To think about

To think about

The name of the blog

"It was never just an affair" needs to be in quotations, because it was something my ex-husband said to me early on in the break-up. I guess he thought it might make me feel better to know it wasn't just a fling per say, it was real love? It didn't make me feel better. Him ending the affair and being willing to work on the marriage would have made me feel better.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

I Don’t Know Your Monkey

While empathy is primarily intellectual, compassion is based in a desire to help.

I think I am making a mistake in my personal relationships: I can’t really ever know what you are thinking or feeling, so I ought not say that I understand you.

One of the most commonly used statements when someone we care about is struggling is, “I understand”. I think this statement can actually be quite damaging, despite the good intentions behind it. Firstly, it is an egocentric response to someone else’s suffering; the sentence begins with “I,” not “you.” Secondly, for me, this has been an alienating and frustrating statement to hear. I want to scream at the person who uttered it, “You don’t understand.” You don’t have to live with this rage I occasionally feel, you don’t understand how insecure I feel now in my relationships, you don’t experience the financial vulnerability I have to live with daily, and you don’t understand how the betrayal has affected my world view of relationships.

How could you? How could I ask you to? You don’t have my life experiences, you don’t live with my perceptions, you don’t have my particular set of coping skills, or lack thereof, and you aren’t inside my head intimately feeling what I feel. In short, you are not privy to the deranged monkey that lives in my mind; for this you should be thankful. You think you understand, but how could you?
Any request for an open marriage will probably elicit confusion, sadness and/or hurt.
How could I understand what you are truly going through? I don’t live with your crazy monkey either. I can attempt to be empathetic and guess what you might be experiencing. I can attempt to hear you and validate your feelings. I could say “his/her actions must have hurt you terribly,” or ask, “do you feel betrayed or confused by those actions?” Those statements put the emphasis back on the person who is suffering. Those statements acknowledge that although you wish to understand your friend/partner/family member, you will not presume to know what they are going through.

When I reflect on my counselling sessions, those are the types of statements I heard from the professionals. My counselors did not tell me they understood; they first checked with me to see if they were grasping my unique emotional reaction to the situation, and thereafter they offered empathy.
In the early months after the break-up, there was only one friend I felt safe enough with to share how much I hated people saying to me “I understand”. On reflection, her response to me was sound. The feelings are the same, regardless of the specific situation. I believed that my situation was so strangely unique no one could possibly understand how I felt. Yet, my friend was correct that any infidelity will create feelings of betrayal; that is a human response. Any request for an open marriage will probably elicit confusion, sadness and/or hurt. So, rather than focusing on the particulars of my situation, I would have done best to acknowledge the universal emotional responses people were saying they understood.

I am just as guilty of saying “I understand” to someone, that just occurred to me. A girlfriend is enduring a horrible “tsunami divorce”  and because I too have gone through one, I keep telling her I understand. Do I really? No, because I am not her: I didn’t have two young children when my ex abandoned me and I didn’t grow up with the divorce of my own parents stigmatizing me. My friend occasionally says something that reminds me of how alienated she might be feeling because of her specific situation. I can hear myself in her, that cry of “I don’t feel understood by you despite what you are telling me.” I can only identify with her possible emotional responses. Which is probably good enough, because none of us are really that different from another, and this is a good thing as outlined by Lisa Arends in “You’re Not Special.”

When I expressed to my boyfriend my lack of belief in happily ever after, he responded with “I understand,” and that flash of irritation surged in me again. He has never been married, never had his spouse ask him for an open marriage, and never had a 12 year relationship end in under five minutes with no means of rebuttal, so what does he truly understand?

I think what my boyfriend was trying to communicate to me was his support. I think what we humans are actually trying to do when we use that statement is bridge the separation between us. We are trying to find a way to connect to the griever and let them know we are emotionally available to them, or at least I hope that is what our intent is.

I believe we are all doing our best at any given moment with what we know to support another person.
When I reflect back a year ago to the people I felt most supported by, they never told me they understood what I was going through. I, in fact, felt the most supported by the people who expressed their own disbelief, confusion and/or disappointment with the situation.
To say you understand me, or for me to say I understand you, is, in a small way, an attempt to manage the others feelings, which is another article for another day. I don’t know what my issues are that I feel defensive when someone says they understand me, but I think it stems from my perception that the communicator does not want to continue the conversation by delving into what my statement is really about. I think I see it as a minimization of my experience. A there, there and a pat on the head if you will. The statement ends the conversation.

The language we choose to use in our conversations can be a tricky thing unto itself. Different people will have different understandings of words, especially across cultures, and might attach different meanings or significance to certain words. I myself strongly dislike the word sympathy and will never utter it. Right or wrong, I was brought up to believe the word sympathy meant you felt sorry for someone, which is looking down on someone or having pity for them. No one needs pity. I was taught throughout my life that having empathy is the correct approach to someone else’s struggles.

