Jackson Bliss answers his first letter for the Verbose Love Junkie Column
This is one of the first letters sent to the Verbose Love Junkie column. The VLJ column is a space for people to ask hard questions and find answers to their relationship issues. Hopefully along the way, they’re able to (re)find love and happiness too. Either way, those sending in questions will have to do all the heavy lifting. I’m just another opinionated motherfucker with a cute mug + a keen mind who happens to be insanely in love with his wife, but whatevs.
Here’s one of the first letters sent to the LJC:
I have read a couple of your writings on love and relationships and truly love them. I think about my relationship I have with my wife and in a lot of ways in mirrors how you and your wife are towards each other. We laugh at the silly stuff, make up our own language, enjoy the small things, and go on dates every week. Though there have been many trials in our marriage, (mostly due to my fault), it has caused a lot of that flame to die down, and my wife is contemplating leaving. Do you have any words of wisdom, ideas, something that could help me find a way to show her I still love her and want to be with her?
Thanks so much for having the courage + the honesty to ask me for help. Whether I can actually help you or not is another issue, but I think that’s incredibly promising. For most men, that’s not an easy thing to do, so props to you.
Obviously, it’s hard to give you specific advice not knowing what your relationship is like or what the trials have been about, so my advice will be more general, but that’s okay. Sometimes it’s just good for to hear ideas from an impartial source.
1. TRIAGE: my first suggestion is to figure out whether the relationship is salvageable. If it’s not, then it’s unlikely there’s anything you can do. I’m not suggesting you stop fighting for what you believe in, but if your wife has thought about it long + hard about it + has already made up her mind that she’s peacing out of the relationship, then ultimately you have to respect what she wants, even if that hurts you. There’s no better way to respect someone than to accept how s/he feels. Also, sometimes, people don’t listen to each other when they’re desperate or devastated, not because they’re evil but because it’s just so hard to hear what the other person is saying. But if the relationship isn’t right for one person, then it isn’t right for either. Understand that one person can’t (re)solve the issues of a couple. Know when to fight for what you love + when to let go.
If the relationship is salvageable, my next suggestion would be to sit down with your wife + make sure you can find common ground. Does she still want to try to make things work? Just as importantly, do you? What are the big issues she’s having? How are they preventing her from trusting you? What things does she need from you? What things do you need from her? What unresolved issues are getting recycled in your relationship? Do the two of you want to find solutions to these issues? Have previous mistakes created a power imbalance or a series of constraints that are preventing both of you from living in the present + loving each other? Here are a few ways to do that. You will probably repeat these exercises more than once + that’s normal I think.
2. LISTEN, ACKNOWLEDGE + REPEAT: Set rules ahead of time that both of you can agree to. For example, maybe for one hour, she gets to talk without being interrupted about the things that are preventing her from trusting you, the things that she’s struggling with, the things that make her unhappy while you actively listen. Afterwards, you make a bona fide attempt at summarizing the things she told you to make sure you got the big details right. It’s important for you to listen + it’s important for you to acknowledge her. Once this first session is done, both of you can separately write down different strategies + ideas that might possibly help her confront/overcome these issues little by little. When the time is right, meet up at a café + exchange ideas, working together as partners + friends to help make things better. There shouldn’t be a trace of accusation, vindication or defensiveness in either of your voices. If that happens, stop for a second until the anger subsides.
The next step is to reverse the roles of the earlier exercise, from the speaking + summarizing all the way up to the solution brainstorming. Now you’ve got the mic. Speak from your heart. Don’t censure + don’t attack. Don’t refute the things she brought up during her session + don’t justify yourself. Just communicate to her in the clearest way you know how about what you’re feeling + why. Trust your intentions when you speak.
3. CREATE A SESSION OF EMPATHY + FORGIVENESS: separately, write a short list of things each of you have done that have hurt the other person (it doesn’t matter whether you agree or not). When the time is right, meet in a safe place without distractions + take turns reading your lists to each other. Again, no interruptions. It’s a perfect emotional place to both acknowledge the pain you’ve caused your partner and to be acknowledged for the pain she has caused you. Often, we’re so busy rationalizing why we hurt our partner/spouse/lover that we forget we’re strong enough to admit we’ve caused her pain. Or when we do admit it, we feel coerced to apologize before we’ve had a chance to take a real moral inventory of our actions + realize for ourselves how fucked up they are. Take the time + really work it out. Think about what it felt like for her. Don’t punish yourself. Don’t hate yourself. Just be real. Ask yourself: what have I done that’s hurt her? Meanwhile, she’ll do the exact same thing for you, thinking about the things she’s done that have hurt you. When the two of you meet up, not only will both of you have an opportunity to express your remorse, sadness and grief (which is a good enough reason to do this), but just as importantly, you’ll have an opportunity to have your remorse, sadness + grief acknowledged by the other person. Sometimes, it’s necessary to create two lists, one of things you’re capable of forgiving right now + another of the things you’re working on.
4. TAKE FREQUENT BREAKS FROM DOCTOR MODE: while it’s crucial to seriously tackle the big issues in your relationship, it’s just as important to take breaks from couples therapy too. Sometimes, you just need to forget about all the heavy shit for a few hours + remember why you’re together. So go out on date, laugh, drink some wine, reminisce, watch a mindless Hollywood flick or go on a weekend vacay that is far enough away from work, kids, in-laws + your daily routine for you to focus on your coupleness. If you don’t focus on being a couple, who will?
5. REMEMBER THAT RELATIONSHIPS SHOULDN’T BE A 24/7 JOB: relationships are a lot of work, but they shouldn’t be a lot of work all the time. If you can’t even go on autopilot sometimes where you’re cool just chillaxing, that’s a problem. It’s just too exhausting always having to solve shit. Sometimes, just being together in that moment is enough. At least it should be.
6. KICK IT WITH OTHER FRIENDS: Don’t make your wife your all-friend (because no one can be everything to us all the time) + don’t socially isolate yourself from your community either. Spend time with your other friends. Different friends have different skill sets, different temperaments + different blind spots, therefore, different friends can help you in different ways + satisfy different needs. The same goes for your wife + her friends. The stronger social network she has, the less you have to be everything to her all the time. This allows both of you to be human. Also, everyone needs an outside perspective sometimes (that’s one of the reasons you wrote me in the first place!). Further, you need to be deprived of her company sometimes (+ she of your company), not just to give both of you space away from each other, but also to remind you of what you’re missing. If you never miss the person you’re with, even after a prolonged absence, that’s a bad sign.
Anyway, best of luck, brother. I wish both of you well. And for what it’s worth, I have faith in you that you’ll do the best job you can. I hope you do too.
Peace, Love, Blessings,
Got a letter to send? Want advice? Searching for answers? Send it here, mofo!
image credit: provided by author