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Archive for the ‘MARRIAGE ADVICE’ Category

popolivelargeHow do you know when a guy really loves you? An old song asked that question and suggested that it was “in his kiss.” But these days, kisses are doled out so freely that they’ve depreciated, so what’s the answer to that age-old query now? Is it in the romantic gifts of flowers, candy, or jewellery traditionally given on special occasions like Valentine’s Day? Is it in the gestures of support we get on a regular basis – the sudden compliment, the chores done ungrudgingly around the house, the much-needed dinner out?

All of these matter, but I may have found the definitive answer to whether your partner really loves you. It’s the extent he/she is willing to go to protect you from harm.

Now, many people have told me how lucky I am to have a “superhero” for a husband. He is devoted and protective, a “Saint Bernard” of a man. Standing six-foot four and with hands the size of a catcher’s mitt, he moves through life like a force of nature. Few people would ever challenge him on a physical level, and being loved by him brings a sense of safety and security. But there is one aspect to his readiness to protect that can have a downside. Occasionally, his reactions can be considered a little extreme. I know, because several years ago, he tried to save my life.

It was late-May, unseasonably warm, and I was in the kitchen preparing supper when one of our sons burst into the house, his shirt blood-splattered and his knuckles skinned. It was obvious he’d been in a fight.

It wasn’t anything that I hadn’t seen before. Life near a large suburban community carried its share of danger, and he seemed to have inherited his father’s reactive adrenaline surges when he felt threatened.

Before I had a chance to speak, he started telling me what happened. “I just had a fight with Matt*,” he said, closing and locking the door.

The news wasn’t totally unexpected. I knew my son’s temper and I knew Matt*. Even as a youngster, he could be trouble. Now that he was older, with the rumour of a tough gang of friends to back him up, he seemed a legitimate threat.

Our young “caped crusader” supplied a few more details of the altercation then jumped into the shower. An hour later, he left for work, but not before telling us to keep our eyes open for a strange car in the driveway that night. “Play it safe and keep the doors locked,” he said, only half-jokingly.

Despite our paranoia, the evening passed uneventfully, and soon it was time to turn in. Our bedroom was warm (we had no air conditioning at the time), so we left the windows open and the blinds up to catch the breeze. A ceiling fan added to the comfort.

Miles from the city, it was dark except for moonlight. I squeezed earplugs in to drown the regular sounds of stray cats, crickets and my husband’s snoring, and snuggled down for the night. Despite a few pangs of worry about our son’s safety, I finally drifted off.

I was asleep less than an hour when I felt my husband’s big “paw” shaking my shoulder. I was startled, only half awake, and my earplugs muffled his words. Irritated, I asked him, “What is wrong with you?” My first thought was that he was having an unusually intense dream. He was agitated, almost panicked, and covered my mouth to stop my questions.

More than once, I tried to sit up, but he pushed me back down. He was frantically whispering something, but what? Finally, I managed to get an arm free to yank out an earplug. “It’s Matt and his friends. They’re shooting at us,” he hissed. “They’re in the backyard.”

A loud and rapid-fire, “Pop, pop, p-p-p-pop, p-p-pop” filled the air. Still, the meaning of his words didn’t register. Unlike my superhero, my adrenaline had flat-lined in my sleep. I looked towards the two large windows in our room, and realized screens would offer no protection from the volley of bullets outside. In the space of a few seconds, my lack of understanding turned to terror. I couldn’t move.

Suddenly, the shots seemed to grow closer and louder, and my husband went into rescue mode. He started to pull me onto his side of the bed. The problem was that in the confusion, he wasn’t explaining why he wanted me there, and I was too stunned to think it out myself. He also couldn’t see well enough to move me carefully. In one fell swoop, he threw his arm around my neck, grabbed me by my head, and yanked me backwards, off the bed and onto the floor on the other side.

