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Monday, August 10, 2015

A Mini Series of Posts About the Importance of Equality in Relationships and Taking Action to Ensure Equality

For the next few posts, I will veer away from focusing on recipes and the day to day running of the business to address an issue that has been weighing on me of late. That issue is the juxtaposition  of two emotions:

1. Immense gratitude toward my current partner, Steph for her undying support and belief in my potential. It was she who suggested to me that it was indeed possible for me to pursue a full time career in stamps and she has worked tirelessly to support me in my efforts to become self employed. She has also kept many of her needs at arms length so that I would be able to focus my energies on establishing my business. She has had to do without on several occasions and I know that it has not always been easy for her. But she has done so with the utmost graciousness. I owe everything to her, quite literally. 

2. Sadness and regret towards my ex-wife, who did not believe in me enough to see me through to this point. I was married to her for eight years, and with her for almost 13 years. It is indeed weird at times to see my new life unfolding and being aware the entire time that none of this would ever have been possible if she was still in my life. 

These two emotions have been popping up from time to time as I sit here listing my stamps and selling them. So I thought I had better write about the underlying issues. The main one being that probably the largest impediment that many of us face to reaching our full potential and living the lives we were meant to live lies in our domestic partners. It is sad, but very much true, largely because an intimate relationship gives each person the opportunity to take so many liberties with the other person that they wouldn't dare take with someone they weren't close to, that selfish behaviour, often fueled by fear can take hold. 

In my case, when I first started dating my ex, I made no attempt to hide my passion for philately and quite often spoke of my desire to make my career in it. That was back in 2000, when the technological innovations which made it possible to become a dealer without a physical store were just taking hold. But I was also a budding accountant who had just earned his CA designation. I had only been in the profession for 6 years at this point - not long enough to really understand its lack of long-term suitability as a career for me. In common with many young professionals I was eager - at least on the surface. But it didn't take long for me to become disillusioned with the profession and for the yearning to become a full time dealer to begin in earnest. My ex bore full witness to this and yet many years later she claimed to not understand how important stamps were to me. 

My ex and I were the type of couple who fast-tracked the relationship. We met at the end of June 2000 and by November 2000 we were moving in together after knowing one another for a mere 4 months. I was to be a step-father to my son, who I love very much and am very close to as of this day. I mention this merely to provide some perspective as to how intense things became in such a short period of time. Prior to moving in together, she was attentive to my needs; she was respectful; she reciprocated when I did nice things for her; she genuinely seemed to value my happiness as much as she valued her own. Within about a month of moving in together, all of that became a distant memory, slowly but surely. All of the sudden her entire focus was on being ubermom to my son. Everything, and I mean absolutely everything revolved around  her role as a mother. When I say this I mean: where we lived, what we ate, where and how often we went away, and what my financial obligations were. It got to the point very quickly where I felt for the most part like an appliance - like my only role was to go out and work, bring home my income, hand it over and repeat. If I expressed any needs of my own I was being "selfish". It did not help when she lost her job and did not get another steady one for almost six years. 

Under those circumstances, my ex experienced a great deal of fear. I know what she went through. But I believe that what distinguishes a good partner from a bad one is how they react to that fear and what they choose to do with it. Steph has told me in no uncertain terms that she does not ever want me to give up on stamps because she sees how unabashadly happy they make me. She values that happiness - she doesn't want to see me lose that. So I know that if the going gets tough and she starts feeling afraid for the future, she will fight the urge to encourage me to give up on my dream and just go back to work. Of course, I will not abuse this generosity. I am only going to  pursue this dream as long as I can see that it is clearly viable and that any down period is due to temporary circumstances. I also make very clear that I don't think there is anything wrong with the focus of all family decisions being on the children for a time when both parties agree to that. However, I believe that to make children the focus of a marriage or domestic partnership for the entirety of the relationship, to the exclusion of all else, and not with the bilaterial agreement of both parties is the surest way to divorce, or a situation of extreme resentment. Quite sadly, I haven't had anything to do with my ex in almost three years. I'm still as close to my son as I can be, given that we live on opposite sides of the country. 