Yet, in the last couple of years as I have explored spirituality, the leaders and teachers I respect don’t use the word empathy; by and large they use the word compassion. So when I was challenged on why I differentiate between the words empathy and compassion, I had to look up the meaning of the words so I could clearly articulate what I felt. defines empathy as “the psychological identification with the feelings of another”, and compassion as “sorrow accompanied by a desire to alleviate suffering.” And there was my justification for not lumping the two words together. I really like that action portion of the definition of compassion. There is a verb in that word encouraging you to do more than just identify with someone’s feelings. I know firsthand that I have the ability to hear someone, be empathetic to their situation, and have little actual compassion for that person.

I believe we are all doing our best at any given moment with what we know to support another person, but I throw the challenge out there that we can learn to use better language to effect our support. I promote the idea that saying “I understand” may widen the gap you are trying to close and may actually isolate the person you are trying to comfort. I encourage you and I to instead be more vague in our claims of understanding, and validate the other persons feelings instead. I don’t believe it matters to the other person whether or not you understand what they are thinking or feeling.

I think what matters when someone is in any crisis is that they are heard and accepted for who they are, what they are thinking, what they are feeling, and where they are at that moment in their minds and heart. I think what I am trying to champion is that expressing compassion in addition to empathy would go farther with someone like me, and maybe you too.

Originally appeared at the Good Men Project

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Discussions About Death; It’s an Act of Kindness

RIDDLE: What is the one item the maker doesn’t want, the buyer never uses, and the consumer doesn’t know he has used?

The other day my 24 year old son approached me to have a conversation about my end of life care desires and what I wanted when I died. To say I was a bit shocked was an understatement, but we had the conversation to the best of our comfort abilities. Then my son said something so profoundly sad it broke my heart: “When you die I will be all alone.” My sons pre-frontal cortex has finished forming, and with his deepening awareness of the world around him, and a releasing of the selfishness that marks childhood, he is taking on the heavy burden of adult understanding that nothing is forever. People come and people go from our lives, and sometimes they go permanently via death. We agreed that we would have a family meeting at a Notaries to write our wills, something that I, at the age of 43 do not have. I do not have a will despite me having been a single mom for many years, despite the dangerous career I worked in for many years, and despite the assets I have in my name. I have been negligent in managing my own death thus far in life.

I have been negligent in managing my own death thus far in life.
Our talk weighed heavily on my mind until I was able to carve out the time to send an email to my son and my Dad outlining my wishes, where the money and the important documents are kept, and how to dispose of the body. I wrote explicit details for my celebration of life listing some songs I liked, the flowers I wanted, what charity people could donate to, and the desire that there will be no meat at this party since I am a vegetarian. I have specifically noted in my email, soon to be a will, that if more than one Doctor has said I am brain dead, and nothing changes in one week, then let the body go. I have given my son two specific parameters to take the responsibility off his shoulders if a decision needs to be made to pull the plug. I feel lighter knowing my loved ones won’t be tasked with trying to make tough choices when they are grieving.

I then copied my email to my best friend and boyfriend. Neither of them took the email particularly well. In fact, both of them instantly suspected something was wrong with me. My boyfriend, who is a Balinese Hindu which has a strict traditional cremation ceremony, was particularly confused by my email, which mentioned turning me into a tree. My girlfriend said my email made her sad and “I pray that … we will never have to talk about this again.”
Which pretty much sums up our North American culture — don’t talk about death. I am not sure if we think we are tempting fate if we discuss it, or if we are just so emotionally impaired as a culture that to discuss the inevitable ending of your own life is just too vulnerable for most people. Yet, my version of a “good man” is a man who takes responsibility for himself, is accountable to his family, and can be brave and vulnerable and have those hard conversations when they are needed. A good man will accept there is only one way off this majestic fireball of ours; therefore, a good man is the man who will mitigate his families suffering should he depart on an earlier flight than expected.

A great act of love you can perform for your partner is to ensure financial stability after your death.
You as men are likely the higher income earning spouse. Your spouse might even be staying home to raise the children if you have made those lifestyle adjustments or are financially blessed. This makes your partner incredibly financially vulnerable should you pass on in an untimely manner. Is your union legally sanctioned where you live or will your partner be excluded from claiming joint assets, and have you figured out a work-around to this? Do you have a pension, and if not, do you have life insurance? If you have a pension is it enough to support the family in the absence of life insurance? Do you have mortgage insurance if you have a large debt on the family home? These financial obligations your spouse will be left holding, without your income, need to be considered. A great act of love you can perform for your partner is to ensure financial stability after your death. The last thing someone grieving needs to worry about is making the next mortgage payment.

These are moving targets as the mortgage is paid down and the children grow up and leave the home, so these conversations need to be ongoing at key points in your life, which is what prompted my email. I realized that because of my divorce, I no longer had an advocate that intimately knew what I wanted when I died.

