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The Language of Love

I’m pretty sure that one of the most important things about having a successful marriage is learning to show love to your partner in ways that they appreciate. It’s not an easy task, because I’m pretty sure that most of us do the opposite; that is, we show our partners love in ways that we ourselves want to be loved. It’s easy to think that, “Hey, because I like this, then surely my partner will, too.” I spent a lot of time thinking that in my first marriage, assuming that my (then) husband would appreciate the ways that I chose to show him love.

I had it all wrong.

I’ve come to realize that the best (and only good way) to love your partner is to figure out the ways that they want to be loved, and then respond to that. Showing love is less about the giver, and more about the receiver. Doing things for the one you love that maybe you personally don’t enjoy all that much, but doing it anyhow because it’s something that they absolutely love. After all, loving someone should be about being unselfish, at least some of the time.

I feel like CBG and I have made a lot of strides lately in this department. We’ve been working on communicating the ways that we each want to be loved, and the other has been making an effort to meet those wants. I’m not even talking huge gestures, but more like small, daily acts that reaffirm over and over again, “Yes, you matter. I will make an effort for you, because your happiness is worth it.”  For me, this meant offering to watch one of CBG’s favourite TV programs with him (turns out, I actually love it too – who knew?). For CBG, this means making an effort to suggest things for us to do together (even something small like going out for coffee). These are just two small examples of how we are each making a small effort to love the other in ways that we know they want to be loved.

It all sounds simple, but the truth is, it’s a habit we fell out of for a little while there. We were each so focused on ourselves, and why our own needs weren’t being met, that we didn’t stop to remember that a happy and well-loved spouse will show love in return. Now, every time CBG supports my silly ideas (like our own personal Polar Bear Dip on New Year’s Day), or whenever he makes me laugh with his antics, I remember that those are things he’s doing for me. Because he loves me. And that makes me want to do something in return.

Give and take, and speaking each other’s love language. That’s what its all about.

The Good Stuff

I realize that my last post was a bit…negative.

Well, not negative exactly, but more focused on the negative aspects of life right now. We all feel it from time to time — weighed down by the burden of crap that we’re forced to deal with. Some days that burden seems heavier than others.

Some people have expressed concern about CBG and I, and the state of things. And sure, while we have a lot of stuff that’s been happening, and a lot of “stuff” to deal with, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on all the good stuff. Because it sure as hell isn’t all bad. Life never is. And I firmly believe that it is the ability to see the positives, despite everything else, that makes the difference between generally positive people, and generally negative ones.

As I mentioned before, things haven’t been great with CBG and I. Some days there are disagreements and hurtful words. There have been days without any words at all. Nights when I have laid in bed and wondered what was going to happen with us. But despite everything – those bad days, those hurtful words and expression of ugly emotion – one thing hasn’t changed. I love him fiercely. It’s that love that’s worn me down and worn me out, as I’ve tried so hard to help him this past while. It’s that love that has caused me to give and give and give until I’ve been emptied out.

But now, it’s that same love that is giving me reason to focus more on me right now. Because I know that if I want that love to remain, and to grow and become strong again, then I need to make sure that I am a strong, whole, and healthy person on my own. A person free of resentment. The best me that I can be. Because that’s the person that is going to do the best job of loving him — not this hollow shell of a woman that I’ve been feeling like lately.

I remember clearly the Sunshine and CBG when things are good. We are unstoppable. We are joyful and inspired and fun and free, bringing out the best in one another. They’re still there – I see glimpses of them – a little more lately, in fact. A little more as we both make the conscious effort to be our best selves. I am encouraged by this forward momentum.

I see CBG with my girls. I see how they are positively impacted by having him in their lives. I see how much they love him, and how much he loves them back. There are nights – like last night, in fact – when I see one of my girls snuggled up next to him on the couch and it makes my heart swell. I know how far they’ve come. I know the challenges that are there to bond with someone else’s children. I know how hard he works to be a good stepfather to them.

Another thing that I have seen lately is CBG making the effort. I know that it’s not easy for him right now, and that he’s been feeling a little overwhelmed. But he’s pushing back against it, taking steps forward, and trying. That counts for something. Because the thing is – I know that he loves me right back. I know there are days when it’s more of a challenge than others, but it’s still there. I see it clearly in his eyes on the good days. And that’s what I comfort myself with on the bad ones.

Good stuff? Yeah. We’ve got it.

 

Dealing with Depression (When it’s Not Yours)

It’s been almost two years now since CBG was diagnosed with, and began treatment for, major depressive disorder.