Together we waited, our hearts pumping wildly, until silence came. I’m not sure how much time passed before we decided it was safe to move. We were still too frightened to stand, too sure they were lying in wait. Finally, my husband slithered across the floor and made his way to the windows. He reached up from the side and was able to pull down the blinds, hiding us from our attackers. Then, he crawled his way to the doorway and turned on the light.

The source of our terror was right before us!

Floating high above our bed was a partially-deflated helium balloon, a souvenir from my husband’s birthday the month earlier. It had come loose from its doorknob mooring and taken flight. 

How can a helium balloon mimic the sounds of gunshots, you ask? Just get it caught in the blades of a ceiling fan.

My neck was a little stiff and sore the next day, and my husband felt pretty foolish, but one undeniable truth came out of it all. My husband will always protect me, even if he kills me in the process.

I guess that means he loves me.

~~~~~~~~~~

*Note: “Matt” is a pseudonym.

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48149-main_fullI am exhausted. Not just sleepy, or tired to the bone, but exhausted on every level: physically, mentally and emotionally. Okay, that last part is an exaggeration. Emotionally I’m doing okay, though sometimes I wonder how that’s possible, considering everything’s that’s going on in my life lately.

It’s made me a little impatient on some levels and I find it’s erupting in unexpected ways. This week, when no one offered to help me in a home improvement store, turned away from me in fact, I got so angry that I found a cart, lifted a huge pail of tile paste (nearly 50 pounds though it felt like two hundred to me) from the floor into the cart myself, grew angrier when no one helped me get it into the car, and hurt my back stubbornly trying to do it all myself.

All week long I have been reminded of that decision every time I move or twist a certain way or try to lie down. It was foolish at my age and with my health issues, no matter how frustrated I was.

My irritability surfaced again when I became part of a discussion on infidelity. A writer friend made the point that monogamy wasn’t natural in the animal kingdom and that people needed to remember that humans are most closely related to chimps, therefore monogamy is also unnatural in humans.

The flat-out statement that we should accept infidelity is more natural than monogamy because of our connection to the animal kingdom bothers me. It provides a pat answer to a complex relationship that’s been around for thousands of years. Nothing is ever that simple – is it?

I wrote a response and realized I sounded judgmental and more than a little “pollyanna-ish.” Here, though, giving such a strong opinion seems more appropriate. After all, it is my blog, correct? lol

The original discussion began started with a reference to an online dating service for married people who were interested in casual relationships outside their marriage. We were asked for our opinions. This is my response:

Personally, I think for one person to be unfaithful behind their partner’s back is unconscionable. If it’s a joint decision, I wonder why they bother to be together at all, but at least they aren’t hurting each other. Society, possibly. Any children they may have, certainly, Their families, no doubt, but each other, probably not.

I could never go so far as to excuse infidelity on the basis of humans being mere animals, most closely related to the chimp. I do not see infidelity as a naturally occurring instinct, suggesting that there is no choice involved. It seems to give people permission to do what comes naturally, what they were always “meant to do.”

More likely, I think infidelity occurs as a result of people marrying for the wrong reasons: because the prospective spouse is attractive, or fun, or society tells them it’s time, or there’s a child on the way, or the person has a bright future professionally. We have these images of “Barbie and Ken” in our heads, with perfect kids who will never stray. We imagine our lives will be like the ideal ones we see on family-oriented shows, with money in the bank, a membership at the golf club, and problems no worse than those on Leave it to Beaver or Family Ties. All of those expectations set people up for a load of disappointments, and they sometimes realize that it was the promise of the future life they were in love with, not the person they married. It may only be one person who’s disillusioned, but that’s all it takes.

The bottom line is, I believe when two people are really right for each other (and it does take both of them) they find a way to grow together over time, not apart, and the urge to be unfaithful is practically non-existent for them.

Let’s face it. Getting married is much too easy for such a huge step. For many people, the only difficulties are around the ceremony and finding the right dress and venue. How much better it would be if getting married required the same kind of work and preparation as our careers. Maybe then they’d be better prepared to make and honour their commitments to be faithful.

