05
Apr
09

Keeping it Together

couple-embacingMrs. Blue and I have had our moments over the years, as have all married couples. With the decline of income over the years and the addition of Little Girl Blue along with Son of Blue, pressures have been higher than ever and, I dare say, we’ve had more big arguments in the past four years than we did in the prior seven we were married and the two during which we dated.

There have been times I was certain my marriage was over. In truth, those feelings have never lasted very long. Both myself and Mrs. Blue love each other and despite the occasional animosity that happens in life, we are devoted to each other and committed to our marriage and family. That isn’t to say that things couldn’t break at some point, but we’ve fought for our relationship, and staying together has always been the choice.

This kind of thing is on my mind a lot in recent months, not so much because of any particular pressures in my own marriage, but in those of people whom I know online (no, not personal, real-life friends, but people I do feel a kinship for online). A while back, it was SocietyVs, author of the Losing My Religion blog, whose wife had cheated on him and left him for a time. The separation didn’t last terribly long, and last I heard, they were still working hard on the relationship and SocietyVs, far from wanting payback for marital infidelity, had used this as a chance to see where he’s gone wrong emotionally and otherwise in the relationship.

On the less positive end of the spectrum, one of my top three or four favorite bloggers of all time, Chez at Deus Ex Malcontent, seems to be at the end of his marriage, after recently bringing a child into the world. He’s posted very honestly, even brutally at times some might say, about the situation. Through it, he has been careful not to lay blame at his wife’s feet but also to make clear that separation or divorce aren’t his choices. They pulled their marriage back from the brink a couple years ago, I understand, but it doesn’t look good this time around.

It’s been long enough that I’ve forgotten most of the responses to SoceityVs when he was posting about his marital travails, so I don’t recall if people were giving him some of the party lines of either you must stay together and fight for your marriage or you must break up now because otherwise you will both hate each other eventually. I seem to recall most comments were in the supportive range and more neutral and useful in their advice.

So, too, comments for Chez have trended toward balance and logic, but there are those who have said things like:

  • You must stay together for the good of the child
  • You must break up or you will make life hell for the child
  • It always takes TWO people to ruin a marriage
  • So, which of you gave us first!

And so on. While not the most common of comments, some of those on the fringed ends of the spectrum infuriate me with their black-and-white approach.

All of that is a very long-winded introduction to what I think will be relatively brief marriage advice from me here to anyone whose marriage is on the rocks or seems to be.

You must be willing to fight.

But you must choose your battles carefully.

And you must be fighting a good fight.

Now, the tricky part is knowing which battles to pick and understanding whether you’re really fighting the good fight. To me, I think it is important that in deciding these things, one must take their own interests out of the equation if at all possible.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t look out for yourself, your sanity and your own interests. Such things are important, but they don’t always involve a “fight.”

What I am talking about is when you make choices like:

  • Will I fight to keep this marriage together?
  • Will I fight for custody of the child or children?

Those are the two biggest fights I can think of. There may be others, but those are the most primal, I think, and neither of them can be made properly if you are considering your own wants and needs.

So, to the first bullet point, which might generally be called fighting for something: Staying together only makes sense if the two of you truly both need and want each other. You must be useful to each other and supportive of each other, whether that support is active and overt or more subsoncsious and subtle. If you aren’t both bringing something invaluable and irreplaceable to the other, why be married? Why be together at all? And this is why you must start by considering what the other person needs before you factor in your needs.

The second bullet point is more of the theme fighting over something, and it, too, requires you to divorce yourself from you own desires. Especially in the case of children, are you fighting for them because they are best off with you, or because you simply want to hurt the other spouse? Scoring points with children is a godawful thing to do, and I personally like the idea of God striking people with a bolt of lightning for using kids as weapons in a relationship. When my parents divorced, they refused to put me in the middle of things, and I will always be grateful to them for that.

I think that those people who stay married “for the sake of the children” are not that different than people who fight for custody in a divorce, just the flip side of the same coin really, and special attention should be paid to whether it really is best for that child that the parents be together. It might be, but it also might be the worst choice you could make. So again, think of the children first before thinking of yourself, or yourselves as a marital unit.

Yes, marriages and custody and the like are often worth fighting for. But sometimes, the war is already lost by the time you realize you’re engaged in yet another battle. Sometimes, there is nothing left to fight for, or fight over, and you need to make sure you aren’t still in a conflict that you are no longer likely able to win.

