Posts Tagged ‘separation

25
Apr
12

Loosening or Tightening the Knot

I dislike absolutes in life, especially casually tossed out, hyperbolic blanket statements. They dig under my scalp and into my brain like psychic chiggers.

I know, I know…given past experience, you probably figure this is a post that’s going to be about racial stuff. And then you go back to the headline and get confused and wonder, “Is it about lynching somehow, whether literal or metaphorical?”

Nah.

The blanket statements and knots I’m talking about relate to marriage (or any other similar relationship between two people—any theoretically committed, long-term gig to be by each other’s side, in each other’s bodies and juggling each other’s hearts).

I’m a veteran of marriage, having been in one for more than 14 years now, and having dated my amazing (and lovely, and talented and smart and yes every so often frustrating and infuriating) partner for a couple years before she became my wife. I don’t think that makes me an expert, but I have enough hours logged now that I can say a few things with authority.

First, no marriage fails in a vacuum and second, no marriage is doomed.

Save your retorts for the end; give me a chance to explain. This isn’t one of those religious “You can’t ever let your marriage go to pieces” posts.

You see, one of the people I follow on Twitter (and who follows me) is going through a separation (her second with this man, I guess) and probably to divorce. We’ve traded a few tweets and I’m sure many other people on Twitter have communicated with her too, with support, commiseration, questions and maybe even criticism.

She seems to have a pretty healthy outlook overall about the situation, even though it’s stressful, obviously. But she made a tweet today that took me aback, about how she wasn’t innocent in the breakup, and that it is entirely her fault.

No, it isn’t.

I can say this with assurance, and it goes to the first of my earlier assertions: No marriage fails in a vacuum.

Just as it takes two people to make the relationship (well, usually two; it can be more, of course), it takes both of them to tear it asunder. In the heat of emotional things like this, it’s easy for both parties to point the finger of blame, or even for their friends and family to assign the role of villain to one person.

But I’ve come close to the abyss in my marriage. There have been some rough times in recent memory and moments I thought it was all over. My wife and I have come back from the brink, and I have a very good feeling that we either won’t get to the brink again, or we’ll figure out again how to avoid going over the edge if we do.

Something interesting has happened for me in the travails I’ve faced in my own marriage: Realizing where I’ve gone wrong (mostly because I was willing to look inside myself and my actions in the context of the marriage; many people aren’t willing to do that). Now, I’m not going to say who was mostly to blame for the near ending of the marriage. But while one of us was noticeably more responsible for the dilemmas we faced, neither of us was anywhere near guiltless.

Fact is that in any relationship like this, no one is blameless. One person might be 99% to blame and the other 1% to blame, but there are always contributions and failures on both sides, and rarely is it so lopsided as to even be 80% or 90% in one person’s corner.

And that is part of the reason why no marriage is inherently doomed to failure (my second assertion). Because there is blame to go around, there are opportunities for both parties to fix things. If both parties are willing to truly look at themselves as honestly as possible and at the other person, those people will be able to get to the heart of what’s causing the rift.

Once the causes (and rarely is it just one thing) are identified, they can be fixed.

I don’t care how dire it is. They can be fixed.

However, the question is often: Should they be fixed?

And another question, perhaps more central to the issue, is: Are both people willing to do what needs doing?

Both people can make the commitment to change whatever needs changing in their behaviors, attitudes, perceptions or whatever else. They can save the marriage.

The question is never “can a marriage be saved” but rather “is it worth the effort/pain/time to save it?”

In our case, it has been worth it. Some major changes have been made. Changes that many would not be willing to make and that some might even say neither person should have been willing to make.

As to the former, not everyone can make the necessary changes. That doesn’t make them bad people or failures. We can only go as far as we feel we have the strength to go.

As for the latter point, whether the changes should have been made, well…that’s no one else’s fucking business. It only matters that we felt the marriage was worth keeping and that whatever discomforts might come with making changes were worth the payoff. No one looking from the outside toward the inside can truly judge whether there’s something worth saving; only those on the inside can really decide.

That’s not to say people on the outside can’t help with insights, observations and advice. But they don’t get to make the decision, and they sure as hell shouldn’t be coming out with “I told you so” comments if an attempt to save things fails. Because, bottom line, it isn’t their marriage; it isn’t their call.

07
Oct
11

Religion by Any Other Name

With fair regularity, I’ll see an atheist post something online, whether as a tweet, a comment to a blog post, or whatever, basically saying how much better a world it would be if we just eliminated religion altogether.

How much less hatred there would be. How much less unkindness. How much less discrimination and abuse. How much less divisiveness. How much less hypocrisy. How much less war. How much less violence. How much less shame. How much less…

…and sometimes, as I read this, my sense of “What damn world do you live in” surges up like a food-poisoned dinner, and I respond, online, to explain to them patiently that it wouldn’t make a damn bit of difference.

They almost never agree.

You see, I bring up very valid points. In fact, my points are virtually unassailable, though the atheists insist on stubbornly assailing them anyway, showing that they can be just as pigheaded as fundamentalist Christians or uber-Orthodox Jews or extremist Muslims.

