Saturday, 1 December 2012

Married in Red Deer... For Now...

Know what's crazy about this town?  It has a structural flaw in it's social fabric.

I'm on one of several working groups that is attempting to find a way to end homelessness in Red Deer.  You only need to scratch the surface of the issue to realize that broken families contribute hugely to this issue.  Husbands work away in the oilfield. Wives stay at home with kids, or work low-paying retail jobs.  Then the stress of working away ends the marriage, and many women are left with kids to raise and no training to get gainful employment.  It's stressful, kids don't get the parenting they need, live under the poverty line, and they are left to their own devices while mom works stupid hours - often making the wrong friends and developing habits that send them down a road that ends in any number of social issues.  This isn't every single parent family - not even close.  Some of the best people I know were raised by single parents.  But these families certainly have much to overcome. 

All that is just to say that, if you want to solve some key social issues in this town, WE HAVE TO DO SOME WORK ON RELATIONSHIPS. Call it 'upstream prevention'.

I already touched on a few things above, but I'm going to make a couple observations:

-Guys who work too much:  If you want to have a family, have a family.  But make them the priority.  You don't get to just walk away from them for weeks on end, sending paychecks.  Your kids don't need money.  They need your example.  They need to know you love them.  They need a dad.  How does a 4-year-old spell love? Like this: T-I-M-E.

-Marriage is hard.  Yup.  It is.  In one way, you just stay married once you get married, till you file divorce papers.  But then, I know a lot of married people who don't even have a relationship to speak of. It actually takes a lot of work.  Just like fitness, or the car/truck you love, or your favourite sport.  It usually looks like this: one gets complacent (guys are really good at this), and the other adapts by becoming domineering.  One of them kind of becomes an extra kid - under the thumb of the boss.  When you get married, you are telling someone that you want to GROW WITH them.  That means you have to be together a lot.  Otherwise you grow APART.  You're always growing.  You're always going a direction.  It's up to you to ensure that you're STAYING close.  Very easily the relationship balance can tip from partnership to something more toxic.  And as soon as partners aren't equal, resentment and distance start to grow.

-Men are notoriously non-self aware.  As a result, we have a tendency to just act like jerks for no reason.  We (and forgive me - I'm pushing the boundary here) don't get monthly practice saying, "Wait, am I actually upset, or is something happening outside of my mind (like hormones) that might be affecting me?"  Guys never do that.  So we just act like jerks.  And if you ask us what's wrong with us, we won't be able to answer you, unless you find a way to ask us in 6 different ways and sneak it out of us.  Guys - this is no excuse.  You have to be nice to the girl.  You learned this in second grade.

-Unfaithfulness is not an act.  It is a direction.  Whether it's a flirtatious relationship with a friend, a subscription to a daily girly picture on your cellphone, or fantasy thoughts (just thoughts and nothing more) about someone other than your other half, it's moving you in the wrong direction.  Away, not toward.  Take that action and extrapolate it - if you continue down the same path, where do you find yourself?  Happily together, or apart for good?  So yes, a flirty comment doesn't mean that much.  But IT DOES if it means that you're engaging with other members of your spouses gender in even the most minorly sexual way.  Because it drives the smallest edge of the wedge between you and your spouse.  It makes sexual interaction with another an option.  It shouldn't be.

-WHAT IS WITH THE CULTURE OF CHAUVENISM AND MYSOGYNY?  Let's go all the way to the end of that continuum.  I left a party the other day, and some friends (who I love, and still respect), were planning where next to take the party.  One of the options was the strip club.  And it wasn't just guys.  It was women too.  And no one said, "No way! Forget it!  Do something else!"  I don't know where the party ended up.  I just went home.  But I was kind of surprised, cause I thought self-respecting people didn't go near those places.  A lot of stuff gets tolerated that is absolutely toxic to relationships.  On the surface, maybe your girlfriend/wife says they don't have a problem with it.  Boys will be boys, right?  But on a deeper level, it's telling them something about how you see women.  About what you wish they could be.  And they feel like they're in competition.  Your wife shouldn't be in competition with anyone. Or anything.

