Tag Archives: relationships

Leaving saved my marriage

How an ultimatum saved my marriage

I have never really believed in ultimatums.

But there were no other options left.

If the price of stability and a home was being alone, I realised I would take that deal in a heartbeat. See also: Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

You need to set your own boundaries; decide:

what you want and need

what you can and cannot accept

what you expect and deserve

It isn’t selfish to put your own oxygen mask on first. To stay true to your own goals. To refuse to  allow someone else to derail your dreams and hold you back.

The end of 2015 was a low, low point for us. I think we both found ourselves disappointed in one another, to varying degrees.

It was an opportunity to reevaluate our priorities (or, for me at least, to reinforce mine and validate my decision), and have the space to take a step back and reflect.

Sometimes, you gotta burn things down if there’s going to be any hope of rebuilding them again.

Should you leave your unemployed partner?

Should you leave a chronically unemployed partner?

You are not a terrible person if you’re thinking of leaving a chronically underemployed/unemployed partner. We only get one life, and you’re allowed to put your own interests first. Love is lovely … but so is peace of mind and financial security. In some circumstances it might be blindingly obvious whether to stay or go. But in others it’s not – this one’s for you. (For the record: While things seem to be back on track, I’m keeping things separate so that they’re easy to untangle again if needed.)

How did I know I couldn’t keep going?

When I asked myself, is this relationship adding net value to my life? I could no longer say yes.

For all the good, the bad outweighed it, and had been for a long time.

Nobody knows all the gory details. They don’t need to. Honestly, I could have coped with it all – as long as he had a full time job. But all those things, combined with zero income … different story. Especially given the fact that going separate ways would render him eligible for unemployment benefits.

It is damn hard to tell where supporting becomes enabling, and being taken advantage of.

I am far from blameless. I made mistakes. There are many things I could have done better. And I’m much wiser for it.

I held on too long. Then I came to a crossroads.

I could keep being passive. And I would almost certainly wind up bitter and drained. Probably having a breakdown and having to take time off work – ironically, the only thing keeping us afloat financially, not to mention the only good thing in my life.

Or I could cut my losses. Put myself first for once. Heal from the toll of two years of uncertainty and stress.

Life was exhausting. Going from carrying the weight of two people to just me – it was infinitely lighter. I can’t quantify the relief I felt; I slept like a baby those first few nights after leaving.

There was second-guessing, of course. There always is. But after months of internal back-and-forth, I knew it was the right call. I’d done so much soul searching and so much reading, in pursuit of the answer.

What it boils down to, is that the discussions in these three threads hit me like a ton of bricks. Realising that we might never be financially stable  together. And I simply could not live that way.

It’s so important to have a financially responsible partner.

It takes two. You cannot do it all yourself. And nor should you.

Love and trying isn’t enough.

Love is not willingness to live in a cardboard box together.

Love is doing whatever it takes to not get to that point.

Forgiveness is a funny beast

Snowy plants close up in field

Recent events have brought me closer to and further from various people in my life.

It’s gotten me thinking a lot about forgiveness.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve known the power of words. I can barely recall a time before I could read and write.

It’s strange, the things – actions and words alike – that I never thought I’d forgive. But looking over my shoulder, I realise that somewhere along the way, I did. It wasn’t a conscious choice.

And conversely, there’s the words that have actually stuck with me for decades and that I don’t think I’ll ever let go of. The funny thing is, I don’t think the people in question realise what impact those throwaway comments had. That’s why I’m so careful about what I say (and write).

Then there’s the things we say in emotional moments that are actually quite manipulative or malicious. We are all flawed, but it’s deeply disappointing  to see this in those closest to us.

Words matter.

While actions do speak a million louder than words, for me it’s words that actually stick in my memory, that have lasting impact, and will refer back to when the actions start to fade from memory.

There’s a lot of things I need to start to forgive and let go of, before they eat away at me.

Or failing that, in the words of Emily Yoffe, I must accept them and move on.

What is happiness, anyway?

A is for Angst

“Are you happy?”

For someone who professed to be terrible at giving advice, he was a ninja of tact. When in doubt, and pressed for an answer, simply rebut with a question in turn – it’s a fail safe tactic. Particularly when you’ve been put on the spot by someone you don’t know all that well. Oops.

