04 October 2012

Perfect & Flawless


Comment from a Reader:

I sometimes feel that your marriage is always presented as PERFECT and FLAWLESS...and therefore unattainable.  I know you want to help people feel empowered and to feel better about themselves or at least to have the tools to improve...but sometimes I just walk away feeling like I'm a failure.

Answer:

Dear Reader, we are not trying to portray perfection.  But it turns out that what you see on the blog is actually a reflection of how we view imperfection and failure.  Danny and I have loads of imperfect experiences, personal failures and personal weaknesses.  But a few years ago, in the depths of our greatest personal trials to date, we began to learn that these experiences could be opportunities for us to practice being better people!  That may sound crazy - but this small shift in how we viewed trials/imperfection/failure has changed our worlds (I mean, it changed the way we experienced our divorces and our ongoing infertility - that's how powerful it was!  And it certainly has a similar affect on minor moments Danny and I might have if we're hungry or tired, if things don't go perfectly, if we feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of tasks that we have before us, if something falls through the cracks, if we get a parking ticket, etc.)  We finally realized that these experiences could provide opportunities to learn how to surrender, how to react to life in a better way, how to pursue virtues (even in our most unimaginable circumstances), how to cultivate self-worth despite weaknesses that were/are staring us in the face, how to have the real kind of love for other people in pain, even when their actions were/are offensive to us.  We learned firsthand that accepting imperfection in ourselves and others is the birthplace of the greatest compassion and real love.  Imperfection is the birthplace of wisdom and strength.  Finally understanding this and starting to live accordingly was the greatest blessing of my life.  Even a greater blessing than my sweet husband.

So, Danny and I are ok with failure & imperfection in this household.  It truly is welcome here - and in fact, we embrace it.  Just that very attitude about it lightens the load almost immediately.  My deepest apologies if it comes off to you or anybody else that I am hiding weakness, failure, or imperfection.  I actually try to celebrate them for the teachers that they are!  What you're seeing in our marriage is the fruit of embracing the imperfections of life.  It really does change the way Danny and I interact with each other, it changes the way we react to the day-to-day experiences of living and working in New York City, it changes the way that we react to each other's weaknesses, and in our own weak moments, it lessens the amount of time that we choose to dwell there. 

As you continue on your own journey, it is our greatest hope that you will not feel like a failure.  Know that we made progress one tiny step at a time, and you can, too.  Every step is beautiful and triumphant.  And one day, we hope that you'll be able to stand where you are -with all the imperfections in you and around you - and still have love for yourself and others, and ultimately, to truly live.

With Love,

Mara & Danny

P.S.   A few posts I wrote for Babble.  I hope you enjoy them!

Winterize Me: 10 Things That Help Me Survive Fall/Winter

How I've Made Friends in New York City

Why Guys & Girls Nights Are Good For A Marriage

   (photo by Solve Sundsbo, Vogue Italia - via Designlovefest


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24 comments:

  1. perfectly answered. i think in times of our imperfections, as people and later on as couples, we CAN choose to be better people. betterimperfectpeople

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  2. i disagree--this "answer" still avoids this issue. it's great to tell someone "choose to be happy!", but what about the time when she forgets to, or when she has already snapped at her husband? "better luck next time"? ...not particularly helpful.

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    1. Pick yourself up, and try a little harder tomorrow. Positive changes don't happen over night. It takes time and conscious effort. But just because we make mistakes and snap at our husbands or something of the like doesn't automatically mean we are failures. It simply means we are human and we can try a little harder to be better.

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    2. Dear Anon (1) - please see yesterday's post for an example of what we do when we are not on our A-game. I try in many, many posts to explain what happens and how we turn things around when we are facing a trial or a moment of weakness. Forgive if my writing doesn't make it clear enough, but I try.
      Here are a few more recent posts off the top of my head:
      http://www.ablogaboutlove.com/2012/09/love-story-would-i-be-enough.html
      http://www.ablogaboutlove.com/2012/09/when-air-is-clear.html
      http://www.ablogaboutlove.com/2012/09/not-cute-days.html
      http://www.ablogaboutlove.com/2012/07/dannys-prayer-for-me.html

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  3. I love this post, and followed your link to 'How I've made friends in New York City.' I was reminded how happy it makes me to help others, and made me realize I haven't been doing enough of it. When I'm going though a rough time, I need to reach out and help others instead of focusing on myself.