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renovation-roulette-1-mIt’s occurred to me that one of the greatest tests of a marriage is that dreaded of times, the renovation period. If your home is over twenty years ago, it can seem a neverending cycle, and if either one of you is even borderline attention-deficit, that’s the time it will show up in spades.

Such is the case in our home. My husband has the energy and ambition of two men half his age.  That can be both a blessing and a curse. Understanding his thought patterns can be like following a billiard ball as it richochets from ball to sidewall to pocket. He’s knocked a kitchen wall down at one in the morning because of a sudden inspiration. He’s started gigantic projects without planning the workspace or storage for such a huge undertaking.  At times, it makes me want to pull out my hair, but compared to women whose husbands lack that kind of confidence, I consider myself lucky. Point my husband in the right direction, clear an area for him to work,  remove all the breakable items around him, and he’s off to a great start. But leave him to fend completely on his own while I go and try to write? Don’t count on me getting much done.

Twenty-odd years ago, I read an article called “The Truth About Men and Housework.”  It was written long before “political correctness”  guided everything in print, and we thought it was hysterically funny because in my husband’s case, at least, it was completely true. One of the things it stressed is that by their very nature,  men prefer to work “in packs.” I remember one part in particular that went something like this:

“Your husband will be three steps up a ladder and call you to hand him something he forgot to carry up with him.  Don’t worry. You can finish your shower later.” 

The writer wasn’t suggesting laziness throughout the piece, but a man’s need to have someone nearby to comment on their work and assist them in some small way, speeding up the process.

That’s the pattern my husband and I have settled into, and it works for us.  Perhaps it will for you too. I am much like the operating room nurse. I keep track of the renovation “instruments,” otherwise he’d spend a couple of hours of the day searching for his measuring tape, or the Phillips screwdriver he just had in his hand, or the dropcloth he had yesterday. I’m the one who runs for the paper towel if he splatters paint . I hold the light up so he can see if the drywall paste is on smoothly. I constantly shift things around him as he makes progress in the job, all part of my own obsession to keep things under control. It works for both of us. I stay calmer and he avoids tripping on things and breaking an ankle.  After all, he’s a big guy, and if he falls, he falls hard.

He’ll also work non-stop, forgetting the time. I remind him to come and eat, and I bring him tea and cookies when it’s time for a break.

Now, before you start thinking that this is all a little too “Stepford Wife-ish” for you, I should tell you that it’s not always sweetness and light. When he messes up badly or loses something for the tenth time that dayand his frustration level skyrockets, that’s my cue to let him howl at the moon alone.  His tirade generally doesn’t last long. Ever heard of a surgeon carry on an operation alone without the surgical nurse to hand him the scalpel?

Not to worry though. Unlike the surgical assistant, I stop short of wiping his brow.

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paa12100001010I warned you that I might deviate from my original intention, which was to write about knowing “when to speak up and when to say nothing.” Circumstances this week have reminded me of something that’s likely even more important: being sensitive to your partner’s stress or fatigue level, and knowing when to step in and give them a break.

It’s best referred to as “tag-teaming it’ and it’s the foundation of a good partnership, whether it’s two cops in an interrogation room or parents dealing with their children. When one is deep in the heat of the action, the other needs to be nearby, ready to step in, and give their partner time to “breathe.”

I learned to appreciate this after the birth of my first son. I was overjoyed to finally have a baby, but like so many new mothers, my euphoria dimmed once he developed colic and cried from early afternoon until midnight each day. I was worn to a frazzle but felt too guilty to complain to my husband. After all, I was the one getting to stay at home with our darling baby, while he made a full one hundred and twenty-mile round trip to work each day and arrived home hungry and tired.

How could I let him know that I not only needed a break from my new-mother role, I needed it right now?

