Distance makes the heart fonder, wearier or heavier?

If I’ve learned one thing in this deployment, it is that everything is magnified ten times worse than normal.

It was suggested that we do a marriage retreat thing before he got deployed. Strongly suggested… and it’s not advisable to ignore strong suggestions; if you get my meaning.  ;)

It was a good thing though… I wrote about it a few months ago. One of the things that the chaplain started off our sessions with was the information that all the law offices in and around the installation beef up their staff complements just before a deployment is over. Deployments are so hard on marriages that more than half of them end in divorce within the period immediately following a home-coming.

So far, it ain’t untrue – this shit is hard!

I understand now why new marriages can’t withstand this. Hell, I understand why any marriage is strained.

Arguments spiral out of control VERY easily. Stupid shit can turn into a major brouhaha at the drop of a hat. And major brouhahas, are very easily those little mildew spots that sit under the moulding in your bathtub and rot the hell out of your bathtub.

Chaplain Adams stressed over and over again that it’s especially important to maintain clear communication during throughout the deployment. It’s very easy to misunderstand and miscommunicate when you’re separated by thousands of miles and a war zone.

It’s also really easy for hot heads to help a spat spiral out of control. I myself have felt like being a bitch and prolonging arguments just because I felt wronged. Oh so easy to play the wounded party and keep the fight going so that he feels bad, then worse, then just beyond that … well, make him grovel. Oh yes – VERY easy.

However, completely unproductive; it gets neither of us anywhere. All that happens is that a ever-widening wedge appears and with every successive spat or argument (or even fight by the time the end of this story plays out), prys us farther and farther apart …

No! It’s far more important to realize how easily things can get out of control and, instead, swallow the hurt, say you’re sorry and sort it out rationally and calmly. Even if it means you have to put off the sorting out for a time when everybody feels calmer.

These last few months since R&R have been hell on earth frozen over. Stupid shit keeps coming up between us… and I know the majority of it is explained by the strain the separation causes. Most of it is really stupid shit. We sort it out, but it’s tiring. Tiring… but it has given me the opportunity to understand fully what kind of pressures a relationship has to bear in a deployment and why some break their backs on it.

I’ve learned this year, that it is priority one to ensure that he knows how I feel and that I feel it deeply. It’s important to stay connected to him. It’s important he know I am still his other half and that I am waiting for him to come home.

I am hatching a reconnection plan for when he gets back. :D I think it’ll be good fun to just go somewhere off the grid and just chill together. A way to remind us of what kept us together and strong throughout this year.

True love, Valentine’s Day and a revelation

On Friday of last week, I stumbled on this post linked on twitter. (Incidentally, because I re-tweeted it, the blogger subsequently followed me … ha!). I shared it with a friend who then thanked me profusely for it because it gave them insight into love as it is for some in a way they had never before had the opportunity to see for themselves. Their parents were never married and so they never got to see this kind of thing first hand.

It made me stop and think because right there, it hit me … hard! I take SO much for granted. The post was a “mmhmm yup” kind of experience for me more than anything else because for me, that kind of love is what I grew up seeing and what I always thought it should be.

My parents aren’t what you call overly-affectionate. Certainly not demonstrative. Watching them from afar, you would never think anything more than “these two have been together for a long time”. Yet, there was never ANY doubt in my mind that they loved each other and were devoted to one another… that they would do just about anything for each other.

My Dad spent a great deal of my childhood (and early teen years) at work… many days I’d go to bed without seeing him at all that day simply because he was up and out before I was awake and never got home before it was time for bed. I don’t think it phased me one bit because when he WAS around, he was VERY around – if you get my meaning. He was present, in the moment for the time he was present.

I guess it helped that Mom never batted an eyelash either. Now that I am married (again) and spend gross amounts of time away from hubby because of his job, I understand that the feeling was never even near resentment at his having to work. It was a acceptance and a tolerance that only love and affection can give. Yes, it would be nice to have them home when everybody else is, but at the same time, bitching about it does nothing, especially since there is nothing to be done about it. Dad would make extra effort to spend time with us too – when he could take us with, he would. When he could take us away from it all, he would.

Their relationship carved my idea of what a marriage SHOULD be. For me, oohs and aahs of puppy love and fluttering heart beats along with pinks and reds and flowers and candy and candlelit dinners only transmitted a feeling of superficiality. My parents were almost the exact opposite – there were never any candlelit dinners, no flowers at Valentine’s Day, no chocolates, no stuffed toys … they were all about being together, being considerate of each other, talking with each other, taking care of each other. That to me represented TRUE love.

And it is the kind of relationship I have sought all my life – that comfortable, warm, loving, affectionate kind of love – the one that makes you smile and snuggle in and fall asleep, instead of the one that makes you giggle and want to jump around and yell “HE LOVES ME” and show off to everybody around you.