I was the one who urged him to see his doctor to begin with. It can be easy to miss the signs of depression, particularly in yourself. And especially since we all have an idea of what depression is “supposed” to look like, and when it doesn’t, it can be easy to pass it off as something else. Or even worse – as nothing at all.

I’d like to say that since beginning treatment, things have gotten back to normal. The truth is that they haven’t. Yes, there has been a big improvement, but in the last two years we’ve faced a lot of extra challenges. We’ve dealt with CBG being additionally diagnosed with ADHD, then losing his job and going through an extended period of unemployment, before beginning a new job back in late spring. We’ve dealt with me changing jobs not once, but twice in the last year. So to say that we’ve dealt with our share of challenges recently would be a bit of an understatement.

In the interests of honesty, I’ll admit that it’s been a tough go these past two years. CBG and I haven’t exactly been our best selves. We haven’t always been putting the effort into our marriage that we should. Some days, some weeks, some months have been worse than others. But still — we are trying.

Continuing with the theme of full disclosure, I’ll also admit that it’s been tough for me, dealing with CBG’s depression. I know it makes me a bit of a selfish arsehole to say it, but those of you who have lived through a spouse’s depression know what I’m talking about. This is particularly true for those of us (like me) who struggle with their own mood. As I’ve written about before, winter is always a tough time for me, mentally and emotionally. Add to that a depressed spouse and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

I’ve learned a lot in the past couple of years, about having a depressed spouse. I’ve learned how easy it can be to empty your own emotional tank while trying to carry the load for two people. And how once that tank gets emptied, it’s often filled back up with anger and resentment, with a good-sized chunk of guilt thrown in for good measure. I’ve learned that self-care is more important than ever, but can very easily fall by the wayside. I’ve learned that it can be very easy to blame oneself for how your spouse is feeling, even though logically you know that its just stupid brain chemistry to blame. I’ve learned that (for me, at least) it can be very easy to get sucked into the vortex of negative feelings along with your spouse. And when that happens, instead of being able to lift one another up, all you do is pull each other down deeper. Like two drowning people with no life preserver in sight.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. As part of closing the gap and being the person that I want to be, I know that I have to take greater responsibility for me and my own self care. That means taking a step backwards, away from CBG, in order to give both of us the space that we need to figure out our own individual stuff and do something about it. For me it’s about taking responsibility for myself – my thoughts, my mood, my actions – and doing something about them. It’s about encouraging CBG from the sidelines, from a loving distance. I can’t be responsible for the two of us. I’ve tried that route and it hasn’t been good for either one of us. And frankly, that’s not the person that I want to be. And I’m pretty sure that’s not the wife that CBG wants, either.

So (for right now at least) I am focusing a bit more on me. On my own health. My own self care. My own actions and attitudes. My hope is that CBG will be inspired to do the same, but the truth is that if he isn’t, I can’t be the one to wear it. I love him and I love myself too much to allow that to happen.

Life Lessons for my Daughters

As my girls grow older, this parenting thing seems to get more and more complicated. Its funny; I used to naively think that it would actually get easier. And sure, in some ways it is. After all, at 11 and 13 I no longer have to worry about tying shoes or wiping noses or butts or meeting any of those other physical needs that make life with young children so exhausting. Thankfully, because, y’know, wiping my 13 year old’s butt make bit just a wee bit awkward for the two of us. heh.

So even though their practical physical needs are much less, the older they get, the more complicated their emotional needs. I find myself having more and more conversations with them about life, friendship and romantic relationships. Working to meet their emotional needs, and teaching them how to have healthy relationships is far more complex than wiping noses or butts ever was.

The difficulty in teaching them how to have healthy relationships is that I know CBG and I don’t always provide them with the best of examples. Sure, we try to do our best, but there are times when we come up short, as I suppose is the case with a lot of married couples. I’ll be honest…it makes me feel like a bit of a crummy parent. I don’t believe in the ‘do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do’ parenting philosophy; I try to parent by example.

And lately, the example hasn’t been all that great – from either one of us.

When I’m able to push the “I’m a kinda crummy parent” feelings aside and look at things logically, I know that this is an opportunity to teach my girls the realities of relationships. They’re not always perfect. Sometimes relationships are messy and ugly and couples hurt one another. The important part is what happens after the messy bits: the communication. Working things through. Making up. Growing stronger as a couple because of it.

One lesson I want my girls to learn, above all others, is that every mistake is an opportunity to grow, learn, and do better. Everyone makes mistakes, but it’s what we do with those mistakes that demonstrate the kind of person that we are. I want my girls to be the kind of people who are able to recognize the error in their ways, apologize, self-correct and move on to better things.

And if that’s the kind of people I want them to be, then that’s the example they need to be provided with. From both their parents.

