Happiness in a charged up marriage

Some of you may know that Erik’s and my marriage got a major reboot five years ago. I’d like to write a book about that sometime, but in the meantime (today) it’ll suffice to just say that I went from taking Erik for granted to caring deeply about his happiness—especially my part in it.

I remember having the thought–after the reboot had happened and we’d taken a second honeymoon and ordered a new wedding ring set and were having a grand old time in bed every day,

Who would have thought that my happiness was to be found in my marriage?!

I had suffered so much depression, stewed over all the possible causes and all the potential solutions for years, and yet “enjoy and pamper your spouse” had not even entered my mental radar as a means to lasting happiness. What a shock, then, what a revelation when I found myself in 2006 delightfully happy by being delightedly grateful for and passionately re-in-love with my spouse!

Beautiful story, but, unfortunately, not “end of the story.”

Things were great for months, but after a while I started returning to some of my old mental habits. Fortunately, Erik and I have remained close and emotionally intimate–spending most evenings talking together, as best friends—but that hasn’t prevented my depression from rearing its ugly head.

So, I was remembering yesterday that thought from five years ago—that my happiness could be found in my marriage—and realized it’s about time I started enjoying my marriage the way I did at that time. I want to throw away my worries with hopeless abandon and get seriously in love again! So I’m going to start applying some sexy thought filters throughout the day:

  • “How can I feel more connected to Erik right now while I’m doing _____?”
  • “What could I do for him today to make his life lighter and happier?”
  • “What romantic comedy could we watch tonight?”
  • “What memory of Erik do I want to hold in my heart today?”
  • “Erik loves me, wants me, and thinks of me throughout the day . . .”
  • “Erik’s such a stud. I love his . . .”

Sounds fun. Being in love is fun!  Charging up one’s marriage is a great way to get happy.

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On uncertainty, and self-compassion

I’ve always wanted to be important. To do something “important.” Is that a sign of neuroses, or merely indicative of a passionate personality? I liked to read The Boxcar Children series as a kid, but as an adult I’ve turned almost exclusively to non-fiction. Maybe that came of believing “I can figure things out,” as a reaction to the depression and mental stewing that have overtaken me for years. I’m getting a little bored of trying to figure things out, though—at least in terms of “what’s wrong with me.” I think I’m ready to do things differently.

But can I escape it? Here I am, with time on my hands with which to “do something,” and I’m writing a journal entry on what’s going on in my head. Pathetic.  No. Just habitual. Time spent on stewing has reinforced the neurological pathways between “I-don’t-know-what-I’m-doing” and “There’s-something-I-should-be-pursuing.”

I read the other day of the importance of self-compassion. There’s a website with guided meditations, but I think I’ll create some of my own here. [I’m a rugged individualist–always wanting to do things my own way. Hmmm. Better yet–I’m a fearless experimenter.] Here goes:

  • It’s going to be okay. Worrying is painful and unproductive. Life has a way of teaching us all things we need to know.
  • Uncertainty is in the Universe’s game plan, it appears. Trying to force certainty is vain—in both senses of the word. I don’t have to know everything, or even what tomorrow holds. Each day presents me with lessons to discern, interpret, or ignore. Maybe the lessons add up to one great whole. Maybe they are magical merely for the meaning they give in that moment. (Don’t I love feeling connected with grander things when I am given a lesson that seems supernaturally in sync?) I can enjoy the ambiguity-laden lessons, without understanding all things.
  • It’s okay that I’ve been confused of late—and of longer. It is evidence that I have a keen mind, a discerning mind, which is willing to do the work of exploring. I can be kind to myself by emphasizing the explorer in me rather than the neurotic personality.
  • I can identify the feelings and circumstances that trouble me. I can keep track, but I don’t have to solve them all at once.
  • I am blessed with people who need me. Our lives intersect regularly, which strengthens the web of human sympathy and support. I am part of an entire ecosystem of lives, and derive much of my energy from the symbiosis.
  • I’ve come a long way, baby—even if the steps are hard to trace. Who I am today is so much more interesting than who I was at an earlier date.
  • I like my mind. I can help it to be kind.

I feel a little better. Time to go pick up my kids.