While we are blessed in North America with great freedoms of expression, unlimited choices, and the right to practise and believe whatever we so desire, this loss of tradition so to speak does mean that there is no one right way to conduct a service for someone who has passed on. I want an airy fairy sort of ethereal party that focusses on the amazing travels I had, the positive contributions I made to the world, and my relationship with my son. You might want a sports themed Irish wake, or a very religious plot side service. All of these personalized touches we can now have in our services could create some confusion or conflict between different generations or family members depending on their own personal beliefs. Therefore, I believe we have an obligation to face our mortality if only to communicate, in writing, to our partner or adult child exactly what we would want.
My Mom died early in life, and suddenly, without a will. Her death was complicated by the fact that she had become a Buddhist some years earlier, and the rest of the family didn’t know how a Buddhist would want death dealt with. All we knew was that the Buddhists believe in reincarnation, so was there even a ceremony to mark the end of a physical bodies time on the planet, this time around? The grieving process of a shocking and untimely death was seriously complicated by the fights between my Dad and I over what my Mom would have wanted. In the end, the family had to step back and let her friends plan her ceremony. It was the most respectful thing to do, but it was hard to relinquish that control. A Buddhist gifting ceremony is what occurred, and it was not like any other funeral I had been to, so it certainly isn’t what we would have planned as her non-Buddhist family members.

A Buddhist gifting ceremony, as I saw it, involved little to no crying, and no physical gifts despite the name. The participants sat on the lawn in a circle with my Moms photo in the middle. During a hot mid-summers afternoon there was incense and a candle burning. We went around the circle taking turns talking about a good memory of my Mom, and then the Buddhist monk said some stuff. Forgive me, I was in shock at the time so I don’t recall that particular phase of the ceremony some 16 years ago. What I do remember is that everyone in the circle was given another chance to talk, and this was the actual spiritual gifting of something to your loved one to ease their transition into their next life. It was a metaphorical gift they could take with them on their journey. What was likely happening, according to Wikipedia, was a version of a merit transfer from the participants of the ceremony to my Mom “in order to diminish the deceased’s suffering in their new existence.”

Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hahn suggests meditating on our death for the specific purpose of ridding ourselves of our fear of death so that we may confront death “in a very calm and easy way”. I believe that thinking and/or talking about your eventual death will also keep you honest and on track with your personal life goals. Talking about your own death challenges the fear we all have about death, be it the actual physical passing, the unknown of what, if anything, comes afterwards, or the fear that we didn’t do enough with the life we were given while we had it. The only way to desensitize yourself to a trigger or a trauma is to continually expose yourself to it. Keep thinking and talking about your death in a matter-of-fact way, and eventually, death becomes a normalized part of the human condition. Which it is; death is the one constant we universally share across the borders and cultures of our vast and beautiful world.
I am finally developing a deeper compassion for, and understanding of, how I impact others, and that includes how my death will impact others.
While the idea of mediating on our death might seem morbid or absurd in our culture, some quiet time alone reflecting on your values, and your moral and legal obligations to your family are not morbid, they are responsible and loving. Once you have solidified your thoughts put them on paper, or at least have a conversation with someone significant in your life as a starting point. Some of the questions to think about are: who do you trust to have power of attorney should you be incapacitated; who do you trust to execute your will and not create a three-ring-circus within the family; how will your assets be divided amongst those you love; under what circumstances would you want medical intervention or not; is there a time and a place in your end-of-life care for a Do Not Resuscitate order; where are the legal documents located that your family members will need; and, are there specific religious or spiritual practises you want respected?

I did not write my end of life email to upset anyone, which it did, or because I am depressed, sick, or in a morbid state of mind. On the contrary, I have never been happier or more full of life. I wrote that email because I am finally developing a deeper compassion for, and understanding of, how I impact others, and that includes how my death will impact others. I have my son to thank for that eye-opener.
The answer to the riddle above is a coffin. A coffin is the item the maker doesn’t want, the buyer never uses, and the consumer doesn’t know he has used.
“It’s a shame we have to die my dear
No one’s getting out of here, alive
This time
What a way to go, they have no fear
No one’s getting out of here, alive.
… It’s a shame we have to disappear.”

Originally published at

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Be Open To The Love All Around You

How a couple's loving gaze for each other cast love onto me

I spent New Year's Eve 2014 on the Las Vegas Strip. It was a cold clear night despite the snowfall warning; bitterly cold for Las Vegas. When I first left my hotel, Mandalay Bay at the far south end of the strip, I felt like I was an extra in a scene for The Walking Dead being shot in deserted Atlanta, Georgia. Having visited Las Vegas many, many times, it was surreal for me to be walking on the fabled Las Vegas Strip which is usually congested with taxi’s, tourists, limousines, and truck mounted billboards advertising escorts. On New Year's Eve though, police cars and barricades had been blocking vehicle traffic since 6 pm. And because I was at one far end of the strip, at about 9 pm which is early by Vegas standards, it was eerily deserted. No more than one hundred other people were scattered around me, also walking within the dark and empty six lane roadway.

Intersection of Tropicana and Las Vegas Blvd.