The first time, I didn’t even have to speak. He walked in, said hello, showered, saw that supper was ready, and practically shooed me out the door for a much-needed break. It didn’t matter that we lived in a small town and there wasn’t much to do once I got outside that door. He knew that an hour or so of downtime was all I needed to feel rejuvenated, and the time alone with his son was his reward. He did it more than once. One look at my face was often enough for him to know I needed another “mommy break.”

Over the years, this has been our pattern. When one of us reaches the end of our rope, is unwell or overtired, the other steps in, no questions asked. And that is how it should be. I cannot conceive of a relationship where one person is exhausted and the other is not doing whatever they can to relieve their load. Yet we see it all the time, a situation where one partner is the giver, one the taker and the roles are never exchanged or shared.

In the end, it’s about sensitivity. It’s also about caring about your partner nas much as you do yourself.

There is a great misconception out there that women are weak, unable to handle as much as males. But the reality is that when studies evaluate the work done by both partners in a household, women generally work more hours per day. Women who resort to complaining about that situation or about the aches and pains that have accumulated, do so because they believe that their partner is unaware of the overload they’re feeling. They have become efficient at doing things on their own but inefficient at making their needs known. Their partner may not even notice the number of times they jump up to get the clothes out of the driver, or check the food on the stove, or run to answer the phone that everyone else has tuned out or chosen to ignore.

Yep, we women can be our own worst enemies. In our desire to have our world run smoothly, we can morph into mini-robots, beacons of efficiency, driving ourselves into the ground and not saving room for the good things in life.  We need to remind ourselves that “tag teams” only work well when the one who is tired reaches out, and the other is waiting there, ready to touch fingertips and enter the ring.

Men can suffer from the same “superbeing” phenomena, and depending on their own self-esteem and upbringing, admitting they’re in trouble might not come naturally. Keep your eyes open for the signs that they’re losing steam or getting discouraged. Chances are that they may not reach out their hand and ask for help until they’re going down for the count.

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forallthechildrenoftheworldA good friend of mine, who just happens to be a successful writer, recently suggested that I aim for my own unique niche in this blog. She generously pointed out the things of value she felt I could share. One stuck out. She said that based on the success of my marriage (now in its 38th year), I should consider offering down-to-earth advice on what works for us.

Naturally, I laughed. My dear husband (who for now I’ll simply call DH) and I could never be marriage counsellors. We are not what anyone would consider a “textbook perfect” couple. We argue. We get truly ticked off at each other. We do not share all of the same interests. In fact, there are things DH enjoys that I can barely tolerate.

So, I’ve been asking myself what is it that holds us together, because truly, if you’d been around long enough to watch our history play out, we’ve been put through more than our share of tests.  People say they envy the commitment we share, but neither of us is easy-going or particularly patient. Maybe we’re both just too stubborn to be the first one to say “uncle.” We’ve both been known to obsess and overreact to things. So, aside from sharing a love for sushi, Italian food and rhythm and blues from the seventies and eighties, what’s our connection?

Now, before your mind wanders to the topic of carnal pleasure, let me assure you that while it may be part of what brings a couple together, it’s worth shit if your find yourself grinding your teeth each time you spouse speaks to you.

Leaving you with a list, a  “Linda’s Tried and True Way to Make Sure He Stays Into You,”  is just all a little too trite.  Instead I find myself thinking about something I firmly feel, and that is it that people marry to fulfill a need. Nowadays, that’s such a politically incorrect thing to say out loud, to admit needs and maybe just a wee bit of baggage, but I believe it’s true. We all come to marriage with a preconceived idea that our needs, often subconscious, will be met – in spades even. The problem comes when those needs are 1. never admitted to ourselves 2. never voiced aloud to our partner and 3. never really understood by either of us.

Where do these needs come from?  Here’s something else we might not want to admit. They come from the hidden child within us, the one that we’d like to think is long gone, that one that we figured magically disappeared right around the time we hit puberty. The last thing we need to know is that this mosst vulnerable part of us  – the one we do our damnedest to hide, still arrives to taunt us in our weakest moment, still pulls our strings now and then.

