Month: December 2017

More Than Love: 3 Keys To A Happy Marriage

“You need to write a blog about loyalty and marriage and accepting each other and growing together…”

I stared at the message in my inbox, taken aback by the request. In all the time I’ve been blogging, this was the first time a reader had requested a specific post. I felt proud that someone found comfort enough in my words to come to me for advice, yet I also felt a little scared that I couldn’t rise to the challenge.

The more I thought about it, however, the more that fear dissipated. As both someone who writes romance novels and someone who has been with her partner for 11 years, I’ve definitely learned a few things about what makes a relationship thrive. I’ve spent my entire life watching the people around me and learning from both their struggles and their successes. I’ve done a fair about of reading on ways to improve in various aspects of life. Surely I can shed some light on this topic.

I think most of us can agree that marriage is a big deal. I mean, standing in front of all your family and friends to declare that you are going to spend the rest of your life committed to the person beside you isn’t something to be taken lightly.  With a room full of witnesses, you make promises to one another. You promise to let nothing come between you, to remain loyal, and to grow together. Forever. In our case, we also asked those in attendance to make a vow to respect and uphold our marriage as well, to refrain from behaviours that could tear us apart and to hold us accountable to the promises they heard us make.

While most of us grasp the weight of this ritual, we also carry these mythical notions of what marriage looks like. We all want the fairytale “happily ever after”, but none of us really have a clue what that looks like. We get it into our heads that love should always be easy and that any amount of struggle is a sign of impending failure. The romantic notion of stability clashes with the inevitable changes that we and our partners will go through. Anything that doesn’t fit the perfect script in our heads causes us to fear that something is wrong, and we begin to see “warning signs” everywhere. Left unchecked, this can spiral into chaos and tear a relationship apart.

On the flipside, the desire for happily ever after can be the very thing that causes us to reevaluate our notions of what a healthy marriage looks like. It can allow us to see the things that we can improve upon to strengthen our bonds.

The reader mentioned three things in their request: loyalty, acceptance, and growing together. I believe these are the 3 biggest components to a successful marriage. I also think they can be the most challenging.

Acceptance

This goes beyond “in sickness and in health” or “for richer or poorer”. Sure, there are external circumstances that cause stress and we have to be willing to go through those times together, but there are also a lot of internal circumstances that we tend to overlook.

The thing is, none of us are perfect. Truly loving someone means accepting them for 100% of who they are at any given moment. Not the 60% you fell in love with. Not the 10% you know they could be. The totality of who they are and the history that shaped them.

 

healthy marriage, relationships, growth

 

 

Acceptance comes with knowing who they are and why they do the things they do. It’s respecting each other’s differences, as well as respecting each others’ boundaries and priorities. It’s knowing that it’s okay to not always be on the same page. It’s knowing when to let those things go and when to search for a compromise.

This doesn’t mean you have to like every single thing about a person. There are plenty of things about my husband that drive me nuts. Likewise, he has to deal with my insecurities, indecisiveness, and a slew of annoying habits. He loves me through these moments, accepts them as part of the deal, but he also doesn’t keep me there.

Which leads us to the next point:

Growth

We all want to see our partner be healthy and happy. When you love someone, you want what is best for them. However, this can lead us into a trap of thinking we know what’s best for someone else. This sort of thinking can lead to resentment on both sides and poison our relationships with one another. There can also be a fear of growth. If one of us changes, could it harm the relationship in some way?

Everyone of us will grow and change throughout our lifetimes. It’s up to us to make a conscious decision to grow together. To teach and be taught by one another as new points of view and habits develop. You have to be willing to learn to love each other at each new stage.

 

marriage, quote, growth

 

You must provide a safe space for one another to grow physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Be there to lend an ear or offer your thoughts. Give them encouragement and praise as they reach new milestones. Allow them to explore their own interests without fearing that it takes away from what you have built. Look at your challenges as a couple as lessons to learn together.

All of this must be done with a gentle touch. You can absolutely suggest a healthy change without seeming domineering. You can encourage them to take better care of themselves without forcing the issue. Accept them where they are and move forward together.  This also means letting hurts of the past fall from your mind. If we’re hanging on to old resentments, we’re blinding ourselves to any positive changes that are right in front of us.

Loyalty

When we think of loyalty, a lot of people’s minds often go straight to issues of fidelity. While remaining faithful is certainly a part of loyalty, there are many other components that are just as important.

