7 Steps to Rebuilding Trust in Your Relationship After Betrayal and Lies

interlocked fingers - rebuilding trust in relationship

(Image/Life Supports Counselling)

Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post written by my friend Jay Pyatt, who mentors men struggling with various addictions, including sexual ones which have resulted in relationship betrayal. Jay has a proven track record of helping men conquer inner demons, reconnect with their spouses, and restore broken trust at home. How does he know what to do? Because he’s been there. He fought back and won. And you can, too.

I’ll be honest with you: I lied to my wife almost every night for four straight years.

I did a quick estimate and figure I lied about a thousand times to her face in those four years.

I know how to destroy trust in a relationship. Thankfully, I learned how to rebuild trust, too.

It wasn’t easy.

It wasn’t even difficult.

It was the single hardest, awful-est, and most challenging thing I’ve ever done—and I have jumped out of airplanes.

But, I did it. And here is the really important thing: Rebuilding trust is worth it.

Here why:

  • You heal the person you betrayed.
  • You can look yourself in the mirror again, knowing you are an upstanding person.
  • Your relationship will be stronger and more satisfying to both of you.

What I lied about doesn’t matter—at least not as much as the impact of the lies and the other behavior around the lies. (If you are interested in the whole story, you can read it here.)

Relationships are built on a foundation of trust, and when I undermined the foundation a thousand times, I didn’t expect the relationship to survive.

Yet, my relationship survived.

My wife and I did all of the normal things couples do during times like this. We went to counseling, we read more books, and we talked about it. And got nowhere.

Not because those things aren’t helpful or important, but because of my attitude and my skill set. Specifically, my attitude hovered around the “is this really worth it?” idea, and I possessed no skill set for rebuilding trust.

Additionally, I thought just not lying would fix things.

My thinking was: If I quit lying, everything will be okay. I just have to be honest when she asks me questions. She should trust me again in two or three weeks.

This didn’t work.

Not lying is really hard to distinguish from lying when there isn’t a way to verify what the heck is going on. My wife still didn’t feel safe and certainly didn’t trust me. Simply not lying isn’t enough to get the relationship turned around.

I had to get radical in my honesty. I had to put more energy into the relationship than I had previously. I had to grow.

I had to get comfortable being uncomfortable.

Again, rebuilding trust challenged me more than anything I have ever done.

Can You Rebuild Trust?

My very firm answer on this is: Maybe.

Not everyone chooses the relationship over their own comfort. Not everyone wants to humble themselves in front of the person they betrayed.

Sometimes the cost to the betrayed person exceeds the time needed to rebuild.

However, I rebuilt trust. So it can be done. And now, I actually help other guys fighting those same battles, and many have rebuilt trust in their marriages.

There is hope if you are willing to do the work.

Hard work.

Scary work.

Are you willing to do it? Because if you aren’t, tell the other person right now. Rip off the bandage and tell them you don’t want the relationship any longer. Walk out the front door.

Okay, if you are still with me, then there is a chance for you to rebuild trust in a relationship wrecked with lies, deception, or sneakiness.

7 Steps to Rebuilding Trust in Your Relationship

To rebuild trust, I needed to take a different approach than I had in the past. What got me where I was wouldn’t get me where I wanted to be.

I needed to “grow up.”

I lived from an immature place, or maybe an uneducated one.

Growth is painful—ask anyone trying to get into shape. Using new muscles and developing new habits takes effort and focus, and a degree of suffering.

But simply telling you to “grow up” isn’t terribly helpful and probably feels a little insulting. I’m okay with the insulting part. If you need to rebuild trust, then you didn’t get here through honorable behavior.

Anyway, I am about to break it down into six things you can do to begin rebuilding trust. Plus, a bonus option you need to consider seriously.

All of these steps are written with the assumption you betrayed your spouse or significant other. If it was someone else, you may be able to adapt the steps to fit your situation.

Step 1: Consistency

To rebuild trust, I had to be consistent.

Anything I committed to do, I had to see it through. My wife lived in fear of the uncertain ground I created by lying. When I would start something only to fall quickly back into past behavior, this just reminded her of how little she could count on me.

