I have been hanging around this earth for a really long time, long enough that I have had the opportunity to be lots of different people, to think lots of different things, to have many different opinions, and to make decisions based upon them. If I had the chance to go back again, would I change things? Yes I would. I would have stayed in college, and I would have listened to my parents when they told me not to date that boy, the one who actually ended up causing me to drop out of college so I could get a full time job so I could move out of my parents house so I could keep dating him.
It’s like I keep telling my kids. LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER!
So now that I have come to know everything, what that boils down to is largely being able to see both sides of a situation, because I have probably been on each side. Sometimes that means I still need other people’s thoughts to help clarify my own, and I am interested in hearing your opinions on marriage and relationships. Now I am where I am in my life. I was divorced after sixteen years of marriage, but I remarried and we have been together for almost 25 years now. I’m not going anywhere. I love my husband, and amazingly enough, he seems to love me! He recently walked with me through my breast cancer journey. When I was afraid before my first chemotherapy treatment, he told me that he would gladly take the cancer for me if he could, and he sat with me through the first four three-hour treatments, until he was certain that I wasn’t going to die or break down, and before he ran out of time off of work! We have our patterns and we could improve on them, and maybe we will or maybe we won’t, but behind it all is a foundation of love and commitment to each other. But don’t be mistaken: our road together has been long and filled with rough spots and potholes.
Every road is. No journey of any length is ever smooth and trouble free. And more to the point, if it is completely smooth and trouble free, you are probably doing something wrong. Like lying to yourself and each other.
But I know a lot of younger couples (for me “younger,” of course, embraces a really wide age range, not just twenty somethings!) dealing with a lot of issues, many completely unlike any I ever dealt with, but oftentimes there is a similarity, either at the root or at the tip. There are basic issues, which usually revolve around how the other person makes you feel — not just whether they give you butterflies, or make you feel warm and cozy, or even if they make you feel loved, but how they make you feel about yourself. This is always a tricky one, because when you first get involved in a relationship, the attention you get from the other person generally makes you feel really good about yourself. But after awhile, that feeling is going to grow cold, just because it is familiar. It doesn’t excite you that they find you desirable anymore, and that can be made worse by the fact that they don’t always act like they do because, you know, there is real life: jobs, duties, maybe children who are an entire vocation in themselves. You just get tired and you don’t have the time to desire each other, and don’t have the energy if you do. And I’m not just talking about sex here.
Then someone else comes along who flashes you that smile, that I think you are pretty special and want to get to know you better smile. For some reason there are a whole lot of people in this world who don’t give a fig that someone is married or in a committed relationship, or even that they have five kids! They find you attractive or tantalizing and they are going to go for it. They might not even want to keep you. They might just be excitement addicts that want to go from one thrill to another thrill in pretty rapid succession, because the thrill always wears off! But if the thrill of your committed relationship has worn off, that attention feels really good. And maybe you are just going to have to give in to it. Right?
NO! This is one thing I can say for certain. Because you know what? Yes, I know you know, but perhaps you have forgotten it in the moment, but the fact is that that thrill is just not ever going to last. You may completely wreck your committed relationship, and the new one is going to end up being just as ho hum eventually. So unless you want to spend your life hopping from lily pad to lily pad like a sad frog, you really need to learn to be the source of your own self esteem so that you do not need to derive those good feelings about yourself from other people.
Easy, right? OF COURSE NOT! But this is one area about which I am clear, have no doubts, and need no input, so I figured I’d start off with that.
Then there are the grayer areas. Like, “I don’t love him/her anymore.”
This is not a simple thing. I mean, the first thing to be said is you need to think about what love is. It is not that thrilling feeling. In fact, it may not even be a feeling at all. Love is also a verb. Sometimes it is something that you just keep doing, even when you don’t “feel” it. If you spend a long time with anybody, there are going to be times when they seem dull as dishwater, when there is absolutely no sparkle in your relationship. If you are expecting different, you should just disabuse yourself of that notion. Unless you want to be the sad frog or spend your life alone, you are going to have to understand that this is part of a long-term relationship and get over it, wait for it to pass, or even do something to help it pass. Maybe you are both tired, but try to engage yourselves. My husband was into cycling a few years ago, and I got into it with him. We’d go every day to ride the Alameda Creek Trail together. This was an area free of traffic, a trail that ran for miles from the canyon areas in Fremont out to the San Francisco Bay, ducking under streets so it was never necessary to stop for traffic. It was relatively quiet, we could bike side by side and talk if we wanted to. I wouldn’t have thought it would make that much of a difference, but it was seriously one of the best times in our relationship. And I was a whole lot healthier! There are any number of things you can decide to do with your partner that can help you find joy in each other and in your relationship if it has waned. You just have to want to. In my second pregnancy I loaded up my baby in her stroller and my husband and I went for a walk every day around a nearby lake. Also worked magic, and made an otherwise stressful time pleasant. AND I was much healthier!