The problem with the ‘are you happy?’ benchmark  is that happiness isn’t static. If we all did what made us happy in the short term, well, the world might be a very different place. It’s called adulting.

“Happiness is fleeting and at times elusive. We won’t always grasp it, and we’ll forgive ourselves if we don’t. Our lives might not always be happy, but they will be full with experience and with one another.”    (via A Practical Wedding)

The struggle

I’ve been finding happiness in the little moments. But I don’t know if those are enough. I don’t know if that makes up for the overall instability of our current existence – because this is my LIFE, and I’m the only one who has to live it and the only one who can take full responsibility for it.

I can’t tell if I’m cold or codependent (that probably changes from moment to moment). I can’t tell if I’m expecting too much and need to learn to roll with the punches or if I’m an idiot for sticking it out so long. I feel like I could paint at least two very different pictures, two very different interpretations, of the past few years, and I honestly don’t know which would be the more accurate. I don’t know where to draw the line, because there is no clear demarcation for these kinds of things.

From a wholly pragmatic perspective, I should have walked months ago. I tried, sort of. But I’m very good at that womanly thing of Putting Others First. Too good.

The question I’ve been asking myself a lot is: How do you know? There are things we’ve been taught are dealbreakers in relationships. But for most of us, it’s not that clear cut. So many times I’ve just wished for someone to tell me what to do, and be done with it.

What is expecting too much? What is expecting too little? Am I settling? Am I being unrealistic?

I ain’t saying she a gold digger, but I do require an equal partner.

Truths to live by

It’s insanity to keep doing the same thing and expect different results.

Do not expect other people to change.

I am the only person responsible for my own happiness.

(Oh, and the sunk cost fallacy – throw that in there too.)

Words of wisdom

I’ve been finding a lot of comfort in a lovely comment left here some months ago:

“I used to go to sleep some nights thinking I was going to wake up the next morning, pack a suitcase and head to my mom’s and start the separation process. … I also would give myself ultimatums like ‘if it’s not better by this date I’m leaving’”

I remember reading somewhere – I suspect in a post about unconventional relationship advice – that you must be willing to walk away. Now, I know it’s commonly thrown around that people just aren’t committed enough today and that they give up too easily or expect perfection. But to be frank, I’ve yet to see a single example of this in the lives of anyone I know. We’ve all got the opposite problem – we don’t know when to walk away. We hang on for all we’ve got.

I thought I was willing to walk. But it took months to actually muster myself to that tipping point and look over the edge.

And I can’t lie, the terror I felt was almost paralysing.

Being there, though – that was a turning point. I was making plans. I was saving listings on TradeMe. I went and looked at another place to live. It wasn’t just an option; I was committed to leaving. (Not necessarily the relationship, but definitely the living situation, for many pragmatic reasons.)

What changed my mind? So many little things, barely on the spectrum at all, really – a toothbrush, an unexpected encounter – but enough in aggregate to drive me into even deeper contemplation. Ultimately, a third path started to crystallise. I ran scenarios, crunched numbers. I thought I found a way to get what I wanted, without having to shake up my entire life right now. A win-win, as they call it. There’s nothing quite like feeling backed into a corner, and finally seeing a sliver of light in a new option as it reveals itself.

Moving forward

The most important thing is not my marriage. It’s ME.

I certainly haven’t been acting like it. But once I finally cemented this in my mind, things became a lot clearer.

Again, this is my life. I only get one, and I’m the only one living it. There are things I cannot control in it, things that have made life quite miserable. But there are other things I can control, and can change, to mitigate that. Sour as that lemonade is to swallow, it’s not as bitter as the lemons.

So, I’m making plans to achieve the things I want. My number one priority is myself. The status quo is unsustainable; a 2016 without progress is unacceptable.

Hopefully the future still involves us growing old together – but if it doesn’t, I have made peace with that. That might sound depressing, but I find this freeing.

Happiness is having a plan.

TL;DR: Money is the most important thing in the world. Don’t believe anyone who says it isn’t.

(Sorrynotsorry if that offends your romantic heart.)

On guilt (and a litany of confessions)

The last few months have brought a lot of tears.

