A Series of Places Lived: Surfside Beach, South Carolina

800px-south_carolina_in_united_states-svgDuring college, Adrian and I decided to do internships at a resort in Surfside, South Carolina. If you’ve never heard of it, that’s probably because it’s a very small town that is shadowed by the (mind-bogglingly) consistent summer revival of Myrtle Beach just 4 miles north. I say mind-bogglingly because I still cannot bring myself to appreciate what is Myrtle Beach. It’s a strip of bars, mini-golf courses, and beach spots that are home to bikers and tourists. There are a few other very expensive “family” environments (aquarium, Ripley’s, etc.) but unless you are going for the Carolina-style southern food, then it’s just another beach.

Driving down King’s Highway, you will see many blinding store fronts. The lights are eternally blazing and difficult to comprehend. The cheap apparel on the inside is even worse. But, you go inside. You don’t know why. You just do.

The next thing you will notice is the numerous mini-golf courses. They adorn a number of theme: pirates, under the sea, etc. But the real kicker is the fact that you will almost always see large families there, day or night. They are never empty, even though you know it may seem ridiculous that you are passing yet ANOTHER course.

The beach in Surfside is nice, I will give it that. And maybe that is because it is considered the “family” beach spot, but there is always a place to lay out and enjoy the waves or sun. Since we were working at a resort with odd hours, we often went to the beach at night after all of the tourists left. We particularly loved going when it was stormy out since it was guaranteed to be vacant and the waves would be enormous and crashing against the shore like it was the end of the world.

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South Carolina Flag – The most aesthetically pleasing I’ve ever seen.

Another surprisingly pleasant thing about South Carolina is the history. We discovered a number of settings that had preserved canons and forts. It was beautiful and rich with discovery. Drive about 3 hours south and you will get to Charleston, SC where the Gullah women will make you something pretty with dried reeds and rubber bands; the restaurants serve Carolina bbq; and the street vendors sell unique specialty items. Take a walking tour if you must, but even just a walk around the town will satisfy your thirst for some deep religious history. I know I sound like I’m blogging for a tourism site, but that’s how much I enjoyed Charleston.

The people. The people of South Carolina (well, I can’t speak for all of it, but I can for our little niche) are about what you would expect from most southern states. They love sweet tea and will be highly offended if you choose not to dance to the country music with them. However, they are also forgiving. I met a lot of people of many races and nationalities, and enjoyed learning about all of them. They will treat you like family, good and bad, and I learned very much from those people. a0e2e2d081fa29e9cbfa8cf6c8d6354c

 

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Are You Addicted to Romance?

Romance is the one unique thing associated with marriages. You may not think of romance when you think about other desirable things. Sure, we joke about it. I mean, when you were a kid didn’t your smart-aleck friends tell you, “If you love that candy bar so much, why don’t you marry it?” Well, unless you’re Erica Eiffel, I doubt you’ve ever experienced a romance that compares to the one in your marriage.

However, there are many of us who are addicted to what are something like “romances.” That rushing, happy feeling you get when you upgrade your phone, discover a new restaurant that you are excited to try everything on the menu, or when you move to a new city that you can’t wait to explore. That constant stimulation is even the reason why internet pornography is becoming so widespread. There is never an end to what you can see or experience. CMXweuOUcAAZ8YF

Now think of this in terms of marriage- what happens when these positive and exciting feelings fade?

The term for marital romance is called limerence. Limerence encompasses sexual attraction, adoration, and sometimes even obsessiveness. John Gottman, one of the foremost authorities on all things marriage, suggests that this feeling of limerence lasts only 2 years. 2 years. When most people get married, rarely do they think, “Well, in 2 years, when this feeling is over, I will just get divorced and find a new spouse.” Most people assume that this strong loving feeling is something they will experience the rest of their lives with their spouse. Gottman suggests otherwise. He says this strong attraction is a phase. While this phase is very important when choosing your mate, it is not something that should be viewed as a permanent stage of marriage.

So what happens when it goes away?

Hello, reality check.

You start to notice that your spouse’s cute grinding noise they make when they sleep actually bothers you- like, a lot.

You notice that your spouse is always late. You used to joke about it, but now it’s just starting to get annoying and inconsiderate.

You start to wonder if your spouse is really as good as you thought, like maybe you were just tricked into this marriage, or that you were naïve and young and now you know better.

So then, you start looking around.

I think you know where I am going with this.

Before you get down in the dumps about the inevitable decline of your constant and strong attraction to your spouse, consider this: if it’s just a phase, maybe that’s because the next phases will be even better, if you work hard to get there.

I mean, it took work to date your spouse before you got married, right? Maybe not hard work, and most likely really enjoyable work. But it was still an effort, sometimes even at the expense of other important friendships and commitments.

If you want to transition smoothly into future marital phases, then build a strong foundation that you can always go back to when times get difficult.

Here are some suggestions inspired by the John Gottman blog:

Share the Why

Share your fondness beyond the words “I love you” or “I admire you.” Actually tell them why you love them and why you admire them. Use specific situations like, “I love it when you hold my hand in public. It makes me feel like you are happy for other people to see how in love we are.”