Loyalty means being committed to standing by one another during difficult times. It means putting the needs of your relationship first and choosing to stay and fight instead of cutting out when things get hard.

This can come in many forms. Sometimes it means putting the needs of your partner before your own for the sake of the union. Sometimes it means standing up for your partner or your relationship when others make critical remarks. Sometimes it means holding your tongue when you feel like complaining to someone else, and discussing the issue directly with your partner.

Loyalty means thinking about how every decision you make affects the relationship as a whole. It means discarding the opinions of others who would have you fail and standing by your convictions.

 

marriage, loyalty, quote

 

Of course, the key to all three of these points is communication. We can’t read each other’s minds or reach conclusions based on assumptions. You have to be willing to be vulnerable and transparent. You also have to be willing to listen to your partner without judgement when they speak their truth. You have to learn to speak each other’s language and find ways to reach understanding, even when it seems impossible.

Every couple is different. It’s up to you to determine what works for your marriage and to work together to create the framework that allows your love to flourish.

Love starts with a feeling, but it’s survival is a choice.

 

 

Facing Insecurity: When You Hate The Way You Look

“Mommy can you buy this?”

I looked up from the conveyer belt where I’d been stacking groceries, expecting to see a candy bar or small toy in my 5 year old’s hand. Instead, she holds a copy of “Cosmopolitan”, beaming up at me.

“You don’t need that,” I replied “It’s like junk food for your brain. It’s not good for you,” I replied.

She looked at me with confusion, then studied the cover before looking at me once more. “How?”

“What?”

“How is it not good for me?”

I sighed, unsure how to respond. “Well,” I answered slowly. “Everything in there is fake. It’s just a bunch of junk designed to make you feel bad so you spend more money on stuff you don’t really need.”

She looked thoughtful for a moment and put it back on the rack. “Can I have some candy?”

I laughed and said yes, smiling as I carried on with the checkout process. I was proud of my answer and even more proud of myself for not giving in to my impulse to just toss it in the cart. If there’s one parenting goal I hold sacred, it’s making sure my daughters never experience the kind of loathing towards their bodies that I’ve battled my whole life. The kind, incidentally, that I’ve felt creeping in as I enter the final trimester of my pregnancy.

There was I time I would have bought the damn magazine. I would have poured over the pages, relentlessly assaulting myself with negative judgements as I compared my body to the beautiful women inside. I would have made notes about diets to try, make-up to buy, the latest lotions and potions to fix this problem and that problem. I would have read articles like “5 Tips To Have The Best Sex Ever” and decided that there was something wrong with my sex life…even if I had been thoroughly enjoying it up until that moment.

To be honest, those sly suggestions that I’m not good enough as is still sneak through on a regular basis and it still takes a ton of work to not let them affect me. In fact, as I watch my body morph into something unrecognizable, I’ve found it harder and harder to not tear myself down or worry about how I’ll “get my body back” after I have this child. I worry so much, in fact, that I’ve recently stepped up my self-care routine to combat these thoughts and stop myself from heading down a path I was determined to never walk again.

On my first blog, I had written a post about my body image issues and how they had come to be. I had toyed with the idea of re-posting it here, but this experience at the grocery store made me want to share something different. The why has been covered time and again in many different formats. But what we don’t look at as often is the reality of living with these unrealistic standards in our heads.

This is my reality.

I might not have thought so deeply about the exchange in the checkout aisle had body image not already been on my mind. That morning, I had found myself sobbing as I looked in the mirror, wishing I could love my pregnant body instead of feeling like a whale. After a few minutes of allowing the emotions to run their course, I decided to go through my computer and create a file full of pictures of myself that made me feel beautiful. I needed something to look at when I felt down and give me a little ego boost when the insecurities threatened to overtake me again. As I sorted through the photos–some taken well over 10 years ago–I was struck by how different I looked to my eyes now as compared to what I had seen when the snapshots had been taken.  I was even more shocked that there was such a huge disparity between my perception and reality with photos that had only been taken a few months prior.

This is what I want to share with you today.