So, if you start something, stick to it. “Every Damn Day” as I read on a Nike shirt.

There are some pitfalls to consistency, but you must stay consistent or the person you betrayed will see this as playing with their trust (or heart).

Stay consistent, or you waste your efforts.

Step 2: Proactivity

I’ll be honest; this word pissed me off for a long time. Both my therapist and my wife kept telling me to “be proactive.”

I didn’t get it. I think I know what the word means, but not what it means, mechanically. What am I supposed to do proactively?

The answer is: Take action on your own initiative.

Step 3: Meeting Needs

The person you broke trust with has specific needs. Find out what they are.

Now, go back to step two, and start meeting these needs proactively.

Don’t wait for the person you betrayed to tell you what they need. Go ask them.

Once they tell you what they need, go do it.

This is the growth process I mentioned earlier. You will have to set aside your own needs to meet the needs of the other person. Considering some possible alternatives, this is a small price to pay.

Step 4: Openness

Openness and honesty are two sides of the same coin.

Honesty means if I ask you a question, you tell me the truth. Openness means you tell me the truth without me having to ask the ‘right’ question, especially in areas where trust has been broken.

Rebuilding trust requires a new level of communication with the person whom you betrayed.

You must talk to them about what you are doing, plain and simple. Open and direct.

I am not saying, “Hey, this is a good idea!”

I am telling you: Openness is a requirement.

If you aren’t willing to give the other person this much access to your life, you may never rebuild trust.

Giving full access to the person you betrayed will help them see your commitment to do whatever it takes to make things right.

So, if you betrayed them through money, give them access to the bank accounts. If you cheated in the relationship, give them the passwords to your phone, computer, social media, and anything else you can think of so they can determine and verify what you are up to.

Step 5: Vulnerability

When it comes to the scariest words in the English language, vulnerability is probably near the top—at least it was for me.

Vulnerability is the very reason I lied to my wife. The truth makes me vulnerable to her judgment, rejection, or anger; all of which were justified from my behavior.

I tell the guys I work with: “The relationship you want with your wife will be purchased through your vulnerability.”

I really think of vulnerability as taking off the armor that I used to protect myself.

For me, that was my anger when she would ask uncomfortable questions. When she did—Boom!—I got angry.

This is an effective way of telling another person to shut up. Effective, but not helpful or healthy. Anger is one way to stop the conversation. Or you might run away or shut down.

The other person really needs you to listen even though it feels awful to discuss the topic they brought up.

They also need you to connect with the emotions of what they’re going through. They need you to know how bad it feels for them. This is difficult because it requires us to double-down on how rotten it feels to hear how our unhealthy behavior impacts someone close to us.

Step 6: Ownership

Take responsibility for your actions and the impact those actions had on the other person.

Then keep taking responsibility for those actions, especially when it feels uncomfortable.

I say that because I am a minimizer. I nearly ended my marriage trying to salvage my image with the very person I lied to.

So when she would say, “Remember those times you lied about using porn at work?”, I would respond with something like, “I didn’t say that, I said I only looked at YouTube videos at work.” And then she would say, “That is not what you said…” and the breakdown would continue until I finally confessed or re-owned my actions.

This type of behavior makes people crazy. 

Bonus – Step 7: Blind Spots

Believe it or not, I am not clear on all of my behaviors and how they impact the person I betrayed.

This means I have blind spots—areas of my personality that I’m completely unaware of and need help to see.

Ask the person you betrayed for help with this. This requires humility (or acknowledging that I don’t know everything) and a willingness to learn.

Once you discover these blind spots, start working on them, or at the very least, own them. Because these could be the very things holding you back in the relationship.

Give Them Time

These are the basics, and they’ll require practice. While you are doing this, the other person will need time to heal and decide whether they believe it’s worth it to stay.

I lied for four years in the last go-round; so I shouldn’t be shocked it took almost four years to fix things. Although I drug my feet on these topics and made them much more difficult than they needed to be.

Get Help

My work with men trying to rebuild trust in their relationship shortened the recovery time to somewhere between four and 18 months, depending on the breakdown.