Once I got adjacent the MGM Grand and New York, New York hotels the pedestrian traffic picked up and I could see the true extent of what was expected that night. I was in awe at the number of police officers. We peace loving Canadians don’t usually need massive crowd control unless it is game seven of the Stanley Cup. The inside lane of each side of the road had been barricaded and about every 20 feet there were four officers stationed with their cars. That means there were hundreds of Officers patrolling the strip that night. I figure they must have been importing Officers from other jurisdictions. The outside of most hotels also had barricades up with equal numbers of security officers controlling access to the hotels. I marvelled at the control and execution of what is probably the second biggest New Year's Eve party in the United States after New York City. Las Vegas has this night down pat.

I was lucky to be able to get inside the Bellagio once I had watched the fountains a few times, the main attraction that had coaxed me to walk the three kilometres dressed very poorly for the frigid air. Most of the hotels, including the Bellagio, had signs up stating only hotel patrons would be allowed access, but it was early enough in the evening that the hotel wasn’t swarmed. The occupancy levels would change over the next two hours drastically. Once inside I took my time through the Conservatory, then treated myself to gelato at Jean Philippe Patisserie, home to the largest chocolate fountain in the world. Eat dessert first, for life is short. I wandered around a bit, and then at 10:30 pm I had my dinner. That was no small feat in Las Vegas on New Year's Eve. If you are ever there I recommend reservations, eating at an odd time, or being prepared to wait an excessively long time to be seated.

At 11:30 pm I went back outside. The scene sure had changed in those two hours. Which I should have guessed based on the chaos inside the hotel. As I walked down the slope of the driveway from the hotel entrance to the Strip, I could see the wall of people I was approaching. And about halfway down the long driveway, the energy of their excitement hit me. It was magical and my face lit up with anticipation and glee. I was about to experience a bucket-list event which seems to produce either fear or excitement in me. Sometimes both joy and dread at the same time. I inched my way into the crowd forcing a space where they had been none. I squirmed my way slowly but surely over to the sidewalk to the front of the fountains, which were going off every five minutes instead of the usual 15. And I warmed up. The body heat and the energy being produced by everyone around me took the chill from biting to mildly uncomfortable.

It was noisy on the strip with all the horns and people hooting, hollering and singing. When the Bellagio turned off the millions of lights they have on their property and the countdown for the last minute of 2014 went up on their billboard, the crowd surged in their volume and energy. It was palpable and intoxicating. I was stone cold sober that night but flying high on life and eager to let this year go. I faced Planet Hollywood which was setting off fireworks from their rooftop but I occasionally spun around to watch the fireworks being set off from four different hotels. The show lasted about seven minutes and was truly spectacular. I was enthralled and could not have asked for more. It was the pure joy and awe of childhood that I was feeling. It was glorious and I didn’t want it to end because I rarely feel that innocent swelling of my jaded heart.

When the fireworks ended people instantly started pushing their way to wherever and I was getting jostled about pretty well. I wanted to stay where I was in case the fountains started again. I could see a ruckus about five feet away from me, but had no idea what was going on in the circle that had everyone cheering. Being cynical, and being I was in Las Vegas, I actually thought maybe some girl was flashing her boobs, or it was a celebrity, but no one was taking pictures, so that wasn’t likely. (Sigh; I shake my head at our society most of the time.) I asked the person next to me if they knew what was happening, and they said it was a proposal.

I wanted to see this for myself so I started my own elbow manoeuvring within the crown. Soon enough I had wormed my way the few feet to get into the inner circle surrounding the couple. Unfortunately for me the proposal had ended, which is how I was able to get close to the couple, but I saw what I needed to see and what the Universe wanted me to see: Love; Bliss; Rapture; Hope; Belief; Oneness; Sanctuary; Inclusion; and Home. Already feeling a-ok with life and swollen with joy, somehow my heart still managed to expand. The smile on my face was that rare smile that hurts my cheeks after a few minutes and my eyeballs were pressured from the back by tears that didn’t spill. It was too cold to cry despite the awful burning sensation in my nose that not letting go produces. 

The unknown couple just engaged.

The way they looked at each other killed off my disbelief in true love or forever just a little bit. The lack of faith I have in soul-mates cowered just a little bit when challenged by their faith. Their belief, and for those few minutes, my belief in them, cracked the cement around my heart just a little bit. Time stood still for them: they just stared at each other smiling, arms wrapped around each other. He kissed the top of her head, she being a tiny little woman. It was an incredible moment for someone who has never witnessed the aftermath of a proposal. I have been proposed to twice, but I have never had the unadulterated joy of witnessing one. The moment was so unexpected, and just so perfect. They have a beautiful story to tell their friends, family, and maybe children one day. 

Although I don’t know how she heard a word of what he was saying to her when he proposed.

One of the highlights for me of Las Vegas has always been the people watching. There simply is no better place I have found for that activity. You see it all there, from the homeless to the millionaires. You never know who you are walking with or standing next to. You never know what you will see, or who you will meet. I met some interesting people on this trip, and I saw Mike Tyson. None of what I have seen during my trips will ever top that proposal glow.

This photo was taken of the couple I write about without their permission, but afterwards I told them I had taken their photo and wanted to write about them. The young man gave me his permission to use the photo. I hope one day, somehow, in this little community we call our world, this article finds them and they realize what an impact they had on me. That moment, that couple, was as much a part of my healing process as any book I have read and I get teary with gratitude when I think about them. I thank them, whoever they are, and I wish them love and light, always. I thank the Universe for putting me in the right place at the right time to witness that pure moment of love.