-Consider the other first.  I had to learn, when Silas was born, that saying yes to an evening activity meant that I was automatically volunteering Caryn to stay home for the night by herself.  Another way you can put your partner first is to give them the benefit of the doubt.  If you know they love you, then when they say something that could be taken hurtfully or neutrally, just suspend your hurt feelings for a minute and choose to assume that they didn't mean to intentionally spite you.  Even if they did say it hurtfully, chances are there's something going on in their head that's more important than a single comment anyway.  Take a little time to find out why they're upset and feel like shooting barbs at you.

-Have a good filter.  Not just the one that fits between your brain and your mouth, but also one that sits between your ears and your brain (and heart).  Let me describe a couple of them:
-The "After 11:00" filter: "I'm tired and don't have patience.  They are tired and aren't thinking about how to diplomatically word something. Those words will hurt less in the morning, but chances are my partner will rephrase them after a nights sleep anyway."
-The under stress/pain filter: "They are in pain and hating life.  Everything is bothering them.  The tide of their patience is out, so things they can usually tolerate are now intolerable.  A) Give them extra space. B) Take this as an opportunity to find out what sort of things kind of bother them, that you might be able to fix. C) Take what they say and multiply it by about 0.8"

When I graduated from high school, I spent a summer living with a wonderful couple named Lando and Kathy Klassen.  Kathy told me (years before I would need the advice) that the best thing you can do in a relationship is not to stop listening when you've heard; but rather to stop listening when you've understood.  We spend so much time preparing our answer while our partner is talking that we aren't actually listening to what they say.

- Fight fair.  You are not allowed to bring up old fights.  Are you fighting to hurt each other? Or are you fighting to solve a problem?  One thing sticks out more than any other from when Caryn and I went to marriage counselling when we were engaged - a visual.  When you're fighting unfairly against your spouse, it's like you're taking an axe and chopping into the bottom of the boat you are both standing in.  If you win the fight, do you win, or do you lose?  How do you fight fair?  I already mentioned keeping to the topic you started on.  Other ones are - approach the topic delicately, at an appropriate time. Do your best to be open and not defensive.  When you react defensively, you make yourself unapproachable.  How can you make your partner happy if they can't come to you with an issue?  Instead of being accusational, say, "When you do _____, I feel ______".  Help them to see your side.

-Remember when I said guys are un-self-aware?  Well, if we don't even know what's going on in our own minds, PLEASE don't make us try to read yours.  I make lists.  I just had a job review.  When I was finished, I sent an e-mail to the 2 guys giving me feedback, listing the suggestions they had made.  I wanted to make sure I understood their expectations, and they were clear with me about what they were.  I can't meet an expectation that I don't know exists.

Anyway.  I had to get that off my chest.  The state of relationships in this town is actually causing a lot of damage.  At the extreme end, it's causing social issues with addiction and crime, but at every end of the spectrum, it's causing damage to people's hearts, creating huge amounts of pain, and hurting a LOT of people that we love.  We need to get better at this.  Men need to be FAMILY MEN.  And women need to learn what it takes as well.  You can't just withdraw and stop loving.  You need to stand up for yourself and tell your man what you NEED to make this thing work.

You and your partner may be a long way apart.  But as I said, faithfulness is a direction.  If you start heading toward each other - one small decision at a time, you can repair what's been broken.

Red Deer needs to look at this part of it's culture.  It's tolerance of divorce and the causes thereof is terrible.  It's causing so much pain.  So much.

Anyway, these are the thoughts I rehearse when I think about my relationship.  I've only been married for 7 years and change, so I'm not the guru of this, by any means.  But we've got to start the dialogue somewhere, right?

As usual, give me some feedback?  Do you agree that broken families are an 'upstream' issue to homelessness, crime, and addiction?  Am I being fair?  Let's hear it!


  1. #1. I agree with guys who work too much needing to make more time for their families.

    #2. I agree with the fact that relationships often become lopsided, but it's not just men that are to blame, women are just as often the cause.

    #3. Sexist, chauvinistic, blaming men and demanding better of them because they're men (as opposed to what - women?). Women are always more self aware? Let's throw the stereotype the other way - how often do you see women fly off the handle? They aren't aware of themselves enough to know that it's an emotion pushing them to those extremes.

    #4. Ignorant and flat out nutty! Girly pictures on your phone? What? What are you talking about? Cheating and indiscretion is a horrible thing that no human should do to another. Physical cheating and emotional cheating are equally hurtful in my opinion. But comparing that to a picture of a cute girl, or even to hardcore pornography, is RIDICULOUS!