 

body dysmorphia, body image issues, body positivity

 

This photo was taken about 8 years ago. I remember the day well. I was 22 and I had read an article about taking photos of clothes before you get rid of them, so you have a memory to hold onto instead of an extra shirt in your closet that will never get worn. In the pictures taken directly before this one, I can be seen crying. I’d been waiting for years to wear this top, but had never once worn it out of the house. I didn’t want to let it go, but I decided I must. You see, I was crying in the previous photos because I “knew” I’d never be thin enough to wear such an outfit. Of course, my boyfriend (now husband) disagreed, persuaded me to fix my make-up, and got me to take another picture. I hated it. The top went to Goodwill that afternoon.

When I looked at the picture then, I saw what I saw in the mirror. I was too fat. I desperately needed a boob job and a butt lift. My arms were flabby, my thighs were too thick, my face was too masculine.

Um….hello?

Are we looking at the same picture?

Looking at it now, I am disgusted by the knowledge that I truly felt that way about my body. What I wouldn’t give to look like that now! Clearly, my perceptions of myself were way, way off. But at the time, they were very real to me. Any time someone would say something to negate those thoughts, I brushed it off as them trying to make me feel better. I just knew, deep down in my soul, that they were lying to spare my feelings. I mean, I saw it plain as day, surely they did, too.

Those sort of deep-seated body image issues are about more than looks. When you are filled with hatred at the image in the mirror, in affects every other aspect of your life. You believe you aren’t worthy of love, or success, of happiness. You believe you are just as ugly on the inside as you see yourself on the outside, even if neither of these things are true.

There are plenty of other photos like this, most notably a few from high school when I had plenty of “evidence” that I was ugly. I didn’t get asked out on dates like the other girls did. I got bullied about my looks often. I didn’t look identical to the girls in magazines or on TV. The world saw this…

 

 

While I saw something hideous and shameful.

Looking at it from where I am now, and without sounding conceited, I’m pretty sure those boys stayed away because they were too scared to ask out a hottie, and I’m pretty sure those girls were mean because they were jealous. But you never would have convinced me of that at the time.

My body image improved a little at the age of 25 when I became pregnant with my first child. Suddenly, I was this life-giving goddess and I didn’t have to feel bad about having some extra weight on my body. This isn’t to say there weren’t moments when I feared what it would look like afterwards, or that I never had days when I felt disgusting and decidedly un-goddesslike, but it wasn’t at the forefront of my mind. I slowly began to feel more comfortable in my own skin and celebrate my beauty.

 

brandyn blaze pregnant, body positivity, body image issues, self-esteem

 

And then, it all came back.

After my daughter was born I was determined to fix whatever it was that caused to me see such an incredibly distorted view of myself. I made a lot of progress, but I’d still have my slip-ups. At these times, body image took up every bit of space in my mind. It became my only focus and robbed me of moments that would have otherwise been full of joy.

Two years ago, in the midst of one of these slips, I took this as a “before” photo as I prepared to undertake a new exercise routine and accompanying diet.

 

 

Don’t let the smile fool you, I hated taking that photo. All I could see was a body that had been destroyed by motherhood. I was once again researching a variety of cosmetic surgeries and telling myself how terrible I looked.

As I look at that photo now, I can’t see why. And as I look at photos from shortly before I got pregnant this time around, I’m amazed at how much my body still looked like it did in that picture. The feeling that I can’t trust my own eyes is mind-blowing. It hurts. It hurts a lot. What hurts just as bad is knowing that I could be unwittingly passing this distorted view to my daughter.

With a second daughter on the way, it has become obvious that I have to change the way I talk about my body and the bodies of other women. I have to find a way to learn to love the skin I’m in 100%. I have to provide a buffer between not only my self-esteem and the unrealistic standards we are bombarded with, but between those standards and my girls’ self-perception.

So where does it start? How do we begin to heal from something like this?

It starts with watching our thoughts, our words, and our actions; with providing our daughters with a positive model of how to treat their bodies. It starts with focusing on health instead of beauty, on what our bodies can do instead of how it can look. It starts with focusing on all the other strengths we possess that will outlive physical beauty. It starts with putting more emphasis on who we are inside and allowing our confidence to shine from within. With believing your family, your friends, your partner, when they say you’re beautiful.

It starts, with challenging our perceptions about what beauty is and simply being the best version of ourselves, from the inside out.

It starts with saying no to that magazine.

I know I still have a long way to go, but I know I’m light years away from where I was and that I’m still growing.

And I know, you can too.

When Things Don’t Work Out The Way You Thought They Would: Reframing Failure

My books have sold roughly 100 copies so far this year.  If I’m being honest, 30 of those have been giveaways and free promos, making it closer to 70.