Authors note - Ironically, when I witnessed this I had already written The Divorce Proposal, but I hadn’t edited it yet, or submitted it to my Editor.

Saturday, 10 January 2015


I’m often thankful that my marriage ended via text. I never had to make the gut-wrenching decision to inform my husband that I wanted out. I’ve never experienced endless days and nights weighing the pros and cons of divorce and anticipating its impact on my life.
Even though I never thought about divorce prior to experiencing it, I have spent the past several years studying and writing about the end of a marriage. For those of you who are in the unenviable position of trying to decide if you should stay or go, here are twelve questions for you to consider.
 Are you in or your children in danger?
 If you are in an abusive situation, your first course of action is to find a safe place for your family. If the marriage is violent and available interventions are not successful, your responsibility is to take care of yourself and your children. Get out, get help and then consider the question of divorce.
 Are you quitting or letting go?
 Are you running away from your marriage because you’re hesitant to address issues with your spouse or with yourself? Are you giving up because the relationship seems like it requires too much work to repair? Have you made mistakes in your marriage and you’re afraid to own up to your actions? If you answered in the affirmative to any of these, you’re quitting.
It is a reality that sometimes people enter into a marriage that was wrong from the beginning. Or, perhaps the relationship worked for a time but now you and your partner are no longer the same people who committed years ago.
People change. Circumstances change. And not every marriage can adapt. Sometimes the best decision you can make is to accept that something is gone and let it go.
Are you putting at least as much energy into the marriage as you are into your escape plans?
It’s human to look across the fence and see the grass as greener on the other side. After all, you know everything about your circumstances and often only see the best of your neighbor’s.
Marriage is no different. A relationship of any duration has history, arguments and issues that clutter the memory banks and may threaten to overrun the grass with weeds. An encounter with a new person, fresh and unsullied by the reality, can be intoxicating.
But it’s just an illusion. All you’re seeing in the beginning is what they want you to see. And illusions can only be maintained for a time.
The grass isn’t greener on the other side; it’s greener where you water it. If your attentions are focused outside of the marriage, you are starving your relationship. Make the intention to give your marriage at least as much energy as you’re giving your escape plans. Water it, nurture it, before you declare it dead.
Have you made changes in yourself?
We often blame our partners for our misery and frustration. We proclaim that if our spouse was only a better listener or less grouchy that our home life would be happy. We argue that he or she is lazy or materialistic or self-absorbed. We see our partners as the problem and ourselves as the victim.
We often want to fix our spouses. When what we really should be doing is fixing ourselves. Because you can’t change another’s actions, but you can always change your response.
So much of negativity in a marriage comes down to patterns of behavior: push and pull, nag and retreat, blame and contempt. If you can alter your responses, you have the potential of changing the entire pattern. And maybe even the marriage.
Many people use divorce as a catalyst for personal growth. Why wait? Improve yourself first and maybe the divorce doesn’t need to happen.
Have you informed your partner about your concerns and your feelings?
The first time your husband or wife hears about problems in the marriage should not be on the day you ask for a divorce. Even if you feel distant and disengaged, you have a responsibility to your spouse to communicate about the state of the union.
It takes courage to broach these difficult conversations; you have to be prepared to face anger or despondency or desperation. Ultimately, you are not responsible for your partner’s well-being, but you are accountable for transparency and truthfulness. If the marriage is at risk, make sure both parties know and are given the opportunity to campaign.
Are you on a snipe hunt for happiness?
We often fall victim to inertia in our lives. We slide into marriage and often into parenthood without being fully conscious and deliberate about our actions. As a result, we often “wake up” and realize that we’re not happy. We blame it on our jobs, our environment and our marriages.
It’s so easy to end up on a snipe hunt for happiness. We look for validation and acceptance in our possessions, buying more and more to give the appearance of a good life. We surround ourselves with sycophants and flirts that convince us that we’re desirable.
If you are looking for happiness in a new relationship status, you will be disappointed. Happiness can’t be found without; that’s a hunt that will never end. Instead of blaming your circumstances for your misery, try taking ownership of your own well-being.
Is there addiction on either side?
Addiction is a disease that is characterized with instability, deception and a difficulty in addressing issues head-on. Addicts frequently pair with enablers, the give and take meeting both of their needs in an unhealthy dynamic. All of these concerns make it very difficult to be a healthy relationship with active addiction in the picture.
If you struggle with addiction, your first responsibility is your own sobriety. It is not fair to place that burden on your partner, nor should you feel obligated to stay with someone who undermines your sobriety.
If your partner is an addict, your first step is learning your role in the pattern. Get help. Join an Al-Anon group or something similar and educate yourself about addiction, codependency and sobriety. Regardless of your decision about divorce, make sure to address your behaviors and thinking that developed alongside the dependence. Addiction is a family disease. Take responsibility for curing yourself.
Are you falling for the sunk cost fallacy?
According to the sunk cost fallacy, we have a tendency to stay in commitments purely because of the time or money invested. For example, we may hold on to a car well beyond its life because we have spent so much money on repairs, even though it makes more sense to purchase a newer and more reliable car. In marriage, we may find ourselves staying put because of the months or years invested in the relationship.
But that’s not a reason to stay.
The sunk cost fallacy is born of a calculus of fear. We prefer to stay with what is known rather than venture into the unexplored. We hesitate to scrap what we have because of a fear or starting over.
Stay because of the present marriage and the future one, not because of what has passed.
Has there been betrayal on either side?
If you have been betrayed, you may find yourself grasping onto the marriage out of a panic of losing your spouse. Or you may react with anger, rage blinding you from rational thought. Betrayal is insanely painful. Give yourself time to grieve before making decisions. And, also understand, that if your spouse is not willing to end the affair or address the problems in the marriage, your decision may have been made for you.
 If you have been the unfaithful one, work first to understand the motivation behind your actions. What were you seeking? Have you been starving your marriage of attention? Are you running away from some truth? Are you afraid of being alone and setting up a new bed to hop into as soon as you leave the old? If you fail to understand why you made this choice, you most likely find that you are given another opportunity to examine it when you cheat again.
Are you aware of the impact of divorce on children?
Some people proclaim that divorce destroys children. Others argue that it has no impact on them all. The reality is somewhere in the middle; divorce, no matter how amicable, effects the kids.
Regardless of the decision made, consider the needs of the kids. Research the impact of divorce on children of different ages. Be mindful about how and what you tell them. Watch out for signs of depression or anxiety and be ready to seek interventions if needed. Put your concern for your children ahead of your anger for your spouse.
The best gift you can give a kid is a stable and loving home life. That may mean repairing your marriage or staying together until the children have launched. Or, it may mean ending an unhealthy marriage so that the family can have a fresh start.
Is there a lack of passion and intimacy?
We often ask too much of marriage. We expect it to be our safe place, our den against the elements, providing stability and security while also looking to it for passion and excitement. It can’t fulfill both.
Passion comes from risk. It comes from seeing your partner as an individual with his or her own interests and ideas. If we feel too secure, as though we know our partners better than they know themselves, there is nothing exciting. Part of maintaining excitement in a marriage is the acceptance of risk and removing the illusion of security.
We also have tendency to construct walls with the intention of limiting possible heartbreak. Those walls are also an illusion, as all they do is limit the potential of a marriage. Intimacy has to start with vulnerability. Don’t blame your partner for a lack of connection if you are refusing to let them in.
Are you afraid of being alone?
A fear of being alone is no reason to enter into a relationship and it is also not a reason to stay in one. We are social creatures. We fear abandonment and isolation. Often to our own detriment as we grasp onto relationships that are not good for us. Being happy alone is better than being unhappy in a relationship.
 Ultimately, no one else can make the decision regarding divorce for you. It’s a call you have to make on your own. If you decide that divorce is the right decision in your case, please enter it mindfully. You cannot eliminate the pain and fear and confusion that follow, but you have the ability to mitigate at least some of its effects.
I wish you and your family the best in whatever your decision.
Originally appeared at Lessons From the End of a Marriage