So, if you feel stuck and don’t know what to do next, you might want to contact me for assistance.

Also, if you sign up on my mailing list, I will let you know when our upcoming video series on this topic goes live.

From here, you may want to read about:

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About the Author

Jay Pyatt is a certified BraveHearts Mentor and founder of Porn Is Killing Me where he mentors men through weekly video or phone meetings. The meetings help them to establish healthy disciplines and work through a proven curriculum guiding them to a path of long-term freedom.

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If Marriage Were an Airplane, Which Matters More—the Engine or the Wings?

plane-is-taking-off-at-sunset

(Image/bt.dk)

I’m not an aviation expert or aeronautical engineer, but I’m pretty sure airplanes need their engines AND wings both to be working properly for a flight to be successful.

And think about how much is at stake.

When an automobile stops working, we can usually pull it over to the side of the road without much danger or risk.

Even when a boat hull fails, we have a fair chance of surviving with floatation devices and swimming, so long as land is within reach.

But when an airplane stops working, the results are usually very, very, very bad. We don’t need to talk about it.

I’m probably biased because nothing worse than divorce has ever happened to me, but I perceive the stakes involved in marriage to be similar to an airplane ride. If you’re anything like me, a part of you dies once you don’t get to be someone’s spouse, or someone’s all-the-time parent anymore. A part of you dies once you realize you’re a single parent and have to go through life under conditions you’d never even conceived of before.

Damaged, maybe broken. Baggage. Guilt. Uncertainty. Maybe anger. Probably regret.

You get it.

Divorce sucks ass.

I’ve not been in an airplane accident, but I can imagine they are, you know, really awful.

So which matters more?

The engine?

Or the wings?

How Marriage is Like an Airplane

I think it’s easy for people—young people, particularly—who have never been taught otherwise to think about marriage the same way they think about their current dating relationship with their girlfriend or boyfriend.

You remember being in high school or college-aged and feeling in love?

It was the cutest shit, ever. You missed one another because you were apart all of the time, either living with your parents in high school, or involved in various social or educational activities in college, or super-busy at work during your early adult years.

It’s EASY.

And I think young men and women ask themselves after a year or two of dating: Is there any reason to believe we can’t just keep doing this forever?

And of course, everyone thinks they can.

Everyone thinks they can be Forever Boyfriend and Girlfriend.

Two individuals with individual lives who complement one another so well.

But then MARRIAGE happens—or even just a marriage-like forever commitment and co-habitation scenario materializes—and suddenly we’re dealing with something else. And I think the ability or inability to understand the difference between the before and after is what determines the success or failure of most marriages.

A marriage is like an airplane.

It’s NOT two individual things in close proximity to one another.

It’s two things (the spouses) totally and complete fused together to form ONE thing (the marriage).

One spouse is the wings.

One spouse is the engine.

And to put it bluntly, the reason MOST relationships fail is because one of them stops functioning as its needed.

When the engine dies, the plane crashes.

When the wings fall off, the plane crashes.

When one spouse isn’t giving to the marriage what the marriage requires, the marriage dies. Every time.

We can’t rely on just one critical airplane component to get us to our destination.

We can’t rely on just one spouse to hold a marriage together, and certainly not to nurture one and make it thrive.

A marriage isn’t just two things.

A marriage is one thing. One vitally important thing.

But a marriage is comprised of two individual, but equally vital parts. One cannot work without the other.

You can be broken wings before you’re airborne.

You can be a non-firing engine while sitting still on the ground.

You can NOT feel the pressure of being responsible for the lives of others as a single person with no one but yourself to care for and answer to. That is an option, and one worthy of consideration.

But we all know that’s not what most people do. Most people get married, or couple up. About 95 percent of people, in fact.

And as soon as you do, you no longer get to take days off. You don’t get to only function some of the time.

When the plane is in the air, there’s very little margin for error.

Once you take the vows—once you promise someone forever. Once you make and share children. Once you form a home. A life.

You’re an airplane in flight.

Maybe the wings.

Maybe the engine.

In either case, there’s only one way that it ends the way you want it to—working in tandem every day, forever.

And the sky is a blank canvas, a crossroads with never-ending options, a compass with unlimited possibilities.

