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Posts tagged ‘marriage’

For Better after Worse

I mentioned recently that I’m reading Liz Gilbert’s Committed. She talks about her first marriage a bit, and the “mere” sadness that ended it. Obviously her sadness was not “mere” at all, or it wouldn’t have ended her marriage. It was grinding and pervasive and permanent and all-consuming.

Or so it seemed at the time.

I know many people who have become that sad – that trapped – by their marriages, and been infinitely happier when they left.

marriage vowHere’s the thing: I’ve been that sad in my marriage. I’ve had those days (weeks … months … years) where I honestly thought the only escape from my matrimonial hell would be divorce – or death.

Crying secretly, so no one finds out.

A hurt so real that it’s a physical pain that drives into your joints without relent.

And absolutely no prospect of light or joy on the horizon ever again.

Someone once told me that can sometimes happen in a marriage. And they told me it would pass.

I’ll admit that when I was buried in that mire, I didn’t let myself hope for a moment that it could possibly ever need, that anything could ever be good or right again with us.

But that dear, wise person was right. It passed. (More than once!)

one of the advantages of marriageRight now, we’re happier than we’ve ever been. And our relationship is deeper and more honest than ever before.

I don’t know if this heartbreaking, gut-wrenching agony is a natural part of marriage. I really hope it isn’t. But when I was there, I felt like I owed it to the love we had once, and the young and optimistic girl I once was, to see if – just maybe – my friend had the right of it and things could get better.

I certainly don’t think people should stay in a situation that is toxic in any way, whether it’s abuse of some kind, or it generates that numbing depression that slowly engulfs you in nothing from the inside out.

For me (for us) it was worth it to stick it out. And if it happens again, I hope I’ll remember the lesson.


For Better or Worse

Warning: Abrasive tone and dark sarcasm ahead.

Allt hat you are is all that I'll ever need - Ed Sheeran

Umm … no pressure. I’m not even all that I need.

Your role, should you choose to accept it, is to spend the rest of your life in service to Mr X. You will ensure that, at the very least, your dishes and laundry are always done. Wherever possible, you will do his as well. You may not leave any laundry or dishes lying around the house – EVER. And you must clear away yours and his whenever you notice them. Be vigilant!

You will plan and prepare all meals – and don’t forget that you’ll need to do the shopping, too. Oh, and of course, you’ll have to earn the money for that shopping … you ARE and independent woman after all, aren’t you?

You’ll have to do “your share” when it comes to raising the kids – and it’s very important that you always agree on every aspect of parenting. This means that getting them dressed, clean, fed, educated, loved, cared for, and played with rests every bit as firmly on your shoulders as it does on his. And so does discipline. This is all about equality, after all – so you both get to do everything. All. The. Time.

But wait – there’s more! You need to listen to him: his plans, and hopes, and dreams – and don’t you dare dash a single one! Just listen. You need to listen to his fears, and irritations, and the things that make him MAD. And remember: he’s just venting. None of this is aimed at you. No matter how angry and hurtful it all sounds, just listen. All he wants is to get it out. He will want to ponder the big questions of life with you, so mae sure your philosophy is up to date. And he’ll have some pretty serious emotional damage (who doesn’t?!), so better brush off that psychology degree. Sometimes you’ll drive him crazy – for no good reason. When that happens, he’ll need to talk to you about it, so be calm and compassionate. Listen patiently, and try to see how you were wrong, and how you can improve and do better next time.

He needs a buddy: go bowling with him. Or watch the sport he loves. Or play that video game that keeps him up all weekend. He needs companionship, and that’s what marriage is all about. Make sure you go fishing with him, and takes those long walks he loves. Never mind your allergies or your bad back – this is for the greater good. It’s important. Oh – and so is your “Me Time” – so don’t neglect yourself. Be sure to fit in some self-care time. Shave. Exercise. Stay in shape … you don’t want to turn him off with the way you’ve let yourself go, do you?

Since you’ll be sharing the cooking duties, you need to be sure your skills are current. Be a good chef! And remember to put all the dishes away WHERE THEY GO when you wash up every day. After all, that’s what he would do.

You’ll need to make the bed if you’re the last one to leave it. And take out the trash, of course. Really, that’s all anyone’s asking of you – surely that’s not so hard, is it? Oh wait – and you need to keep your car serviced and running properly. His too, come to that.