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    1. Anna - so glad that you wrote. During my roughest times of life, I decided to help others. And it TOTALLY took the focus off of my own sad situation. And when times are not rough, it still increases my level of joy. It's pretty amazing how that works. I have to remind myself of it sometimes when I get caught up in other things.

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  4. I know both Danny and Mara and I hope I'm not offending anyone when I say they aren't perfect....not by a long shot :). But I think that they have chosen to focus on only positive in their relationship and you're not ever going to get Mara to give a list of the things that Danny does that might annoy her or tell us about a disagreement that they didn't handle in the best way because that would be undermining what they are working for.

    With that said- though I love this blog and they are both lovely people, I don't take all their advice or think that because my husband I do fight that we have a bad marriage or relationship. I am a totally different person than them and some parts of their relationship dynamic would just not work for my personality. Some of the stuff on this blog that they do would drive me absolutely nuts and would make me sooooo uncomfortable, but that doesn't mean I also don't have a great relationship.

    I guess I'm just saying it don't hold them as a standard of perfection- no one is. Use some of their good concepts / values and find your own way.

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    1. This response is helpful. I get the power of focussing on the positive most of the time. But Mara, you'd teach people so much more by getting more specific, including the negatives about you as individuals and as a couple. You often write in abstract platitudes and stories. I agree with what you are saying but have no idea how to apply it to my life or to tough, daily situations. Vague blog posts don't help. For example, despite my best efforts and reading your entire blog and other books, it still drives me CRAZY when my husband smacks his lips when he chews gum, when he plays video games for hours, and when he picks his nose. It would make you and your marriage more relatable and more real - and therefore better for teaching others - if you specifically addressed the annoying or negative traits in your relationship and in each of you and how you specifically deal with those.

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  5. I think we can all understand where this question is coming from, but it is important to remember that Danny & Mara have worked very hard at their marriage. I don't know them outside of this blog, but it is clear that they both strive to become a better companion to the other. It won't just happen over night, there is no simple fix to have a marriage like theirs. It takes one act of random kindness, one selfless act, one positive attitude response at a time. They've built their marriage to last!

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    1. Thanks Melissa,

      I think there's a point that you and Anon 10:03 AM made that strikes me as the great truth behind any principle of development. The idea of one step at a time, or pick yourself up and dust yourself off one more time and try again.

      I can't think of any skill, strength, personal habit, or whatever else that doesn't take a significant amount of time and practice to develop. No one achieves excellence in any area of life without serious effort, practice, and discipline.

      Thank you for underscoring that. And you are correct, it comes one step at a time.

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  6. Can I just add my thoughts too. If I had come across Mara & Danny's blog a couple of years ago I probably would have also thought that they were presenting a picture of perfection that was unattainable, and I know I would have felt like a failure reading their posts too. However I don't think that is because of the content, so much as where I was at in life at the time. I didn't love myself/have enough faith in myself to realise it was ok to screw up, and make mistakes, and have others further ahead on the journey than me...and know that none of that diminished my worth.
    Thankfully I have come across this blog at a point in my life where my foundation (my self-worth, self-esteem and self-compassion) is now solid enough that I can look at people like Mara & Danny who may be a step ahead of me, and not need to compare myself to them or self-recriminate in the face of their teachings. I truly can take it one step at a time.
    What I would like to add on from Danny's comment about it being one step of the time, is the absolute 100% assurance/belief/knowledge that if this is the path you truly seek in life, you will get there! I think all the great religions of the world and self-help books are in complete agreement on this - that what you seek and earnestly pursue and fixate your attention on is what you will get. So to anyone who is discouraged by the teachings of this blog, because they feel so far away from the standard set here, please take away the encouragement that if this is what you truly want, and you are willing to put some effort in, no matter how many times you fumble along the way you will get to where you want to be!

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    1. Said much better than I was capable of expressing. Thanks for sharing your perspective and adding your voice.

      And yes, in my experience you are correct regarding religion/self help teaching that "what you seek and earnestly pursue and fixate your attention on is what you will get."

      That is both wonderfully encouraging and terrifying at the same time. Encouraging because there are stories like your own and our own where growth and development does indeed come as we seek it and believe in it, and with it the potential for profound change. Terrifying because if fear and failure are what we fixate on...that is also what we will get. I wish it were not so. I wish there was another way around it. It sounds like this was true of your own story, it was also true of much of Mara's life. I have seen it play out in my own.

