Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Trouble With Stay at Home Dads

With Fathers day coming up the idea of who a dad is and what he does become more prevalent.  I see it starting already on social media.  As a mother to 2 small children I know that I am very grateful for the dad that they have and the wonderful influence he is on their lives.  He does work a full time position and enables me to spend most of my time home raising our kids.  I think it is wonderful to be able to have that option and I recognize that that isn't a choice for a lot of families.  With the cost of life and the pressures of our culture having a stay at home parent isn't often an possibility.  There has been an increase in the acceptance of a stay at home parent in the last number of years and I also have appreciated the recognition that it is a difficult position to take.  There has been a huge increase in the respect and appreciation given to stay at home parents and a huge growth in the acceptance of the idea of a stay at home dad.

I read an article yesterday, directed towards stay at home dads written from the Christian perspective.  I attempted to find a copy of that article to link here but I was unable to find it on the magazine's web site.  They talked a lot about if this is an appropriate place for a man and sited 1 Timothy 5:8 which says,
Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
But rather than jumping on that as biblical evidence that men must be breadwinners they spoke about the idea of what the provision actually means in this day and age.  To us the idea of providing usually equates to finances and working outside the home but that might not be the only interpretation.  There is also the necessity of security, of providing a quality relationship with an appropriate example of loving fatherhood, working to increase the quality of the home environment and also the ability to recognize the possibility that the wife might be in a better position to provide the finances.  I believe being a stay at home dad requires a lot of humility, confidence and commitment to the quality of life of their children. 

Of course, having a stay at home parent can come with a number of challenges, regardless of whether it's the mom or dad that stay home but there is a challenge that I think gets overlooked quite often when it comes to stay at home dads specifically.

I know a family where the dad is mostly a stay at home dad.  It's amazing to see the quality relationship he has with his kids and though the mom is working she does take care to ensure that she gets quality time as well.  Those kids are confident, secure and well cared for.  However, this can cause great big problems in the marriage relationship and I believe that is something that is too often forgotten about.

For myself, when I started this stay at home journey it had an effect on me emotionally and mentally.  I had been working and providing for myself for at least 13 years at that point and it was quite an adjustment to all of a sudden have no income and to be completely dependent on another person.  I struggled deeply with feeling indebted and like I was a burden.  I worried I was adding extra stress to my spouse and I hated feeling like I needed to run every purchase past my husband, like I was a child waiting for approval.  It changes the dynamic of your relationship. 

There are a few friends I have that are also stay at home moms and we have talked a few times about the sometimes insensitive things that husbands can say that add to burden we feel.  They don't do it on purpose but I just don't believe they understand how belittling some of their comments can be.  For example, a while ago my husband made an unnecessary purchase.  Something just for him that was fun and non essential.  I commented, "when do I get to do that?" and his response was that he had saved for a number of months and that when I did the same I could spend it how I wanted.  This caused me to burst into tears and hurt me deeply.  Meanwhile, he totally hadn't realized that what he had said or done would have been insensitive.  He only saw that he had wanted something and saved up for it, not that what he said might be cruel since I had no possible source of income to save up.  I felt he was treating me like a child, not a spouse making sacrifices for our family. 

This issue of having an income to contribute can be even more of a burden on men.  After all, our society revolves around affluence, status and bravado.  Men are taught to equate their masculinity to their possessions and their jobs.  Being a stay at home dad could be very tough on their psyche!  After all, it's not really that prestigious.  If people still look down on a stay at home mom I can imagine the scorn a man in that position would experience!  

Remember the family I mentioned with the stay at home dad?  Well, he ended up having an affair.  He was also sneaking money to her and buying her gifts.  I think that is a sign.  A sign that he needed to feel needed.  He wanted to provide for this woman and feel like he could make things better for her life.  The dynamic of the relationship with his wife had been turned into more of a parent/child situation and that just isn't sexy!  When someone isn't bringing in an income it is difficult not to feel indebted and just like another dependent.  For men, I believe it's emasculating and since the ultimate expression of manliness is sexual conquest, I believe relationships set up this way run a much higher risk of infidelity. 

Even saying all of this, I still don't think it is necessarily a bad idea for a man to be a stay at home parent.  I think there could be a lot of benefit to the children.  However, this is a risk that I have never heard mentioned and if this were a choice you were looking into I would recommend taking a few precautions to safeguard your marriage. 

One of those would be for the wife to be extra sensitive to this possibility and taking efforts to "affair proof" your relationship.  Never say things that could be demeaning, insulting or dismissive about the position your husband has taken.  You want to make sure you are doing all you can to build him up and boost his confidence.  Making him feel small will only push him to find someone that will encourage him and build him up.  (This would be a good idea for any marriage actually, not just ones with a stay at home dad.)

Also, make sure that your husband remains heavily involved in the finances.  Make certain he feels some control over spending and feels involved in the process of meeting all your financial obligations.

Be sure that he has plenty of opportunity for social interaction.  This can be tricky for any stay at home parent.  I have had many times when I have felt closed off from the world with little to no adult input.  It can be a strain on your relationship if your spouse is then 100% responsible for all your grown up conversation and interaction.  It's important to have friends that you can spend time with to get refreshed and recharged to be the best parent they can be.  For men, this social part could be harder to sort out when dealing with a stay at home dad.  Women can just meet for coffee and have a fantastic time chatting for hours about hardly anything at all.  Men, on the other hand, I have found need an excuse to get together.  They need a hobby.  Something that they do with another guy and hang out at the same time.  Men need an excuse to socialize, women....not so much.  I try to be really accepting of my husband's hobbies because they really do need activities to keep them connected.  So a hobby that let's your stay at home dad hang out with other men, doing manly things might be just what he needs to keep him happy, confident and secure in his position.  The only caution I would offer is to be careful of female friends.  Men, don't hang out one on one with a woman other than your wife.  I offer that caution to anyone though, stay at home dad or not.  I also will use this opportunity to tell women the same thing (again) do NOT create a close friendship with a man that is not your husband!  Those relationships are far, far to dangerous, even if they seem completely innocent and harmless at the start. 

Finally, defer a good portion of the family decision making to your husband.  If he isn't making work decisions he might need the boost of confidence in knowing he is in charge of some portion of his life.  He needs to feel respected and capable.  Showing him that you trust his judgment and are willing to follow his leadership will help him feel needed and that his opinion is valued. 

I have a lot of respect for a man who can humble himself for the good of his family and I do feel that there are some quality men out there doing a great job of providing a solid home life for their kids.  I applaud their commitment to their family and I appreciate the sacrifice they are making in order to create a positive environment for their child's growth.  I pray that you are also able to feel fulfilled and appreciated in your married life and that your relationship will grow ever stronger instead of pulling you apart. 


Tuesday, May 6, 2014

A Dislocated Marriage

It's no secret that more and more marriages are ending in divorce.  It's often quoted that you have a 50% chance of making it these days.  It's difficult to get statistics on this but the government does say that from the census it is evident that there are roughly twice the number of marriages as divorces in a year.  Any way you say it or look at it though, the numbers are too high!

Divorce changes everything!  It changes you, your partner and your children.  It makes you into different people.  Many people say that divorce makes them happier but I wouldn't say that that's true.  I do think initially, when you are living in a miserable and damaged marriage, then remove yourself from that situation there is a feeling of relief.  I would liken it to a dislocated arm.  I, thankfully, have never had this happen to me but my husband has had issues with dislocation and I am familiar with the effect.  When an appendage is out of joint it causes immense pain and it limits your movement.  I think a damaged marriage is like this.  It causes a lot of pain and it limits your everyday life by becoming all consuming.  You're emotions are so caught up in problems at home it always with you, right there in the back of your head, drawing your attention to the negative every time there is a pause in activity.  The arm needs to be set.  Many times people think of divorce as the only method of "setting" a dislocated marriage.  Many people say that when an arm or leg is set it is intensely painful and then immediately, the instant it is back in joint there is an immense feeling of relief.  In many marriages today divorce is the option used for getting that relief and setting the relationship. 

The problem is, just setting a limb doesn't mean that it is totally fixed and as good as it was before.  My husband has had his knee dislocated and the effects of that are lasting.  His knee is not as strong as it was, it becomes more prone to dislocation in the future, arthritis can set in and his knee hurts if he does to much walking or kneels down to much.  It will never be the same.  It's the same with divorce.  You can remove yourself from the relationship but the emotional damage will still effect you, you are more prone to future divorce, your personality is changed and the relationship can still cause pain.

With any injury, you give it the best chance of recovery by taking care of things the right way.  I think divorce is like setting the shoulder, expecting it to fix everything and then moving on like normal.  I would compare the rehabilitation of a marriage to the proper rehabilitation process.  Divorce is more like set it and forget it.   

When I looked up rehabilitation for a shoulder dislocation and found that it goes in 2 phases.  The first is wearing a sling and being careful not to irritate the injured aria by moving it in certain way.  I would compare this to finding support for your marriage.  People that might have been through some similar things to you and improved their situation can be a fantastic resource.  They can point you to materials that can help resolve some of the main issues you have and encourage you to work through the problems.  Reading books on the topics that are of the most concern to your situation are another method of support.  Avoiding further injury would be like taking a rest from some of the most soar spots of your marriage.  For instance, if sex is a soar spot it might be a good time to agree to a bit of a time of abstinence so that no one feels pressured and that you don't cause greater damage due to something that is a sensitive to one or both partners. 

