Zen and the Art of Marital Maintenance

I had to get my oil changed the other day.

I HATE getting my oil changed. My resistance to the task is completely irrational, far greater than the time or money required to actually complete the necessary maintenance.

It’s an easy errand, yet one with little reward outside of my ability to cross it off my to-do list. As I pull out of the drive-though service center, the only signs of the clean oil are the new sticker on my windshield and a charge on my credit card. There’s no satisfaction of a job well done, no excitement about tackling something difficult and energy associated with starting something new.

Maintenance is inherently unsexy. We have countless reality shows that feature creating something new, from motorcycles to relationships. Yet, can you fathom a reality show centered on the care and maintenance of that which already exists?

Instead of old homes being gutted and rebuilt, we would watch people spending hours cleaning the baseboards and washing out the gutters. Sharktank would be replaced with footage of janitors thoroughly scrubbing down a school at the end of long day, resetting it back to its pristine state, ready to welcome the children again. Gone would be the shows that feature budding fashion designers. And instead we would be shown how to fix a broken zipper and the best setting on the washing machine to prevent excess fading.

Sounds pretty boring, doesn’t it?

Yet imagine a world without maintenance. Where everything became single-use, to be discarded as soon as it began to show wear. Where no oil was ever changed, no siding ever repainted and a broken chain was reason enough to throw out a cherished necklace.

It seems absurd, doesn’t it?

Yet that’s often how we approach our relationships. We summon the energy to build them, feeding off of the excitement that accompanies novelty and possibility. And then we become lazy, falling into patterns and forgoing periodic inspections.

We accept the fact that our cars require regular attention and occasional overhauls to keep running smoothly, yet we expect our marriages to keep on humming without requiring any added consideration.

While I was sitting in my car listening to clangs and whirs of the old oil being drained, I flashed back to day I purchased the car, almost three years ago. It was more than a car for me, as I jettisoned the sixteen-year-old vehicle that was an albatross from my first marriage. I felt so proud the day that I was approved for the loan, a huge accomplishment after the horrific repercussions of the financial betrayals I had endured.

In those reflections, I saw the required vehicle maintenance in a new light. Rather than feeling annoyed at having to spend the energy on these unsexy and uninteresting tasks, these undertakings are a perfect opportunity to say “thank you” for having something valuable enough to care for.

And that’s the attitude I’ve held in my second marriage. The attention and upkeep is never a burden. It’s not something to avoid or something to complain about. It’s not always fun; it’s not always sexy. But it’s always worthwhile to take of those things that are the most important to us.

Here’s a cool idea to try in a new or established relationship in order to build and maintain connection.

And I promise to try to maintain this attitude the next time my oil needs changing.



Online Dating For Dogs

We had two dates set up for Wednesday evening.

The first was with a ten-month-old male. His owner needed to part ways with him after the trauma of a breakup and a cancer diagnosis. The other was with a young adult female who had been described by the animal control officer who picked her up as, “The best dog in the world.”

On the ninety-minute drive to meet the puppy, I mentioned to my husband that I was way more nervous about these dates than I had ever been about a date with a man. After all, on my human dates, the only thing at stake was the possibility of another date. A commitment that extended for a few hours and maybe made the decision to end things a little more messy.

But with a dog?

The stakes are much higher.

It’s less, “Hey, I think I like you and I would like to see you again” and more, “Well, you seem pretty cool. How about you move in with me for the next ten years?”

Other than that, the process is pretty similar, whether the companion sought is human or canine. The brief paragraphs describing the potential partner are read and re-read, carefully analyzing the words chosen. The pictures are scanned, trying to determine chemistry and attraction through a few static pixels. Memories of the former partner keep rising to the surface and with them, the inevitable comparisons that you keep swatting away in an attempt to keep your vision and perceptions clear.

Upon meeting, your senses are on high alert, trying to both take in your first impressions and also carefully monitoring for any red flags. There’s the usual awkwardness, as you’re trying to pair up rhythms and form tentative tendrils of nascent trust. There’s the exploratory dance with its unspoken questions: “Do you like me? Do you think we could make this thing work?” and its silent answers: “I do. I think so.”