Romance novels held nothing for me, it was superficial crap that meant nothing. You can give flowers all day long and STILL not love someone. But it takes a whole lotta love (silent bow to Led Zeppelin for that phrase) to make tea for them so they get a steaming cup as they walk through the door, care for them when they are sick, investigate when things go bump in the night, protect them with your life (yes, Dad had to do this once for Mom, but that’s a story for another day), know they could do with a snack and a drink and bring it for them at just the right minute (so many times, both of them have said “You read my mind – I was just getting up to get some of that”)… well, you get my drift.

Which is why, I guess, I am so atypical when it comes to being female. Hubby never bought me an engagement ring – I told him I didn’t want one (I lose stones too easily, hurt myself with things that stick out and away from my body, waste of money for something that holds little TRUE value, I hate drawing attention to myself, you know me… ;) ).

He doesn’t buy me flowers on Valentine’s Day – we both believe that the exorbitant prices for flowers (something so transient) is ridiculous – especially inflated as it is because of the commercial aspect of the day. Showing love is a 24x7x265 deal … not a once-a-year-on-a-day deal. I’d frankly rather spend the moeny, the time and effort on my own rose garden.

It’s not about the chocolates, or the jewelry … it’s about the time spent together talking, sharing, learning about one another. It’s the little gestures – me making him his favourite cookies to take the field this week or him bringing home 6 packs (!) of Cheetos because I was craving them loudly when I got out of the hospital 2 weeks ago.

THAT’s what makes it the best thing that has every happened to me. And that’s what *I* always dreamed my true love would be – comfortable, not showy.

I guess I got extremely lucky.

10 keys to a solid friendship … fyr-style

So since my last relationship post was so well-received and I think I am on a roll these days, I’ll talk a little more about relationships and in particular friendships. While I will not claim to be on top of these myself in any way, I do think these 10 pointers are very important in creating and maintaining solid friendships. And don’t you fret, I hear the voices of all the people who will instantly claim that I have already failed when I write the first step:

1. Mutual interest

There must be at least one thing you have in common. I’ve found myself questioning that one thing in a couple of my friendships… in that I have to ask myself what it is I had in common with this person in the first place.  The thing to remember here is that sometimes that mutual interest is transitory and whether the friendship survives the transition depends a lot on the rest of my list.

2. Some affection

Even if it’s cursory at first, or even if there is none and it grows over time. And when I say affection, I don’t mean you love” the person or really, really, really like them”… I am referring to the standard dictionary meaning of a gentle feeling of fondness or liking” – something simple and completely natural.  Who ever heard of striking up a friendship with someone they couldn’t stand to even see or hear speak?

3. A reliable communication medium

That is kind of self-explanatory, isn’t it? You can’t NOT communicate with your friends. You can try and fail many times, you can even get mad when you or they fail to communicate, but you have to at least try. For me, this medium tends to more often than not be the internet – which is a whole different other post in itself (and a whole different kind of sad, according to some people).  And what inevitably happens sometimes is that if both of you aren’t into the same kind of medium, communication drops off. I’ve lost touch with a couple of friends since moving here to the states (and also in moving to Texas from Kentucky) because either they aren’t into internet chat or I’m not into phone chat – or maybe a little of both.

4. A set of rules (of engagement?)

Whether you realize it or not, when you embark on a friendship, and in particular the first few times you speak a set of rules gets put down that pretty much govern the duration of your relationship. These rules get updated, shifted, adjusted and manipulated all through the life of the relationship and mostly it all happens transparently.  Respect is a key ingredient in establishing rules of this sort, and in my case, I notice that one of my unspoken rules pertains to that personal space that is around us all. I don’t know why, or how, or even when .. but people understand quickly that I am not much of a touchy-feely person and they respect that. It changes depending on who and how close the relationship becomes, but it is the one consistent observation people make about me.

5. The ability to shutup and listen

Sometimes, you just need to shut the hell up and listen. Sometimes advice and criticism and complaints is NOT what the other person needs. Sometimes they only want to be heard. And I don’t mean shut your mouth and not HEAR them, I mean shut your mouth and REALLY LISTEN and understand what they are saying. I have had trouble with this myself, and couple of my friends will tell you that on many occasions they have heard me say (or seen me type) something along the lines of “well, maybe I just need to shut up and listen now and stop trying to give you advice”.  Sometimes it draws a laugh, sometimes it just helps the other person open up and say what it is they wanted to say all along.

6. Conversely, the ability to NOT shutup but share your latest

Your friends want to hear what’s going on with you too. Don’t even bother with the “I know you don’t want to hear my dribble” kind of crap. It’s a two-way street, and whereas sometimes traffic tends to move you along that street at a pace non-conducive to sharing, there will come the time when sharing is going to be required. No one wants to think they’re the only one benefitting or contributing to a relationship. Hell, I can hear a couple of my friends thinking “If I wanted a one-sided relationship, I’d go pay a shrink”.