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Training for a marathon

or “Overcoming an obsession with a result”

Some of you on Facebook know that Erik and I ran a marathon last year—almost exactly a year ago (Sept. 11, 2010). It was a great blessing and a thrill to be able to complete the 26 mile race, which was a goal we had set together and prepared for for over 8 months. But I must be honest in relating that I started to get anxiety that spring as I worried whether or not I’d be able to complete the goal since there were so many things that could go wrong during our training—in terms of injuries. I remember thinking that the outcome was outside my control, which made me really nervous, anxious, and almost hesitant to invest in all the effort if I couldn’t be promised the outcome. Has that ever happened to you? The cold-feet of a control-freak?

Fortunately, an idea came to mind that became a saving grace for my continued commitment to my goal. It was this: I had set goals in ninth grade seminary—including the lofty, challenging “Graduate from high school with a 4.0”–but I had not experienced anxiety then. What was the difference? I realized that when I’d set those earlier goals, I had expected I could do it. I was counting on success. I hadn’t immediately worried, ‘Oh, there’re a thousand things that could prevent me from getting my 4.0–I could get sick, I could get in a car wreck and have to miss class for a long time, etc.’ Perhaps I was simply naïve, but my confidence carried me forward with enthusiasm and commitment toward my goal. When this thought occurred to me last spring, I realized its applicability to the current situation. ‘I should just plan for success with this marathon, moving forward in the positive energy that it’s going to happen, and not allow myself to be anxious.’

Not long after that, I came across an online article written by a marathon professional—a trainer—which again challenged my marathon anxiety. The author mentioned how, so often, people put all of their focus on the day of the race—the marathon itself. She wanted to remind people, she said, that the great benefit of a marathon is not actually the day of stuff, because the long-distance race actually puts a tremendous amount of strain and stress upon the body. The real benefit of running a marathon is all the necessary preparatory training at shorter distances in the months preceding it. It’s what builds up the heart and the lung capacity—the stamina. People with a regular regimen of vigorous walking can be just as healthy as marathon runners, she asserted. The regular, moderate cardio training is what provides the long-term benefits, not the race itself.  Reading these comments was inspiring.  My training alone was what mattered most!  What an important point to help me stop worrying about my personal outcome in the actual marathon. It inspired me to start telling myself, ‘I am engaged in marathon training. I am a marathon trainer <wink, wink>,’ and to lose concern over the results of the race.

As I started getting closer to the actual marathon, I told Erik, “I’d like to re-state my goal. Rather than have it be ‘Run a marathon,’ I want it to say ‘Run in a marathon.’ Finishing the race would be nice, but I don’t want my goal to hinge on that. I have trained for, prepared for, and will actually run in a marathon. That’s what counts.” He smiled at my semantic games, but understood where they were coming from.

The night before the race, I had a hard time falling asleep. The paper thin walls of the Price hotel we were staying in did not dampen the noise of the noisy teens next door—darn it—but I imagine they were not the only cause of my insomnia. I’m not cognizant of all the reasons for it, but I’m guessing the idea of going 26 miles was a bit daunting. Would I be able to do it? We’d never run that far before (the marathon training schedule we’d been using limited the longest preparatory run to 22 miles, to avoid strain), so I knew I didn’t know what those last miles would be like. Maybe the unknown is what scared me, more than a fear of failure. Not sure.

Well, we both were able to finish the race. What a thrill! The last 3 miles were extremely painful for me, however, when the tendons on the sides of my knees began throbbing and sobbing, “Overload! Overload!” Not. Fun. But, fortunately, it wasn’t so bad that I had to stop. My training had given me sufficient stamina to finish. Hurrah!

I wanted to blog about this incident because I think that we, as perfectionists, too often obsess over outcomes. I guess, if I think about it honestly, that is the definition of perfectionism: being unsatisfied with anything less than the ideal [a measurable outcome state]. When we have an ideal—a desired goal, an expectation—we measure ourselves against it. Even if we acknowledge that the ideal is something we can work toward, we feel anxiety about the uncertainty of our reaching it. Placing emphasis on the end result rather than the learning/training process can truly thwart us—as it almost did me last spring. It’s an unhealthy way to evaluate and experience life—making us ungrateful for all that is good in our lives, and overwhelmed by the pressure to be more.

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