    It is FACT that playing violent video games does not lead to people becoming murderers.

    It is FACT that being gay does not lead to beastiality or pedophilia. (Except within the church, but that is a seperate matter)

    As much as I hate to say it, being non religious, it is also a FACT that being religious does not lead to you becoming a suicide bomber.

    And it is a FACT that provocative imagery, wholesome and compassionate, low brow and dirty, for men, for women, for both, objectifying, and intellectual and non-objectifying, DOES. NOT. LEAD. TO. INFIDELITY.
    In fact I'd bet in many, many, many cases worldwide it probably stops it.

    To compare pornography to food, there are only two kinds of people who feel that strongly about food for good or for ill - the anorexic, and the morbidly obese. Healthy people need not worry.

    #5. I hate strip clubs, I think they're creepy and strange and alien and I feel uncomfortable being in them. But I know more girls that like to go than guys. The difference between you and I, however, is that I can see beyond my own (apparently misogynistic) mindset that only sees women as object. You say that people viewing a stripper is telling of how they view women - I think how you've written about your experience is telling of how YOU view women. You say women ARE objects, but they're not to be objectified in THAT way. Only other ways. By opening doors for them, not shouting at them, and by being a "man" as you've previously written.

    I don't think women that feel comfortable going to a strip club are desensitized to the objectification of women. I think they are PAST the objectification of women - I think they look on the stage and don't see a down and out woman being made into a lifeless toy for the enjoyment of a bunch of fat, perverted men. I think they look on stage and see another WOMAN.

    You are the one projecting the objectification.
    If strip clubs bother you, don't go. If your wife feels that they are competition, you have let her down by not making her feel secure about your love for her. Don't put it on the other person, that is dishonest and juvenile.

    1. #7. I agree with this too - I think growing up involves coming to terms with, and understanding, yourself. When you're past that, you can begin to understand and come to terms with other people - and that's where a lot of people stall out and relationships falter.

      #8. I agree with this as well!

      #9. I'm assuming this was written towards the female gender as a whole? It's true men and women function and think differently, and I agree that while men need to understand how women work, women as well need to understand how men work. This involves not expecting men to read their minds.

      In closing, I can't answer whether I agree broken families are an issue to homelessness, crime, and addiction because I was too distracted by the points we disagree on with regards to how we view the world, women, and men.

    2. You and I cannot walk into a strip club and tell which people are there because they've transcended objectification and which ones are there because they're Philistines. And perhaps it's low brow art and they're just appreciating the human form. But emotionally and physically, I think appetites are best sated by your partner.

      I wrote this in one sitting, so I flip flop on the genders more out of carelessness than specificity. I heard the question asked once, "what percent should you be willing to give to make a relationship work?" The natural assumption is that each person should give their fair share - 50%. In reality, each member of a relationship should be willing to put in 100% of the effort to make it happen. I speak to men because I'm a man, and I feel that gives me a little more credibility than if I were to give piles of advice to women. So yeah, I do have a tendency to put men on the spot more than women.

      If a person thinks it's a good idea to get into a relationship, they should consider whether they're willing to take stock of themselves. Their weaknesses will be the weakness in the relationship, regardless of gender.

      Thank you for your comment. Varying perspectives means I actually get to learn from my own blog, which was my hope from day one. But please understand - I have an open mind to contrasting ideas, provided I am not accused of being a close-minded bigot in the meantime. I bring my upbringing and my worldview into my writing - as do you. We can explore it with respect. I'm not a nutty idiot, and I post specifically with the intention of engaging conversation. Within those boundaries, I'm happy to continue the discussion.

  2. Dan,

    I read this and my heart swelled. With love for you, for how you take a proactive role in protecting our relationship, and for all the wonderful words you shared about avoiding the "slippery slope" or "direction" of infidelity. I love you, and I love this post. Every part of it.

    As for the reply above... I won't lie, when I read it I got really defensive of you and wanted to write something cold in response, but I won't, they can have their opinion. But I don't think it is fair that they used your blog space to make a statement about YOU objectifying women when you have written a beautiful post about doing the very opposite.