A place above the clouds.

Where love is the fuel.

Fly.

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An Open Letter to Young People Planning to Marry Someday, Vol. 4

pie-chart-people-count by Wonkhe

(Image/Wonkhe)

Imagine a pie chart.

But not the kind with only a few slices like you might see in classroom presentations or this image above.

Think about a pie chart that is attempting to illustrate every imaginable hobby or personal interest known to man.

Mountain biking.

Astrophysics.

Rap music.

Sewing.

Tap dancing.

Politics.

Mixed martial arts.

Gardening.

Architectural design.

Cars.

Books.

Religion.

Solitaire.

Ice sculpting.

It would be the largest, most impossible-to-read pie chart in history, but please try to imagine it anyway.

So, because we only live for about 80-ish years on average, and because most of us tend to grow up surrounded by “people like us” in our cities, towns, schools, sports teams, churches, etc., the vast majority of us only ever see a ridiculously tiny slice of this Imaginary Hobby & Interest Pie Chart in our lifetime. Add up all of our hobbies and interests over the course of our lives, and maybe none of us ever even come close to sniffing 0.01% of all of the possible things out there that people do and care about.

Kids growing up in rural Manitoba, Canada or Oklahoma are statistically likely to have different hobbies and interests than kids who grow up in the heart of Los Angeles or central Prague.

There are all kinds of wonderful applications for this thought exercise.

Dwell on this long enough, and the obviousness of how insane and bullshitty it is to dislike or mistreat other people based on their particular religion or skin color or political affiliations or personal preferences for who they love simply because they’re different than yours becomes really evident.

People have a nasty habit of classifying anything different than what they believe or prefer as ‘bad’ or ‘worse’ or even ‘wrong.’

I know it’s uncomfortable to think about the possibility that everything you were taught might be bullshit like Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, but the sooner you come to terms with the fact that literally no human beings know, or have ever known, with 100% certainty the answers to life’s greatest mysteries (we can’t even get a manned mission to Mars—the nearest planet to Earth), the sooner we can all stop being gigantic dicks to one another just because some of us were taught different stories when we were little than other kids who were taught different things in faraway places.

But healthy self-awareness and mature social consciousness aside (which as a cool bonus will make you much less of an asshole for the rest of your life), the reason we’re thinking about this massive Imaginary Hobby & Interest Pie Chart is because I don’t want you to accidentally hurt the person you’re dating or married to every day for the rest of your life until you inevitably break up or get divorced and end up a lonely sad sack with no friends.

You’re worth so much more than that.

And THIS super-simple idea can help your relationship with your future romantic partner or spouse thrive, or at the very least, help you NOT accidentally sabotage it because you didn’t know this secret.

Relationship Secret: Care About Things Because the Person You Love Cares About Them

You are NOT a bad person for liking pro wrestling and video games, and hating classical music and knitting classes.

That’s not what makes a person bad. DIFFERENT does not mean the same thing as BAD.

However.

If you’re anything like me, you have a natural tendency to prefer some things over other things, and your brain mistakes your preferences and interests as having greater value than everything that ISN’T in your tiny sliver of the Imaginary Hobby & Interest Pie Chart.

Your stuff is “worth more.” Your stuff “matters more.”

So, maybe you love steak and you’re out with friends, and one of them orders some abomination like a well-done strip steak, and then dips it in ketchup when they eat it.

It is NOT bad that in your mind and heart, you’re secretly like holy shit, do they know how to ruin a steak dinner.

It IS bad if you say out loud: “Holy shit. What are you—stupid or something?” It will likely lead to having fewer friends and the people you spend time with not liking you very much.

And if the person demonstrating different preferences than you is someone you hope to have a long-term romantic relationship with, acting this way WILL end your relationship one way or another.

Don’t just think about food or musical tastes or what you like to do with your free time.

It’s everything.

Everything someone thinks, does, and feels is a result of all of their individual experiences from the moment they were born through right now.

Everyone’s 0.01% of the pie chart is going to be a different blend then everyone else’s, and inevitably lacking 99.9% of the life experiences necessary to objectively measure how much they like or dislike other slices of the pie chart they’ve never even heard of or experienced before.