      That is one of the reason's this blog focuses on choice. You have to get to a place where you actually believe that growth is possible, that change is possible, that not only are you worth something, but everyone else around you is too. That everybody is allowed to fumble along on their path to something greater.

      Anyway, thanks for the great comment and personal insight.

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  7. This is the original anon that asked the question.

    Thanks for this. Thanks for being so personal and willing to reach out to one person feeling stuck. One step at a time. That is a good thing to remember--hard to do sometimes. And yes I do hope that I can stand where you guys currently stand one day with confidence and LOVE.

    You certainly didn't need to apologize to me, but again I know that you guys are always striving to live what you preach and it shows. I wasn't trying to make you feel bad (I think you know that) but more pointing out that your current marriage (where you BOTH found these amazing realizations and you BOTH consistently strive to live all these things you teach) is where I sometimes feel like "this is not helping me see how I can better my situation." And so it is that I sincerely put it out there again--how does someone like your former spouse--someone who feels 'not in love' with their spouse (sometimes a lot, sometimes a little) come to turn their marriage around? Do you really think it would have been possible for your spouses? Is it possible to grow in love in this way? How can you make your marriage better, truly love your spouse when you're "the bad guy?"

    Perhaps you were getting to this, so I apologize if I'm being annoying, but I just thought I'd be clear.

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    1. Thanks Anon,

      We understand that this didn't answer all that you asked, and yes we are trying to write a little bit more and hope to return to your questions...we just decided to tackle it one at a time. And no, you didn't make us feel bad :) But we also understand that there are others who feel like you do and it might help to try to address this.

      One thing to note. I hope you don't feel like "the bad guy". I really mean that. Thoughts like that can be just as crippling to your growth and that of your relationship as anything else. I'm not saying that to give you or anyone else who feels that way one more thing to worry about or feel guilty over. Just urging you to be cautious and aware of the power that statements and thoughts like that can carry into your ability to make changes.

      The truth is, we're all doing the best we can with what we've got. That includes Mara and I, it also includes our former spouses. I certainly wouldn't call them a bad guy. The truth is, if there is anything that you see Mara and I passionately advocating, there's a good chance it is because there is a time in our own lives when we didn't do at all, or at least at the level we aim to do it now. In fact, Mara often starts her stories by demonstrating a time when she didn't practice the principle she works to embody today.

      Anyway, there is more I could say, but I suppose it will have to wait. Thanks for commenting!

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    2. Anonymous, I totally get you. While I absolutely love this blog, these questions go through my mind sometimes. I believe Mara and Danny have a wonderful relationship because they have been through hard times, and they learned to be happy, and they treat each other well, etc... Just like they say. I know they intend for their blog to be inspirational for others - and it is. BUT, they are both divorced. And their second marriage (each other) is WONDERFUL. They treat each other so well. It can really give off the idea that if your marriage is in the rut, it might be best to start from scratch.

      I know they would never mean to portray this. But I’m sure they can see how it can.

      It is easy to love someone who is good to you. I know they both chose happiness before, and they talk about it. But now you see the new marriage in all its glory. It is also easiest to keep up a good marriage than to pick up a bad. HABITS. If you have had good habits from the beginning, it is easier to maintain than changing bad habits. This is where their experience from their first marriage is what made their second marriage so great. When they began their second marriage, it was habit-free and they both worked to make the habits good. So those of us in less than ideal first marriages - now what?

      I believe a bad marriage one of the worst trials. Controlling parents? Wayward children? These are very very hard things. But you don’t choose your parents or your children. You don’t choose your infertility or health problems. But you do choose your spouse. And to think you chose wrong is awful. Believe me, I know. Danny and Mara say: Yes, and you can choose to be happy in that marriage. I know, I KNOW.

      What it comes down to is this: You are meant to be in the marriage you are in. Were you immature when you married? Probably. And God knew that, and he still let you make the biggest choice of your existence when you were immature. You probably weren’t trying to do anything wrong, and yet you are paying the consequences. You were just getting married, for goodness sakes, and here you are unhappy forever. Lame, right? I actually tried extra, extra prayerfully hard in choosing a spouse. I was very close to God when I married, I tried so hard to not care about trivial things, and still marriage was a huge disappointment, to say the least.