    As for this comment: "You are the one projecting the objectification.
    If strip clubs bother you, don't go. If your wife feels that they are competition, you have let her down by not making her feel secure about your love for her. Don't put it on the other person, that is dishonest and juvenile."

    ...that is hurtful. I find it very ironic that a post you wrote so lovingly about protecting marriage has a comment trying to break down a marriage. I have no need to defend our love to some stranger, so I won't. But man... simply hurtful.

    I love you. Thank you for writing this. And thank you for loving me.

    1. A defensive and "Taking the high ground" show of support, which I don't fault you for at all.

  3. Despite Conniecu's responses to #4 in which most of the "FACTS" have nothing to do with your argument, research supports the idea that Internet porn, specifically, changes men's sexual response patterns, leading to decreased response to their partners.

    But, you weren't arguing that, you were suggesting to be on guard about thought directions. I've been married 20 years and am a godless liberal hedonist, and I agree with you 100%. Your partner needs to be the focus of your affections and desires. I like looking at women, naked women, all women. But if that affects how I view my wife, what I expect from her, then I need to change my behaviour. It's not a moral judgement. It's a matter of being attuned to how you are changing your brain, and how that affects your relationship.

    Your post can be summed up in one word: focus. We all need to refocus occasionally, because daily life and complacency can lead us to lose focus on why we are married in the first place. It isn't possible to be madly in love all the time, our brains don't support that chemistry. But it is possible to refocus, pay attention, and fall in love all over again.

    Thanks for a great post Dan.

  4. Dan, thanks for writing your thoughts regarding your concern for our community. Many turn a blind eye, or don't see the connections you suggest. Many children, without a proper caring relationship with their parents choose instead to turn towards each other, at increasingly stunning young ages, and parents increasingly "don't matter," it is a recipe for disaster.

    Thanks also for your thoughts on marriage, on the trek back to "oneness" a simple being on the same path for a lifetime. I come from a religious sect of christianity (local "protestant") that was anything of what you talk of. These were old religious people and I would say, none of them were on the same page as their spouse - so it isn't just those who go to clubs who need to consider your words.

    I am going to suggest that the problems you speak of are both much more simple, much more complex, and much more at risk than you suggest.

    The social fabric is torn. yes. you can see it, agree that it is strip clubs, agree that it is pornography, or not, can you help but look at society, look at what we spend our money on, look at what we ignore, look at our children, and suggest otherwise?
    So i agree.

    Yes, we have made the greatest advancements in these last years, yes, but, there are 7billion of us, do we have equality, or is the rift between the top and bottom spreading further and further apart?

    More complex:
    I disagree with a couple of your comments about men, simply because I see us a different way than I ever have. I think as humans we all share the same basic make up, same emotions, same drives (yes with differences), same longing for significance, same desire to be known, and loved, and cared for. I think society in its interaction with males suggests more what you do, that we are not self aware. I disagree. I think we are, we just have not been allowed to have feelings (boys are not allowed to cry) and so we stuff our emotions down, and have gotten so good at it we can do it in an instant. how? one that is is really accessible to us is ANGER - ask me how I feel, I blow up, tell me I did something wrong I blow up, tell me I should have done better - I blow up. There are lots of other things available to us, we can drink it away, adrenaline it away, plenty of masks to be put on to avoid deeper connections (including blog posting - LOL I use this one all the time instead of talking with my wife). The point is, our make up as humans is the same, our emotional make up is not.


  5. Here is the simple:
    Human brains are mouldable, and plastic, they remain this way (science is showing) throughout our lives. It is why old people are able to change, and why infants are able to learn. take identical twins, separate them at birth, put one in the PEI with vegans and one in Vancouver with Buddhists, and what do you get? Two VERY different people. The point is, we have to relax a bit, the work isn't impossible, but it is long range, people are a product of their make up. And where the simple gets really scary is in todays generation, the advancement of communication (via social media and cell phones) a decrease in dependance on the roll of parents, and an increase of kids being independent at VERY young ages - before they are mature enough to make healthy choices.

    No one would argue that we should not let 1 year olds play with steak knives - because they simply don't know the consequences - we would say something like "Don't let her grab that she doesn't know how dangerous it is!" But we gladly give a 10 year old access to a computer and a facebook account - meanwhile mom and dad don't even know how to use the new technology and how it effects their real relationships.

