Friday, April 10, 2015

Working Relationships

For those who are fans of Sex and the City, do you remember when Samantha asked Charlotte how often she was happy in her relationship?  Well, do you remember Charlotte’s answer?  If not, here it is: “Every day. Well, not all day every day but yes, every day.”

It always makes me pause when someone says that a marriage or a relationship is hard work.  I find it odd to equate a partnership to a job.  Unless what you do for money is your dream job, I seriously doubt that going to another pointless meeting at work is comparable to having a conversation with your loved one. 

I have to imagine that if you are happy in your relationship, you probably aren’t going to refer to it as hard work.  I have found that happiness makes me value what I have.  Happy people don’t generally trudge through things because it’s their job.  They usually just naturally resolve conflict and go about their day, staying positive and holding high the values of what they cherish in their lives.

Are there hard times in relationships?  Sure.  But is getting through those times considered “work”?  For that matter, if the hard times are considered “work”, should we start calling the good times “vacations”?

Maybe it’s just the negative connotation about the terminology that bothers me. Now, I’ve been divorced, so I understand that relationships aren’t perfect.  In fact, there were a few people who uttered the “marriage is hard work” to me during that specific time.  But even then, I didn’t think of my failing marriage as work, or even as something that needed to be “worked on”.  In my mind, we were just two people who weren’t ultimately compatible.  Period.  End of story.  Some relationships are successful and some aren’t.  So, when a relationship becomes “work”, is it healthy for the two people who are involved?

I think this fictitious “relationships are hard work” mantra permits couples to dismiss their issues, because it allows for excuses like, “well, everyone works at their marriage”.  And if everyone does it, then it’s normal, right? 

But let’s really get down to it. What exactly is this “work” that everyone is talking about? 

In the “marriage takes effort” camp, things like communication, being nice to each other, being thoughtful, being considerate and being affectionate are all considered things that require work when you have been in a relationship for a long time.  But when you really take a deeper look -shouldn’t we be doing these things on a daily basis as adults anyway-just to be good human beings, regardless of whether or not you are in a relationship?  Do these simplicities really require effort?  Is it “work” to just say how you feel in order to communicate?  Is it “work” to accept a hug or a butt squeeze from your husband or wife?  Is it “work” to send a love text on your lunch hour to let your lover know you are thinking about him/her?   If it is “work” for you to extend the simplest pleasures that you could possibly offer the one you love, maybe you should consider being single for a while until you can do some “work” on yourself.

Sorry for the bluntness, but I am now in the healthiest relationship I have ever been in, and this concept obviously upsets me, mostly because I think it is a cop out.  When I think about all of the aspects of my current relationship, both the good and the bad, the term “work” never pops into my head.  Here are some of the things we do successfully without “working at it”.

  1. We communicate.  And when we don’t agree on something, we don’t “go to work”.  We listen, we accept what the other person is saying, and then we let go and move on.  And yes, sometimes, we agree to disagree and leave it at that.  But having a conversation, no matter how heated it gets, is not work-it’s just talking.
  2. We are affectionate all of the time-not because it is the obligatory thing to do when you are in a partnership, but because we love each other so much that we can’t help ourselves.  Yes, we are that annoying couple who can’t help touching, hugging or kissing no matter where we are.  Is this work?  No, not even when we have long tiring days.  There are no excuses for lack of affection. Showing affection, even if it is just holding hands, is the easiest “job”in the world.
  3. We are thoughtful of each other’s needs.  We both do small things to let the other one know that we are thinking about each other every day.  Is it work to remember the person you share your life with?  No.  It’s natural to want to make the people in your life happy, isn’t it? 
  4. We are supportive of each other’s decisions, even if it’s not the decision that we think is best for the other person.  Is this work?  Absolutely not!  It’s a desire to see your partner happy and at their best.
  5. What we have is easy.  Nothing is forced.  Nothing is bottled up.  Nothing is hidden. We are passionate about our lives together.   We are a strong couple because we don’t look at our weaknesses as hard work. 