Sunday, 4 January 2015

A Divorce Proposal? Why Not?

Sometimes doing the “right thing” means ending it. But why not do it as honorably and as honestly as possible?

In our North American culture no one gets married without a conversation. It probably started early in the relationship, each of you tip-toeing around your deal breakers as you tried to determine whether lust would blossom into a long-term committed relationship with harmonious goals, values, and morals. Maybe there was some window shopping in the jewelry  store at some point, or hints dropped via magazines left open to pictures of rings your girlfriend liked. Or maybe the day came after living together for years when a not-so-subtle ultimatum was issued.
Yet, not just a few of us have found ourselves at the opposite end of the martial spectrum, in the middle of divorce proceedings, with no freaking idea of how we got there.
However romantic or comical your courtship story is, I doubt you found yourself at the altar, dumbfounded, wondering why you were being asked if you promised to love, cherish, until death do you part.

Yet, not just a few of us have found ourselves at the opposite end of the martial spectrum, in the middle of divorce proceedings, with no freaking idea of how we got there. I was blindsided my ex’s request for an open marriage one afternoon. My girlfriend’s husband left the house on Tuesday, didn’t come home that night, and she was served with divorce papers the next day. I read an article by a man who arranged to move out during a two hour window while his wife was at the hairdressers. Surprise!