There’s the strange mix of excitement for the rush of new love and trepidation for changing the status quo. The underlying and pervasion question of, “Am I doing the right thing?” And the fear, that sits heavy in the gut, of opening the heart again when the pain of loss is still so fresh.

We finally pulled up outside the address that was given to us for the first date. We sat in the car, waiting for the reply to the text saying that we had arrived.

I had conflicting emotions. On the one hand, I wanted the dog to clearly not be a good match so that the decision was already made for us. On the other hand, I wanted the dog to be a perfect fit for our family so that we could begin the process of sharing our lives with a pup again. Of course, what I wanted had no bearing on what we were going to find once we went through that door.

The date went well.

Very well.

Within a few minutes, he was responding to my husband’s corrections and a few minutes after that, he climbed into my lap and proceeded to initiate a make-out session.

Apparently, he had made his decision.

And a few minutes later, we made ours.

Welcome to the family, Kazh:)

So now we’re busy forming bonds, building trust and establishing expectations. So far, so good. This online date seems to be a success.

How You Can Expect Your Attitude Towards Your Ex to Change Over Time

Because everything changes…

In the Immediate Aftermath of the Break-Up

In the early months, my blood pressure would rise whenever I thought about my ex. I would feel an irrational fury begin to roil within me whenever I spotted someone when his particular style of facial hair. I couldn’t speak his name without feeling it in my gut and I couldn’t read his words without my body trembling with the overwhelming emotions that flooded me at the slightest trigger.

Depending upon your circumstances, your predominant emotion towards your ex can vary significantly. If your former partner was unfaithful, you are likely experiencing intense anger and perhaps even an all-consuming need for revenge (or at the very least, an apology and an admission of guilt). If you were left abruptly, you may be awash in shock and confusion, wondering you exactly you had been married to. If the end of the marriage was anticipated and mutual, you may be feeling a sense of sadness and regret towards your ex.

You may find that you’re demonizing your ex at this point, painting them as some malignant and one-sided character. If the end of your relationship was complicated and due to a variety of factors, you may be distilling all of those reasons into a single bullet fired by your former partner because it’s easier than trying to come to terms with the complex reality.

Along with these emotions, you may also be struggling to fall out of love. The intense feelings during and after divorce are often not mutually exclusive; it’s possible to hate someone and miss them at the same time. As your heart, mind and body work to release the hold that the relationship had over you, you can expect to have bittersweet dreams involving your former spouse, thoughts of, “We should try again,” and even an overwhelming sense of affection.

No matter the situation and your predominant feelings, you can expect your feelings towards your ex to be intense and variable in the beginning. Your mind may be consumed with thoughts of them and you may have an extreme emotional response to any contact or reminders.

Right now, their imprint on you is still distinct. Over time, the pressed edges will begin to soften and new memories will begin to fill in the depression in your heart. This is a time for patience.


When You’re No Longer Together But Still Bound

Even though I had long since resolved the majority of the emotions directed towards my ex, I retained a certain amount of anger for the five years it took for me to finish paying off the debt he saddled me with. Even with my liberal application of gratitude, I still found myself muttering, “This isn’t fair.” with every payment.

Either because of children or financial obligations, many of us are still bound to exes long after the end of the relationship. Often, the intense early emotions are replaced with a sense of frustration (“Why are they making this so difficult?”) and resentment (“I shouldn’t have to deal with this.”). The ex may take on the guise of a nuisance or a necessary evil.

There may also be a sense of bitterness that your life or your children’s lives are in some way continuing to feel the impact of the split. As in the beginning, you may be placing undo responsibility for your circumstances at the feet of your ex. It’s often easier to blame than to take stock and make decisions.

It is also possible for this period to relatively smooth as the former couple finds that they make satisfactory business partners once the emotion has been dialed down. In these cases, the ex may even begin to be viewed as an ally.

Unlike the extreme emotions of the early response, these are far more subtle. Yet they can still be damaging. This is a time for creative strategies and mental gymnastics in order to separate your feelings for your ex from your dealings with them.



