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!