I left a job I loved for a job that I also love, in different ways. I cried a lot about that. I carried a fair bit of guilt about it. But when it comes to career moves, I’ve never regretted saying yes, even though at the time I never felt quite ready to move on just yet. I feel so stupidly lucky to have had not 1, not 2, not 3 but 4 dream jobs in a row, and to tick off working in two areas I really wanted to try.

I’ve realised I’m perhaps not the best at judging others based on first impressions. (Ironic, since I give off a terrible first impression myself.) I feel a little guilty for pigeonholing a few people so quickly, whom I now have lots of affection for.

I couldn’t stop comparing myself (and coming up short) against a couple of peers who I can’t help but feel a bit of rivalry with. I would always feel guilty for feeling a bit smug when they stumbled or came up against hurdles.

I’ve spent so much time pondering what I want and need from a partner. I felt a lot of guilt around balancing my own needs with our needs.

I developed the most inconvenient crush. I felt crippling guilt about this one. I’ve had them before – a guy at uni, a former boss – but in this instance things were different for many reasons. Not to the point I would ever have acted, obviously, but this one just kept growing for some time.

I realised I should have opened up more to friends. I can’t help but feel some guilt for being so selfish, and realising now that we were all separately, quietly, struggling. Maybe we would all have benefited from sharing.

I’m now in the phase of life where people around me are starting to divorce. I feel a little guilty for still being married and also, conversely, for the envy I feel – how much simpler in some ways a single life would be.

I feel guilty for the small, buried part of me that for the longest time conflated divorce with failing. As firmly as I am against staying married when things aren’t right – and hell, so many times I wasn’t sure I was going to make it myself – deep down I would have considered it a personal failure. But I’m glad to be able to say that this is one judgemental quirk I’ve now managed to put to rest, even if the catalyst for this is a sad one.

Bit by by, I’ve let go of all this guilt. It is exhausting to carry around. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

Feelings, why you be so confusing?

i've been losing sleep dreaming about the things that we could be

Have you ever had to rethink something quite fundamental in your relationship? Had emotions/opinions you didn’t know you had start to reveal themselves?

Let me try and put some of these thoughts into a vaguely coherent order.

We’ve had joint finances to one degree or another for years. I’m not gonna lie; when I was benefiting from that arrangement – me studying and T working full time – it was great. He clocked a lot of hours and earned a good wage. I didn’t give it a second thought, though I was aware in the back of my mind that I’d be in a slightly tight spot if we broke up.

NOT that I would want to return to that state of affairs by any means, but right now the situation is reversed and it has been for a long time. While I’ve progressed steadily, he’s basically been treading water – particularly accounting for inflation. Highlights: A job that was meant to lead to apprenticeship and qualification, and even better money, evaporated in the GFC. Another job promised advancement and promotion but failed to deliver, so he quit outright when we went travelling. Upon our return, two jobs turned toxic and fizzed out suddenly. (The first of those could have seen him pulling in six figures…)

For the first time in awhile, there is no longer the shimmer of a high(er) income around the corner. The current state of affairs is not totally settled, so I won’t go into any detail, but it is not lucrative, nor is it likely to be. I’m cool with that – right now I just want consistency over everything else.

While I do consider all money ‘ours’, that hasn’t sat all that well with me lately, as I’ve had to support us both through months and months of unemployment – for the better part of a year, in fact. Over time I became quietly, seethingly resentful, and that’s an uncomfortable feeling to have.

We are a team. We’re married. I am well aware of this. As a work buddy wisely pointed out, the pendulum swings back and forwards at different times. Her relationship balance is about to swing as she stares down the barrel of maternity leave, and leaning on her fiance for financial support.

I’d always expected T to eventually return to outearning me, but the way things have panned out, it looks like I’m going to continue to be the main earner forever. Which is fine, since I’m also the more career-driven one. But I can’t honestly say this sits completely well with me either, and that’s a feeling I’m struggling to come to grips with.

One astute commenter on this fantastic post at A Practical Wedding, On Marrying Down, really nails this dilemma. I can’t put it any more succinctly than this:

I’m also the more career-oriented partner and I’ve struggled with the idea of “marrying down” in some ways. It’s hard for me not to judge my husband according to those social standards of how men are “supposed” to think about work. But the truth is that if he was as ambitious as I am it would probably produce a lot of strain navigating it. I just don’t know how to let go of my preconceptions about what I should want as a woman and make space for both of us to just be who we are.