Date Night

As you all know, it’s been a rough year and a half or so for CBG and I. Depression, ADHD, job loss, extended unemployment, money woes, a change of jobs for me, and finally, CBG starting a new job just a month ago.

I’m exhausted just reading that list. And of course, all the while dealing with these big things, there’s the ordinary stress and work of everyday life to deal with, too.

As you can imagine, it’s taken a bit of a toll on our marriage. We’re talking big stressful things here, people. All we need to do is add moving and a death of a close family member to really amp up the stress levels to meltdown level. Trust me — there were times when a full-on meltdown sounded like a pretty good idea.

We’ve been kind of bumbling along, doing our best to hold things together and keep adulting as best we could. And I’m not gonna lie, kids, there have been plenty of times, particularly in the last six months or so, when things have really sucked. Not “we’re calling it quits here and now” kind of sucking, but more like, “I don’t really like you all that much today” kind of thing.

Ouch.

Now that the dust has begun to settle a little bit, we’ve come to realize that now is the time that we need to focus on one another a little bit more. Which is weird for us, to have to make an effort to do this, because for so long, life was all about love and passion and fun and squeezing every drop of goodness out of life that we could together. And yet here we are.

In the name of reconnecting and getting back on track, we’ve decided to institute a regular Thursday night date night. One of our big problems this past year and a half or so is that although we’ve still had plenty of fun together, a bit of our regular spark has gone out of things. Stress and worry have a way of dulling that sparkle, I guess. We find excuses to just stay home and veg out in front of the tv, when the Sunshine and CBG of years gone by would go out and make their own fun, dammit. And well, snuggling on the couch is nice now and then, but ultimately not something I want to do every night of the week. Not by a long shot.

So we came up with the idea of a no-excuses date night every Thursday night going forward. Our date night plan comes with a few rules:

  • We’ll take turns planning our dates.
  • The planner has full control; the other person can’t veto any date night idea.
  • At-home dates are fine, but they have to be deliberate; we can’t just default to watching a movie at home because we can’t think of anything else to do.
  • Dates can be big or small, long or short, it’s all up to the planner.
  • THERE ARE NO EXCUSES FOR SKIPPING DATE NIGHT! Plans may have to change or be altered, but no putting off date night when other things get in the way.

We know that having a regular date night isn’t going to magically make everything all better and immediately put the sparkle back.

But you know what? It’s a good start.

Marriage is Easy…Except When It Isn’t

I’ve read the opinion before that marriage shouldn’t be work.

That, my friends, is a statement that I call bullshit on. Complete and utter bullshit.

I’m not sure if the people saying that marriage shouldn’t be work are deluded, outright lying, or just have a different definition of work than I do. Whatever the reason, I just can’t agree with that opinion.

Yes, marriage is work. It’s the kind of work, though, that is deeply rewarding and absolutely worth it. Marriage is about being unselfish when sometimes you really just want to be a dick. It’s about sharing the last of the ice cream when you’d prefer to finish it off yourself. It’s about days when you put your spouse’s needs ahead of your own. All of those things, to me, are work — because they require effort. By nature I’m kind of a selfish, self-centered princess.

It’s not all work all the time, of course. There are days, weeks, months, and even years when life is good, and you and your spouse fall into the rhythm of life and everything is great.

The key to a long and happy marriage, I think (besides making sure you don’t marry a douchebag, of course) is having the strength and determination to push through those rough times, those man-this-really-sucks periods of marriage, knowing that things will improve again, given time and effort.

CBG and I are coming out of one of those “man-this-really-sucks” periods right now. We’re both feeling kind of battered and weary from the experience, but the good news is that we’re both also willing to put in the work to get to a sweet spot again. We can see it in the distance, a glowing beacon just out of reach. We just have to keep trudging through the sludge just a little while longer and we’ll get there.

But I gotta say…I’m tired, yo. Good thing I have a partner beside me holding my hand.

Laughter

There’s been a lot more laughter in my world lately. It’s not like it ever disappeared entirely, but I’ve noticed lately that it’s there more — the silliness, and the ease at which it comes. The quick witted humor flying back and forth, reminiscent of “the good old days”. Though we’ve grown and changed and life isn’t exactly the same as it was, we feel more and more like the Sunshine and CBG of happier times. The Sunshine and CBG who made up ridiculous (and dirty) lyrics to 80s tunes, who giggled in the middle of night at shared silliness, who made each other laugh just because we could. The couple who relished in giddy ridiculousness.

Laughter has been the cement in our relationship from the start, and it’s a relief for it to be there again…the kind that ends with belly cramps, lost breath, and tears running down my face.

It’s good to feel like us again.

Silliness