Now that he’s married you, he really doesn’t need anyone else. You’re there for him. You listen. You’re his confidante and his sounding board. You GET him. That’s what you’re there for, after all. Right? So make sure you’re objective and can see all the sides of the situation all the time (no matter the day or week or month you’ve had). But also don’t forget to be on his side all the time. He needs your complete support, trust, and understanding. No matter how crazy or hormonal or emotional or irrational he sounds.

After all, without getting absolutely everything he needs from you, he can never – EVER – be truly happy. And you just don’t have the right to take his happiness from him. That’s very selfish.

I know this is had, but it’s meant to be tongue in cheek. Over the last two years, I’ve been working on my perspective of the things that frustrate me in my life, trying to see how I can see things more clearly and thus become more content with the way they are. It’s been my experience that we lie to ourselves and make our lives seem worse than they are, and then allow those beliefs to sap all our joy and happiness from our lives.

This piece, then, is actually the expectations we (or at least me) tend to place on our menfolk. I’ve written it as if they expect this from us, just to show how very extreme our demands are. No self-respecting woman would ever accept a job like this, no matter how much we loved someone. And we’d probably also never admit – to ourselves or anyone else – that we expected this much from anyone, let alone our one true love.

And yet, when I chat to my girlfriends, and even more when I consider my own frustrations, all of these things have come up. We do expect the men we marry to work and provide, and of course maintain cars and home. But we also expect them to do at least as much inside the home as we do … and then we trivialise what they do, and pick on them for not doing it our way (the right way, obviously!).

And on top of all of that, we expect them to meet every emotional, psychological, physical, social, and ambitious need we have. All the time. We call it “being there for me”. But really it’s more like we’re some kind of giant emotional parasite sapping an already depleted source.

Years ago, when villages were strong and families and friends all lived in close proximity, sharing chores and labour and child-rearing between them all, these expectations were less common. We had mothers and sisters and friends and daughters and fathers and uncles and village elders and mystics and cousins and grandparents and pastors and priests to guide us. We had midwives and farm managers with decades of life under the belt, to answer our questions.

We had companions on every hand – people to help with the cooking and the cleaning and the kids, people to share jokes with and discuss ideas with and get advice from. And they weren’t all one poor, hapless soul who had the misfortune to fall in love with us.

I’ve just started reading Liz Gilbert’s book, Committed. In the early pages she talks about the Hmong tribe in Vietnam, and their very ancient, village-like living arrangements. Lots of people living together in small spaces; women doing women’s work while me do men’s work. Your friends were the women folk who shared your daily chores. Your advisors were the elders of the village. Your husband was a protector and a provider and a progenitor … and yes, maybe even a friend. But not necessarily a confidante and counsellor and business partner.

And I really don’t think that was ever the plan. Surely that’s too much to ask of one person!

I know I wouldn’t be okay with it.

Just some food for thought.

Seventeen years!

Today it has been seventeen years since Papa Bear and I said “I Do”. We’ve had a wonderful day: board games with the girls after breakfast, and coffee in a picturesque spot with family after lunch.

Just perfect.


What marriage is … and isn’t

I am one of the lucky ones. Growing up the way we did, we got to see what works in marriage – and what doesn’t. That means I knew what I wanted when I chose my man, and I knew what I needed to do and to be. I didn’t come into this arrangement with a string of expectations and idealistic fantasies. I knew marriage is about hard work, and I’d found the man I was willing to do the work to keep. I also knew that what I wanted from life was not marriage, and what was missing from me couldn’t be filled by a man, no matter how awesome he is.

Only God can fill that gap.

Yep, I’m one of the lucky ones. That doesn’t mean we haven’t faced our share of trials, and sometimes I’ve honestly wondered if we had what it takes to keep it together. I am sure we all have. And I’m sure we will again. What I do know, though, is that a marriage built on God is hard to shake.

That’s why I love this video.

Musings on the nature of love

“I’ve got a little list!
I’ve got a little list!
Of people who eat peppermint and puff it in your face!”
– ‘The Mikado‘, Gilbert and Sullivan

How a little list saved my lifeWhen I was about 14, I made a list. It described the attributes of my perfect man. I hid it away, ready to pull out when (if) I ever met someone who I thought could be marriage material. I wanted to get it right.

Five years later, when I did finally meet someone who seemed to be Mr Right, I must admit that I rushed in and accepted his proposal before I even remembered that there was a list to be checked. I found the list when I was packing up my life to go and be his wife. Amused, and utterly convinced that I’d made the right choice, I compared Mr Soon-to-be-Mine to the Mr Right I’d concocted in my youth.