To some, this may seem like some pretty dismal stats. Truth be told, there have been times when I found myself incredibly upset at these numbers. I’d think about all the positive feedback I’ve received and find myself frustrated. Everyone who had read my work had told me how great it was. Strangers had emailed me asking when the next installment was coming because they just couldn’t get enough of Maggie and Aries…and yet, my sales were going nowhere. I just couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong.

I’d spend hours each day searching for ways to increase my sales and visibility. I’d pour over discussions in readers groups and sketch out all sorts of plans and ideas. I’d badger my friends and family members about how important word of mouth is in this business and how crucial mentions on social media can be.  In my search for answers, a fellow author suggested new covers, which I agree would be a great step. However it’s a step that requires more money than I currently have to invest.

It was hopeless. I was stuck. My book was going nowhere, my blog was going nowhere, my social media accounts weren’t gaining any traction. With all this worry, I couldn’t find the energy to write anything new. My frustration began to affect the way I viewed myself and how I treated my family. I was snappy and irritable. Nothing seemed fun anymore. The symptoms of anxiety and depression began to set in.

For a while, I thought I should just give up.

Knowing how quickly things could spiral out of control, I decided I needed to take the reigns and figure out what was really bothering me. Was it that my dream was failing? Was I on the wrong path? Was the general (and often unavoidable) stress of life finally getting to me?

Or, was it something deeper?

I resolved to take a break from writing for a while and focus on isolating and solving the problem, knowing that when I returned the blank pages would still be there waiting for me to fill them up with a great story. Armed with a degree in psychology, a stack of self-help books, and a desire to get to the root of the problem, I dove into some heavy self-exploration and contemplation.

Part of the process involved clarifying what I really want my life to look like. Naturally, I want a (relatively) stress-free life where I spend my time doing the things I love and sharing my triumphs with the people I love. I want my bills to be paid and to have food on the table, and I want to do what I can to help others find happiness.

When I stepped back and looked at my dreams in their simplest terms, I realized I already had all those things. The problem was, I had developed this rigid idea of what those things looked like. I imagined overnight success and paying all my bills with money from my creative pursuits, and having enough left over to indulge in frivolous spending. I’d decided that I had to be a best-selling author right out the gate in order to be happy.

The problem wasn’t with my book sales. My problem was with my perception of them.

 

quote perception; reframing failure, poor book sales

 

Suddenly, it didn’t matter. As I pondered this, I realized I’d never set out to specifically be a romance author, I just happened to be writing romance at the time. I’d also never set out to be the most famous author ever. I just wanted to do something I enjoyed and share it with others who might enjoy it, too. Due to my rigid standards of success, I’d allowed myself to lose the joy that I get from writing.

The more I thought about this, the more it became clear. The joy of creating something that wasn’t there before was all I’d ever wanted from anything I’ve endeavored. I just wanted to do something that makes me happy and put it out there for people to discover. Knowing that everything we do isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea,  it should naturally follow that the standard idea of success isn’t the best fit for everybody, either.

I decided to stop worrying so much and stop trying so hard. Seems counter intuitive, but in all honesty, higher sales isn’t the thing that’s going to make me feel good. Accomplishing a goal is.

There are so many things I want to do. So many books I want to write, speeches I want to give, songs I want to play, skills I want to pass on, businesses I’d like to start. To focus so much on how one lonely aspect of my creative whole is faring seems silly.

With this in mind, I can say that I’m proud of the amount of books I’ve sold since I’ve started this journey. I’m proud of the 5,000 views my blog has gotten.  That’s more than I would have gotten if I’d never tried in the first place, and eventually it could do better. The next project I undertake may be the one that takes off. I just have to keep trying new things and doing what fulfills my soul, trusting that the rest will fall into place.

This small shift in perception has had remarkable effects on my mental health and on my drive to continue pursuing my passions, and it’s a lesson I wish I would have learned much earlier.

My challenge to you is to take a good, hard look at what you perceive as failures. Is there a positive you’re overlooking? Can it be reframed as abundance instead of loss? Is there another lesson to be learned that can help you move closer to your goals?

Most of the time, I think you’ll find the answer to those questions is yes. Be proud of what you’ve accomplished. Be proud of the lessons your failures have taught you. Carry that pride with you and continue striving towards the greatness you know is within you. Don’t let yourself get in your way.

 

 

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