7. A level head

Trust me, your best of friends and your worst of friends is GOING to do something to piss you off at one time or another. How close you are to them will dictate only whether you say it candidly to them “Man you just pissed me the hell off” or whether you say it diplomatically “Well, gee – that kind of talk is a little offensive”. The key is to remain calm and NOT let your anger speak for you. And yes, this one I have had LOADS of problems with as well. That anger is a particularly dangerous devil and I still fight him.

8. The willingness to sacrifice

At some point, that movie you wanted to watch, or that novel you wanted to finish or that nap you wanted to take is going to collide headlong with a friend’s need. Whether they need an ear to listen or they just want company on an outing, that you have to sacrifice something of yours is a given. Be prepared for it.

9. The willingness to give

This probably sounds a lot like #8 to you. And in some ways, it is. Giving of time you had previously reserved for yourself, for example. However, what I was thinking about  in particular was giving that is unsolicited and unexpected. It doesn’t have to be a physical gift, it can just be time and effort into something they would appreciate. I remember how appreciative one friend was when I spent the time and effort researching a particular subject for them.

10. The ability to receive

Whether it be a compliment, a book, a phone call, a gesture or a hug … be sure you are prepared to receive from your friends. Realize it gives them just as much pleasure to give to you as it does you when giving to them. And never forget that receiving is only one half of the equation … ensure you give it back in one form or another.

And there you have it, my list. It is by no means all-inclusive and I know you all have a contribution to make, so lemme hear ‘em – don’t hold back.

Relationship advice? Who? Me?

Odd how I find myself giving relationship advice these days. Why odd? Simply because I traditionally have been TERRIBLE at relationships … well, until now.  Actually, everybody has the same thing to say once they are in a “working relationship” – right? “I was awful at relationships until I met Tony/Vera/John/Mary”.  And maybe that is exactly who I am at the moment – just someone who is lucky enough at this moment to be in a “working relationship”.

The problem with that concept is that no relationship can be declared working and left to it’s own devices. All relationships continually need work and effort to maintain the “working” status.  If it’s working, great – keep working at it so that it stays that way.

If I may go off on a techi-tangent here for a moment: it’s good practice to check on the “health” of your machine (PC or Apple or whatever) often – most suggest weekly maintenance. I ran a check on my iMac yesterday and found that there were disk issues that needed to be attended to. This is equivalent to your Windows chkdsk activity that ensures that all the relevant file references are intact and all disk sectors are healthy. This is a tactic that I employ in my relationship as well. I “check in” to make sure that things are still good and running smooth and there are no issues that need dealing with that are likely to explode into full-blown problems at some point down the line.

It’s a ploy that won’t always work since it takes 2 to recognize when this happening and to ensure that all issues are being “checked into”.  Sometimes people just aren’t aware that an issue is a potential problem and so there are some issues that get past the checkpoints. However, the idea is to try to address the issues before they become problems. When inevitably some of those issues become problems, it is just as important to deal with them in emotionally mature ways.

One of the things my husband taught me in this relationship is that anger should never last long enough to make the resolution of a problem impossible to deal with without lasting effects. His words “promise me we will never go to bed angry” have become a kind of mantra for our relationship.

Let me tell you there have been many nights when sleep is only ok after hours and hours of talking and I have found myself getting as little as 2 hours sleep as a result of this philosophy. Eventually, what I learned is that it’s not important to belabour my point over and over. Not important to hold on to my anger. Not important to flog the dead horse that is the offending issue.  What is important is to ensure the other person knows (1) what caused the offense in the first place (2) and that you still love them anyway. After that, the rest is easy. The “I’m sorry” comes easy, the “I was thinking …” comes easier and the “Let’s go to sleep now” easiest.

I’ve always thought that anger is a useless emotion. At different points in my life, anger has caused me to lash out at those whom I cared about most, caused me to lose what I wanted the most, caused me to hurt myself or someone else, caused me grief upon grief.  And while I don’t think I have full “control” of my anger at this moment (and I don’t think I ever will), I am able to see, for the most part, when anger is about to become counter-productive and stop it in it’s tracks.  You don’t stop feeling angry, but you stop the anger from becoming destructive. One strategy I have used is to simply say “Look, I’m really angry right now. Give me some time to stop feeling angry then we can talk about it, ok?”

At the end of the day, I ask myself this “If so-and-so REALLY cared about me, would they deliberately hurt me? And if they wouldn’t, why be so angry at something unintended? Just deal with it and move on.” It sounds SO easy, I know. I also know it’s actually hard as all hell. Like everything else in life, however, it is worth it to practice over and over because the rewards are beyond blissful.

Trust me, I know.