A fellow blogger I admire whose writing offers me great comfort and hope, Lisa Arends, of Lessons From the End of a Marriage, experienced a text message ending to her marriage and wrote about what she calls “tsunami divorces.”
“A tsunami divorce is one that completely blindsides a spouse, flattening him or her with a wave that was never spotted. A tsunami divorce is characterized by a normal marriage and a normal life up until the moment of total and utter destruction. The spouse that embodies the wave may simply disappear, abandoning their significant other with little to no communication or explanation.” ~ Lisa Arends
Why on earth would anyone make such a monumental life-changing decision without consulting with the other half of the equation? Of course I am setting aside spousal violence within a marriage. I am referencing relatively normal marriages with two functioning adults. It stuns me to this day that my husband lived a life of deceit for years, and the most hurtful part of that deceit was how often he must have thought about leaving me: how to do it, what to say, and when to do it. Yet I, the woman who shared his bed, home and bank account, and signed with his last name, was never invited into the conversation in his head. Never heard a word of “This is how I feel,” or “This is what I am thinking is best for my future.”
However, my ex told me that the week before his announcement to me he had coffee with his lover and her husband, and they encouraged him to tell me a partial truth. Don’t be a jerk like my ex and have this important conversation with everyone but your spouse. The truth always comes out eventually.

I champion the divorce proposal. Take the marriage proposal and turn it on its head.
I was not stupid within my marriage, or ignoring obvious signs. Sure the rearview mirror showed some potholes in the road, but my friends and family were just as stunned as I was. The photo taken on a trip with other couples three weeks before he told me shows me sitting on his lap, his arms around me, both of us smiling. For our anniversary in late February he had my wedding band resized because I hadn’t been wearing it. There was no tension, no drawn-out fights, no threats of divorce, no prolonged separations, and no ongoing marital counselling. There was a marriage one day, and, within the space of a few sentences, muttered in probably less than a minute, there was no longer a marriage.
To say I disagree with this approach to ending your marriage would be an understatement. I champion the divorce proposal. Take the marriage proposal and turn it on its head. So what the heck would that look like? You don’t need to get down on one knee, but I also don’t recommend that you physically stand over your wife and drop the bombshell while she is trying to have a nap. Create a physical space where you are equals.

You: I need you to hear me when I say I am starting to think we might both be better off living out the rest of our lives separately. I can imagine that scenario for me. Have you ever thought about ending this marriage?
You: This marriage as it has been for X number of months/years is not how I want to continue living my life. Over the years as we have grown and changed, we have not grown together, and I do not like what our relationship has changed into. I need to discuss this with you.
You: I need to tell you how I feel about you and our marriage. I am not sure I am in love with you anymore although I care deeply about you. I have a problem with our marriage; I need you to hear me talk about my feelings.

The conversation is going to be hard, it might cause you physical distress before it takes place, it is going to be horribly awkward and uncomfortable, and there might be tears, name calling, profanities, or withdrawal and stonewalling. Your spouse may experience and project anger, hurt, confusion or any number of conflicting emotions during the course of the conversation. Your spouse may deflect back on you and use this opportunity to tell you every shitty thing you have ever done to her. The conversation will likely need to be repeated many times over from slightly different angles, and maybe in front of a therapist or a clergy person.

That needs to be OK in your mind; divorce is not a situation that should be entered into lightly. The emotional, health, and financial ramifications of divorce are too vast not to be given significant weight. I really see divorce as a last resort. You didn’t get married without a conversation or two and I caution you against divorcing without a conversation or two. That is the point of the icebreakers above — starting a two way conversation.
That conversation may be the beginning of the “conscious uncoupling” you thought you wanted, or it may be the beginning of a new and different type of relationship with your spouse.

Maybe you will feel like a bad guy at the time of the conversation, but months down the road you will have the comfort of knowing you were honest, brave, and present, while hopefully being compassionate and vulnerable with your spouse. You will have respect for yourself that you gave your marriage everything you had until the very end, and you will have the peace of mind that allows for a good night’s rest knowing you gave the prospect of divorce every bit as much loving attention as you did the thought of getting married. That conversation may be the beginning of the “conscious uncoupling” you thought you wanted, or it may be the beginning of a new and different type of relationship with your spouse.
In the long run, the outcome doesn’t matter. What matters is your spouse won’t be blindsided and have to deal with the emotional ramifications of a tsunami on top of all the “normal” emotional baggage that comes with a divorce. And that will benefit you in the long run as much as it benefits her.
Photo: Flickr/Christopher Patterson

Originally published on The Good Men Project

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Less Expectations, More Gratitude, Part II. The Relationship Edition

I think most of us have a long laundry list of expectations in a relationship, even more so if vows were exchanged. Is that not what a vow is, a promise to behave in a certain predictable way, day in and day out, year after year? 

My expectations for my partner and my marriage looked like this: 

1) My husband would be faithful to me.

2) My husband would be honest with me at all times about his thoughts, feelings and desires.

3) My husband would communicate openly to me his dreams and fears.

4) My husband would put me above all others and hold our relationship sacred.

5) My husband would always have my best interests at heart and have my back.

6) My husband was trustworthy and a “good” person.

7) My husband and I would continue on in our partnership until death do us part. 

Pretty standard fare for a marriage yes? Although I do not want to wager a large sum of money on what was said nine years ago during our wedding ceremony, I am pretty sure those seven points were covered by the vows, either implicit or explicitly. 

