Relationships- III

If we’ve covered parents and God, I think that brings us around to significant others on the “influential relationships” circuit. I’ve known a lot of guys who say things like “My wife saved me,” or “I was nothing before her.” I think that’s a wonderful sentiment; I can’t express it. I have definitely become a better person since I met Emily, and a lot of the improvements have been because we’re together. I don’t have any interest in going back to my life before her, but I still have self respect, and “She’s the only reason I matter” sounds like codependent BS. For those of you who say things like “I was nothing before her,” please check right now that you’ve not been dragging your spouse or girlfriend down since the beginning of your relationship. With all that out of the way, I’m not sure I would have survived the last six months without her. We have a good relationship. We watch our families and our friends, see what they do that works for us, and what they do that don’t. Then we try to stop doing the things that don’t work, or change them so that they do.

That brings me to the focus here, the things we do–and don’t do–that work for us. I’m writing this as someone who has been married for all of four years; I’m not an expert, I don’t know how things will change. I know what’s gotten us this far, and kept us generally happy with our lives.

Spend quality time. Not all the time, but a decent amount of it. That means talking about the implications fictional characters’ decisions would have in our life, coaching each other in video games, sharing what’s going on in our days and trying to empathize, and going on walks. Literally, just spend time together. That’s not enough to strengthen a relationship, but it’s a prerequisite.

Support each other.  That also means not judging or shaming the other person when we come to different conclusions in a conversation, for completing an objective differently, or criticizing decisions made throughout the day. It might be fun every once in a while, but it’s the world’s job to test the relationship’s strength, not ours. As Major Frank Burns said, “It’s nice to be nice to the nice,” and we both prefer being supported to being challenged.

Trust. If a relationship is going to work, you have to trust the other person. That’s why support is so important, so the other person knows they can trust you. But it’s more than not cutting each other down; let the other person into your life. If you can share a house, and a bedroom, you can share fears, dreams, and bank accounts too.

Make decisions together. If you’re in it together, be in it together. That means not hiding things because you’re ashamed, and taking advantage of a second perspective.

Accept help. Chances are pretty good that you’ll need some help, especially at the beginning of the relationship. Whether that’s living with family members, advice from friends or other couples, or support from government programs, you’ll need help. Don’t abuse the systems, but don’t be so proud that you reject help. Pay it forward down the road.

Men do not get pregnant. If there’s going to be a kid in the picture, you have to grow up fast. If there’s a pregnant woman in the picture, she’s growing a human being inside her. Her body’s changing drastically, her hormones are probably all over the place, and she might seem like a crazy person. She’s probably doing the best she can, which means the other person needs to pick up the slack. Non-pregnant person, you don’t get to be crazy or selfish anymore. EVER AGAIN. When the baby comes, then it gets to be crazy and selfish. If you’re adopting, you don’t get the slow lead-in time of early infancy to learn what you’re doing, so you both need to bring your A-Game. That doesn’t mean you have to be perfect, but it means you don’t get to slack off anymore.

Accept that you have your own things; your own pasts, your own interests, your own problems. You don’t have to have everything in common. I don’t think Emily will ever be as interested in food as I am. She still helps make cookies and accepts that I treat a clean kitchen as a challenge rather than a goal. I’ll never be as worried about a clean house as she is, but I still help with laundry, mopping and dishes when I think about it. Help each other work on the things that are problems, and don’t worry about the rest.

I don’t think anything on the list is really all that profound. As I wrote it, I found myself rolling my eyes and thinking “well duh” for almost every item, even when they contradict. But I see needless struggles because people are ashamed, afraid, selfish or proud.

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Relationships II

Last time, the topic of discussion was my dad. Today I want to continue that train of thought, but move on to how my understanding of family has changed my faith over the years.

Let it be noted at the onset that I don’t consider myself an especially religious person. I grew up in Catholic schools. My parents didn’t actively practice anything, but they were vaguely christian and we were in the bible belt, so I was marinated in judeo-christian values. In school, we had a daily religion class, where we learned all about God and the bible and things outlined in the catechism. We saw the priest twice a week in mass and once a month during the religion class. The priest and teachers always referred to God the same way: God the father, Jesus the son, and the Holy Spirit.

Because of that language, my understanding of God was tied to my relationship with my dad. When things were okay, then God must be okay. When life was stressful, or mom and dad were fighting a lot, I didn’t feel like God was very nice. Every time dad threatened to move out and started packing his clothes into bags, it felt like the world was going to be flooded or the city would be destroyed with fire. It wasn’t that I imagined my dad was God, of course. God had a beard and lived in the sky, everyone knows that. More that my dad was doing what God would do, because they were both my father.

As a teenager, I didn’t get along with my parents very well. Shocking. But as a result of that, and finding new friends in high school who also questioned the faith, I was starting to have some pretty serious doubts about God. Being the awkward, non-catholic nerd in a catholic elementary school full of future college athletes didn’t hurt matters, either. I still went to youth groups, especially if whichever girl I was chasing also went, and performed in both youth and liturgical choirs, but there wasn’t really any faith there. I was an atheist keeping up appearances for social reasons, and not really doing a very good job of it.

I went to college, continued associating with atheists, dated a number of people who were practitioners of various religious to varying degrees, and then met my wife. She’s what I’ve come to think of as a new-school Catholic, the people who are more into forgiveness and kindness than reminding people they’re sinners who are damned to hell if they smell bacon on a Friday. It’s quite a change from the atmosphere I knew in school, when God’s followers handed out demerits for tardiness, untucked shirts, forgotten belts, and long hair.

There are two major differences I’ve observed that I think correlate with whether or not people can be Christian. The first is the nature of their family. People who come from small or angry families seem to struggle more with Christian belief than people from larger or happier families. It might be a cause-and-effect relationship, or they both might be expressions of something else, but it seems like there is a correlation of some sort. The second difference is how happy they are with their lives. Again, I can’t speak to causation, but the people I know who identify as Christian seem to be generally happy with their lots. I mention both of those causes because there does seem to be a causal relationship between happy family and happy adulthood, which leads me to believe the nature of family is very strongly related with faith.

Agree with my observations, or disagree. None of those correlations are one-to-one, but I have observed them. For the record, my understanding of God is no longer affected by my relationship with my father, but it seems like my relationship with my father is affected by my faith. Given the stress and loss I’ve lived through in the last year, I don’t believe in Don Miller’s vending machine god anymore. I don’t see a bearded man in the sky who smells like cigarettes. I imagine a being filled with hope that all of his creatures will live in harmony, and learn how to enjoy the time they have on this earth. I imagine that hopefulness is there even in spite of the intense sadness that comes from our constant and continued failings, because there’s almost always a second chance. I don’t think God is interested in whether or not we wear belts or cover bra straps, and I can’t imagine there’s any anger when we have a burger on Fridays or a bagel before Mass.