Phase 2 is physiotherapy and exercise.  This I would compare to counseling and talking through the problems and issues our marriage is faced with.  Just like with physical physiotherapy there will be a lot of pain involved!  It hurts to try and build back muscle and function in a limb that has been dislocated but in the long run the recovery is much more complete and the function of the limb is as close to normal as possible.  It's the same with a marriage.  If you don't take a good look at the problems in a marriage and avoid the pain of digging into them and sorting out a workable solution for both of you the marriage will never be the same.  It will never be as supportive and loving as it could be if you both confront your fears and annoyances and find a way to work together. 

I think we could all agree that the solution for a dislocated shoulder is not to just stop using that arm for the rest of your life.  In the same way the solution for a dislocated marriage is not to simply avoid the emotional baggage you and your spouse have.  The best chance you both have for being whole and healed people is to delve into the issues you are experiencing and actually do the work of resolving those problems.  Yes, divorce will remove some of the pain but it will hobble you emotionally in the process.  If you want to be able to have healthy and fulfilling relationships in the future you will have to do the emotional work at some point.  To me it just makes sense to fix it right the first time around. 

Monday, May 5, 2014

Let's Talk About Sex

I stumbled across a very interesting video on the Internet today.  I found it amazingly fitting for this blog and what I have gone through.  If you also have a sexual disconnect in your marriage I would really recommend watching it. 

One line I really liked is "Sex is not an aphrodisiac."  The video was wonderful for pointing out the position of the opposite partner.  I have found that the more I understand where my husband is coming from and what is going on in his head, the better I can sort out the discrepancy between our desire. 
"Healthy relationships are based on mutual caretaking"
I think that this words perfectly, exactly what I have been trying to get at!  If you want your marriage to be thriving and filled with love you need to take care of your spouse and you need them to take care of you.  My job in my marriage is to make sure I meet the needs of my husband, and I'm not just talking sexually.  The problem is, my focus in on the things that I want and need.  I have a tendency to give him what I want because I make a (untrue) assumption that we both want the same things.  Yes, there is a benefit to treating people in the manner in which we would like to be treated but that doesn't mean they put the same value on those actions as we do.  If I take care of my husband then he will be more willing to take care of me too.  Not that I should only do nice things for him just for the possibility of getting kindness in return.  Sometimes he will need more care than I will and other times it will be the other way around.

As you know, my husband and I have experienced a sexual disconnect for a lot of our marriage and I have been blessed by the resolution of a lot of those problems.  Yes, we did a lot of work to get there and they didn't just go away on their own but we have come a long way. 

I hope you enjoy this video and that it is helpful to you too.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Sex Schedule

Have you and your spouse ever had a schedule for when you'd have sex?  Do you like the idea of planning for intimacy or does that seem like it would remove the spontinaity and romance?

For myself, the answer to these questions is yes, even though they seem contradictory.  My husband and I have had a set day for sex in the past and tried to stick to it or make up for it if the day was missed.  When we first decided to schedule our romps in the bedroom I was both reluctant and determined.  I worried that having a set time that my husband would be required to get physical with me might make me feel like more of an obligation than a partner.  I didn't want him to see me as a task on his to do (no pun intended) list instead of an object of desire.

I was also determined that it was a good course for us to take.  We have had many issues with neither one of us wanting to initiate sex so we would sometimes have long stretches of abstinence simply because neither one of us wanted to make the first move.  I was hopeful that having a day set in advance would alleviate the pressure on us and help us to make love more frequently. 

So we chatted about how often we would like to be intimate and decided on once a week.  This might seem like not very much to some and like a lot to others but at the time we were very sporadic and I think we were only doing it about once a month, if that.  We also had very mismatched libidos so once a week was a good compromise at the time.  We decided on Saturday nights.  With small kids and not a lot of extra money it was a day where we could be sure work wouldn't interfere and we could make it into a type of date night. 

I must confess, I felt a little bit weird about it at first.  I did worry that my husband was going along with it simply out of obligation rather than desire but it did tend to work alright for him (we had some problems with erectile dysfunction) so I figured it couldn't be all bad.  I soon discovered that this system worked well for us on a few levels.  It did remove the need for one of us to initiate and removed the possibility of rejection (one of the main deterrents of initiating).  It broke our cycle of abstinence and made sure we were connecting a lot more regularly.  Also, knowing the day and time that we would be intimate allowed us to build up some anticipation throughout the week.  We could prepare ourselves mentally and it gave us something to look forward to.  It definitely meant we were doing it a lot more often, so I started to resent him a little less and was a little less grumpy. 

After a while of this though it started to become a little contrived.  I started to feel like we could ONLY have sex on those days.  The possibility of a spontaneous weekday romp was nonexistent.  We became very routine and a little bit dull.  I started to have more and more trouble feeling wanted by him and my enjoyment decreased.  There were other factors happening at this same time.  I had started a friendship with a man who was quite complimentary and flirtatious so I began to resent my husbands treatment of me.  Eventually I lost my ability to climax with him. 

Years have passed since that point and we have done a lot of work, both together and separately, to improve our relationship.  I'm not sure how many relationships have gotten so close to the brink of destruction and come back but I am very glad that we did.  Today we have a really good relationship.  We are more open and honest with one another and we are intimate about twice a week.  We no longer schedule sex although we do still loosely stick to our Saturday night appointment. My husband is getting more and more comfortable with initiating.  Even our libidos are closer to matching.  For me, getting a better quality of connection has made each encounter more satisfying so I don't feel compelled to get it quite so often.  For my husband, it used to take about 45 min for him to be able to climax.  That was a big time investment, especially when there is young children and busy schedules.  Now that he has gotten more comfortable with how he works and we have practiced more the time investment is significantly less.  Practice really is helpful when it comes to understanding our own bodies and what works for us.   

We still definitely have our struggles and we are still working on issues of initiation and routine.  Though we no longer schedule our sex it was a great method of getting us out of a slump, restoring a little confidence and gaining a bit of experience.  I don't know that I would want to keep things like that forever but it wasn't nearly as clinical and forced as I thought it would be. 

In marriages the "job" of initiating sex usually goes to the one that has the higher libido but that leads to that person being turned down and rejected quite often.  This can be very hard to deal with and will often cause the initiator to stop.  Once they stop making themselves vulnerable in this way you will most likely see a slump in the frequency of sex.  This might seem like a good thing to the person with the lower libido but in reality it is only driving a wedge between you.  If the person with the lower libido is not comfortable initiating (like in my situation) then maybe a period of scheduled sex is just what your marriage needs to take the pressure off and help you to reconnect and learn some new skills. 

Though I'm happy to be a bit more spontaneous today, I do really appreciate the freedom and experience we gained from out time of scheduled sex.  It's possible you could benefit from something like this too.  After all, practice makes perfect.  (Well, maybe not perfect but certainly a lot better!)

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Let It Go

Negotiating for what you want in marriage can be a very delicate and tricky business!  Sometimes, for myself, I will just resolve to accept things the way they are rather than go through the difficulty and sometimes agony of voicing my desires and risking having those rejected.  I often finding myself weighing the risk/reward factor when it comes to changes I wish to make. 

There is a couple that I know that fight about EVERYTHING!  I have witnessed arguments between them over things that I would consider trivial and unimportant but in the moment, to them, things can get quite heated.  For myself, I know there are small things that, for some reason, bother me.  For instance, I can't handle a picture being hung slightly crocked.  However, a cluttered mess can sit on my dresser for months without it causing me the least bit of annoyance.  In that same line of thinking, there can be some behaviors (such as the cluttered mess on my dresser) that might seriously irk my spouse.  One little thing that slightly bothers me is the loading of dishes in the dishwasher.  I like them to be a particular way and there are certain things I want in a specific place.  It bothers me when my husband puts the garlic press in with the silverware because it's then closed and no matter how well our dishwasher works it will never get the left over garlic out of the closed press. 

So what do I do when I open the dishwasher and discover the garlic press all mashed together with the forks and knives?  I really have 2 choices.  1)  I can talk to my husband and tell him that this bothers me and ask him to change or, 2)  I can let it go. 

This might seem like a very trivial issue that doesn't make a difference in marriage at all and you would be correct.  However, the way we handle little issues also reflects how we handle the big ones so finding a workable solution for small issues can be really helpful when something truly significant comes along.

So how do we decide how we will react to these problems?  You might think I missed secret option #3 in my choices.  I know a lot of people (such as the aforementioned couple) that would have a huge, blow out fight about that garlic press.  Isn't getting angry an option too?  I would say no.  Being angry is a reaction but it isn't an option.  That would be more of a method of delivering choice #1.  It never proven to be a very effective method for me though. 

