This weekend I was told my divorce was final. It was a day I had been dreading for a while now. I planned on marking the occasion not with celebration but with reflection. To me this is very somber, the woman that gave me 9 of the greatest years of my life and many of my fondest memories is now technically my ex-wife. In the back of my head I thought there was still a chance to reconcile. So many friends would tell me that I needed to let go and I just couldn’t. Perhaps this is the slap in the face I needed. Some of you that are really close know how hard this has been on me and how hard I’ve taken this. Others just see the happy face I put on at shows and around town. I am not a victim and deserve no pity. I made more mistakes in the relationship then most and I had plenty of chances to fix them and I didn’t. Since I knew this day was coming I planned on posting a sort of advice blog/column/post so that perhaps someone else dealing with a rough patch might be able to salvage their relationship or rekindle a love that might be feeling routine. Today is that day and this is that post. In a way this is also a step to letting go and part of the process of healing. (Note: this is not about a violent or abusive relationship. No one should ever stay in that environment)
1. Live in the moment: The journey together is the relationship not the destination. Looking back at the great times is an awful way to enjoy your partner. Cherish the moments as they happen. Put down the camera and indulge in each other. I spent too much time thinking about the future and how we needed to make more money to afford the home, the yard, the picket fence, when in actuality I was already home in her arms.
2. Love your partner for who they are without the need for change: From the beginning I was critical of the way she dressed. I would always try to take her shopping to buy new her clothes that I thought were cool or fashionable or I would try to persuade her to get some cool tattoos. I wanted her to be my image of cool. Now it just seems the most worthless and selfish mindset. Today I’d love her even if she just wore different potato sacks every day. Not only was I trying to get my wife to fit my image of beauty but I didn’t realize that I was demoralizing her in the process. I made her feel like she wasn’t good enough when she was better then what I could have dreamt of.
3. Keep a journal: This works in 2 ways. One, you’ll remember important dates that will impress her, but better yet, it’s a way of remembering all the great moments you two shared together. I would always forget things that we had done together much to her chagrin. She seemed to have the greatest memory in the world and I was trying to remember what we had for lunch that day. Now that we are apart the moments come back to me now and again, usually before I fall asleep. I wish more than anything now that I could remember all of them… every single last moment.
4. If it’s important to her then it’s important: I got caught up in my own busy schedule and getting my things done that I treated her schedule as add on’s or excess chores. Her life is not extra stuff it is now your life. A marriage or relationship is a partnership…a 50/50 partnership. If she likes Mocha cake then you should pick mocha cake at least half the time even if you aren’t into it. If she is excited to see a certain movie, go see the damn movie. If she wants to go to a certain Argentinian restaurant stop taking her to your favorite restaurant. You are sharing your lives not absorbing one life into another.
5. Make your partner a part of your life: I am an artist and felt like I had an artist life and a home life. In retrospect I had a great opportunity to include my wife in my life. All those times I was vending at a show or artwalk she could have been there beside me. We could have had great discussions, great laughs plus she just could have been a big help. If you have a hobby try to find a way to make your partner a part of it. Find ways to include your partner don’t look for ways to shut them out.
6. Never stop treating her like you are still courting her: I pulled off some pretty romantic stuff to win her heart and when our relationship and marriage were still fresh. I once surprised her with a trip to Disneyland for our first anniversary. I booked a night at the Disneyland Hotel, went to the room head of time to sprinkle rose pedals on the bed, put a bottle of champagne in the room and her favorite rice crispy treat on her pillow. I even made a dinner reservation at the Disney Grand hotel and ahead of time let the waiter know it was a first anniversary. The waiter after dinner took us out to the balcony, provided us a dessert plate that said happy anniversary just in time for the fireworks show. I should have never stopped putting the same energy into our relationship. I got comfortable and became careless. Never forget to tell your partner how special they are or how much they mean to you. They cannot read your thoughts and if you never say it or show it they will not know and assume you don’t care. Now I just wish I could relive that moment again and again.
7. Appreciate the little things: The little things will be the things you miss the most. For almost 9 years I use to get a kiss on the forehead as my wife would leave for work and I was still in bed for another hour. It’s funny how something so little becomes one of the things you’d give your right arm for. It’s the little things that we all remember. Their homemade food, their cupcakes, their laugh, their willingness to nap as much as you. The things that are the easiest and cheapest seem to be the ones that stick with us forever.
8. Sacrifice for your partner: As soon as I heard they were making a Beatles rockband game I had to have it. I kept talking about it but we just didn’t have the money to buy the game let alone a playstation 3 to play it on. The day it was released my wife asked me to pick her up from work. I remember being a little annoyed but I pull up and there is my wife next to a Beatles rockband box and a new playstation 3. Here is the kicker…She had secretly saved up for 4 months in order to afford it for me. This was probably the kindest most thoughtful thing anyone had ever done for me in my life. That is the sacrifice you need to put into your partner. It may not be monetary but go that extra mile for your partner. Show them that they are the most important person to you and how loved and respected they are.
9. Mental health isn’t a joke…deal with it: About 3 years ago I had a complete breakdown. My mentor as a youth who believed in me when I was a young cholo passed away, my best friend growing up drowned, my mom became terribly ill (she pulled through), I was trying to finish a master’s degree, running an alternative satire magazine, working full time, trying to be a good father to 2 teens living on the other side of the state, being an artist and exhibiting all over plus being a husband. I lost it. I had a complete breakdown and went into a deep depression. I was unhappy and hated my life and blamed the closest person to me…my wife. In my head I thought “I’m unhappy. It must be your fault”. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Now years later I see it was her that was holding it all together and probably the only reason I survived. I began to push my wife away. I didn’t want her to get hurt by me and kept telling her she would be better off without me and that I was “toxic”. She tried to be there for me and gave me plenty of chances to fix things but I kept pushing her away eventually I think the pain was too much. I just wasn’t in a mental state to process what losing her was yet. I ultimately got help and a couple years later I’m heading in the right direction. I remember telling my psychiatrist that I wanted to feel the way I used to feel that I wanted to love my wife like I use to. I finally got there but it was too late. She had moved on, filed for divorce and started dating her ex-boyfriend. It was crushing but it was a mess I created and must deal with. Mental illness isn’t a joke and needs to be addressed by a professional sooner then later. If I didn’t wait so long to deal with my pain I might have been able to salvage my marriage but I’m still alive and that is a victory within itself.
10. Find your thing and "nerd out" together doing it: I think one success in my marriage was we made the little things we did seem like a big deal. Watching new episodes of our favorite TV shows together was worth preparing and getting out the popcorn, going out to eat was worth thinking about all day, going to the movies was worth planning and plotting, decorating for the holidays was a major extravaganza and the decorating date was scheduled on the calendar each year. Today all these things have lost so much meaning and enthusiasm. Decorating for the holidays has become a chore, TV is bland and boring, and going out to eat with friends is just not the same. Those little things you do together make life worth living. Those are the precious moments you will remember when you are 90. Without them the world is flavorless.
Jake I can't thank you enough for sharing your insight with us.