It was those expectations that got shattered when the cheating and lying came to light and those expectations that created such emotional devastation. What if I hadn’t had those expectations? How differently would the ending of that union looked for both of us emotionally if there were not those cultural norms being broken? How much sooner would the relationship have ended if there was not the pressure of maintaining the vows or the obligations of the marital contract?   

You might have similar expectations of your marriage; I think most people do, married or not. Any significant relationship probably has an unspoken web of expectations encasing it.

Clearly those were the big ticket expectations that I am acutely aware of now. During my marriage I wasn’t aware I held those expectations necessarily; they were completely subconscious. There were a million more little daily expectations within our relationship as well, such as common courtesy like letting the other know if you were running late.  

I have only recently become aware of how much my expectations trip me up in my relationships, to this day. Actually, my expectations trip me up in my everyday life, daily. Current example being my boyfriend, who works on a cruise ship and resides in a different time zone from me. He comes online at about the same time every night and that is our opportunity to touch base and connect. On the days he doesn’t come online, I get right out of sorts and insecurities and fears run amok in my brain because I have an expectation, based on his past behaviour, that he will be there for me at a certain time. When the expectation is broken, I feel let down. 

By the time you reach adulthood you are operating under, at minimum, gender, cultural, and familial expectations. You could also have religious or career expectations placed upon you as well. Take a moment to think about how those expectations define your day, your activities, your intentions, your internal dialogue, and your interactions within your most significant personal relationships. 

Does your wife expect you to take out the garbage because that is how her parents modelled a relationship to her, or because that is a “man’s job”? Has this ever created tension or an argument in your relationship? Is that expectation serving your relationship positively? 

I see expectations as rigid rules of how someone should behave. I am the one setting those rules, and most of them are un-communicated to you. Good luck with that, I hope you passed mind-reading for beginners. I further expect you to anticipate me having those expectations of you. Is that fair to you, or me? No. What would be fair is clear communication, minimizing expectations, and the expression of heartfelt gratitude.   

Is it even possible to build a long-term relationship without the seven big-ticket expectations I noted above? I don’t think that is a relationship I want to participate in. I could, however, feel and express more gratitude on a regular basis when those key ingredients are being offered to me in an intimate context. Instead of expecting your partner to be happy waking up next to you in the morning, why not choose a stance of gratitude that today they are choosing to share their life with you? If your wedding vows had not created the expectation of forever, would you think differently about the daily drudgery of a marriage? 

What I have learned is that without expectation, there is no disappointment. Another thing I have learned deeply is that having an expectation of someone else’s behaviour can only lead to problems, as it suggests we have some control over that person. That perhaps we can manipulate the situation to a favourable outcome for ourselves based on our vested interests. When I have a moment of detachment and gratitude in my relationships I feel great peace and love about the relationship, the other and myself. 

When I was an emotional rag-doll in the early months of the separation, being twisted this way and that by every new revelation that came to light, my psychologist advised me to expect anything and everything from my ex, and she encouraged me to spend some time trying to anticipate for the worst that he could do. A year later when the actual divorce ugliness began, she changed her initial advice to - "expect nothing and react to nothing for 24 hours”. 

These are two polar extreme responses to the issue of expectations. The rationale behind “expect anything” was to assist me in not reacting, as was the revised advice. If I anticipated something I would have my emotional response privately, and then if the situation did arise, my knee-jerk reaction would have already occurred.  Although the advice seems worlds apart, both were meant to help me get control of my emotions. Expectations always set you up for an emotionally based response. Positive if the expectation is met, negative if the expectation is not met. 

It is only through detachment and mindful observation of my thoughts that I have become aware of what is an expectation in a relationship versus a wish/desire, and it is only then that I can begin challenging these expectations on their usefulness. Do my expectations promote wellness and loving calm within my intimate relationships, or do they set me up for failure? 

I was in the infancy of emotional control when I was working with my psychologist on expectations. Having graduated kindergarten now, I am ready to practise detaching from expectations. I am starting to replace, “you should have” with, “I am grateful for”. You need to know my failure rate is sitting at about 99 percent right now, but practise will lead to integration over time. 

Here are some gratitude based statements I could replace my seven marital expectations with: 

1) I am grateful you choose me today, because I know you have a choice about where you direct your love and energy. 

2) I am grateful for this honest conversation, because I know that intimacy and connection require brave vulnerability which is not easy or comfortable. 

3) I am grateful you are sharing your dreams and fears with me, and I do not judge you for them. 

4) I am grateful that you are directing a significant amount of your energy into our relationship when there are so many distractions in your day. 

5) I am grateful for you disagreeing with me, because I know that you challenging me promotes my personal growth.  

6) I am grateful for your consistent demonstration of trustworthy behaviour and loving actions. 

7) I am grateful that we have today; may we be blessed with tomorrow. 

How much more peaceful would your relationship be if you relinquished some of your expectations, discussed other expectations, and threw in some gratitude along the way? 

To be clear, in my marriage I actively worked not to take my husband for granted, and to express appreciation. I have recently come to understand that gratitude comes from a much deeper place in my soul. Appreciation is superficial, while gratitude dwells in reverence and love.

Some further complementary reading:

Originally published on