The first thing that I do when deciding how to react to an issue is figure out how big a deal the issue is to me.  So, the garlic press, not such a big deal but it could have a pretty simple solution.  After all, if I just explain to my husband why I would rather he put it in a different location then he might understand the logic and change his behavior.  So that's what I did.  I told him, when you put the garlic press in the dishwasher closed like that there is no way that it can get clean.  He agreed with me and could see the validity of my argument so I thought, perfect, problem solved.  That is until the next time he put the garlic press in the dishwasher, closed, in with the silverware again.  So I'm back at the start again with my two choices.  Do I tell him again or just let it go.

This is often the time when a little issue becomes a big one.  It seems like such a trivial little problem, especially in the grand scheme of things but when you express yourself clearly to someone and they even agree with you but don't change the behavior it can be extremely frustrating.  That frustration builds up until you realize you are furious and fighting over something that's completely insignificant.  Really the issue isn't the garlic press, it's that you can not control someone else's behavior.  I get upset because even though he sees the logic in what I have told him, I can't make him take it more seriously and I can't force him to act in a manner that I want him to. 

The next choice it, once again to figure out how big a deal this is to me.  If I attempt to let the problem go can I do so without becoming angry and resentful each time he puts the garlic press in the dishwasher "wrong"?  For me the answer was yes.  It really isn't a big deal and it takes me about 2 seconds to move it when I see it in the wrong place.  Even if I miss it and it doesn't get totally cleaned out it's not a big deal for me to rinse it out by hand or just put it back in the dishwasher again.  I also chose to focus on the fact that he is being helpful in the first place by even loading the dishes into the dishwasher instead of getting irritated by his placement of them.  I can choose to remember the good things he does instead of the small parts that he doesn't do the same way I would do them.  The other thing that helps me to not be annoyed by my husbands little "faults" is keeping in mind all of my own faults.  I know I do quite a number of things that irritate him, such as my propensity towards mess.  Knowing that it bothers him does little to change my habitual untidiness, I'm sure, much to his chagrin.  I appreciate his willingness to let his annoyances go, therefor I try to do my best to offer him the same kindness. 

Of course there are much bigger problems than the washing of a garlic press in every marriage but no matter how big or small those problems are there is still only two choices of how to deal with them.  The bigger the problem though, the harder it is to let it go.  Also, the bigger the problem, the more likelihood of it being harder to change. 

One of these bigger problems I am still dealing with is the issue of smoking.  My husband had just given up smoking when we started dating and he didn't smoke throughout our entire dating relationship.  Once the stress started to flow into our marriage in the form of issues in the bedroom, stressful years with kids and financially tight times, smoking became a stress relieve that he turned to in order to decompress.  With the addictiveness of nicotine, it is, unfortunately, a habit that has persisted.

I have had discussions with him about how much it bothers me.  He knows that I find the smell repulsive.  I have also expressed to him that I feel rejected when he turns to cigarettes when he's feeling overwhelmed instead of looking to me for support.  He does understand how hurtful it is to him physically and how there are really no benefit to the behavior but he is still reluctant to quit.  He does get a bit of a high from smoking and it does relieve some of the stressful emotions he feels so, to him the "reward" of still smoking outweighs the extreme difficulty of quitting.

Since I know that smoking is extremely addictive and very hard to quit I have been attempting to be understanding and let it go.  Sometime that is more difficult to do than other times and I struggle with keeping a balance between my frustration and not wanting to be a nag or push him further into it.  I know that the more I push him to quit the more he will resist and push back but I also don't want to just completely let it go and give him the impression that I accept it.  I have also thought over ultimatums but there is a lot of danger in something like that backfiring.  Say for example, I tell him I won't kiss him until he quits.  I then run the risk of him being resentful of the position I put him in and choosing smoking over me.  Then, not only will I be upset about the smoking but I would be rejected in favour of the behavior.  That could cause much bigger problems in the marriage and create a lot of anger between us that could cause irreparable damage to our relationship.

It's taken me a long time to get to this point and I have made a lot of negative comments and had some frustrated outbursts but I have come to the conclusion that my best option in this matter is to let it go.  All I can do is pray that he will have the desire and determination required to quit, that the addiction and dependence will be broken and that he will make the decision to turn to me with his stress and frustration rather than getting a brief high from cigarettes. 

I must admit that I still get angry and frustrated when he comes home smelling like an ashtray.  I still feel annoyed when he thinks that brushing his teeth removes all trace of the smoke smell from him even though I can still taste it on his breath when we kiss.  I have stopped mentioning it though because I have learned from experience that if I keep bringing it up and harping on it every time I smell the faintest whiff of smoke he will only become irritated with me and push me farther away rather than be judged every time he slips up. 

He was attempting to quit a few months ago and it was not going overly well.  Pretty much his only reason for quitting was that I was insistent that he should.  The withdrawal was making him moody and grumpy and he was being gruff and snippy with me.  He eventually revealed that he was feeling resentful of me for "making him" quit so rather than continuing to push for what I wanted (even though it is actually what is best for him) I decided to not mention it any more.  He went back to smoking because he wasn't ready to quit and didn't have the proper motivation and I resolved to redouble my prayer efforts for him.  At that time I was feeling like my anger towards him was justified.  Like it was even righteous since his smoking is harmful to him.  I mentioned this to a friend and she pointed out to me that my thinking was flawed.  When we do things that are wrong and harmful to us God doesn't get angry at us for messing up.  He loves us just the same, even though we are constantly missing the mark.  The best tactic I can take with my husband is to simply love him through it.  He already knows that I don't like his smoking, mentioning it every day doesn't change anything.  I can't force him to change any more than God forces us to do the right thing.  All I can do is move forward with love and pray for change.  I place it in God's hands to give him the motivation. 

Not all situations are all or nothing like that one though.  With some issues there can be many different solutions in order to give each of you a little more of what you would like.  For instance, if your husband is working a lot of hours and you hardly have any time with him.  He might feel it is necessary because of financial concerns but you might feel you would rather cut back some of the household spending in order to remove some of the need to work as many hours.  Expressing your position on the topic in a positive way, like "I would love to be able to spend a little more time with you but I know that money is tight.  Is there a way that we can work with our budget to put less stress on you so you could be home a little more?" will get far better results than an accusatory, "you're never home anymore.  I'm so sick of how much you've been working."  Then you and you're partner can negotiate some type of compromise that gets you both a little more of what you want rather than both of you being annoyed by your circumstances. 

What I have discovered in my years of negotiating for change is that really the best option for approaching a situation is both 1 and 2.  Once I let someone know (in the kindest and gentlest way possible) about something that bothers me I then need to let it go and leave it up to them to change or not.  If they change, fantastic but if they don't then really my only option is to let it go or risk ruining the relationship.  Believe me, I have pushed too hard plenty of times and ruined a few friendships because of my stubbornness.  I don't want to do the same with my marriage, so it's time to let it go.  There aren't many issues that would be worth divorcing over so if I want to stay together that's the choice I need to make.  Knowing how much I've failed and been forgiven by God definitely makes that choice easier. 

You're Wearing That?

There's a fairly new song on the radio that I'm sure you have heard.  It's by A Great Big World and Christina Aguilera, Say Something.  I really love this song even though I find it quite sad and it usually makes me cry.  It reminds me of the desperation, uncertainty and heartbreak I was experiencing at some of the most difficult points of my marriage. 

There is one part of this song that I really dislike though.  Is says,
"I will swallow my pride.  You're the one that I love and I'm saying goodbye."
That line, to me, doesn't seem to fit the tone of the song.  Most of the song seems like a last ditch effort to restore what they once had, a desperate plea for their partner to open up to them.  The confession that they are still "the one that I love" doesn't fit with saying goodbye.  Most of it seems to be crying out for the renewal of the intimacy they once experienced and a hope that if they were to be able to talk it out then they could get back to that place.  Saying goodbye is giving up and surrendering their hope.  That doesn't encourage their partner to trust and become vulnerable enough to "say something".  I feel like that one line ruins all the effort of the rest of the song. 

I remember the times when I felt this desperate myself.  My husband is not the most vocal person about the things that are bothering him and his thoughts and feelings.  I felt like I was constantly walking a tightrope of marriage and the slightest breeze would topple our relationship.  I was unsure of if I could stay with this man, or even if I wanted to, but the one thing I could never voice to him was my uncertainty.  I believe if I would have even hinted at the idea that I couldn't do it anymore that would have broken all his trust in me.  Giving him cause to doubt my dedication to our marriage would have given him every excuse he needed to close himself off even more than he already did.  Saying goodbye would not have shaken him up to fight for us, it would have shown him that it was already too late and caused him to give up. 

Another song that you might have heard recently is by Pink and Nate Ruess, Just Give Me a Reason.