Imagine a large black piece of construction paper.

One that I punch a tiny hole into with a needle.

And then I block your view with that piece of paper and ask you to accurately describe what’s on the other side only having that tiny pinhole to work with.

That’s what all of us are doing every second of our lives.

None of us have unlimited knowledge, time, nor the education and life experiences necessary to evaluate the big, uncharted alien world around us.

Everyone who tries ends up looking and sounding like an asshole, and they make their spouses or romantic partners feel shitty. They make their spouses or romantic partners fantasize about being with someone who wouldn’t communicate—verbally or otherwise: “Everything you like and care about is stupid and worthless. I don’t love or respect you enough to try to understand why it matters to you because it’s a complete waste of my time.”

Again: The Reason to Care is Because You Care About Them; Not Because You’re Naturally Interested in the Same Stuff

I can’t emphasize strongly enough how much this matters.

You have to learn how to silence your inner monologue that communicates how ugly that painting they love is, or how terrible that food they love tastes, or how crappy that song they love sounds.

It’s totally okay that you feel that way. It’s a math equation that made you feel that way. It would be impossible for you to NOT feel that way. You can’t control that.

But you CAN control what you do with that feeling.

I used to believe it was okay to just be honest and say out loud what I was thinking. I used to believe it was okay to openly mock or chide my friends or wife for everything they liked or believed that was different than my likes and beliefs.

But then my wife moved out after nine years of marriage and I lost a bunch of my friends and now every day is shittier and more difficult than necessary.

It seemed fine, totally fine, to like what I liked and pay no attention to the rest of it.

And if you want to live a single life with a bunch of surface-level relationships with other people (no judgments here—that’s totally an option if you don’t crave the things long-term relationships and marriage provide), it IS totally fine to live that way.

There’s no law against asshole-ism. Choose it if you want.

But.

If deep down, you’re embarrassed by the idea that you might be causing people you care about to feel awful and not even realize it, and if you’re really interested in a long-term romantic relationship or marriage that doesn’t end all shitty and horrible with a bunch of tears and lawyer fees, then try this one simple life trick.

That person you care about is super-interested in something that doesn’t interest you at all.

I’m not asking you to change your internal chemistry through sorcery to make yourself like stuff you don’t naturally like. That’s impossible.

But it IS possible to mindfully invest your time and energy to understand what it is about a particular hobby or interest that captivates this person you love.

It IS possible to learn more about it, and through that discovery, gain a greater appreciatiation for your loved one’s personal passions.

In addition to not constantly shitting all over the things that make your spouse or partner or friend feel joy, the simple act of you investing in what they care about will build a new bridge between you. A new bond. An extra tether, binding you together.

You know what happens when you add additional tethers to two objects, right?

They strengthen.

Become more secure.

Sturdier.

They don’t drift apart.

Steady.

They stay connected.

Together.

Always.

Unbreakable.

And if I may be so bold, I think every day of the rest of your life, and the lives of everyone you interact with will be better for it.

You don’t change the world one grand dramatic act at a time. You do it by making the slightest little course adjustments millions of times, causing other people to do the same. Like ripples in a pond.

Leaving everything just a little bit better than you found it.

Maybe they won’t write books or sing songs about it. But that’s what makes you legend.

That’s how you change the world.

And I can’t wait to see it.

You May Also Want to Read:

An Open Letter to Young People Planning to Marry Someday, Vol. 1

An Open Letter to Young People Planning to Marry Someday, Vol. 2

An Open Letter to Young People Planning to Marry Someday, Vol. 3

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An Open Letter to Young People Planning to Marry Someday, Vol. 3

Aladdin and Jasmine

I remember liking this movie, but the idea that Aladdin and Jasmine will live happily ever after just because it feels good right now is every bit the fantasy that a magic carpet and wish-granting genie are. In other words, it’s kind-of bullshit. (Image/FanPop via Disney)

Author’s Note: Before we begin, you should probably grab a spoonful of sugar. Because this isn’t going to taste very good.

Do you remember when you learned the truth about Santa Claus?