If it’s hard for most women to accept, how much of an obstacle is it for the average man? Besides being pushed to get in touch with his feminine side, we’re now also asking him to travel back in time and reconnect with the frightened, needy little child he might once have been.

The thing is, our own inner child’s not going anywhere, so we have to understand him or her, and what things that he or she still needs, before we can possibly understand and have compassion for our partner’s inner child. 

It doesn’t matter if, to all outside appearances, you’re both the most well-adjusted people in the world. It helps for you both to learn early on what each of your “inner children” still seek. It may be a continuation of what they received as children; it may be something to supplement what they feel they didn’t get enough of. In both cases, the goal is a greater feeling of security and trust.  And seriously…isn’t that what we all want to feel in a good marriage?

My husband and I have  learned to do that. We understand that vulnerable place in each other. We accept that certain things either bring back positive or negative memories from our partner’s childhood, and we must be sensitive to that reality.

Case in point: I had the typical oldest child issue of believing I had to be perfect, and often feeling inferior to my talented, highly intelligent younger siblings. I also suffered from frequent ailments (now diagnosed as fibromyalgia) and I felt that people believed I was a hypochondriac. I can easily slip back into those insecurities. My husband understands my feelings and is able to help me work through them.

In my husband’s case, some issues are still at play. The same attention deficit problems that plagued him when he was young, alienating some classmates or causing him to lose a couple of early jobs, still rear up occasionally. When they do, I see the young man who hasn’t quite figured out why some things don’t work out for him.

Intellectually, we undertand these things; emotionally, it’s hard to get past the first reaction, a reminder of the first time our lives didn’t feel quite “right.”

The child in us will never truly leave, and realizing that allows us to make allowances for times when our emotional reaction to something is stronger than the situation seems to warrant.

And honestly, wouldn’t bit be horribly boring  if we were all perfectly well-adjusted beings who never made mistakes,  or never second -guessed each other? What would we have to laugh over? When would we have the chance to offer such comfort?

It’s decided, then. “Understanding and loving your partner’s inner child”  is, from my perspective, the number one step to making a marriage work. 

There are many more though. The next topic is a biggie: Knowing When to Speak Up and When to Shut Up.

Or maybe not.  Something could always happen between now and then that suddenlly knocks “knowing when to talk” right down the list.

Stay tuned.

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baby-cupidValentine’s Day is the yearly event that causes more headaches and heartaches than any other. Some may disagree, saying that Christmas is more stressful, but I’d bet my best red lipstick that more psyches suffer on February 14th. than on any other day of the year.

Think of it. The idea alone is masochistic. It’s the day chosen to show people how much you love them. Conversely, if you receive no such declaration, you may assume that no one loves you. It’s a logical deduction, even for a child.

Speaking of children, flash back to that brightly covered box in the front of the classroom, the one stuffed with carefully chosen paper Valentines? Remember how you waited with anxious breath for your name to be called, how everyone counted their cards, perhaps spread them out on their desks for others to admire? What must have been going on in the head of the classmate who received no cards? What a harsh reality for a child! Who knows what residual complexes remain once they become an adult?

I sympathize with people who are alone on Valentine’s Day, caught up in the melancholy envy of those in love who are out celebrating. But here’s the clincher: being in love does not guarantee Valentine’s Day will hold any romance, and relationships can be put to the test. I’ve learned that the hard way.

Now, don’t misunderstand me. I love my husband dearly, but romantic expressions of love are not his strong suit.

His proposal to me was muttered under heated breath when, at 17, he pressed me against my parent’s back door for a goodnight kiss. “You’re gonna marry me, right?”

The budget for my engagement ring was negotiated between us. He would spend the proceeds from the sale of some musical equipment, not a dime more. I was too thrilled with the prospect of being engaged to dwell on the budgetary constraints.

To be practical, my wedding night was spent in our new apartment, rather than a hotel room. His best man and ushers had stayed there with him the night before, and the place looked like a charity bazaar after a three-day blitz. In the corner of the bedroom sat a partially dismantled car engine, evidence of his latest project.

Have things changed since our marriage? Over thirty-two years have passed, and my memory may not be the sharpest anymore, but truthfully, I can’t actually recall a Valentine’s Day that was the kind of romantic surprise women dream about. Therein lies the problem. Women fantasize about such things all their lives, but men are just not hard-wired on a parallel path.

I observed the “out-of-sync” interplay between my parents for years. Mom would watch soap operas where men planned extravagant and imaginative surprises for their loved ones; but Dad was another story. He’d leave a greeting card up on top of the fridge for her to see. Sometimes, there would be a heart-shaped box of chocolates with it. Once in a while, there would be a cheque inside the card, and his name scrawled hastily, devoid of any personal message. Of course, my mother did less. She was from an age where ladies did not bother to even reciprocate Valentine’s gifts. I can’t imagine how he would have reacted if she had.

So, though I’ve never really expected grand gestures from my own husband for Valentine’s Day, secretly, I’ve always hoped. I’d see the romantic gift a friend would receive, and I’d grow wistful.

As V-day approached, I’d inevitably become more and more anxious, gearing myself up for the inevitable letdown. Sometimes, he’d completely forget. Other times, he’d say he was planning various things for months, then he’d go on to tell me why none of it could be accomplished. To be honest, I believed him. An “event planner” he’s not.

“I wanted to take you somewhere special, but couldn’t decide where to go.”

“I was going to buy you roses, but they seemed such a waste of money.”

“I thought you’d rather pick something out yourself.”

“I didn’t know what you wanted.”

“I wanted to get you something sexy, but I figured you wouldn’t wear it.” Now, there’s a story behind this line. Years ago, he ventured into an erotic clothing store and bought me what the salesperson claimed was a negligee. Actually, it was four strips of very sheer blue material, two down the front, two down the back, perhaps three inches wide at best near the upper end and wider towards the bottom. Ribbons attached the strips to each other. Problem was, I could only wear it if I stood stock still. One twist and those two strips down the front no longer covered the “essentials.” At a time when two little sons might run into our room at any time during the night, it wasn’t too practical. We both laughed, he a little less heartily, and he’s shied away from sexy purchases ever since.

Another time, he brought me home a card and lovely wrapping paper but no gift. “I couldn’t find anything good enough,” he said, frustration dripping from every word. He seemed to have developed a “tic” while he was out too.

Sometimes he says, “What do you feel like doing for Valentine’s Day?” Of course, what I want is for him to plan it for me. If I actually suggest that, he looks like he’s about to have a stroke from the pressure of it. He’ll say “I thought we should go out for dinner,” but he’ll say it that night, at 5:00 P.M., when there’s no hope of getting reservations. Then he’ll squirm in remorse.

Once, we had a romantic dinner, and we followed it by going to a movie. “Total Recall” does nothing to keep the “warm and fuzzy feeling” alive, believe me.

But after all this time, I’m almost used to it. The truth is, he’s special in every other way that counts. He brings me tea and tells me I’m smart and beautiful all the time, even when I’m feeling like Phyllis Diller on her worst day. And I don’t think his lack of romantic inclination reflects anything more than an inability to recognize the special, small gestures that can be so heart-warming. In other words, big, expensive gestures occur to him, but limited by budget and circumstances, he flounders.

So, if Valentine’s Day is spent like so many other “dates,” I’ll be prepared. A dinner out if I make a reservation, followed by a tour around The Home Depot, and an early return home. Then, perhaps, a glass of wine each, a fast “I love you,” and we’ll each depart for our separate televisions. He’ll watch “This Old House” or The Antique Roadshow,” and I’ll watch a taped soap opera, probably General Hospital, so I can watch Jax as he plans a superbly romantic evening for his current lady-love.

If I grow envious, I’ll remind myself of what my husband said to me recently. He was removing wallpaper from a room, and he commented on the strong, unhealthy fumes from the stripper he was using. Then he added, “It’s okay. As long as I see your pretty face just before I die I’ll be happy”

Okay, so it sounds corny, but it goes a long way towards making up for Home Depot on Valentine’s Day

 

(published in the Globe and Mail, Feb. 14/05 under title: Valentine’s Day façade, Valentine’s Day feeling)

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