How Stoic Philosophy Saved Me And My Marriage

Hello and welcome to my second regular blog post on a cosy, rainy November afternoon. I have had quite a lot going on this week. My stomach is in knots, because I am quite unsure where to start. But start I will.

Emotionally, I was a wreck at the beginning of this week. I suffered my husband's wrath, which happens from time to time, due to his fury temper. I wrote briefly about what happened between us in my first ever newsletter last Sunday. I chose to pour my heart out to my small group of subscribers, because the silence and isolation were deafening. I needed to say something, somehow. So I wrote a newsletter and titled it, "Shockingly Hurt and Let Down".

Have you ever been hurt by the person that 'should' be loving you?

An interesting detail that I might add: My husband is part of the group of people that received my newsletter in his e-mail inbox. So I pretty much exposed him and what he did to what felt like the entire internet - although I am pretty sure that if you try to search for the newsletter now, you won't find it. 

Only a handful of people has access to the historical piece of writing, documenting my marital unhappiness. If you are one of them, you can consider printing it out and hiding it in your safe deposit box. You might get a lot of money for it in a decade, if I become a famous author. Ha!

Jokes aside, I spent a few days wishing that our relationship was not full of awkward tension and hurt feelings. On Tuesday, though, I watched a YouTube video by Einzelgänger, which changed my perspective completely. The video is titled, "When Life Hurts, Stop Clinging to It | The Philosophy of Epictetus". 

What's new? Vivian turns to philosophy to make her feel better.

At 3:02, the narrator quotes Epictetus: 

Some things are in our control and others not. Things in our control are... in a word, whatever are our own actions. Things not in our control are... in a word, whatever are not our own actions.

Life decided to teach me, once again, because I have not yet learnt, that my husband's actions and words are things not within my control. So, when I get so overwhelmingly upset about something that he has done or said, I am actually the one hurting myself. Because I have chosen to focus on something that I cannot control.

The moment that I realised this, I was set free.

Freedom comes with a change in perspective.

Are you sick of these philosophical gems yet? There are more! At 8:01, the narrator quotes Epictetus: 

Never say of anything, "I have lost it"; but, "I have returned it." Is your child dead? It is returned. Is your wife dead? It is returned. 

This quote reminds me of this magnificent poem that I have read a few years ago, in a book by Roger Housden, titled "Ten Poems to Change Your Life Again and Again". The poem is written by Jane Hirshfield in the year I was born - 1994. It is titled, "Each Moment a White Bull Steps Shining into the World". 

I shall quote this poem about a white bull that you have come to love, but must sacrifice. This part makes me tremble in awe, every time:

One of my favourite poems of all time.
Treat it as you yourself
would be treated,
brought speechless and naked
into the court of a king.

And when the request finally comes,
do not hesitate even an instant—

Stroke the white throat,
the heavy, trembling dewlaps
you've come to believe were yours,
and plunge in the knife.

Not once
did you enter the pasture
without pause,
without yourself trembling.
That you came to love it, that was the gift.

Let the envious gods take back what they can.

It is both our blessing and our curse when we come to treasure something, or more likely, someone. But remember, that we have come to love it, that was the gift. 

Marriage, in theory, should be this rock solid thing that never goes anywhere without both partners present and willing. But marriage, in reality, is something in flux. It is ever-changing and ever-growing. If it stops growing, if the both of you stop growing together, then you are screwed. 

It is not about the person or that thing. It is about the experience that we have had.

Let's get back to Epictetus' wise quote. Is your husband dead? It is returned

I caught myself thinking, if my husband wants to be an asshole forever from this day forward, then I have not lost him. He is simply returned. It was nice, what we shared. But if fate decides that this is where things should end, then the concept of returning what I borrowed seems only fair. 

Instead of holding on tightly to what isn't mine, I let it go. To my pleasant surprise, my husband is still here, more in love with me than before. After he saw what he had done, he has also decided to stop being a prick :-)

Thank you Epictetus for saving my sanity and my marriage!

I have one last Stoic philosophical quote for you today. As usual, I saved the best for the last. At 13:50, this quote lifted the fog in front of my eyes:

Don't demand that things happen as you wish, but wish that they happen as they do happen, and you will go on well. 

Wish that things happen as they do happen, and you will go on well. How simple and true! 

Throughout this week, whenever I find myself in a situation that I do not want to be in, I would remind myself of this quote. And I immediately find myself in a better place. An example of this is:

  • My daughter often wakes up from her afternoon nap while I am in the middle of my daily meditation practice. It can be exasperating. But armed with Epictetus' counter-intuitive wisdom, now when I hear her little footsteps coming, I give thanks that I am the first person that my toddler looks for when she wakes.

Not wishing for something else, only wishing for what I have already got. It helps me to engage in whatever is happening now, rather than thinking about it. Needless to say, this piece of wisdom has increased the quality of my life many folds.

Philosophy is the answer! *enlightened*

So, we are now back where we started. My brave but uncomfortable exposé, in the form of a newsletter, after experiencing cruelty dished out by my husband.

To begin with, I know that publishing the truth, in the way that I did, did not help our relationship. But what was the alternative? Me, continuing to feel like a voiceless, powerless victim in my marriage, with no one to turn to, no one to hear me out? So many Asian women do that, at the cost of their own mental health (and most likely their marriage too). 

I refuse to cram myself into a suffocating box, for the sake of what other people might think about us. If my husband loves me - truly loves me - I trust that he would be able to understand why I did what I did. If not, it is returned

The other question is, do I regret publishing that newsletter? 

In a word, no. I see it as a way of reclaiming my power in this marriage, as one must when the scales have tipped. It was a way of asserting myself in this relationship. So no, I do not regret it one bit.

But will I do it again? Probably not. Especially if the number of subscribers keeps climbing. I did not write the story in order to shame or punish my husband. It was an act of self-preservation. When I wrote my story, I wrote the truth, the painful truth. When I read my story before hitting 'send', I am telling myself my side of the story, not the one that is being shouted at me. 

In sending the newsletter to my husband's e-mail inbox, I am saying to him that 'what you did is not okay'. Why couldn't I have said that in person? Well, you don't know my husband and you don't know how many times I have tried. 

Anyway, our marriage story continues. In its turbulence and in its peace. We have since talked it out. It went well. For every fight that we have, that does not manage to sink us, I celebrate loud and proud. 

That is all for today. If you want to sign up for my weekly newsletter, click here and enter your name and e-mail address. You will receive one letter every Sunday, until you decide to unsubscribe. And if you do, I will glance at your name and say... it is returned

Wishing you ease within your body and soul. -V

Sometimes I can't be around him, but I can't be without him either. Marriage is weird like that. (My paintings, 2020)


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