It’s not like I grew up in a household that fell strictly along gender lines; as far as I know,  my mum has been the main earner for years, at least recently. Also, while I (consciously and unconsciously) chose a partner who is the opposite of my dad in every way, another weird way I’ve wound up emulating my parents is that our financial roles seem to be the same – the wife being the go-to money person. (The one difference is my dad spends nothing while T definitely like stuff.)

On the other hand, out in the working world I seem to be surrounded by women with higher earning partners – and in the spirit of full disclosure, the bitter half of me silently snarks ‘that must be nice’.

I guess I have a strongly ingrained sense of fairness geared towards total equality that runs deeper than I thought.

Here’s a silly yet telling anecdote. Our house always had a well stocked biscuit tin. When I was about 9 years old, it came to my attention that my little brother had been eating more biscuits than me. I started keeping count, my eagle eye trained on him and that cupboard. Let me tell you, he absolutely ripped through them. He got up into the  double digits within a few days. At that point, I complained to my mother, who told me to drop it and get over it. Sulkily, I complied – but that always stuck in my craw.

Well, in the words of Coldplay… Nobody said it was easy. Heck, even Farnoosh Torabi (author of When She Makes More) has said she’d love for her husband to be the breadwinner. It’s something I’ll have to work through and process this year, as the trauma of the past year hopefully fades.

More reading on this topic:

I make six figures, my boyfriend is a poet (Reddit)

How income disparity affects our relationship  (LearnVest)

The weaker sex (The Atlantic)

When love crosses class lines (The Billfold)

Will our class differences tear us apart? (The Awl)

For the sins of our ancestors

All parents damage their children.

One of my earliest memories is being a helpless bystander to an argument between my parents. In particular, at the end of it, being told to choose which of them I wanted to live with.

It didn’t happen. For better or worse, they’re still together, decades on.

In some ways I’m not very good at being in a relationship. I guess I just am not all that good at partnerly communication. In my very first relationship, I became acutely aware of some of the ways in which I behaved and how those habits echoed those of my parents. Years on, I still struggle with those same issues.

Like it or not, I inherited that emotional tempestuousness. It’s probably a blessing in disguise that I struggle to get words out, because honestly, some of the ugly thoughts in my head in my worst moments should never be uttered. I know, even as they occur to me, how hurtful they are, and that they’re not necessarily fair. Succumbing to the heat of the moment would be awful. I don’t want to play that game.

Do you struggle with any particular traits you’ve inherited from your parents?

Communication: The hardest thing in the world

Communication- The hardest thing in the world

Years ago, when I was going through a rough patch at home, my mother told me that “if you want to study Communications, you better learn to communicate well”. I had honestly never considered myself a bad communicator – who does? – but from then on I became hyper sensitive in this regard.

Communication is one of those things that seems SO simple in theory, but is much harder to actually get right.

Over the past few months I’ve learned just how hard it is to do effective organisational communications properly – both on a company-wide scale and also at team level.

For me, it’s all about understanding. Getting the context and background; getting to grips with the why. Knowing where everybody is coming from and thus ensuring their concerns are addressed and their needs met. Otherwise, I reckon your chances of success are a lot lower.

While I’ve never been a manager – and have no desire to – I can understand why someone might feel compelled to micromanage. When you’re frustrated and not getting the results you need, I can see why your instinct might be to crack down.

Honestly, that has always been my MO relationship-wise. And unsurprisingly, it’s not always effective.

Even after almost a decade together, this was my brainwave on Friday morning on the bus to work last week. If I wouldn’t behave that way in a work context, why should I apply it to my partner?

Instead of snapping when I got home, I kept a lid on it. While I knew I would be justified in doing so, that didn’t mean it was the best way to get results. I approached things by asking, “What can I do to help you at this point?”

Magic. Of course, he knew I was doing as much I as I could. I didn’t even need to prompt the obvious next question – what did I need from him? He brought it up of his own accord, voicing all the things I needed to hear and that I had been thinking, without me forcing them on him. We both KNOW what I need, and he knows what he needs to do – and that he hasn’t been giving 100%.

Of course, I wish it hadn’t had to come to that. But no relationship is perfect, and I’m not going to pretend ours is.