I love the line, "Just give me a reason, just a little bit's enough.  Just a second, we're not broken, just bent and we can learn to love again."  To me this is such a hopeful statement of reconciliation.  It says that even when things go wrong and there are problems that they aren't irreparably broken, they just need a little TLC to fix.  What I get from this line is that loving someone is a choice we make to see our problems as just little snags along the way, instead of insurmountable obstacles. 
There is a part of this song that I find extremely funny though.  That might seem strange for me to say, seeing as this is a pretty serious song but at one point Pink says, "You've been talking in your sleep.  Things you never say to me.  Tell me that you've had enough of our love."  The answer that Nate Ruess has to this is, "I'm sorry I don't understand where all of this is coming from.  I thought that we were fine.  You're head is running wild again.  My dear, we still have everything and It's all in you're mind."  I feel sorry for this guy here.  He's just moving along, thinking everything is great but apparently he talks in his sleep, something he has absolutely no control over, she hears something questionable and is convinced that things are almost over.
I'm not trying to be sexist here but I think this is something that we women do have a tendency to do.  We get in a bit of a mood, our guy says something unintentionally stupid (guys don't always understand the subtle nuances we read into the things they say) and we blow it out of proportion.  I think the important part of Pink's line that she should have listened to herself was, "things you never say to me."  The words he says in his sleep are not a repetition of things he says all the time.  They are out of context and don't seem characteristic of the way he is when he's awake.  Maybe she should have paid a bit more attention to that fact than to his sleep talking.   
This reminds me of a story that Sheila shares on her blog at "To Love Honor and Vacuum".  She talks about how her husband started buying her flowers quite regularly and the longer and longer it went on the angrier and angrier she got.  It might seem strange to get angry when your husband starts to do something loving like that but she explains that he used to buy her chocolates and then switched to flowers.  She made an assumption from that switch that he thought she was fat and didn't want to contribute to that so he sent flowers instead.  He had just thought that flowers would be a nice gesture and had committed himself, without her knowing, to giving her flowers twice a month for 6 months.  So here he was, thinking he was doing something good and wondering why his wife was not having the reaction he expected.
I think this can be quite common in marriage.  I know sometimes I can end up making a mountain out of a mole hill too.   For example, one morning I had gotten ready for church and was sitting at the kitchen table.  My husband comes downstairs, looks at me and says, "Is that what you're wearing to church?"  It Definitely wasn't my dressiest outfit but I had on some skinny jeans and a plaid shirt and I thought I looked fairly trendy and nice.  Instantly I doubted my choice while at the same time got quite defensive.  "What's wrong with it?" I said in a somewhat hurt and dejected voice.  At this point I think he realized how what he said had sounded.  He then pointed out that he had put on a very similar looking plaid shirt and didn't want us to look like twins.  I had been hurt and offended by what I saw as a criticism of how I looked but all he was really saying is that he didn't think I would want us to be so matchy (and he was right). 
It's like in the song "Just Give Me a Reason".  Pink hears him talking in his sleep.  Who knows what he would have been dreaming about.  He probably doesn't remember and it might not have even had anything to do with their relationship but she decides, from these few words that he has no control over, that they have some big problems.  This poor guy is slapped upside the head with it and sent spinning.  His reaction, "I thought that we were fine!"  He's just moving along with his life thinking every thing's good and all of a sudden an assumption about something he has said almost derails them. 
Why do we do this?  Why do we women have such a tendency to read so much into what our men say and do?  For the most part guys are far simpler than that and usually the simplest explanation is the best.  I have now been attempting to see the actions and reactions of my husband this way.  I try not to read to much into the simple statements he makes and if something he says confuses me, rather than assuming what he means and jumping to a conclusion because of that, I am attempting to ask questions for clarification and trying to get all the facts before getting upset.  Sometimes I still jump to upset before I sort out the real meaning behind what is happening but it is getting easier and easier to understand the mind of my husband now that I have reset my filter to giving him the benefit of the doubt instead of the mistrust I approached him with before. 
It's true that men and women tend to see things quite differently so the more we try to understand things from our partners perspective the easier it will be fix the issues that will continue to come up throughout our marriages.  It might not take a lot to "bend" a relationship but an attitude of understanding and compassion can make it much, much harder to "break", and most bends are pretty easy to fix.  We CAN learn to love again. 

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Social Self Esteem

Everywhere you look, everyone is so happy!  They are going on vacations, eating amazing meals, getting fantastic gifts, seeing unbelievable places, starting new relationships, getting engaged, getting married, having babies, being praised by their spouses... the list goes on and on.  It can seem like everyone is having an incredible life except you.

Sometimes, everything that's happening in the lives of the people around me can get quite depressing!  Sure, I'm happy for that cousin who just started a new relationship.  I'm excited when a friend gets engaged.  I mutter something about sleep going out the window when there is a new birth announcement.  I complain to my husband about the woman who won't shut up about the amazing new diet and exercise program she's doing and I role my eye's when someone announces that they will be going on their 67th vacation this year (I might be exaggerating a little bit).  Then, someone will post about how wonderful their spouse is and how much they love them and, I must admit, I get jealous. 

Yes, there are some things I absolutely love about social media but there are some big things I hate about it too. 

When you are a person that struggles with your self esteem, seeing pictures of that gorgeous friend looking perfect and flawless can be just as difficult as walking past the fashion magazines at the grocery store.  Actually, in many ways it's harder because even thought the standards aren't quite as exacting, you know that Facebook friend is real and that they ACTUALLY DO look that good.  Hearing all about their perfect life with tagged pictures to prove it can be a little overwhelming. 

The problem with thinking this way is that even though we know these people and what they show us of their life is fantastic, it's only half of the story. 

I know I don't tend to see status updates like:
Cried myself to sleep last night.  Fighting with my husband again.  Sometimes it just seems so hopeless.  #iwantadivorce
I can't stand anything about how I look.  I feel so incredibly unattractive, there is no way someone could truly love me.  #eatingdisorder  #depression  #iwantplasticsurgery
Or how about,
My husband and I haven't been intimate in over a year.  Our marriage is a sham.  We don't even hardly look at each other anymore.  #heishavinganaffair
I know there are some people (you must have at least one FB friend) that posts far to much information about their life.  I'm pretty sure a few of my friends are hypochondriacs, or if not they might be dying, since they seem to post about going to the hospital almost every week.  Sometimes there can be string of conversation between friends that makes you a little uncomfortable as it gets more and more heated.  But, can you imagine what social media would be like if everyone used it as a forum for airing all their dirty laundry?  How depressing!  However, when things are the other way around and everything is always perfect and pretty....that can be hard too.

Sometimes it's hard to remember that there is more to people's lives than what we see on Facebook.  There are difficulties in every one's life even though we might not hear about it. 

There is one woman in particular on my Facebook that I struggle with being jealous of.  She is slender, confident, beautiful, popular, incredibly talented and has a handsome husband that regularly does amazing things for her.  In short she has all the qualities and characteristics that I wish I could have, all wrapped up in a perfect package.  I know her life is not perfect and that she has, for sure, had her share of hardship but that doesn't stop that little twinge of envy when I see another picture of her looking incredible. 

I believe that envy and low self esteem go hand in hand.  It's hard to hate something about yourself and not be just a little bit jealous of someone that has it.  This is why social media can be particularly difficult.  It is a constant barrage of all the best parts of the lives around us, polished and perfected and waiting for us to lust over. 

There are good things about social media though too.  It's wonderful to be able to reconnect with friends when the distance has grown between where you live.  It's amazing to share a laugh over something hilarious that a friend's kid has said.  I enjoy a good debate now and then over a hot topic of conversation.  I've also tried a few recipes that have been posted with great success.  The problem is how to balance the good and the bad. 

The only way to, for sure, reduce our level of envy is to improve our lives in the arias that we are envious about but in some instances that just isn't possible.  I quite often find myself thinking of the serenity prayer. 

At different points in life the portion of this that I struggle with most changes.  Sometimes I have absolutely no wisdom and I wind up thinking that I am totally stuck with something that would be quite easy to change.  Other times I do the opposite and try so very hard to change things about myself that are impossible. 

Courage can be quite difficult to build up when it come to confronting issues in our lives, especially when they involve the people we share life with.  Often the things they do will impact our lives in a very dramatic way but we have no control over their choices.  Even though their actions may not be a thing we can change, there can be a lot of value in speaking up about the things that are causing us discomfort.  That is where I usually struggle with building up courage, and instead of treating the situation as one where change is possible, I attempt to stir up some serenity and treat the issue as unchangeable.  Not so wise, if you ask me. 

Serenity tends to be the part of the prayer I struggle with the most.  I have a lot of trouble accepting some of the things about myself that just are not going to change.  It's taken me a long time to realize that even if I were to completely alter my way of eating and dedicate a vast amount of time to exercise I will never have the body that I have always coveted.  It's just not possible for me.  I have a larger frame and I store fat easily.  I know that I could be in better shape than I am now but it is not possible for me to ever reach what we think of in our culture as ideal.  Also, the amount of time and dedication I would need to commit to that pursuit would pull away from the time I could be devoting to much better endeavours.  Though I know this in my head, the serenity about it is taking a lot longer to develop.  I am getting closer though.