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20 Responses to “Keeping it Together”


  1. April 5, 2009 at 2:17 pm

    Deke,
    Some of this post is right on – for instance, that sometimes staying together for the sake of the child is good, sometimes the worst you can do. Consider the child within the context of the family dynamic.

    However, I take issue with much of this post. It is written in the context of the violent and disconnective language that has evolved over the course of our history, and which makes conflict inevitable. Nonviolent Communication (founded by Marshall Rosenberg) teaches a much more effective means of communication. (www.cnvc.org)

    In detail:
    Those are the two biggest fights … and neither of them can be made properly if you are considering your own wants and needs.

    I disagree one hundred percent. You must FIRST consider your own wants and needs, and be clear on them – especially on the difference. (A want is something unique to you; a need is universal, something that all people share, i.e., clean air, health, love, connection, autonomy, etc.) Then, make clear to your partner your needs, while also opening to hearing their needs, and also considering the needs of the child (which you’ll discover by asking, if they’re old enough). You must factor in everyone’s needs simultaneously, though, of course, you can take turns in clarifying what they are.

    The second bullet point is more of the theme fighting over something, and it, too, requires you to divorce yourself from you own desires.

    You cannot divorce yourself from your own desires. You can suppress them, in which case they will come out in other ways, usually to the detriment of the relationship. Even the idea of fighting over something is uncomfortable to me – I like the idea of NOT fighting, of focusing instead on connecting with and understanding your spouse.

    The best thing you can do is to learn to give and receive genuine empathy, and often the best way to do so is to find someone outside the couple so that you can dump all your garbage without fear of hurting the other, and get empathy on it. Empathy, as taught and practiced in NVC, is incredibly healing.

    I know this is some heavy duty preaching, and I’m sorry if it comes off as arrogant. However, I’ve seen it too many times, including in my own life.

    NVC (Nonviolent Communication – also called “compassionate communication”) is very effective. Cases in point:
    *Kristin (http://kristincollier.blogspot.com/) teaches NVC to parents and families. Recently a couple who had lost their only daughter a couple of years before came to one of her classes (a six-week series). Their marriage was at the point of ending, after well over a year of therapy and marriage counseling. After about the third session, the wife emailed Kristin that she was feeling confident her marriage would be saved. Last I heard, they were trying to get pregnant again.

    *Kristin got her training to teach parenting classes at BayNVC’s Parent Peer Leadership Program, a nine-month tele-class that starts with a two-week intensive “family camp,” where students from around the world congregate to live and learn NVC, kids in tow. She got home from that camp to find that her husband could no longer live as a man, and was at the point of choosing suicide or transition. I have a hard time imagining a more threatening, difficult, or frustrating situation challenging any married couple, yet we stayed connected through the six-month dissolution of our marriage (she’s straight). We did it without recriminations or anger or hurting each other; rather, we grieved, deeply, cried buckets of tears, empathized with each other, talked for hours and hours, and emerged as best friends, deeply connected and still living together for the sake of finances and co-parenting.

    Believe me, NVC works. You can order the book (Nonviolent Communication) by Marshall Rosenberg, along with CD’s, DVD’s, and lots more. Normally I’m not much of one for promoting sales of something, but this has so much potential for creating world peace, connected relationships, and healthy families, that I think it’s worthwhile.

    Good luck,

  2. 2 Mrs Blue
    April 5, 2009 at 3:39 pm

    Seda,

    As the resident research junkie in the house, I must say Deacon has been exposed to NVC. I actually received a copy of Inbal Kashtan’s Parenting from the Heart which is a presentation of NVC when our daughter was a newborn. I have also done some additional reading on NVC. I agree its good stuff though Deacon does not share my quest to change all aspects of his life and I do mean that in a good way.

    Going back to my space.

    Mrs. Blue

  3. 3 Deacon Blue
    April 5, 2009 at 3:55 pm

    Seda, first off, we need to re-establish what my context is here: This post directly addresses the issue of when a marriage is running off the rails.

    So, I’m not talking about the normal course of troubles in a relationship but when you are at the point when you must decide if you should fight for the relationship anymore (or fight for control of the child).

    I don’t engage in “violent” forms of communication with my wife even in arguments. OK, both of us have been known to throw out some pretty big F-bombs at times in the biggest fights, but we manage to avoid attacking each other’s emotions and such for the most part. We’ve both slipped up on that, but our communications are pretty much in line with NVC, I believe. Mrs. Blue might argue I could use a bit more NVC with Little Girl Blue, but even there, I still argue that I’m pretty peaceful with her for the vast and overwhelming majority of our interactions.