      I felt bad for myself for a long time. Then I realized I was supposed to be in this marriage. One day inspiration came to me: My husband is actually the best match for me, because he stretches me in a way that I otherwise couldn’t be stretched: I can learn to have charity for a spouse who mistreats me. This is huge. It is easy to have charity for the poor, or the disabled. For your friends, for your parents, for your children. But your spouse: You are intimately tied to them. What they do affects you deeply, and YOUR children! And you CHOSE THEM! This is heavy. If my husband were super kind and doting, as Danny seems, honestly, it would be easy to love him.

      When I realized this, several years ago, I began searching for this deep charity. That is a whole new thing to discuss, as it is not easy to obtain. I have changed in so many ways. I am not the same person I was, and I am so glad for that. And you know, my marriage is getting so much better. But even if it didn’t, I am different. Therefore, this life experience was a success.

      I guess I just want to say I know where this question is coming from. But it really does all come down to YOU: What is it God wants YOU to learn. What does He want YOU to become? It doesn’t matter if other people aren’t struggling with the same thing at the moment.

      Danny and Mara do a great job to inspire many. They have been there, and done hard things. I would also love to see a blog by a couple who became this happy after really struggling.

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    3. Actually, I just read your comment again and missed the "bad guy part." I guess I didn't get that, and didn't answer your concern. Nevertheless, I think someone can relate to this.

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    4. Thanks Anon - I think what you've written is very profound and adds a level of insight that I do believe will be helpful to anyone who reads it.

      One thing I would add in response. There are many things that Mara and I don't write about from our previous experiences. I personally don't write them because they share too many details from someone else's life. Many of these experiences are the most meaningful to me in terms of who I have become now. But I don't share in such an open forum because I don't feel it is right to do so. I too know of the charity that you speak of, and I learned it not because of Mara, but because of my experiences in my prior marriage. For both of us, the greatest lessons were learned in those former times of what often felt like total darkness and complete despair and disappointment.

      We don't share many of those things here because they are very private. But that doesn't mean it hasn't happened. (And by the way, I'm not trying to say that you're accusing us of not learning those things...in fact I absolutely loved your comment and felt the need to clarify why it is easy for people to come away with the perspective you've described).

      Much of the joy that is found in the love letters Mara and I wrote each other is primarily because we were discovering that we learned and lived these things independent of each other.

      My favorite part about what you wrote was your own experience. When you said that you began searching for charity and you changed in so many ways....man do I understand that. When you said that you are not the same person...that is exactly what we're trying to convey here (perhaps not as successfully as we'd like in every post). When you say that your marriage is getting better as a result....I know that too because charity allowed me and my former spouse to become closer friends in many ways then we'd ever been before, and it was beautiful. And when you said that even if it didn't change (which in my case though we become closer the marriage itself became impossible) it didn't matter because I was different, and in that sense it was a success....that I also totally understand. Because that is exactly how I felt, and that is exactly how Mara felt.

      This audience will probably never hear the main reasons I am so passionate about this message, and why I actively champion the virtues of Faith and Hope and Love over the destructive emotions and reactions of Fear and Doubt and Anger. It has a lot less to do with Mara, and more to do with the things I learned before I met her.

      Am I thrilled to have met someone who feels the same way as I do about these things? Of course!!! Is it even easier to do it when I have a partner similarly committed? Yes! But that isn't the reason I'm doing it. And long before I knew that Mara was going to be my partner I was sharing the same things you see on this blog with my friends and coworkers and family.

      Thanks again for the great comment. I hope my own has added some additional clarity to you and others.

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    5. Anonymous October 12, 2012 8:12 pm, I can relate. Thank you for writing it. I needed to hear it.

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  8. I have had a similar experience reading the blog, to the original commenter.

    Danny and Mara, I do keep coming back to the blog because of the JOY. I have had similar experiences to you, and have also experienced the profound affect of choosing my own happiness.

    Yet I also feel that the emphasis might be a little off, from what you're actually intending. The majority of the images are of the two of you looking ideally styled, beautiful and professionally shot. And many of the posts emphasize the feelings of romantic love, compatibility and even euphoria that you feel. These are transient things. They are not available to all. They do not really give us a pathway into a message of goodness in imperfection (where beauty, style, youth, and romantic companionship is denied to so many) but can actually create an aspirational effect-- not to virtue but to beauty and romanticism.

    I have little more that could be constructive, as I don't know the solution. For me, as a devout Christian, the answer would be the spiritual: to head into the deep living waters, which is where I believe the answers to brokenness are. (Ultimately our hunger is not solved apart from Him.)