He ticked very box.

He even met criteria I thought no one ever would, and which I’d left off the list as being “too much to ask for”. (Honestly, can you really hope for a MacGuyver-type who does a killer John Cleese imitation AND knows all the words to every episode of the Goon Show? Yet that’s what I got! I’d have settled for “has once heard of the Goon Show.”)

In retrospect I may have put other items on my list which I could never have imagined as a teenager. Things like “loves doing dishes” or “picks up after himself”. I imagine I’m not alone there.

My point, though, is that I knew what I wanted, and I recognised it when it stood in front of me. Before I accepted Papa Bear’s proposal, there had been other contenders for the role. I’d nearly settled for a trainee teacher (I love academics) and a wanna-be fireman (brave!). I was diverted by a banker for a while, and even considered and actor/veterinarian. I didn’t really think I’d ever get everything on my list, and in a way that list was an insurance policy. Because I so adamantly did not want to get married, the list gave me a way out of every relationship. And then it didn’t.

We’ve been married for 16 and a half years. Of course we’ve had our share of trials, but we are still in love, and our relationship gets stronger all the time.

Not all of my friends are so lucky, and I recently found myself contemplating the nature of love. I believe that a big part of why we’re good together is because we’re a good fit. And a big part of being a good fit is intentional planning. The men I didn’t marry didn’t meet some key criteria that, to me, were non-negotiable. There were things like, “he must be able to spell”, “he must love to read”, “he absolutely may not demonstrate violence”. Those things might seem obvious to you, but each of the men I turned down (except perhaps the vet) barely read anything, couldn’t spell, and demonstrated violence in subtle ways. And as soon as those things became apparent, I lost interest. It wasn’t a rational act as much as a visceral reaction.

My less fortunate friends find themselves married or involved with men who are distant, unkind, uninvolved, and even violent. Men who don’t read or even value the written word. Men with little clue about what parenting involves or that it ought to involve them. I am astonished that they could have chosen those men in the first place, as I would have run a mile in the opposite direction from that kind of attention. I actually did. They kindly point out to me that they didn’t choose. They fell in love. It just happened.

How could that just happen? This single “fall” has the power to create a lifetime’s worth of joy or bring a seeming eternity of lonely misery. How can we leave something like that to chance? How can we let willful, capricious emotions – possibly created in a moment’s intoxicated weakness – take charge in such a critical aspect of our lives? Is it not far too important to allow a few months of chemical reactions to set us on a course for the rest of our lives??

And yet – didn’t I fall in love? Didn’t Papa Bear and I declare our intentions within days of our meeting? Didn’t we get engaged barely a month after we met? Wouldn’t we have been married a whole year earlier if the law had allowed it? And here, at last, we reach the culmination of my musings. Could it be that I rewired my brain when I made that list? I don’t know what I would have selected without the list, although the near-misses give me a fair idea. I knew my training and experience had set me on a course for self-destruction. I wanted better than that. And I got it. I got better than I dreamed, and better than I ought to have had.

I believe that marriage is hard work, and that any two people willing to put in the effort required can make any marriage work. I also believe that we foolish humans self-sabotage, and if we don’t take thoughtful and definitive steps to identify and circumvent our own personal brand of sabotage, we will be powerless against it. So my musings lead me to think that that little list of mine saved my life, and laid the foundation of my children’s happiness. I wish I could give them more, but I can give them love, safety and security. And that is more than most.

How about you? When looking for a mate, do you base your choices on how he (or she) makes you feel? Or do you know what you’re looking for? And how important is knowing when it comes to falling in love? Do you think you can programme yourself to make smart choices? Please tell me what you think.


What your Mama should’ve told you about marriage (but didn’t).

A very good friend of mine is getting married in just over a month. He’s nervous, understandably, and has been asking me for advice. His primary concern is that, since they’ve been living together for a number of years, that initial “spark” has fizzled.  He’s worried that if he can’t reignite it before the wedding, it could mean that he’s making a big mistake, that they’re not meant for each other, and that somehow he’s “fallen out of love” with her.

Here’s my response:

It’s a trick!