My husband told me that he had a conversation with one of his coworkers the other day about the illusion of social media as well.  They see people they work with, that they know make the same amount of money as they do, buying fancy cars, big houses, all kinds of toys and going on grand vacations.  It leaves them wondering, "what am I doing wrong".  Then harder times come along, they work less hours and take home smaller pay checks and suddenly they are in a panic.  They are finding they have cut things so close with their finances that they are in danger of ending up in real financial trouble.  I try to keep this kind of thing in mind when I see the picture of the new car that so and so just bought, or when the sunny vacation pictures pop up on my feed.  We don't know the whole story of that persons circumstances and, even if we did, who are we to judge.

There is always going to be someone out there that has something we would like.  It is not my job to go out and get those things though.  My task is to be content with what I have, whether that is a little or a lot.  I should be setting my eyes on the things that truly matter, people.  The relationships I make and the love I show is the only lasting thing of worth I am able to invest in.  I must strive to look not towards those that have more than me but to look instead at those that I can invest in.  I try to remember that even though the lives of those around me might seem to be perfect, their hearts are hidden and could, quite possibly, be hurting. 

So, I will strive to, instead of hoping to make myself seem enviable, become a source of joy and encouragement though social media.  I will attempt to see the underlying truth of the hurt that people hide and be a healing agent for them.  My hope is that social media can be used as a tool to bind us together in community and allow us to support on another through the tough times instead of pulling each other down for our failures.  I will try to be funny, to bring a laugh into the day of someone that desperately needs to smile.  I will attempt to dispel the lies that sometimes circulate in a manner that is tactful and not mean spirited.  I will attempt to be a real friend, instead of just a Facebook one. 

I know there will be times when a picture will still create a little twinge of jealousy or self doubt but I will do my best to squash that thought before it takes root and grows.  I believe that social media can be good and helpful, but only if we use it in a good and helpful way.  I have been quite pleased to note that, for the most part, the people I am associated with are already doing a lot of these things and there have been many times when I have been greatly encouraged by their support and love.  Now it's time for me to pay it forward. 


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Self Unsteem

I have a wish, a wish that I am very passionate about!  It's a big factor in why I'm writing this blog and why I am attempting to be so completely vulnerable.  I wish that women would see how amazing, valuable, inspiring and beautiful they are!  I wish they could see themselves the way their husband and kids saw them!  I wish there was a camera filter (NOT PHOTOSHOP) that allowed us to truly see ourselves the way others see us.  That filter would exemplify all our positive characteristics, erase the little lumps and line (that only we see anyway) and inform everyone of our talents, skills and fantastic personalities.  It would show how giving we are, that we would jump into a den of ravenous lions to save someone we love and above all, how gigantic our hearts are.  Wouldn't it be great if we could walk down the street and hear someone catcalling us, "Ooooooh weeee, look at the size of the heart on that chick!"

Unfortunately, instead of seeing ourselves in a positive light we are instead bombarded with the idea that we are not good enough.  We can never be thin enough, pretty enough or sexy enough.  Not only that, but there is conflicting messages about what those things look like.  Sometimes we are told to dress revealing, other times we should be refined.  Sometime we are supposed to be super skinny, others we should have muscular definition.  One thing is for sure though, we are supposed to be at the end of our journey of self betterment.  We are already supposed to be flawless. 

I know, we have heard all the same things over and over before about how no one is perfect.  Even the ideal woman we strive to be had been worked over by and entire team of professionals and then airbrushed on top of that.  That doesn't make us any more accepting of our own flaws.

Even when our self esteem is abominable many of us never really bother to work on it.  We assume that there really isn't anything that can be seriously done to fix it and we don't know how to change the way we think.  Even if you have someone complimenting you constantly, that still won't necessarily change your perception of yourself.  We also tend to believe that it doesn't really matter if we have bad self esteem.  We don't think it affects anyone but us and so we see no reason to do the hard work of actually fixing it.  It's also possible that we COULD think that having slightly poor self esteem is a good thing.  I mean, we aren't supposed to be proud and we are supposed to be constantly trying to improve ourselves, so couldn't a bit of bad self esteem keep us from getting too proud and give us a project to work on?  It's really amazing the justifications we can come up with for avoiding a problem.   

The problem is, our bad self esteem DOES effect others.  I'm sure you're first going to jump to the conclusion that I am speaking here to mothers of young daughters.  Though that is definitely one relationship where our self esteem matters, it is not the only one.  Our self esteem also can be a detrimental factor in our relationship with our sons, family, friends and husbands, too. 

When we think negatively about ourselves, even when we attempt to hide it, the changes in our attitude towards ourselves can have an impact on how we interact with people.  In friendships, we might shy away from developing a closer friendship because we might not feel like we are as "good" as that other person.  We might also not participate in certain activities or do things we enjoy with these people, out of fear of how we look.  For example, we may never go swimming out of fear of being seen in a bathing suit. 

If you have ever opted out of an activity because you were nervous about wearing the specialized clothing for it, or out of fear of being photographed during, your self esteem does affect your quality of life.  If something is preventing you from living your happiest life, then it is definitely time to work on it!

As far as our relationship with our children goes, we know that our relationship with them will be one of the most influential in forming who they are.  If we don't think that much of ourselves they will see that and it will become a part of how they think about themselves.  Our daughter sees us putting tinny portions on our own plate and saying, "I just want to loose a few pounds", and they hear, "it doesn't matter if I'm hungry or healthy, what matters is my size."  Little girls hear everything we say and it becomes part of who they are.  A sigh when we look in the mirror might not seem like a big deal to us but for our formative daughters that might encourage them to start looking for the faults in their own face.  We need to remember that our kids understand that half of who they are comes from us.  If we aren't happy with ourselves, that gives them the impression that we aren't happy with half of who they are either.  If you also are having troubles with their father and show some type of dislike for him, your kids will be less confident in who they are.  We would NEVER want our kids to feel that way, so it's time to start treating ourselves (and our husbands) with respect so our kids see they are worthy of respect too!

Have you ever thought about what having bad self esteem tells your husband?  It shows him we don't trust his judgment.  After all, if we think so negatively about ourselves, what does that say about the intelligence of someone who would choose to be with us?  Every time we complain about something that is "wrong" with us we are subtly telling him that there is a better choice out there.  Too much complaining might just be open his eyes to the other options available.  I'm sure that's not what I want!

A few years ago I went through a really low period of poor self esteem.  I was being exceptionally hard on myself and I complained about it a lot.  Weight has always been a delicate subject for me and at that point in time I was at the high end of my spectrum.  My husband eventually got sick of it said something to me that really made me think twice.  He told me that when I complain about something all the time, eventually it's all that he can see.  That really freaked me out!  It might not have been the nicest thing to say and it did make me think that he agreed with me about how I was fat and unattractive, but I have since seen the caution in what he said (plus we have resolved a lot of our issues since then and I have learned that he wasn't trying to be hurtful). 

I had a habit that might seem very strange but it's possible I'm not the only one that has used this type of reasoning.  I used to use my little snide remarks about my looks to fish for compliments.  I thought that, by saying bad things about myself, I was giving my husband an opportunity to disagree with me and tell me how great I actually was.  Something tells me that I'm not the only one that does this, otherwise the phrase "does this make my butt look big" wouldn't be a standing joke.  Even if that technique were to work, it's a dangerous game.  Each negative word we say about our looks is like holding a magnifying glass in front of a flaw and saying, "Hey, do you see this?".  Eventually that's all they will see.

If you do have poor self esteem there is most likely another portion of your life that is hindered by it, your sex life.  It's really, really difficult to be comfortable and confident in the bedroom if you are not comfortable and confident in your own skin.  It's possible you are attempting to spend a little time as possible being intimate with your husband just to avoid him seeing your "flaws".  You might not allow him to have the lights on so that he can never REALLY see you naked.  I also bet that you think about your appearance while you are making love and that keeps you from enjoying the act as much as you could. 

This is not your best life!  You could be having so much more fun and being so much more positive!  I know you didn't just wake up one morning and think, I don't like the way I look anymore, I think I'll have bad self esteem now.  I totally get that a negative outlook is something that has been instilled in you over years and years of negative input.  I also understand that there are events that have happened in your life or people that you have trusted that have torn you down and caused you to feel worthless and unappreciated.  You can't change that those things happened to you, but you can stop them from ruining your happiness now. 

We all have had hurts and rejections.  We have all had people in our lives that attempt to tear us down (maybe in an attempt to use us to boost them up).  We all have things we don't like about ourselves.  Some of us have been abused, either physically or emotionally.  Allowing our negative self esteem to run rampant only allows those people to win.  They go on hurting us even after they might have even forgotten all about us.  It gives them power to rule our emotions.  Enough is enough, we need to make it stop! 

So how do we do that?  How do we let go of things that have cut us so deeply we feel we were formed around them?  I have found the answer to be forgiveness but during the time when I was suffering with self loathing and crying out for attention, forgiveness sounded like a cruel joke.  It seemed like a slap in the face to expect me to just let those people that hurt me "off the hook" so easily.  I felt I could never give up on seeking retribution from those who weren't even sorry for what they had done to me.  It just didn't seem fair! 

