Wednesday, September 10, 2014
Divorced Finally & Happy?
We tend to learn best from failure, and when a marriage fails you’re certainly primed for a lot of learning and self-reflection. On the surface, my marriage had all the makings of something that should work: no infidelity, no abuse, and we seemingly got along great. But if I’m perfectly honest, we sucked at actually dealing with issues. Looking back on the whole experience, I’ve walked away a slightly smarter man, and here are a few pieces of advice I wish I’d heard—or least followed—before it all went to hell.
Spouses need to speak in a calm and caring voice. They should learn to argue in a way that produces a solution, not just more anger. They have to practice “active listening,” where they try to hear what the other person is saying, repeating back what they just heard and asking if they understood correctly…
Giving your partner the chance to vent frustration (and feel safe doing it) is part of your job as a spouse, whether that frustration is directed at you or about something else. Fights are absolutely fine. But it’s important to set up a few ground rules about fighting. Here are a couple of rules my wife and I always follow:
No name calling or personal insults. She might call my idea idiotic, but that’s very different than calling me an idiot. So, word choice is important.
Either of us can walk away from a fight if we need some time to cool off. The trick is, nobody just storms off. We always say some variation of “I need to cool down for a few minutes. Let’s continue later.”
This one is mostly if you have kids (and may be more parenting advice), but I feel like if you start a fight in front of your kids, you owe it to them to let them see how the fight gets resolved. Sending them away and then having them see later on that the fight is over doesn’t alleviate fear or teach them anything.
It might not seem that obvious at a glance, but what psychologists call attachment styles is an important thing to think about when a relationship starts to get a little rocky. Attachment styles are essentially how we handle emotional attachment—whether you’re an emotionally giving person who shows affection outwardly or you’re more reserved—and when two people with opposite styles pair up as we did, a lot of confusion can happen.
To put it simply: I was far more reserved than my ex-wife. The more attention she wanted, the more I’d shirk away. I am, put bluntly, incredibly reserved when it comes to affection. If it was feasible for me to live in a bubble when I go out I probably would. This seemed like a road block that we couldn’t cross but eventually I realized that this behavior wasn’t nearly as set in stone as I’d thought.
Experts say couples need to tell each other what they need and be specific. For example, they can say, “I know it’s difficult for you to be affectionate in front of my friends, but at home I really need a hug every day.”
Displays of love don’t have to be 50-50, as long as both people show something. “Each partner will need to make some slight movements in the opposite direction from which they are comfortable,”
Acknowledging this, I’ve become less of a bubble-boy over time, and while I’ll never be as emotionally forward as some people, I’m certainly less standoffish than I was. Again, this boils down to good communication, but it’s also about acknowledging that changes can happen, and finding the ways each person communicates. A lot of the time we assume we can’t change our behaviors—that small changes don’t make a difference—but when it comes to relationships they really can.
We’d let things go on too long, hadn’t addressed issues in years, and essentially let the marriage ungracefully fizzle out instead of dealing with the problems head on. I’m typically not one for therapy or counseling, but if we’d tackled this early we would have at least walked away with a better understanding of what was wrong. A couples counselor or therapist can’t fix problems, they’re only going to walk you through the process of fixing them yourself. They’re worthwhile at pretty much any stage in the relationship if you’re in need of a little guidance. If it’s past the time where you’re both willing to do that, a counselor isn’t much help.
Of course, relationship “advice” is by no means universal, but we can all take something away from our failures. It took over a year for me to really look at those failures with a critical eye, but I’m glad I did.
I think something that a lot of people forget is that marriage and divorce only have the power that you give them. Being married won’t make problems that exist in your relationship vanish. Getting a divorce won’t make you happy if the underlying issues are with your mental health. I think it’s really easy to get caught up in expectations that others have for you, and those expectations are often magnified by big commitments, including marriage.
Differing expectations is a HUGE one in any relationship. Also, how can someone live up to your expectation if they don’t know what it is?
In my relationship, I have a lot of expectation, and I want things to go faster; but I just remind myself to slow down and enjoy what we have. Don’t lose sight of what you have now because your gaze is stuck on some possibly non-existent future.
And remember, the grass always looks greener on the other side….it usually isn’t.