Don’t Underestimate the Value of Appreciation

Tell your spouse that you appreciate them for specific things they have done. One instance might be, “I noticed yesterday that you did the dishes for me when I was stressed out, and that made me feel really good. Thank you.” But, additionally, thank them for things that they are. Saying something like, “I appreciate that you are relaxed about the traffic jam,” is something that could go a long way.

Some other suggestions that we have are:

Validate Your Partner’s Feelings

Okay, okay, you’ve heard this A LOT. But really, it does wonders on your partner’s and your mood. By acknowledging that they are upset or sad shows that you care about their feelings and combats contempt- which is a huge marriage killer. Contempt is not something you feel often in that honeymoon stage of marriage, but it gets its way when you start to notice all of the imperfections in your partner. Making a habit of validation will be a stronghold when things get tough.

Learn to Speak Your Partner’s Love Language

Part of nurturing your marriage involves concentrating on the things that benefit you and your spouse. You may love it when your spouse gives you a massage, but does your spouse love it, too? What speaks to him or her? Making a consistent routine out of giving your partner more of what they want will make it easier when the cloud of limerence starts to lift.

If you think that you might be starting to lose sight of the honeymoon, don’t forget that this doesn’t have to be a bad thing if you are willing to make positive choices that will perpetuate your deep love for one another. Apply these principles and strategies to your marriage starting today and you will not regret it.

Stay Calm and Be Vulnerable

Aside from the typical Webster definition* of vulnerability, it can be difficult to fully comprehend what vulnerability is and how it affects relationships. In some ways, it is painted as an abstract concept that carries negative connotations and consequences. Confidence is often the pinnacle of success by most American standards. However, vulnerability can play a very important part in many relationships, particularly marriages.

What is it, really? Vulnerability is the complete opening of oneself to another person or situation, thus being exposed to potential damage or harm. In the context of marriage, vulnerability particularly exposes feelings that are close to each individual’s heart. These are often feelings of sadness, fear, or pain.

How does it affect marriage? It is rare in marriage that a spouse doesn’t expose emotional, mental, or physical pain in front of or to the other spouse. However, the act of telling a spouse about unseen feelings can be difficult. When feelings are verbally and physically shared among a married couple, there are two potential outcomes. The first occurs when these feelings are validated, and the listening spouse shows respect and love toward the vulnerable spouse; in this situation, the consequences are positive and the couple experiences a strengthening bond. The second occurs when these feelings are degraded, invalidated, or “brushed off.” Alternative to the more positive situation, there tends to be a loss of trust, security, and predictability. This erodes the relationship to shallow interactions and covered emotions, rather than provide the depth that accompanies a stable relationship.relationship-issues-having-dead-emotional-intimacy

 

How do we become more vulnerable? Terry Gaspard wrote in her article “Vulnerability: The Secret to Divorce-Proofing Your Relationship” about ways to allow yourself to be more vulnerable. She is a licensed social worker and contributor to the Huffington Post who suggests practicing “self-disclosing thoughts, feelings, and desires without self-blame.” This is the all-too-famous “I feel…” statements when discussing things that matter to you. If you find yourself getting irritable at something with your spouse, pinpoint the problem to how the behavior makes you feel and discuss that. With this, you and your spouse can explore the situation deeply and come to a solution together; which will strengthen your marriage. Gaspard’s other suggestion is to avoid allowing past hurt to direct your actions now. It can be difficult to want to open up yourself when you are still feeling hurt from past circumstances, so starting a little at a time doesn’t hurt. Acknowledge the little efforts your spouse makes to understand you, even if they don’t completely. This may take time, but the ultimate goal is to create a sustainable, predictable bond with your spouse that will carry with you for the rest of your marriage.

*vulnerable: adjective,  vul·ner·a·ble  \ˈvəl-n(ə-)rə-bəl, ˈvəl-nər-bəl\ : easily hurt or harmed physically, mentally, or emotionally : open to attack, harm, or damage

What Does Marriage Mean to Me

I wish I could paint an adequate picture of what marriage is, but just this post (and, honestly, probably many others) will be my current contribution. 

 
Actually, let me tell you what it doesn’t mean to me.

It doesn’t mean I get to be the same person I was when I was single. 

It doesn’t mean I can say what I want and not expect negative consequences.

It doesn’t mean I married or bought a blank canvas where I can make it what I want.

It doesn’t mean I can be friends with whomever I want.

It doesn’t mean I can leave my home whenever I want, or without letting someone know.

It doesn’t mean I should care more about others than I do about the person I chose to share the rest of my life with. 

It doesn’t mean my indulgences don’t affect anyone else but myself.

It doesn’t mean I will be treated like the queen for the rest of my life. 

It doesn’t mean I can be offended about everything.

It just doesn’t mean anything selfish.

Marriage does mean:

Work.

Grit.

Stability.

Communicating. Constantly.

Changing. Consistently.

Loving. Unconditionally.