The truth is, it isn't fair, but it's also not fair to yourself to hold onto that pain and allow them to continue to hurt you.  The best retribution you could have is to live your best life IN SPITE of the hurt you have suffered.  To show that person that they no longer have power over you by not dwelling on the damage they caused.  Sadly, they may not even care if they have hurt you in the past and they quite possibly are NOT sorry for what they did but, staying angry at them is like hitting yourself over and over and over again, and expecting it to hurt them.  You're giving them the power to rule your emotions. 

Forgiveness is hard though!  Saying it is one thing, but actually letting go of our hurt and moving on is quite another.  It seems impossible to just, force your mind to think differently about yourself.  I found this to be the most difficult part of my recovery (though I'm still on that journey).  I had to ACTIVELY work at forgiveness.  If you're wondering how on earth you forgive actively, you aren't alone.  I wondered about this a lot too. 

I came up with a few steps and I will walk through a small event from my past, so you can understand the process better.  I guess it's sort of like my 5 step program for forgiveness. 

1.  Think back to an event or something that was said that hurt you. 
One instance for me was, a girl from school mocked me and called me fat.
2.  Figure out what it was about that event that was so hurtful. 
What hurt me about this was that it made me feel like I wasn't accepted for who I was and it caused me to feel unattractive and excluded from that group of friends. 
3.  Try to think of a reason why that person would have acted in the way they did. 
I believe this girl struggled with her own self esteem issues and was hoping to make herself look better by bringing me down. 
4.  Actually say the words, I forgive you.
The reason I think about this instance as an example was because it was also one that sort of showcases my bravery.  A day or two after the incident I actually called this girl and confronted her about what she said.  Though she denied that what she said was an insult (there really wasn't any other way to take it) I still believe it might have made a difference in how she might have reacted in the future.  My hope is that it might have helped her change her mean ways.  That being said, even though I confronted her it still didn't change the fact that it was hurtful and it became a small part of how I saw myself.  Years later, when I had finally forgiven her, I didn't contact her again to let her know.  I just said it to myself, and that was good enough to give me closure.  
5.  When you think about that event again in the future remind yourself that you have forgiven the person and that continuing to be angry doesn't help in any way.
For this instance, when I think back to the event I actually feel sort of sorry for this girl.  I can see that she was trying so hard to fit in and be the center of attention she alienated so many people that would have been her friends.  I also have seen her in more recent years and I can't say she seems very happy with herself or about her life.  

There will be many instances where the damage done was far more profound than my mean girl story.  If you have been physically abused the forgiveness will be more involved and difficult.  There were two people in particular in my past that made substantial scars in my self esteem.  When it came to forgiving them I moved through the same steps but it took a lot longer to work on step number 4.  For those two people I actually wrote out a letter to them.  I told them what they did that hurt me and why I felt the way I did.  I went over a number of specific incidents and why they were the wrong things to say or do.  I also let them know I was trying to understand why they would have done what they did.  This might seem like making excuses for their bad behavior to you, but I have found that all it does is make it easier for me to understand them as a person and why they might have acted the way they did.  The reasoning doesn't make what they have done more acceptable but it did help me to be able to let go of it more easily and move on more freely. 

One of the people I wrote to no longer has a place in my life.  I don't have any contact with anymore and I haven't seen him in years.  In that case I felt that the act of writing the letter for my eyes only, was enough.  I also thought that if I contacted that man after such a long time and letting him know that he had made such a profound impact on my life would not have been any more helpful.  I believe that, in that case, it would have only served to cause him to feel more powerful for his profound effect on me and could have opened up an opportunity for him to say more hurtful things in his defense. 

The second letter I wrote was to a family member that I do interact with on a regular basis.  My husband had noted my defensiveness whenever I was around this person.  I was "called out" on the anger and aggression I would surround myself with whenever I was around this person.  My husband eventually told me that enough was enough.  I had to deal with what was going on or he was no longer going to come with me to functions where I would be around this person.  At first I felt very betrayed by my husband's "ultimatum", like he wasn't supporting me when I was in need.  But, eventually I realized that I had needed the push to confront my feelings and resolve my anger.  I was only hurting myself by harbouring this resentment and I was holding back from trusting the people that truly did want the best for me.  I needed to deliver this second letter.  Since this relationship was still a factor in my current life I needed to takes steps to resolve the issues more directly.  I was incredibly scared when I handed this person the letter that I had written him.  It seemed like I was handing them power over me.  Like I was allowing them to see into my heart so they would know how they could hurt me even more.  The next time I saw him I was so unsure of what was going to happen.  I was worried about what he might say about the letter and terrified that he would deny all the instances that I spoke about.  He actually surprised me.  He didn't have much to say at all.  In fact at first I thought he wasn't going to acknowledge it at all.  Eventually he did tell me that he had read it and shockingly, he said that I was right.  He admitted that if he were in my shoes he would have actually been more angry than I was.  That's all he said, about two sentences to answer for my 3 pages of writing.  It also wasn't even exactly an apology (that would have been the best outcome) but it was as close as I was going to get....and it was enough.  Sure, it would have been fantastic if he would have fallen on his knees, admitted to all of his wrong and sworn to spend the rest of his days making it up to me, but that would have been a fairy tail.  That sort of thing doesn't happen in real life, or at least not very often.  Things also could have gone the other way.  It was very possible that he would have been angry and defensive in response to my accusations.  That is a possibility that you need to prepare for.  If that is the result you get try to keep in mind that it doesn't change the damage that has already been done.  They know the truth and they are unable to handle the strength and courage you have shown by confronting them, so they take the cowardly way out by denying it.   

It's been about a year since I gave the letter to my family member and guess what, I feel so much better!  Not only am I less angry and on edge, I feel more confident about who I am.  I have been able to let go of the negative words he said about me, see them as a lie and rediscover the truth about who I really am.  Even though his response to my letter was minimal, that didn't matter.  It's MY choices that matter.  It's MY forgiveness that made the difference.  I had the power to change how I felt and I took back my self esteem.  I can now see myself as valuable, even though that one influential person in my life didn't value me. 

I will state here that this person never sexually abused me.  If that is something that you have experienced and you have never reported it or told anyone then I would encourage you to speak up.  If someone physically abused you they might also have done it to someone else or could still be hurting more people today.  Your courage to stand up to them might be the thing that someone else needs to speak up as well and you might even prevent some future victims.  What they did is not okay and they need to face the consequences for it.  Please speak to someone you trust that can help. 

I also want to tell everyone that forgiveness does not mean that you must remain in relationship with the person that has hurt you.  Forgiving them doesn't mean you should allow them to abuse you, over and over again.  It is perfectly acceptable, maybe even necessary, to cut that person out of your life or drastically limit the time you spend with them.   

I'm sure that you have heard it before but, forgiveness is not something you do for the person that wronged you.  It really is something you do to give yourself freedom.  I didn't realize that I was letting these people hold me back so much until I was able to cut the cords that I had been dragging around behind me for years.

I now know I am worth forgiveness. 

You are worth forgiveness too.


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Initiation Situation

I wonder if there are any marriages where initiating sex is never an issue.  I know in my marriage it's been a bit of a hurdle to overcome and there are a lot of times when it still causes problems, big problems!  Neither one of us really wants to be the one that initiates sex.  We have different reasons for it but they both amount to the same thing, less intimacy, or even none at all.

Who's the one that does the majority (or all) the initiating in your marriage?  I'm guessing it's the one with the higher libido.  Since that is more often the man then my guess would be the husband, however we women aren't entirely off the hook.  In the research for Sheila Gregoire's book "The Good Girl's Guide to Great Sex" she interviewed thousands of men and women and discovered that in 30% of marriages, it's the woman that has the higher drive.  You won't believe how relieved I was to hear this information!  If you are one of those 3 in 10 women out there like me I'm sure this is a reassurance to you too.  It really helps you to feel like less of a freak.  I even made me feel more confident in myself, my attributes and improved my self esteem a little.  In a society where men are expected to have an almost insatiable drive, it feels unfeminine to be more eager than your husband.

For some obvious reasons the person with the higher drive will be the one who does more of the initiating.  After all, if you want it more, you're going to ask more.  If you are the one with the lower drive you might think, what's the problem?  If they want it, it's their job to ask, right?  Though this IS logical and for the most part works decently well, having a marriage where one partner never initiates can be very hard on the relationship! 

I was chatting with a married friend of mine a while ago and we somehow got on the topic of our intimate relationships (maybe because I was sending out feelers to see if I was the only woman with a higher drive than my husband).  We spoke about being busy and how having kids can put a kink in how often you are intimate with your spouse but one thing she mentioned was that her husband's desire for her was a large factor in her confidence in herself.  I don't know if enough women (since self esteem problems are so rampant these days) really internalize this idea.  Having a husband that loves and wants you should make you feel better about yourself and more confident in who you are.  I tell you one thing, we 30% of women with the higher drive would love to be in your shoes so please don't take it for granted.   

When you are led to believe that men have the monopoly on sexual desire but your man isn't as interested as you it can make you feel less feminine.  Doing the majority of the sexual initiation stripped me of my confidence and caused me to doubt my attractiveness.  My chain of logic went something like this:
 I want sex more often than my husband -> He doesn't initiate sex with me -> He isn't interested in sleeping with me -> There is something wrong with me.
Though this line of thinking might be a lot more common for women with the higher libido, I don't, for one second think men are exempt.  When someone desires you and express that desire for you, it gives you a boost.  You feel more accepted, not just physically either.  Your sexual desirability doesn't just affect things in the bedroom.  It can have huge consequences in our everyday life.  You might not realize this, but, being pursued by our partner isn't just about confidence in our appearance. 

Have you ever met someone that you initially thought was quite attractive, then as you got to know them better you started to realize they weren't a very nice person.  The more you get to know their personality, the less and less attractive you find them.  The same works in reverse.  You meet a guy (or girl), They're decent looking but nothing to write home about, then you get to know them a bit better and discover they're actually a fantastic person.  Kind, considerate, generous, a good listener, funny, easygoing, interested in the same things as you, anything that floats your boat, and gradually they start to look more and more physically attractive to you too.  Taking this logic one step further, if your partner never initiates or seems interested in being intimate with you, it can give you the impression that they don't think that highly of you as a person either.  Guys know that women don't tend to be quite as visually stimulated as they are, (though the sexual objectification of men does seem to be on the rise as well) so they are relying on their personality and their attributes to make them sexually appealing to their wives.  If there spouse doesn't seem to be interested in them "in that way" it is very easy for them to take that as a knock to their value as a person. 

I understand that a lot of women can feel like it's not our "job" to initiate.  We feel that we are the ones that are to be pursued and desired.  Even though I am the one with the higher drive in my relationship, it didn't make me exempt from this type of thinking.  This has led me to be very reluctant to initiate because that meant I wasn't being pursued.  Since my husband is also reluctant to initiate that caused some pretty long "dry spells" between sexual encounters.  It wasn't until we had a good conversation about this topic that we started to get things sorted out (although I think this will always be a bit of a sore spot in our marriage).  After years of marriage my husband finally opened up a little more about his reluctance.  He confessed that he felt that when you initiated sex it came with an expectation.  That expectation was that it was going to go well for you.  For someone that struggles sometimes with maintaining an erection he thought it would be a huge let down for me if he started something he couldn't finish.  Although women don't have the same physical restriction to participating, even if they aren't in the mood, I do believe some of the reasoning still applies.  Women might feel that if they initiate there is a pressure to perform, literally.  They might feel that they then need to be completely uninhibited and have to create a really spectacular time.  The truth is, not every encounter is going to be magical, with fireworks and total bliss.  Sometimes it just doesn't work as well as other times and this is coming from the one that initiates most in my relationship.  Yes, sometimes it is toe curlingly amazing, but sometimes it's more about being close to one another.  I don't climax every encounter but sometimes I will have multiple, and that doesn't correlate with if I have initiated or not (cause it's pretty likely that I did). 

If this type of thinking has been a drawback to your willingness to initiate with your partner, I challenge you to set it aside and break out of your comfort zone a bit.  You might be surprised at what a difference it could make to your partner.  Besides boosting their self esteem, give them confidence in your esteem for them and building your partnership, you might find that they are more willing meet you half way on things you would like their assistance with.

Another thing that could be hindering your willingness to initiate is your own self esteem.  If you aren't confident in how you look then it's a lot more difficult to present yourself to your spouse.  Initiating is definitely the more vulnerable position to be in so some confidence issues could be a huge deterrent.  I have struggled a lot with my self image and I know that it, for sure, held me back from being as intimate with my husband as I could have been.  Looking back on all the issues both of us had, it's no wonder we weren't making love very often.  My negative self image spiraled almost out of control in the first few years of marriage and it made me desperate for male attention.  My desire to feel accepted (something that was lacking in my marriage) got so bad that I was terribly vulnerable.  If you think you're self esteem is just something that you deal with and doesn't effect your relationship, let me tell you, you're wrong.  Your self worth has a big impact on the strength of your marriage and undervaluing yourself will undermine your relationship.  It will take a lot of time and introspection and be very painful to deal with but you can't be confident in your partnership if you don't feel like a valuable partner. 

I will be sharing with you some of the steps and process I took to actively improve my self esteem.  Even though I have issues I would still like to see improvement in (I don't think anyone is ever 100% happy with how they look), I am more confident now than I have been at any other point in my life, even though there have been times when I have been much closer to my "ideal".  I promise that, if you work on feeling better about yourself, it WILL translate into feeling better about your marriage.  Taking time for you is not a selfish endeavour, but a relationship builder.

Creating a more even distribution in the number of times one partner initiates sex might not seem like a big deal to you, especially if you are already being "pestered" more than you would like, but I'm sure your willingness to set your own limitations and drawbacks aside will be greatly appreciated by your partner.  You might not even think that it bothers them to be the one setting the sex schedule but, take a little initiative and it could knock their socks off and make them feel so much more appreciated than the times when they are hounding you.  Also, if you have made it a habit to turn them down regularly when they approach you, their confidence could be pretty shaken (I know mine was) so it might take quite a number of attempts on your part to build that trust and confidence of your acceptance back up. 

It also wouldn't hurt to talk to your partner about the issues that prevent you from engaging in that way.  I know I felt so much better about my husbands lack of initiation when I understood it wasn't about my attractiveness but the pressure he felt initiation implied.  You might just find, like I did, that there is a simple explanation for something that seems like a huge hurtle. 

Friday, February 7, 2014

The Anatomy of an Affair

This is my most difficult post to write.  It is the most personal and the most vulnerable topic for me.  It's also where I made the most mistakes and where I hope to help other couples avoid the trap that I fell into.  I hope to turn what the enemy meant for evil in my life into something good by starting the healing in so many hurting couples out there.  Please read the following post as a cautionary tail for your own life. 

We hear rumours sometimes about someone cheating on their spouse.  Occasionally, an affair will tear apart a family.  I have known families in shambles because of an unfaithful husband.  I have had friends brokenhearted over cheating boyfriends.  I used to hear these stories and be so angry.  I would wonder how someone could betray their partner in that way.  When an affair happens in a marriage, even when it's suspected, it tends to polarise people's opinions of the couple.  One spouse appears pitiable and blameless and the other, the one that acted out, becomes a villain.  I used to feel this same way.  That is, until I found myself on the brink of my own affair.

Now I get it.  I understand the desperation, loneliness and powerlessness that drives someone into the arms of another.  I realise that affairs aren't what tear apart a family.  That fabric was ripping before the affair began.  The indiscretion is simply the final thread that makes it all fall apart.  I see now that cheating is a symptom of an already broken and bleeding marriage.  As someone who came very close to an affair myself I want to shed some light on why they happen. 

When I speak of an affair I mean being physically intimate with someone other than my husband.  If I were speaking emotionally then I would have to admit that, yes, I did cheat on my husband.  I was emotionally intimate with someone other than my spouse.  Even when I speak of physical intimacy I am not completely innocent.  Though I never had intercourse with this other man I feel that's just arguing over semantics.  We did speak to one another sexually and I did allow him to see my body.  I'm not trying to let myself off the hook by minimising what I have done.  Nor am I trying to gain approval for "restraining" myself from going all the way.  If circumstances had have been only slightly different I truly believe I would have left my husband.  Now, when I hear of a couple split apart by an affair, I think, "there go I, but for the grace of God."  And I know it to be true.  I am also not trying to excuse my actions.  I know what I did was wrong and it is a regret that will be with me my entire life.  The effects of this "almost affair" will be lasting.   

It all started so innocently.  I think they all do.  I was introduced to this guy.  He was a friend of a friend and we spent time together as a group.  I would run into him once in a while and we would chat.  He was friendly, kind, interesting and he had some very determined opinions about some things.  We would have debates about things like politics, racism, sexism and religion.  He was (I guess I should say is, it's not like he died) a Christian guy and I found it intellectually stimulating to chat with him.  At the point we met I was only working part time and mostly home with my oldest child so I didn't feel I was getting a whole lot of adult input.  I started to talk with him more and more.  He was a good listener.  He would even let me call him late when I was up with a crying baby and he would keep me company when I was up all night... while my husband slept.  Slowly I started to feel more supported by this other man than my husband. 

I had been frustrated with my married life for a while before this other guy came into the picture.  My husband and I had troubles in the bedroom from the beginning.  None of that was created by this new friendship but this new man then became someone I could talk to about my problems.  He was my confidant, my shoulder to cry on.  One day he said, "you shouldn't be here talking with me.  You should be giving your husband a good time."  His alluding to sex, at a point where we were experiencing almost a sexless marriage, was a breaking point for me. 

Most often in a relationship it is the husband that has the affair.  I believe this is in part due to them being, most often, the ones with the higher libido.  That doesn't mean that I think having a higher sex drive makes you weak willed and powerless and I'm not telling women that if they don't give in enough it's their fault if they get cheated on.  There is a lot more to it than that.  So much has to do with feeling valued, wanted, desired and appreciated.  It's about power and appreciation.  I would even argue that when most affairs begin they aren't really about sex at all.  