    But your blog springs from the two of you, and I completely respect that you would never disrespect each other by airing personal imperfections or marital challenges to the public. Nor should you! Perhaps it is simply a matter of adjusting the balance.

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    1. Thanks for the input Melody! I especially loved what you wrote regarding the ultimate answer to our brokenness. Mara and I couldn't agree more.

      I think one aspect that is particularly difficult is that it is impossible to write all things at all times. Sometimes a post is about romantic/marital love and the joy found in it. Because that love is a beautiful thing and should be celebrated and nurtured. Sometimes a post is about being single and still feeling self worth, because value should not be determined by whether or not you have a partner, or whether you have a successful marriage or not. Sometimes a post is about infertility, and the fact that there is peace and joy in life in spite of the inability to have a child. That kind of peace comes exactly from where you said it does.

      There are many posts on this blog that are about finding love, self worth, joy, peace, and all other good things no matter the circumstance. That this is possible is to me the greatest miracle of all. But not all posts can talk about it all the time. Some are just about a lovely cottage and beautiful architecture.

      Though not every post mentions or would even be appropriate to mention this healing that you spoke of, my hope is that no one would come away thinking that that isn't the underlying message of everything on the blog.

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  9. I really loved this blog post. I had been feeling the same way as the original Anon, to whom you replied. Its often hard to remember that behind these posts you are real people, with real problems and real situations. What I love to take away from your blog is how to deal with what life has dealt you!

    In my own marriage we struggle to see eye to eye on things. This blog has helped me be a better wife and mother! Today we celebrate our 13th wedding anniversary. Just this past week I, unintentionally, said something hurtful to the man I love... after tears and a resolve to try harder to be kinder and more appreciate of ALL he does for me, we have had the best times I can remember. Trials make us stronger!

    I can learn a lot from your blog and the love you share for each other. You are further in the game than I, but I am slowly getting there. I am SO looking forward to the years ahead, where we will have a more perfect love and appreciation for each other. One step at a time!

    Thank you for sharing your insight and wisdom with us!

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  10. I just discovered this blog today by chance. And forwarded a few of the posts to my husband. I have spent a lot of my afternoon while running around contemplating what I read here. In part, because this relationship closely mirrors how my current marriage relationship started. In part because I am reminded, vividly, all the, as I described it to my husband, the "positivity", we once had for each other. Reflecting, makes me realize sadness as life has beaten that down. And a frustration at a continual recognition that two, both partners have to work together. Obviously, here, both writers appear to be seriously entrenched in making this union top priority & successful. Interestingly, at this moment I tapped the link I had given my husband and this particular blog post opened up. I had not read or seen it yet. The readers response accurately reflected my inner turmoil. It is a sad & disheartening place to not have a partner on the other side, willing to give all to the marriage & often "try harder" isnt combined with the message that it does take two in the end. This can compound a feeling of failure in those trying all they have in their marriage and not much is improving. Another very important part is lifestyles, demands on time, responsibility loads, are different for everyone - and they have a strong effect on the fibers of marriage.

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    1. After reading this, it occurred to me that perhaps this indicates my current marriage has only one partner working at it. Not so. This was reflection of my past marriage and the study of marriages in our society & those messages we hand out & receive out of a need to help others "make it".

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  11. There are some people - a lot - who make their marriages work. I think a lot of couples, or single individuals within a couple who look at the married mentors, married for decades - say "that's what I want" - to look back and know "it was worth it, all the work, the hardships, joys, trials" and feel their life, love, the most intimate parts of them were well given and received. However, one lesson I learned from my divorce, was yes, God hates divorce - for a reason. It is a tearing of souls, the most inner parts of our hearts and if there are children, no pain is worse than knowing you are hurting your child or watching them struggle through the aftermath. However, part of marrying hastily, making a wrong choice (we do make wrong choices in many areas of life, we do marry individuals who are not our counters) is the rendering that occurs afterwards. And yet, even those of us that have found & married our counterparts, will still struggle. So while we can be happy we have our counters, the pain that can be felt by someone who recognizes, perhaps, their marriage is not going to be one that makes it - or that it's just not progressing - their pain may have to be endured. I am often impressed by individuals who live their marriages - alone. For the sake of marriage. It is important to be individuals within our marriages yet we are made for relationship and when that one foundational bond is empty, it can be a lonely lonely place to live and difficult to see such happy couples embracing life - together.

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