Feeling happy and fulfilled with another human being might not be the norm anymore, which may be why so many people consider their relationships to be a second job.  Maybe what I have is extremely rare.  I find that to be a bit sad if it is true. I have no choice but to think that if a relationship can’t be natural, and it’s constantly a struggle, and you are consistently “working hard” at something, what is the point?  I know there will be people who will pass judgment and tell a divorced person that they didn’t “work” hard enough.  There will be people who think that relationships will fail if you don’t work at them. 

But my thoughts on this topic will not be swayed.

Another way to look at it is like this- at the end of a long day at the office, why should anyone come home, only to have to go back to work with their partners?  I don’t think that the success of a relationship is determined by how much work you put into it.  I think success as a couple is determined by what is already there.

*This piece was featured on BlogHer on April 10, 2015.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

To Quit or Not to Quit

Nobody likes a quitter, right?  As the old adage says, quitters never win.  But what about quitting while you’re ahead?  Is there ever a time when quitting is a better decision than sticking something out?

As the end of the school year approaches, my girls tend to experience what I call year-end burnout.  Last year, around this time, both of my girls were Girl Scouts and were begging me to quit.  The year before, my oldest was taking swim class and had enough.  The year before that it was horse riding lessons.  I didn’t let them quit.  I told them that these are all things they wanted to try, and because they asked to be a part of something, they needed to finish it.  I made sure that they were aware that they didn’t have to continue once the season or class was over, but they did have to finish what they started. 

More recently, my oldest has been complaining about the book club that she is in.  The club meets twice a month, and she has to read two books a month.  It doesn’t sound like much, but when you add in school work and the theatre class that she is taking, her schedule can be a bit overwhelming.  However, I don’t know if quitting is the answer, especially since there is only about three months left.  But the issue is that she is being much more persistent about quitting than ever before.  She literally hates the book club and is falling behind in the club’s reading assignments.  And although I think that the year-end burnout is partly to blame, I can tell that she is done and most likely isn’t going to add anything of value to the club.

So, here is my dilemma.  I’ve never allowed my girls to quit anything before.  And I have given them the “you’ll be letting your team down if you quit” lecture.  But another truth is-isn’t it okay to quit something that is making you miserable?  How do I tell my children to strive for happiness, but then tell them that they can’t quit doing something that makes them unhappy?  Not to mention, people quit jobs, relationships, hobbies to pursue other things that can make them happier.  I don’t think I know one person who hasn’t quit something (or given up on something or someone) in their lifespan.  Even though it is always associated with a negative result, quitting is actually a part of life.  And maybe if you are someone who quits everything all of the time, I can see how it could be a terrible thing.  However, my children are young (seven and ten years old), and they are still trying things out.  They are going to be “finding themselves” well into their twenties.  Quitting might not always be the best choice, and may not result in happiness.  Quitting may teach them the lessons related to actions and consequences.  But it also might move them onto things they may never have started had they not quit. 

I know it sounds like I am being an advocate for quitting. And I assure you that I am not.  It’s just that this is the first time I have ever sat down and really thought about it.  I don’t think quitting should be the “go-to” solution for problems.  It really should be the last resort.  But I also don’t think that it deserves the negative connotation and shame that comes along with giving up on something.  From personal experience, I know that there are some benefits to letting something go. 

As I end this blog post, I am still unsure about what I am going to do with the book club decision for my daughter.  I hate how sad and stressed this is making her.  And because she isn’t part of a team, this really is more of a personal decision, which is making me lean towards letting her quit.  I have also thought about letting her quit, but then giving her a strong warning about being sure about something before committing to it.  But that opens up a whole different can of worms.  If I tell her that she has to be more calculated about committing to something, will that lead to commitment issues in her future?  You can see where this is going.

Because they are still young, my decisions are their decisions and choosing the right path while teaching them a life lesson is not always easy.  And the thing I keep thinking about is that I am agonizing over this small thing-a book club.  As they grow older, the subject matter will only get more complicated and harder to navigate with just pure logic and a dash of hope that they will make good choices.  So, the question in this case is-when it comes to your children, if you can’t have both, what is more important-the lessons or their happiness?

This piece was published on Mamalode on April 2, 2015.