    Anyway, thanks very much Dan, for your deep concern for our community. I'm with you, lets work on this together, because as steep as the downward spiral is, the chance at an integrative fully connected community raising children who are fully whole and self aware is also very possible (i.e., I'm reading and responding to your blog! - cool)

    Thanks again.

    Justin Hubert

  6. Thanks for the comments, everyone. Regardless of where you are on the spectrum, from conservative christian to 'godless liberal hedonist' (haha Stephen), healthy relationships are of utmost importance - regardless of whether you're an 'old fashioned' christian family or a new world family unit - whatever shape that might take.

  7. Interesting read, but I think the comments are even more interesting!
    I agree with some points in Connie's comment, disagree with some.
    I do think porn can be a healthy thing or negatively effect you and your relationships... Just like alcohol, cigarettes, sugar, excersizing (People get addicted to working out and die due to overexertion and lack of bodyfat & health complications!), and anything else. I'm a firm believer that nothing in inherently evil or wrong, it's what people do with it that matters! Nuclear power can either power hospitals, children's homes, homeless shelters, and anything else nice you can think of. Or it can destroy Hiroshima. (Although that was an atom bomb... But you get the point!)

    And Dan I agree with you Re: Strip clubs, but I have to play devil's advocate haha
    You said you can't walk into a strip club and know who is or isn't past objectifying women. Can you walk into a church and know who is or isn't intent on objectifying/dehumanizing women? Does that mean churches are a bad thing?

    IMHO it doesn't mean churches are inherently evil, because like I said, it's what people do with it that matters!

  8. That's a great summary comment - thanks. The success or failure has more to do with what's going on inside someone's head than it does with the circumstances of their life. Churches and strip clubs both host some great people and some terrible ones. The sensory input is out there for us. IT IS UP TO US WHAT WE DO WITH IT.

    1. I bet churches would get better attendance if the preachers were naked. Well...ok maybe not... Depends on the preacher... haha

  9. So... welcome to the world of arguing with strangers on the internet. I don't remember the exact situation, but I do remember how I felt, for three days, the first time somebody I didn't know called me something mean for something I wrote. Then I realized that... they don't know me. So if their comment gets me thinking in a new direction, cool. And if it doesn't... yawn. I'd rather have the respect, love, and validation of the five people closest to me than 200 internet strangers. Now, it's gotten to where I don't even mention the online arguments I have to anybody else.

    Long and short: if somebody provokes you into an emotional response, they've won.

    Side note: one of the feminist discourses that initially blew my mind was the group of feminists who oppose "stripper shaming" -- insisting that we respect the adult choices and volition of the people who choose to make money by exploiting gender, power and economic dancing naked for people whom society has pretty much ensured will have more money than they do, or by engaging in sex work in places where it's legal, protected, and on the up-and-up. Taking away their freedom to view that choice as empowering is paternalistic. A small step sideways from that comes "slut shaming" which I can completely understand as a bad thing. As for the men who choose to partake... that's a little harder to chew... I've heard there are some countries where the survey on sexual mores reveals the belief that "it's not cheating if you pay for it" and there are countries where a visit to the brothel is an important part of forming the business relationship... or used to be.

    Next thing: I'd say a few dirty pictures and a wank in the shower is better than insisting on selfish sex with one's spouse every time one is horny, if one side's drives exceed the other's. That allows space for all the intimacy between the couple to be a celebration of the relationship, rather than sometimes being about one or another's urges... but as for the choosing of directions, that's a good point that still stands, and looking at boobies on the internet is VERY different from flirting with someone around the town. And I SWEAR I only go to Hooters because I like the fries.

    1. Good point about the ethics involved when partners have different levels of sex-focused mentality.
      My last relationship was with a girl who was EXTREMELY focused on sex, and needed it for her emotional well being. I, on the other hand, am pretty much the exact opposite.

      A situation like that requires care, understanding, and compromise on both sides - not restriction, condemnation, or shame.

      Although we're not together anymore so maybe I'm totally wrong on that one! haha

  10. Dan,

    I found your perspective, the reactions, and your countering reactions interesting as a whole. Since one recurrent issue appears to be pornography and relationships, I just thought I'd share an article that was a tangent from some professional development this fall.


  11. Here is the URL that may shed some light with some analysis and a case study that serves as a hands-on example: