Some good friends of mine were recently going through some difficult marital problems and not talking to each other. I sent the following e-mail to them. It doesn't have all of the answers, but it does have some great tools that have helped me immensely over the years with life and relationships.
I hope you can take something useful away from it.
I know you guys have been having some trouble and it breaks my heart. I want your marriage to succeed, not just for the kids, but for each of you. Things can always get worse, but they can always get better too. I am not by any means trying to pry or seem superior. I just want to see you guys make it and be happy. You have a good thing going and it would be a shame to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
I read a great book called "A New Pair of Glasses" by Chuck C. about twenty five years ago and it had some great stuff in it. The thing that stuck with me the most was this, he said, "Love is not a 50/50 venture, it is 100%/100%. If you expect to be appreciated, it isn't love, its barter."
Another fantastic book, is "To Love is to be Happy With" by Barry Neil Kaufman. He talks about what he calls "The Cardinal Rule of Love"; "If you loved me you would/wouldn't..." We are taught from childhood to use love and guilt interchangeably as weapons. An example is, my mother might say, "If you loved me you would take out the trash without being asked." This is a fallacy. Whether or not I love my mother has nothing to do with how I feel about taking out the trash or checking on its priority in my life. This line of thinking can turn around and bite you in the ass too. I might end up saying, "Well maybe she's right. I hate taking out the trash, so I must not love her!"
There is an old saying that familiarity breeds contempt. Once we get past the facade, masks, make-up, and good behavior, we see the other person's warts, quirks, and flaws. We all have them, but it is not where our focus should be.
I used to get much more upset or argue over petty, insignificant things or perceived slights. I had a counselor ask me, "Would I rather be right or if I would rather be happy?". That question had a huge impact on my thinking and helped me to let go of a lot of the little things. I learned that pet peeves are those things that we choose to get worked up and pissed off about. Most of them mean nothing.
We get angry and we dig in. We become as un-Christ-like as possible. We withhold the very forgiveness we crave. We become petty and weak in our desire for power or control instead of letting go and trusting what we saw in the person we loved so much.
Tony Robbins, who wrote Unlimited Power, said, "The easiest thing in the world to do is to fall in love with someone, just focus on everything you like about them. Unfortunately, the second easiest thing to do is to fall out of love with soneone by just focusing on the things we don't like!"
Refusing to communicate is the ultimate betrayal of trust and the opposite of love. It sends the message my emotions are more important than you are (not what you have done), and you are not worth discussing it. St. Augustine said, "Hate the sin, but love the sinner." We all screw up. When was the last time you said, "What can I do for you?" or "What can I do to make things better?"
My dad told me a story once when he saw me playing with my wife in a bit of a teasing manner. His friends, the Teachmans had been married nearly thirty years. The wife had decided to leave the husband and had told him. Due to finances she hadn't moved out yet when once day the newspaper boy came to collect for the newspaper. Mr. Teachman politely and courteously asked the paperboy about his day and his family and promptly paid him. When the paperboy left, Mrs. Teachman said, "You know, if you had treated me half as nicely as you did the paperboy, this would never have happened!". This was a great eyeopener for me, as I still have a bit of a warped sense of humor and like to play the most with the people I like the most. Sometimes I fail to see the effect. It gets old having someone fart repeatedly in the car and lock the power windows closed! I can say I just want to have fun, but if it happens too much, I am just a dick. Later, when I am alone, I can spend lots of time asking myself if it was worth driving away the people I love just to stick to my guns and demand my right to have fun. Once again, did I give anywhere near 100% to this person or family that I professed to love more than all others?
There is no shame in getting counseling. None of us have all of the answers and it offers us fresh perspective, mediation, and new tools. That person you loved and married is still there.
Its never too late to have a happy childhood.