    It may be, Seda, that you are put off by my use of the word “fight.” But the fact is, at point a relationship looks like it’s about to go “boom,” it really is at that point that you have to dig in and you will either fight to make it work, or you will surrender. Neither option is inherently bad or good. It all depends upon context.

    But I still stand by my opinion that when a relationship is really going off the rails, you HAVE to look at the needs of the other people first. Because when emotions are running that high, if you are looking to your own wants first, you are already going to be edging toward a decision to end things because you’re already stressed out and angry.

    Now, I thought I had made it clear in my post, but perhaps not: I am NOT talking about marriages in which abuse or danger to you is involved. Get the hell out of those right away! What I mean is when two people who have once loved each other or professsed to, and believe they had a healthy, functional marriage for the most part, get to a point when all seems lost for the relatinoship to continue.

    If there is already massive dysfucntion or abuse in the relationship, it was dead long before. But plenty of people, perhaps most of them, get to an endpoint in their relationship, I think, not because the marriage was so awful but because they are letting other things play into their thinking (disappointment, selfishness, ennui, etc.)

  4. April 5, 2009 at 3:56 pm

    Glad to hear it, Mrs. Blue. Inbal’s book is a good one. I typically come to something like this assuming that it’s unknown, hence my details. In any case, I stand by what I said.

    Be well,

  5. 5 Deacon Blue
    April 5, 2009 at 4:03 pm

    Not sure if you had a chance to read my response yet, Seda, since you posted about the same time I did. But I think you might have missed the point of my post somewhat simply because you saw the word “fight” used so much. 😉

    Not saying that you will agree with me even then, but my post is about rather specific circumstances and isn’t about fighting per se.

  6. April 5, 2009 at 4:03 pm

    Thanks for the clarification, Deke. I didn’t know you knew anything about NVC, hence maybe said more than I would otherwise. You’ve definitely got a point – or two. I guess mine is that when the relationship hits the point you speak of, NVC is the best way I know if to reconnect and make a choice that is based on genuine feelings and needs, and not on intensity of emotion. And you’re right, it is absolutely essential to listen to the other person’s needs. If my comment came off as sounding like you should ignore that to center on yourself, I didn’t communicate what I really intended to!

    Good post, good discussion, and a Very Important Topic.

  7. April 5, 2009 at 4:05 pm

    Yeah. We’re doing simultaneous posts. It’s like corrupted IM.:-)

  8. 8 Deacon Blue
    April 5, 2009 at 4:05 pm

    By all means, sharing information about effective ways to communicate, and positive ones at that, is always a good thing in my book. 🙂

  9. April 5, 2009 at 4:13 pm

    I think one of the most difficult and important challenges with this situation is looking through the hurt that is triggered by the other’s words (which are probably triggered by their own pain) at the needs behind that pain. Self-empathy is a powerful tool to enable this, which is composed of deciphering your own feelings and unmet needs that have been triggered. To me, that understanding of our own feelings and needs enables the empathy with the other’s feelings and needs so that we can really HEAR what’s going on with them.

    Maybe we’re both right. Maybe it’s situational. Maybe it’s sometimes one, sometimes the other.

    What would happen if you just loved?

  10. 10 thewordofme
    April 5, 2009 at 7:43 pm

    Hi Deacon,

    A bit of advice that me and my wife were given just before we married has served us well.

    When fighting never use really hateful language towards your mate, never use the “ultimate insults” You know the ones, like: “You’re a F’n loser, you’ll never succeed,” or “You’re a fat-ass pig and butt ugly to boot”, or “You’re a lousy lover and your prick is tiny”. Never go for the “killer” insult when mad…it’ll come back to bite your butt.

    What has helped me over the years is the gradual realization that women are really special creations…I mean REALLY special. For the most part they put up with stupid men and make us feel loved and wanted. They raise the children, always looking out for their welfare and do it all with usually minimum recognition from us self absorbed men, or the children for that matter. They take on the lions share of keeping house and making us comfortable.

    I have spent a lot of time in hospitals the last ten years, and my wife, bless her heart, has been like a rock and keep everything together through the sometimes very hard times.

    You know the old Saturday Night Live routine…I forget who did it…but two guys are down on their knees genuflecting and saying, “I’m not worthy…I’m not worthy”

    Anyway, I hope you and the Missus keep the faith and are able to work out peaceful and loving solutions to any personal problems. If you really love each other it won’t be that hard…Just keep in mind how you felt about each other in the beginning.