Or when you heard awful stories about Bill Cosby or Kevin Spacey or Matt Lauer, or some other person you admired, and you felt like something was stolen from you?

It’s easily one of my least-favorite things about growing up.

When you finally get to peek behind the curtain and you realize that the great and powerful Oz is really just some charlatan.

There have been, and will continue to be, these moments in life when you discover that some things are just a little bit darker and uglier and scarier than we believed. They make us feel uneasy for a little bit, but then we move on, and find joy in other things.

We find hope in new places.

I’m not sure whether training yourself to expect the unexpected is even possible, but if it were, it would be an amazing life skill to practice.

Everything that hasn’t happened yet lives only in our imaginations, and you’ll be disappointed to learn that we’re all pretty lousy guessers. Some things will be better than you expected and you’ll feel good because of them, and other things will be worse, and then you’ll feel bad after those experiences.

That’s your entire existence emotionally, in a nutshell.

Reality vs. what you thought would happen.

Do we want to be negative and cynical, and occasionally be pleasantly surprised?

Do we want to be positive and optimistic, and often be disappointed?

I don’t know what the answer is, nor do I think there’s much you can do about it. You’re you. And no matter what that looks, sounds, and feels like, you should embrace being yourself, because no one else gets to.

Try your best. KNOW you will mess up. KNOW other people will mess up even if they hide it really well.

Be uncomfortably honest with yourself, because maybe after you practice that enough, it won’t feel hard anymore.

Because now we have to talk about something uncomfortable.

It’s not an easy conversation to have because your brain and body are likely to revolt. You won’t want to believe it, even though it’s true.

The truth is often more difficult to deal with than things we imagined to be better or easier than they really are.

It’s up to you to decide whether operating in a world where you know the truth—even if it’s more difficult—is a better choice than operating in blissful ignorance and maybe feeling a little better in the short term.

If you’re up for it—if you’re brave enough—the idea (I might even call it a secret) I’m about to share WILL absolutely give you and your future spouse the ability to have a long and beautiful marriage.

It might not look and feel like the fairy-tale ending you’ve imagined or dreamed of.

But it can be Happily Ever After.

And Happily Ever After is definitely worth fighting for.

Almost Everything You Think You Know About Romance and Attraction is a Lie

Have you ever had the power go out for several hours at home, and suddenly you become hyper-aware of just how much you use electricity in your daily life and just how much you take it for granted?

Because you can’t stream Netflix or get a Wi-Fi signal or charge your phone or any of a million other things that can only be accomplished when our lights are on and our power outlets function?

EVERYTHING in your life is like this, and you don’t think about it, and it’s not your fault, so please don’t feel bad about it.

We are blind to the totally obvious. Dangerously blind. Kind of like how fish—even magical intelligent ones—could spend their entire lives swimming in water without ever knowing what water is.

I submit that two things you have done more times than anything else in your entire life are blinking your eyes and breathing air.

And you almost never think about doing it. Things on autopilot escape our notice, and it’s not because you’re a bad person. It’s a fundamental component of having a human brain.

This Phenomenon is called Hedonic Adaptation and it Will Help You So Much if You’re Aware of It

Hedonic adaptation, in its most basic form, is the process your brain goes through while it normalizes changes in your life.

So you move to a new town and school and it’s crazy and strange at first, but then eventually it’s your new normal. And going back to your old life in your old town and your old school would now seem crazy and strange.

This is a good thing in a lot of ways.

Most commonly, hedonic adaptation is referenced in regards to POSITIVE life changes.

So, you get a brand-new Xbox, or a new pair of shoes, or an awesome new phone, and it’s the freaking best for a few weeks. You feel a little bonus jolt of excitement every time you look at them or use them.

But then, what happens? Not sometimes. But, EVERY time?

One day at a time, your brain normalizes this new, awesome thing, until it becomes just like all the other stuff you have. Something you barely notice, like your working light switches. Something you eventually throw out or trade in for an upgraded model.

Hedonic adaptation serves a valuable purpose in nature. If humans didn’t care about making things better, or improving one’s circumstances, we’d all just quit trying things or working hard as soon as the first good thing happened.