The thing is, being in the right isn’t always enough. Going on the offensive will only lead to the other person getting defensive. As Dale Carnegie teaches, start by changing how you behave. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.

So that was year one. Happy anniversary to us

NZMUSE 1 YEAR WEDDING ANNIVERSARY

Is it strange that I can’t think of all that many romantic moments from our honeymoon? That might be because we’re not really romantic types, and also because we were backpacking for six months, not ballin’ it around the world.

But what an adventure. A few memories that really stand out:

Lamb, wine, filo pie, and explosive sunsets in Santorini, a stunning tourist trap that bears only idyllic memories for me

Flying through the forests in the Munich countryside on our pushbikes, feeling every bump and dip along the way

Paddling through Halong Bay, peering out for monkeys, craning my neck to look up at the strange land formations

Strolling the Highline in NYC at sunset, and late night karaoke in the East Village

Wandering along the sand dunes at a San Diego beach one night

Blazing through Vermont on a motorbike, surrounded by rosy forests and empty roads (and nearly falling asleep on the back after lunch)

Winding through Venice’s canals, marvelling at the skill of our gondolier

Enjoying a platter of mixed soft cheeses and honey in quiet ecstasy at a random Roman restaurant

And of course, all those instances of greedy face stuffing in Thailand, Bologna, Paris, New York, of spring rolls, panzerotti, cakes, gelato, cheeses, deli sandwiches and tacos.

There was enough luxury for it to feel special amongst the backpacking – the constant discomfort (Auckland’s stupidly mild temperatures have spoiled us both), the stress of navigating non-English countries (especially for him).

I am so, so happy we took that trip. It was great for us on so many levels, not just as individuals but as a couple. We’ve seen each other at our absolute worst and pushed through. Made so many memories to share. I feel it brought us closer together and strengthened our relationship. Between that, and the big scary talk that came up pre-wedding, I’m not sure what state we’d be in now. Possibly a less healthy one. Either way, it was a catalyst for us to re-examine things and work harder at them. Because when you don’t, they can deteriorate very quickly. It takes years to build what can be undone in days, hours – minutes, even, or seconds. Even after years together, you can still surprise yourselves, and even after years together  you can work toward making some things better than you’d ever dreamed possible.

Weddings are powerful events. No matter how informal, they pack a lot of emotional weight. As Elizabeth asks Philip on The Americans: “They’re just words people say. But do you think things would have been different between us if we’d said them?”

But beyond that, weddings are ultimately occasions of unbridled joy. As I write this particular paragraph, I’m in floods of quiet tears, having just gorged on a friend’s 600-odd wedding pictures. Just as with the photos from any other wedding, ours included, the thing that shines through is how happy everyone is. Imperfect as ours was, I still like to look back on photos for that little lift they give me.

I  am still not used to the words ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ yet. I’d barely gotten comfortable with ‘fiance/e’ by the time we got married, so maybe in another year or two?

Romance is overrated: Why we suck at romantic gestures

Romance is overrated: Why we suck at romantic gestures

One of the (many) things I hate about pop culture is how it sets up expectations for grand, sweeping romantic gestures from our significant others.

That’s why I really liked the fact that in the Big Bang Theory, they don’t stop at Howard serenading Bernadette with a song he wrote himself, but show Penny’s blundering attempts at romancing Leonard only to realise that the fact she has a shoebox in which she’d saved all sorts of mementoes from their time together speaks loudest of all.

Sure, there are people out there who go BIG. My boss bought his wife a car for her 40th birthday. My friend’s husband proposed after a skydive.

But that’s not us at all. I think you might stump us if you were to ask either of us about the most romantic thing we’d ever done for each other.

For me, it’s all about the small, everyday things.

I will save half my burrito to take home for him to share.  Sew up holes in his pants and handwash his good shirts. Buy Mallow Puffs on solo trips to the supermarket even though I think they’re disgusting and won’t touch them myself (I feed the people I love).

And in turn, the ultimate token of appreciation from my perspective would be simply doing things around the house. Proactively taking care of chores. Oh, and not drinking the last of the milk.

Alas, while my love language is ‘acts of service’, his are ‘physical touch’ and ‘receiving gifts’. And thus, real romantic gestures – the kind the other person truly appreciates – take a lot of work in this household.