Much of that is because instead of doing what Steph is doing now, my ex tried to eradicate, or significantly curtail my involvement in stamps. She placed time limits and dollar limits on what I was allowed to do, and god help me if I went over on either count. When I established my e-bay store five years ago, she told me that she wanted no part of it. Most of our conversations about stamps that she started were about how she thought stamps were a dying hobby and there was no future in stamps because she did not personally know any stamp collectors. But they weren't the kind of conversations where  she was open to learning. No, they were her way of rubbing my nose in the fact that she wasn't willing to support me in the life that I wanted.  It was very clear that she saw my passion as something that threatened her position. She wanted to be #1, and I couldn't have anything in my life that would consistently compete for time or resources that could be better directed to her and the life that she wanted.  

I actually tried for several years to adapt to these requirements and be a good husband in spite of them. At no point did I tell her that the limits were unreasonable. I tried to live within them, while working very hard in public accounting and rising to the position as partner. This was my mistake. I say it was a mistake because over the years, my ex completely lost respect for me. By the time I made partner, instead of being appreciative of what a decade of personal sacrifice on my part had brought us as a family, she accused me of never being around for her and pulled away emotionally for the umpteenth time. It all came to a head when she went out late one night with a co-worker for drinks and did not come home until 7:30am the next day. I don't believe, by the way that there was any infidelity. When I got understandably upset with this show of disrespect, she suggested we separate. At that point, I had literally nothing left in the tank. And I felt that our relationship was now setting a REALLY bad example for our son. I didn't want him growing up thinking that this is how you treat people you love. I had to make a very clear and firm statement: I moved out, and I cut off all contact and waited to see what would come from her. There was no contrition whatsoever. No admisssion of responsibility. Nothing. Not then. Not a week later, a month later, not six months later and most definitely not now. 

I paid a very large price to extracate myself from that abusive marriage: I gave her the house and all the furniture in it. The only thing I took were some pieces that I had inherieted from my parents,  my stamps and 10% of the equity. It was a pittance really, and less than half of the $100,000 that I had put into rennovations. In fact the rennovations were in progress when I moved out, and I continued to pay the contractor from my office several months after I moved out. 

But it was worth it. Within a few weeks of moving out, I met Steph. We didn't fast track our relationship - we took it slow. It would be a full month before we even started dating, and a year before we moved in together. She has a wonderful spirit and a joy for the simple things in life. Unlike my ex, she is not in a race to get every single experience that life has to offer. There is no "to do list" with her. She take life as it comes, and that makes her eminently easy to live with. 

Around the time that I met Steph I was at a crossroads professionally: I was being offered equity partnership in my firm. This is something that would have required to make a huge financial commitment. It was what, in the absence of my ability to pursue stamps, I had been after all throughout my marriage. Now, it just seemed irrelevant, but prior to meeting Steph, I didn't feel like I could turn my back on it. Being with her helped me see that this was not how I wanted to spend the rest of my life. 

All of this brings me to my main point in the title of this post: the importance of maintaining equality in your long-term relationship and how vital it is to take action if that equality falls out of kilter for any significant length of time. By equality, I mean something very specific: I believe that for a relationship to work in the long term, both parties have to value the happiness of their partner as much as they value their own. Maintaining that equality requires action in the form of communication  and checking in with one another. It requires both parties to shed assumptions about what they think their partner has agreed to give up and actually discuss it. So if you have agreed together that you want to start a family, it means acknowledging the impact that this will have on all your other goals and desires, and discussing how you as a couple will navigate that. If one of you becomes unemployed and has to be supported by the other, as uncomfortable as it may be to acknowledge the effect that has on the one left working, it must be acknowleded and discussed. My point really is that if you have married or moved in with someone, it does not mean that you agreed to give anything that you didn't specifically discuss, such as your friends and hobbies. The same goes for starting a family with someone. 

If you find that the equality has left your relationship and you feel that you may be taking your partner for granted, check in with them. Ask them "Are you getting all of your needs met in this relationship? If not, what can I do to rectify the situation? And be prepared to listen and act. If you are the one who feels taken for granted have a talk with your partner. Remind them of what your needs are. Acknowledge that you are aware of theirs, and you are aware of the importance of the decisions you made together, but you still need to meet your needs. If you are with a suitable partner, these should be relatively painless discuissons to have. 

However, if your partner suffers from a personality disorder, or is just immature, or otherwise emotionally disturbed, your are going to find such discussions very difficult and painful. I will address the subject of personality disorders in my next post. 

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