me how I was doing or whatever, if I opened up too much, people would conveniently find ways out of the conversation. But what you're going through is always on your mind so you feel like you need to dump your emotions out... and you probably do. So, this is where you find out who your real friends are.
I was very fortunate, and I recognize that not everyone will have the same luxuries that I had when I was going through my separation. When I moved out from my wife's apartment, I moved in with my mom. My initial intention was to only be there a couple of months until I found a place for myself, but my sadness only worsened and the truth was that I needed to be close to family. Isolation would have been disastrous for me. I'm also fortunate in that I have a very good relationship with my mother so being able to open up about my situation was not the challenge it might be with some.
But I also opened up with some select friends of mine. And I really mean opened up. I had to be willing to let it all out, which meant talking about some of the things I had done wrong and being willing to cry around them. I mean, the crying is pretty much an inevitability when you open up fully and, personally, I don't have a problem with that. I think men are too afraid to cry, but it's a natural emotional response and we shouldn't block that from ourselves.

3.) Eat proper food.
One of the things that I came to for comfort was junk food and I knew it was bad, but I indulged anyway. It was a sort of 'f-you' to my ex because she was very controlling over what I spent money on and ate. Not that she was wrong all the time, but I took my hurt and new found freedom and made some unwise dietary choices. I ate a lot of nanaimo bars, not gonna lie. But like most actions that are fuelled with selfish intent, they have a tendency to backfire.
But the truth is that junk food has a very short term benefit. It makes you feel good for a short time, but doesn't provide you with the energy you need. And one of the symptoms of depression is being really low on energy. Bad food on top of a chemically skewed brain is bad news. It just elevates the problem.
But if you think about it, if much of depression is happening on a chemical level, you would probably be best off doing whatever it takes to normalize your body chemistry. We're not really made to each processed foods, refined sugars, and deep fried fatty foods. Junk food is full of sugar, salt and fat.
What I did was I started to make my diet more protein based while increasing my vegetable intake also, which has always been difficult for me because I've never fully shaken off my picky eater younger self. I've expanded my pallet, but I still have a tough time choking back veggies. But I found that I could pack back handfuls of raw spinach. While I don't really 'enjoy' it, I can easily tolerate it and made that one of the main vegetables to take it, which is good because it's a really healthy veggie, full of iron, calcium, potassium and tons of vitamins. So I'm glad I can gag that one down.

4.) Exercise
Bettering my eating habits was only part of it though. I also decided to start getting into better shape. We are a people who are meant to be in movement. For whatever reason, our society has developed to counter our own biology, giving us jobs where we sit all day only to come home and veg out on a computer. We are so inactive and that may be one of the reasons why so many people suffer from things like depression. Up until a couple of generations ago, jobs involved people being on their feet. Agricultural life styles were the norm, where people would have to wake up early to take care of things on the farm and be active every day. Not to say that I'm not grateful for the advancements we've made. I enjoy the leisure that a modern life provides, but I've become increasingly aware that being active does not come naturally and has to be a decision that you make. But I promise that it is never a decision you regret. If you asked me even a year ago if I would ever go to the gym regularly, I would laugh because it just seemed so illogical. I had no interest in getting a toned and muscular body; it seemed vain. But now I go regularly and it is encouraging when I can physically see the results of working hard. And my main reason for going is because when I sit around inside too much, I feel a sadness creep in. After I work out, I feel better both physically and emotionally.
You don't have to lose a bunch or weight or gain tons of pounds of muscles either. Everyone can have an exercise regime that suits them best. I tried running and I hated it and felt more discouraged after. Wasn't for me, but I know people who really get a lot out of it. Heck, I would even just encourage people to go for a half hour walk a day. Just walk. It will go a long way for your physical and mental health.

5.) Find a creative outlet.
I was also very fortunate that when my wife left me, I was in the process of making a short film and was able to bury myself in that work. That provided challenges on set, as sometimes I would be reminded of what was going on in life and would have trouble composing myself, let alone be funny, but those moments would fade fast enough. And it's not because I was completely distracted. I don't think that's a solution; it just delays the inevitable and also often doesn't even work. Rather, the film making process, acting, and being with like-minded people who share these passions, was really energizing. It was something that brought me a lot of joy. How could that not counter a depression?
Making a film did wonders for me, but that's something that I've known is my passion for a long time. What if you don't know what it is that makes you excited? I guess now is the perfect time to find it. At least the act of trying things and doing something different is a push in the right direction. Painting was something my aunt tried that she found she connected with when she experienced a loss. I've heard some people get a lot out of journaling. That can be one of the more raw and direct ways of expressing your emotions and it's as private as you like. There are any number of things you can try.

I must stress again that I'm not an expert. I don't even really have myself fully figured out. I still get depressed and anxious and it takes effort, or sometimes just time, to get through it. But these steps have really helped me through this last year and I wanted to share it with someone who may need it. Don't be afraid or embarrassed to seek help. This is something that a lot of people need help with. I feel that in the daily grind of just trying to get by with work and other obligations, we really don't put enough emphasis on mental health. Our brains are bombarded with stress and chemicals and who knows what else and I think more people need to take a step back and really take care of themselves. Mental health should be a bigger priority in our culture. I honestly believe that.

If you have any more recommendations or want to call me out on something I have completely wrong, please comment below. I really appreciate feedback. Feel free to share your experience and also if you're struggling to find someone to talk to, you can reach out to me. Even if you're a complete stranger, I will listen and help in any way I can.


[Originally posted on Sour Grapes Winery on June, 2014]