Let me explain.  When you have the higher libido in the relationship (for my relationship that's me) it can be a somewhat powerless feeling.  Your partner has you at a disadvantage since not being intimate doesn't have as great an effect on them.  They have the power to deny you your wants and needs.  You may laugh at my use of the word need in that sentence.  I think there are many people out there that don't think of intimacy as a need in marriage.  They think of it as something base and unnecessary.  They can even think that it is a virtue to deny themselves those "carnal desires" and that sex is sinful.  My calling it a need may not just seem laughable to you, it might seem downright wrong.  To that I would say that I do not believe that sex is sinful.  Outside of a marriage, yes, but in the context of marriage, where it was created for, it is anything but.  It was designed to foster and build intimacy and bonding in a marriage.  If you disagree with this assessment then I would encourage you to email me.  I have some material I would point you to that would explain why I say what I do.  I would also encourage you to read the Song of Songs, a story of love, longing and desire.  To address the idea of a physical need for sex, I believe there is one.  Men will experience wet dreams if they haven't ejaculated in more than a few days.  Their bodies will release extra built up sperm whether they like it or not.  As a woman with a high libido I would even go so far as to say that I have a need for intimacy as well.  If I haven't had sex in a while I start to experience strange sex dreams, I have trouble sleeping, I'm easily distracted, it become harder to focus on anything for to long and I can't stop thinking about sex.  This doesn't mean having an affair is justified though.  I used masturbation a lot to pacify that need and I believe that there are many, many marriages where that happens.  I even thought it was a good thing.  I figured if I was taking care of my desires myself then I wouldn't have to rely on my spouse for them.  I wouldn't feel like a duty, or a chore.  I wouldn't have to keep asking and being turned down.  I thought I could get some of the "power" back. 

My husband held all the power in our relationship.  I felt like a pawn to his whims.  It wasn't just the physical desire portion that had me powerless, it was that I felt unnecessary.  I wasn't desired, I wasn't needed, I wasn't valued, or appreciated.  I was a roommate and I was miserable.  My self esteem was plummeting.  After all, how disgusting must I be if men are supposed to want it all the time and my husband wanted nothing to do with me?  Enter, other man. 

My heart was breaking at this point and I would have done anything to just feel wanted, valued or even just to be accepted.  Then this other man tells me I should be "giving my husband a good time."  That was it!  I believe my response was something like, "Yeah right.  He doesn't even want it."  This, of course, brought out a lot of curious questions from this friend, after all, men are supposed to think about sex constantly, right?  I had had enough and it all came pouring out.  I told him about our troubles in the bedroom and my frustrations.  I told him about how I was feeling.  I told him all the hurts my husband had heaped on me and I cried.  This man listened to me, he was attentive and caring and he gave me advice.  He explained to me what might be going on in a man's head and he instructed me on the best ways to approach the situation.  He wasn't a predator waiting to pounce on an unsuspecting an vulnerable woman.  He legitimately cared for me and wanted to help me make my marriage right. 

As time when on, nothing really helped my relationship with my husband and the other man and I remained friends for a few years.  We talked a lot and my husband knew about him.  I'm not sure if he knew how dangerous this friendship was or if he would have even cared at that point if it was dangerous but he never had any issue with my friendship with this man.  Still nothing really changed in my relationship with my husband.  How could it when there was someone else saying and doing all the "right" things to compare my husband to.  He would always come up short.  I continued to talk with the other man and gradually.... I don't think there is any other way for me to put this, I fell in love with him.  It was such a complicated relationship as you can understand.  In one sentence he would be telling me how beautiful I was and how much he wanted me and in the next he would tell me what I could try to improve my marriage. 

This man had his own demons and his own struggles but he was rational enough to know that a relationship between the two of us wouldn't have been workable or right.  However, he didn't have kids and he wasn't attached.  If I hadn't been already married when I had met him I believe we would have had our very own tumultuous and rocky love story but I was married and he recognised the sinfulness of a relationship between us.  He knew it wouldn't have been right and he knew he wouldn't have been right for me.  However, that didn't make us want to be with one another any less.  We started speaking to each other sexually.  When I was feeling so broken down, undesirable, unattractive and unlovable it was so good to hear someone say I was beautiful and wanted.  I felt like I was being seen for the first time.  Then it would break my heart over an over again when he would say the words I so longed to hear from my husband. 

We tried to break contact between us.  He would tell me we needed to stop and it would last for a few weeks, tops.  I would say I needed to stop and I would run back to him the very next time I was hurt or needed a boost.  He was like an addiction.  I would get my fix from him to feel high for just a few moments then come crashing back down to the reality of my broken marriage.  Then my husband found out.  I had left my email open by mistake and even though I had deleted the messages the other man had sent to me I hadn't realised they were stored in my sent mail.  When I returned to the computer later the file was opened and I KNEW my husband had read all the inappropriate things we had said.  He had also read some hurtful things I had said about him.  Fear gripped me at that point.  I expected him to rage at me.  I thought he might even throw me out.  I figured that was the end of my marriage.  Then he said nothing.  My husband didn't even mention it to me.  He carried on like nothing had changed for days and didn't confront me at all. 

I couldn't understand it.  In fact I was someone hurt and disappointed by his lack of reaction.  Part of me wanted him to be angry and fight with me because at least then it would have meant that he cared.  It would have showed some type of passion and willingness to fight for me.  When he didn't acknowledge that anything had happened I didn't know what to do.  A few days after the incident I wrote him a letter.  I poured out my heart to him explaining what was going on with me, why I was hurt and what I was feeling.  I asked him many questions too.  I wanted to know what he wanted, why he was reacting how he was, how he thought we could move forward and I begged his forgiveness. 

I think part of the reason why my husband didn't get angry with me and why he was willing to forgive was because he recognised some of the reasoning behind my actions and he felt responsible for how I was feeling about myself.  He also knew that our relationship had intimacy issues that preexisted the friendship with this other man.  I think he internalised a lot of that.  He also knew I was lonely and as such he didn't feel he had the right to take away the closest friend I had at the time.  He knew that would only make me resent him if he forced me to break ties with this man even though the relationship was inappropriate.  I respect him deeply for that and I am grateful for his trust and forgiveness (that I didn't deserve). 

At that point I had another conversation with the other man.  We both decided it was better that we didn't see each other any longer, we said our goodbyes and he told me he loved me one last time.  That was around two years ago. 

I know some of you won't understand why I would stay with a husband I had so many troubles with, when I was so unhappy and give up a relationship that made me feel accepted, appreciated, desired and loved.  There were times when I didn't understand it either.  I loved that man too.  Part of me always will.  There was a time that I deeply loved my husband though.  I loved him enough to marry him.  I loved him enough to have children with him.  Just because I fell in love with someone else doesn't mean that new trumps old!  Every relationship eventually has problems.  I wouldn't have just run off with him and had a happily ever after, fairy tail life.  Plus, leaving someone doesn't erase the issues.  You still have to deal with them even if you aren't together.  I knew my best chance, and my kids best chance, at a good life was to work things out with my husband and CREATE the kind of marriage we wanted.  Once I said goodbye to the distraction that was magnifying my dissatisfaction with the relationship I was in we were able to move forward in fixing the brokenness that existed for us.

We began working to create more and better love between us.  We went to therapy together, my husband saw her on his own to work out some of his issues that predated me and I began to purposely work on fixing my own self esteem (something I will talk about later). 

So I've seen the road that is taken that draws someone away from their marriage.  I understand the anatomy of an affair.  It is true that happy people don't cheat and I know the danger that comes from a relationship with someone of the opposite sex, even if it is totally innocent to start with.

It was a different kind of heartbreak to cut ties with the other man of my life.  A part of me does still miss that relationship and that friendship we had.  I still wonder how he is doing and hope that he has found his own happiness.  Sometimes I miss the way he made me feel about myself but I am getting better at teaching my husband how to help me feel that way too.

I don't know how many relationships stray as far away from each other as my husband and I did and come back from it.  I have no idea how many partners would be as forgiving of their spouses immense indiscretions.  My prayer, with this entire blog, is that I will be able to give others the tools to avoid getting to the point my marriage did.  I hope that you can see the caution in my tail enough to heed it.  Please, be careful about who you speak to and how about the issues in your relationship.  I don't want you to experience the pain and heartache that we did.  The best way to avoid that is to takes steps to fix the problems you have before they grow too big.  Don't multiply your problems by bringing someone else between you.  This is the reason I caution you not to talk to someone of the opposite sex about the problems in your marriage.  It's a dangerous road to take and one that I have seen destroy a few marriages. 

Lastly, if you were the partner that has been cheated on, I hope you are able to see some of the reasoning and issues that would have drawn your partner towards that.  Please, do not think that I am in any way blaming you either if you were the one cheated on.  No one forces someone to have an affair.  We made our own choices, though they were poor ones but I do pray that you are able to understand things a little better from your partners perspective and possibly forgive them too.  I would like to give you hope, that with forgiveness you will be able to overcome, even so great a betrayal as an affair.  My husband and I have been able to grow to love one another again.  Our relationship is improving steadily and we now have much better communication and intimacy.  We are happily healing and falling in love again. 

I believe you can too.