    Peace

  11. 11 Deacon Blue
    April 5, 2009 at 8:46 pm

    Seda,

    “Just loving” sounds good in theory, but it isn’t necessarily enough. I think that in my two examples above, there was plenty of love on one or even both sides of the marriage. In both cases, I’m only getting the male perspective, so it’s far from a complete picture, but in both cases, those men seem to genuinely and deeply love their wives. In SocietyVs’s case, it seems to be enough (at least for now, and hopefully for the future). In Chez’s case, it seems that as much as he loves his wife, he sees no way to convince her to stay in the relationship.

    Please note that in neither case am I taking the man’s side; just that in both cases, there seemed to be men who were wounded (and admitted to causing their own wounds as well emotionally). In each case, the man seems to have reached out. In only one case did his love seem to be enough, and in that case, it seems like it might barely have been enough.

    One of the reasons I mentioned the need to determine the other person’s needs and to determine whether you should fight for the relationship is because the idea of needing two people to break a relationship is false. That might usually be the case, but it really only takes one person to end it all. And that’s why you have to be pretty sure the other person might actually want you to put effort into trying to save the relationship. Otherwise, you’re just doing a lot of work for nothing and hurting yourself even more.

    I do WISH love was always enough. It IS enough to get through life, but not necessarily enough to keep a relationship together. I know because the times I thought my marriage might be on the brink, there wasn’t a lack of love. It’s just that other things were overshadowing it.

  12. 12 Deacon Blue
    April 5, 2009 at 8:50 pm

    TWOM,

    Thanks for sharing. Good advice on the insult thing.

    Generally speaking, Mrs. Blue and I get along just fine. Sometimes it’s hard to keep the more passion-related intimacy strong, but we’ve always been each other’s best friends so that intimacy keep us going through most crap.

  13. April 6, 2009 at 1:24 pm

    TWOM

    I agree with on the insults, disagree on the “special” nature of women. They are no more, or no less special than men. We typically have different emotional makeups, but I’ve found that both genders carry heavy burdens.

  14. April 6, 2009 at 3:47 pm

    I recently learned what it means to really fight for a relationship. In our case, we’re fighting our own “demons.” We love each other enough to share the best and worst of ourselves. And because of that, we’re surprising ourselves with some of the “worst” that’s there.

    I would LOVE to read about NVC, because that is really where we fall flat. We’re head over heels for each other. No doubt (altho I was accused of coming across as glib on my blog LOL). I am crazy about my sweetheart, and it breaks our hearts when another benign conversation turns into an unnecessary argument.

  15. 15 Deacon Blue
    April 6, 2009 at 3:52 pm

    Big Man,

    I agree with you about woman and men being no better or worse than the other; only different.

    That being said, there is a large part of me that loves the IDEA of elevating woman to something wonderful…and also like the IDEA that women would do the same for us men.

    But, realistically, we’re all human.

    Her Side,

    Thanks for the comment, particularly because it reminds me that one of the hallmarks of my relationship with Mrs. Blue is that we can literally talk about almost anything. It’s not that those things might not sometimes hurt (because they can), but we are willing to talk about whatever we need to talk about, and unless we’re already angry about something, not let the subject matter rankle us.

  16. April 7, 2009 at 12:39 am

    oh deacon, i’ve known chez a while now, started reading him when my own marriage fell apart. corresponded with him off-site, gave him ‘old lady perspective’ [i’m 50, was living together/married for over 30 years so i’ve seen it ALL] he and jane conceived injara as soon as they reconciled. made me happy for them but also nervous. the issues that forced them apart then, which had caused strife at eralier times, STILL were not being dealt with and would rear their ugly heads again.

    and now it happened. i feel so sad for the three of them. there is so much love in that family, but so much stupid pride [pride in a relationship is almost always stupid. unless it’s all you have left, all that is keeping you alive.] so much anger and hurt and resentment that hasn’t been accepted and put away with a vow to do better…

    in judaism, atonement doesn’t count unless you make a sincere effort to avoid the ‘bad actions’ to go forth and sin no more. some charity, a few prayers does not cut the mustard without intend and a PLAN to improve.

    i commented on chez’s blog, made some blands wishes for the futer and a separate note asking some hard questions, things he has to think about. he’s chosen to keep that private. which is fine. i also invited him to dinner, his folks are about 90 minutes from me. [ps you and miz pink ever get down here, i’d be happy to bake a cake!]

    as for fighting in general: there are so few THINGS worth fighting over. but there are concepts that things symbolize which might be worth fighting FOR. are you better together, do you help each other reach your goals, enhance each other’s lives, support, encourage each other to be the best you possible, the perfected you? or do you tear each other apart and put stumbling blocks before each other?

    this is rewaking all the bitter in me. not good. goodnight all.