You see, they will point to things like the Crusades, or the Spanish Inquisition, or a host of other well-known historical events, and say, “See, that’s what religion does!” In addition to ignoring every good thing that flowed from religion, they fail, more importantly, to take heed of the fact that in all those cases, the impetus behind the evils was rarely anything religious. Oh, it may have been billed as such, but it’s always about power, wealth, land, etc. And usually, there is a ruler (king, empress, pharaoh, dictator, etc.) or a ruling class behind it all, using religion as the rallying point or prodding the religious institutions and using them as tools for the dirty work.

When I point out that capitalism (a flawed institution that I both love and loathe) and communism (great idea, but impossible to execute humanely in large populations) have been responsible for more suffering and persecution than religion in modern times, I’m ignored, and told about how much influence Christians have on the political process.

When I point out that non-theistic liberals have stomped on as many freedoms at times as right-wingers, I’m met with a blank stare (of the virtual/electronic variety).

When I note that so much of the violence in Africa is caused by warlords and ethnic conflicts…and add that so many Eastern European and Asian conflicts are also ethnically/culturally based, I’m told that really, it was religion that started those divisions originally, and thus religion is to blame.

This is why I have, at times, compared atheism to being a religion unto itself, because its most firm adherents aren’t content to practice their beliefs. No, they seek converts. They enact doctrine. They begin to exclude people and judge people. I’ve known some great atheists and count many of them among my friends. But just like church-folk, I find many of them abrasive and pompous. They have dogma, too, and they can be guilty of evil. Some of the most evil bastards in modern history were functionally agnostic, truly agnostic or atheist.

What irks me is that even if you can make the claim that religion is responsible for most of the world’s woes, past and present (which you can’t because at best it’s an one-fourth partner along with economic, social and political/ideological doctrines), eliminating it won’t help.

If you outlaw religion, or zap everyone with a mind-ray that makes them reject the notion of any kinds of spiritual higher powers (God, Goddess, loa, Vishnu, etc.), they will make their own faiths all over again.

I see this so clearly these days in online communities.

Mrs. Blue still reads many parenting/mommy blogs and visits parenting forums at times, and I see all the time how many “non-religious” women have essentially defined motherhood as a sort of goddess role. It is sacred. It is for women alone. The children belong to the mother. The father is there to serve. The role of motherhood should be honored as a special calling and duty. Now, I think the world of women, mothers or not. But the level of importance that many women in these online venues attach to their roles goes beyond the reasonable and laudable. It goes into worship. It goes into judgment and exclusion and excommunication of those who don’t agree 100% with the official doctrine. If you dare to raise your voice at your child or spank them even once, you are shunned. If you are a father who dares to look at porn or want sex occasionally outside of making a new baby,  you are sick.

But hey, it’s not just the extreme moms.

Let’s take sexuality. Yoga, while spiritual, tends to be pretty much clear of deism for most people (at least here in the United States). It’s a way to connect in non-physical as well as physical ways, but it’s more about calming, centering and clearing out the detritus. And yet I’ve seen tales enough of Tantric Yoga people who damn near form cults of sexuality. Or, as long as we’re on the topic of sexuality, how about BDSM (bondage, discipline, sadism, masochism)? I’ve made no secret that I probably know more about kink than most of you dear readers. I don’t practice BDSM myself, but I’m well-acquainted with many folks who are, and I keep tabs on things, and you know what I see? Lots of worship. People who reject the notion of God now give themselves over to another human. Not simply as a submissive who gets whipped occasionally or tied up or insulted, but who gives over all the choices to some dominant man or woman and literally worships that person. I’ve seen folks so devoted to the BDSM lifestyle that actual sexual activity in a BDSM context is rare or non-existent. They are fulfilled by the surrender or the control (depending on whether they are the sub or dom) and they find it spiritually fulfilling.

Humans seek the divine, and they will find it almost anywhere. There are fundie Christians who can twist the Gospel to make it look like Jesus taught the value of free-market Capitalism. I kid you not. Jesus noted that money/greed was a kind of god, and humans have proved him right, as they set themselves up as gods based on money, and demand their “tithes” of the more lowly. I see people get quite riled up over food and what is the “right” way to eat and to grow/raise food for us to be good humans and to be right with the Earth.

Spirituality is part and parcel of being human, and that is why the majority of the population believes in a higher power. Even if we’re wrong about that and the atheists are right, it’s clearly hardwired into us on some level that we seek an ethereal connection to something beyond the temporal lives we are locked into. We seek enlightenment. We seek to get outside ourselves. We seek validation from unseen forces.

Whether gods exist and we acknowledge them, or whether we create them and invest them with pseudo-reality…it doesn’t matter in the end. You cannot eliminate religion. If you strike it down in one form, it will rise up in another. If you’re an atheist and you’ve managed to shed all that, cool for you. You’re a rarity. Just like geniuses are. Or savants. Or true artists. Or serial killers, for that matter. You are not the norm if you have completely severed yourself from spiritual notions. That doesn’t make you bad or flawed, but it means you don’t see the world like most people do. You are an aberration. Perhaps a beautiful and wonderful one, but an aberration all the same. And, most likely, the majority of atheists who think they reject all divine/spiritual notions would find they worship at some kind of altar in life, if they were only to truly and honestly look at themselves.

Stop blaming the institutions or philosophies for how messed up the world is and how much evil there is in it. The blame for the world’s ills is much more pervasive.

It’s not God, real or imagined. It’s not religions. It’s not faith.

It’s all of us.

All. Of. Us.

All.

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.




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.

Jeff Bouley

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