In fact that initial spark is utterly fake. (Watch the video below) The initial spark is pure chemistry: your body and her body flood with hormones for long enough to allow your brains time to connect and identify a potential relationship partner. Science shows that this chemical reaction NEVER lasts more than 2  years (even 18 months is long), and everything after that is what it’s all about. Love is NOT a feeling. It is a decision. You decide to sacrifice your preferences and needs for someone else’s. In an ideal world, she decides the same thing. Then you lay the ground rules as a foundation for your relationship (eg: no cheating, no hitting, no badmouthing, no leaving), and you both apply a WORLD of plain, old-fashioned GRIT, and you work at it every moment of every day of your life.

Excellence requires EFFORT

Love is a VERB

Love is a VERB

To be good at ANYTHING requires hard work, practice, effort and determination. If you were aiming to be an Olympic athlete, you’d expect to train long and hard, for months and years on end, just to have a HOPE of success. In marriage, we should try to be the best spouse we can possibly be. We need to commit to training long and hard, disciplining ourselves and making an effort – for months and years. The key difference between marriage and Olympic sports is that in marriage these factors ALWAYS guarantee success, whereas on the sports field they only guarantee a CHANCE at success.

Failure is the result of expectations

The reason marriages fail is because people don’t realise these two things: love is an ACTION, not a feeling; and marriage takes lots of consistent work. It is worth it, but you need to go in with your eyes open.

Consider the cost

The only way to get that fluttery feeling back is to get it with someone else. And that costs so much more than you can quantify. True love in a committed marriage is DEEP. It lasts. It supports you when you feel that you’re facing the world alone. It comforts you when you’re at your lowest and rejoices with you at your highest. It supports you on the journey from low to high, and inspires you to get that. It knows you, understands you, cares for you. One day you’ll be old and infirm, and if you’ve traded your life of committed bliss for a few moments of feeling amazing, you’ll be alone. But if you’ve taken the plunge to be the person someone else needs in exchange for them being the person you need (whether they do their part or not, you NEED to do yours), you’ll be rewarded with contentment and a deeper version of love than you can even begin to fathom now.

Romantic love is a chemical addiction – Helen Fisher on TED

What do you think about marriage and love? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

A time such as this

Papa Bear is depressed.

depressedI don’t mean that he is sad. It’s not that he “feels blue” or is “out of sorts”. He has depression. We’ve analysed it, and it seems apparent that he’s suffered this debilitating condition since at least his late teens, if not longer.

What does this mean?

Well, it means that he’s tired all the time. He is physically incapable of “helping out” around the house. It’s all he can do to get up in the morning, and seeing clients a few times a week takes mammoth self-motivation. Billing clients is practically a superhuman feat. Once these basics have been achieved, he has no resources left.

It means he needs to be taken care of. He needs someone to make sure he eats well and gets adequate nutrition. He needs help remembering – well, pretty much everything.

It means he needs understanding. He needs acceptance. He needs sympathy. He needs love.

He does not need condemnation or judgement. He gets enough of that from himself.

Giving it a name and understanding what it is and what he needs has been vital for me. I can accept the limitations his condition places on him, and not expect anything beyond what he is able to deliver. When he does more, I can accept that as a wonderful, unexpected gift. I can care for him unconditionally, as one would care for any sick or disabled person. He can’t help it.

It means that, a lot of the time, I’ll have to take up the slack a little bit when it comes to things like earning and income or taking care of the kids. Not because he doesn’t want to do those things; just because he can’t. Accepting that fact alone has been the defining characteristic of the past few weeks.

Working all things for good

I have been struggling with understanding how I can use this situation to help others, when I feel angry and isolated though it all.

Then, last week, we studied the story of Esther in Sunday School. Mordecai says to Esther:

“and who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” Esther 4:14c

In our church, and among my friends outside of church, at least 6 of the ladies are married to men who battle with depression. Most of them are on medication for this, and a few have even been hospitalised for it. When they try to reach out for support, they’re told to “honour your husband”, “stand by your man” and “pray for grace”. Those things may all be true, but hearing them doesn’t make you feel loved, supported or understood. It makes you feel alone.

That’s why I’m coming clean with a very personal story. Because perhaps I can help. Perhaps I can be here “for a time such as this”; I can understand. I can listen. I don’t have advice, but I do have experience, and I do have a little, tiny bit of hope. Perhaps I can share that.

– By Vanessa Davies – daily discovering Joy on a Shoestring.

Do you livewith someone battling depression? Do you battle it yourself? How do you cope? I’d love to hear your thoughts and advice on the subject.

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