But what if the problem isn’t simply the doldrums? What if your partner has seriously disappointed you? What if they promised to be there for you, and then weren’t? What if they hurt you, emotionally or physically? What if they cheated on you, emotionally or physically (YES, there is emotional infidelity)? Any of those cases are worthy of separation, without a doubt. But what if the person is truly repentant? Do you forgive? One of the HUGE questions here is, can you trust him/her to not do it again? This is a question for you, my readers. Can you? Have you been on the giving or receiving ends of these things, and has it been possible to turn it around? Is a partner who strays to other loves ever going to be able to resist that urge?
Then there is something else that can happen. Often once your partner deeply disappoints you or hurts you, you start contemplating life without him or her, and there is something there. Even if the “inciting incident” is simply the doldrums, however, this can happen, and I understand it completely because I have experienced it myself, and that is the feeling that being within a relationship has caused you to lose a lot of personal power, a lot of yourself, and you want your self back. This is really hard to put into words. It can include all the little things, like doing what you want when you want, watching what you want on TV or not having to listen to the TV at all. But the personal power part of the equation goes far deeper. In my own marriage, my husband and I have a lot of space. We have different interests: I’m more likely to pursue mentally and spiritually related activities, while he is more like to pursue physical activities. We do need a little more meeting in the middle right now, but on the other hand it has kind of worked for me, in that I feel very autonomous. And yet secure. If you have a lot of different activities, you need to have absolute trust in each other.
But what about this? Is it a valid reason to leave a relationship, because you want to reclaim your personal power, whatever the source of your feelings? And let’s talk about the word “valid.” This tends to bring up the notion of responsibility, or commitment. If you have entered into a committed relationship, is it valid for you to suddenly feel you don’t want to do it anymore and say bye? What if you have children? No matter how you cut it, they are likely to be hurt by separation. Is it okay to do that because you just feel like you want something else now?
I realize the way I am wording these questions presupposes a certain prejudice in favor of keeping commitments and considering the impact of your decisions on others, including your partner and your children. And I do kind of feel that way. But I have not always followed that in my life. And I cannot for sure say that it is wrong to do that. I think we should be happy and we should be fulfilled. Are we unable to own our personal power within our relationships? If we are able to own it, how should we do that? What have your experiences and observations been in this regard?
And let’s take this a step further: what if there is something wrong with our partner? What if they get sick? What if they get so sick they aren’t much fun any more? What if they get so sick we have to care for them, and they become a liability? I think not too many people will advocate leaving your partner under those circumstances, but what if you have to live them? Or let’s mix it up. What if your partner suffers from mental illness? What if they have depression, or bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, a psychosis, drug addiction, alcoholism? Those conditions can be really hard to deal with. They can wreck havoc with lives and and can be very difficult to fix. But if we have said those words, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, do we believe that? If the person we are with starts looking like someone else, do we stay with them, keep loving them?
I do believe in commitment, as you can tell. I know people are afraid of waking up down the road, broken or alone, regretting their decisions. You stayed with your straying spouse, and it turns out that they can’t stop straying, and one day they stray and you end up alone at a time when you are in a far more difficult place, without the supports you had at the time you chose to forgive and remain? What if your irresponsible spouse ruins you? What if your mentally ill spouse ruins your children’s lives, as well as yours? (Note that spouses can ruin children’s lives in divorce as well as in marriage.) What if your sick spouse dies, and after battling with them and caring for them, quite literally, you are alone?
These are not easy questions. They are hard to answer for our own selves. We cannot see around the corner, and have no idea where the road we choose is going to lead for us. We don’t want to hurt or destroy some else, especially someone we have loved. But we don’t want to be hurt or destroyed ourselves?
And if love does fade, for whatever reason, how can you tell when it is dead and simply cannot be revived?
I am really interested in hearing your thoughts, and especially your experiences with these things. If you could leave your comments below, I’d appreciate it. If you would like to leave them where the public can’t see them, you can use the contact form in this blog.
But just one final thought before I leave. There is a quote, repeated so often I don’t know if the original source can even be found. Be careful you don’t wake up one day and realize you lost the moon while counting the stars.
Love is precious, even when it is covered in dust.