  17. 17 Deacon Blue
    April 7, 2009 at 9:50 am

    Robyn,

    Yeah, back away when the bitter starts; not the feeling you want to take to bed with you. 😉

    I wholly agree with you that THINGS are almost never worth fighting for or over. There should be something deeper and grander and more meangingful if you’re going to dig in and put you’re all into trying to “win” what you want/need, both for yourself and the other person.

    I know all about that nasty little beast called Pride; he’s certainly reared his head in my marriage often enough (on both sides of the relationship).

    If I’m ever in Florida I’ll give you a holler, but I won’t likely have Miz Pink with me, since she isn’t my wife (Miz Pink and Mrs. Blue are two different people, though I’m not sure everyone believes that around here. I show up with Miz Pink in tow, and I’ll definitely have some marital problems of my own when I get back. 😛

  18. 18 societyvs
    April 7, 2009 at 3:21 pm

    Thanks for the mention Deacon – even if it is in response to a situation of such travail…it was worth the share IMO.

    Marriage, I can only speak to this – I don’t have children – is something u have to work at – and fight for. I have to admit I almost lost mine and I think mainly due to ‘taking someone for granted’ (it’s funny you don’t realize their role and importance until they ain’t there anymore?). But that period of seperation (about a month or so) gave me some time to truly work on myself and deal with ‘me’ and ‘my issues’ – and what I was or wasn’t putting into the marriage. To look at it any other way, for me, was a losing battle. In the end of the day, I have to live with myself and what ‘I did’.

    I realized after she came back that she missed me horrendously – sleepness nights and plain old running from problems and not dealing with what was really in her heart (as confused as that all got). When she came back – confusion went away – and we noticed something – we really are one – seperate us and we ‘fall apart’. Soul mates someone called it – I believe we knew each other so well – we knew exactly what each was doing without even being in the same room or home for that matter(weird huh?). That aspect of ‘one-ness’ truly kept me working on repair of this sacred relationship (I mean, how often do u really find that deep of personableness?).

    Now, we are more in love than ever – both embracing what was really hidden in our hearts and being honest about it – sharing more and more and making sure that committment is top priority!

    But marriage, requires (and I speak as a man) we start to really listen and open ourselves – as men we tend to reserve ourselves and this is our norm – but women are very much more into ‘speaking out a problem’…they just want us to join. I think as far as passion goes (or romance), we men let this one slide a lot also – maybe we don’t quite understand what this means to a woman (that attention/importance)? I would say of all things remember the slogan ‘2 become 1’ – I speak on a physical level, but also a more passionate level – where 2 people literally become one single unit – alomst inseperable – even when apart (develop this connection each and every day of your life).

    We can call this ‘work’ if we want – but God forbid the person we love the most becomes equal to our job…that’s truly lowering some standard of care.

  19. 19 Deacon Blue
    April 7, 2009 at 3:44 pm

    Man,thanks for sharing so much, SocietyVs. I didn’t want to go too deeply into yours or Chez’s situations here, as I figured folks could go to your respective blogs if they were all that curious…but you’ve shared a lot, and some very important points all around.

    Since you don’t have kids, I can’t ask your take on this, but I’ve found that parenthood and spousehood are the two toughest jobs in the world (and most satisfying as well)…just can’t figure out job which is more so than the other…

  20. 20 thewordofme
    April 9, 2009 at 4:42 pm

    Hi Bigman,

    Sorry to take so long to get back to you. I find the words of Bob Marley explain my feelings towards women most precisely.

    “You may not be her first, her last, or her only. She loved before she may love again. But if she loves you now, what else matters? She’s not perfect—you aren’t either, and the two of you may never be perfect together, but if she can make you laugh, cause you to think twice, and admit to being human and making mistakes, hold onto her and give her the most you can. She may not be thinking about you every second of the day, but she will give to you a part of her that she knows you can break—her heart. So don’t hurt her, don’t change her, don’t analyze and don’t expect more than she can give. Smile when she makes you happy, let her know when she makes you mad, and miss her when she’s not there.
    twom


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Deacon Blue is the blogging persona of editor and writer Jeffrey Bouley. The opinions of Jeff himself on this blog, and those expressed as Deacon Blue, in NO WAY should be construed as the opinions of anyone with whom he has worked, currently works, or will work with in the future. They are personal opinions and views, and are sometimes, frankly, expressed in more outrageous terms than I truly feel most days.

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