Upon Learning About Them Moving On

“Who is she?” I wondered, when learning about my then-husband’s new wife. “What does she have that I didn’t?” “How can be be happy when he’s left me so devastated?”

I wasn’t alone in these feelings. The most common search string that leads people to my blog is some form of, “My ex is getting married and it hurts.” And boy does it, especially when it follows soon after the demise of the marriage. The news often brings up feelings that you thought you had purged for good. It may spark the anger again or may reignite feelings of attachment.

Here is my response to those just learning about their ex’s new vows. It’s not particularly compassionate towards the ex because people are rarely ready for empathy when they’re still in the midst of shock and pain.

When you first discover that your ex has moved on, you find yourself suddenly and surprisingly jealous (especially if you perceive their life with the new partner as the one you were “supposed” to have). You may be angry all over again that seem to be having an easier time of it than you are. And you may even find yourself attracted to them now that they are no longer available.

As the shock of the announcement fades, so too will the intensity of your reaction. This is a time to remind yourself that your happiness is not dependent upon them.


On Important Milestones and Anniversaries

I had to fight the urge to text my ex with the news of a mutual friend’s upcoming wedding. This was a relationship that we had watched, supported and hoped would develop. It felt strange not to have my ex by my side at the wedding.

When birthdays, anniversaries and other milestones pass, the feelings towards the ex are often bittersweet. There’s a nostalgia for what was, a memory of the pain and also the awareness of what what is missing. There may also be a renewed sense of anger, especially if your former partner is absent during a milestone that involves the children.

Overall, feelings towards your ex may intensify on those special days that can be a stark reminder about the changes in your life. This is a time to try to recall the good times while also creating new rituals and memories in your present life.


After the Pain Has Faded and You’ve Found Acceptance

And then one day, I no longer hated him. I no longer loved him. My fantasies of karma paying her dues were replaced by a desire for him to be…okay. Happy, even.

Hopefully, in time you can find some peace with your feelings for your ex. Time and perspective may have helped you see them as a flawed and complex person instead of a one-dimensional entity. Anger may slowly be replaced with empathy and fond memories may take the place of the pain of loss. The ending and the suffering may be remembered less and the good times remembered more.

As your lives diverge, they will become more of a stranger to you and you to them. As your years extend, the percent of your time spent with them will drop and maybe even its significance. You may find that you can speak of or to them without emotion, look upon them with only a brief flicker of lament and think of them with detached compassion.  Your initial desire to see them suffer (at least a little bit) has been exchanged (after much soul-searching) with an honest desire to see them happy (even if you never actually want to see them again).

This is a time for accepting that every person comes into our lives for a reason and extending kindness to all those along our path.


4 Lessons From 4 Years of (Re) Marriage

Why Love Is About Learning to Sit With Uncomfortable Emotions

What feelings come to mind when you think about love?

Is it the overwhelming tenderness you feel for the child nestled in your arms? Or the passion and desire you feel for a lover? Maybe its the quiet comfort of a shared smile or the intimacy and attachment you feel with a lifelong friend.

When we think about love, we focus on the pleasant sensations, the feelings of seen, being understood, being accepted. Love is the warm hug, the kind words, the desiring glance.

And yes, love is all of those things. It is perhaps our most powerful motivator, our greatest need. All that we do ultimately comes down to being done for love or out of a desire for love.

So if a need for love is universal, why do we struggle so much with finding it, feeling it and expressing it?

Because love is not only about the good feelings.

It’s about learning to sit with the uncomfortable ones.

Because that overwhelming affection is paired with the fear of losing the person that brings you such joy. Love lives alongside of loss. Of rejection. Of abandonment.

Just as love says, “I’m with you,” fear whispers, “But you could end up alone.”

When we focus too much on the fears, by pretending that they are not there, playing mind games to mitigate them or allowing their words to limit us, we inadvertently close the door to love.

Because in order to have love, you have to accept its potential loss. In order to have attachment, you have to risk rejection.

We struggle with love, not because we have difficulty with the positive emotions, but because we try to avoid the uncomfortable ones.

But that’s where love is found.

Sitting right next to fear.

And for you to find it, you have to be willing to find your place between them.