Can you imagine what would have happened if the cavemen and women had made fire for the first time, realized how amazing cooked food and not freezing to death is, and then just stopped trying to do anything else?

Our life expectancy would still be like 12 years, we wouldn’t have rad tunes to listen to, and I wouldn’t get to spam you with preachy articles on the internet that your cooler-than-you-realize mom probably sent to you.

So, yay hedonic adaptation! You help us to not rest on our laurels, and actually try to achieve things in life!

Of course, like pretty much every life scenario, there’s a tradeoff. A really uncomfortable one.

How Hedonic Adaptation Ruins Marriage

Every Disney princess movie or romantic comedy you’ve watched, or every poorly conceived love story masquerading as an edgy BDSM sex story you’ve ever seen have contributed somehow to the way your brain imagines an ideal relationship to be.

It DOES feel good when the two people on screen or on page finally get together in the end after overcoming whatever obstacles they had to overcome to get there. It tugs at our heartstrings and shit, and then we buy more stuff or convince our friends to.

It’s easy to WANT to feel that very-good feeling we imagine the two fictional characters to be feeling. We dream about it and then feel all the feels. And then, thoughtfully or somewhat mindlessly, pursue that feeling.

We get crushes. Some people like us back. Some don’t. We go out together. Some of those turn into dating relationships. Some don’t. Some of those dating relationships turn into marriage.

And then, EVERY marriage doesn’t look anything like the Disney princess or Boy-Meets-Girl movies that made you feel so good.

You meet. It feels very exciting.

You touch. It’s great.

You kiss. It’s amazing.

And then eventually, when it feels safe and appropriate, maybe some other things will happen. Super-delightful under the proper circumstances (which vary from person to person for a multitude of valid reasons).

It’s so good when it’s good. The love thing.

People use phrases like “falling in love.” Like it’s this powerful force that sweeps you away against your will. And it makes sense. If you’ve ever even had a crush on someone, you know exactly how insane we can be. Staying up for hours thinking about them. Getting full-body tense before walking into a classroom where we know they’re going to be. Telling our best friend, just so you have some kind of outlet for the pent-up madness.

It’s wild, right?

But then what happens?

Months, weeks, maybe even just days later, those feelings are gone, and you’re now projecting them onto someone new—either because something bullshitty happened with the first one, or because something happened that switched your focus to the new one.

It’s different in marriage, because much of the fickleness goes away.

When you’re 14, how pretty or handsome someone looks to you might be enough to earn your crush.

When you’re 24, you’ve now had enough experiences with “attractive” people to realize that who people are—in their minds and hearts—is infinitely more important than how they look. Physical attraction eventually boils down to a simple pass-or-fail test. Would you or wouldn’t you get naked with that person based on their looks?

Anyone who passes that test goes into your Yes bucket, and then all of the things that really matter like Character, Personality, Shared Interests, Values, etc. separate the people you want to date and marry from the people you don’t.

And then you hit it off with someone, and now you’re together. You’re a committed couple.

Weeks and months pass.

You both wonder: Is she/he the one? Are we going to get married?

There’s love there.

There’s loyalty there.

There’s mutual attraction.

Maybe you argue a little sometimes, but mostly it feels easy. If it didn’t, you’d have already broken up.

We can do this, you think.

After a year or two or three or four together, you have every confidence you can just keep doing what you’re doing. I can’t believe so many people get divorced! It’s almost like we’re married right now, and everything’s fine! I’ll never cheat. They’ll never cheat. We don’t have any addiction or abuse problems. We’re going to live Happily Ever After!

Statistically, people spend more than $6,000 on engagement rings, and more than $30,000 on weddings.

In my experience, most people invite their closest family members and friends to celebrate this big day with them.

They’ve thought about it, and they’re ready to spend the rest of their lives together. They’re willing to spend more money than they have on a huge party to commemorate the occasion. To demonstrate just how serious they are, they’re going to exchange sacred vows in front of everyone they know.

You know what happens next, right?

More than half of those people within 10 years will be divorced, having affairs, or wishing they were doing one or both of those things.

Facts.

Difficult ones.

And there are many, many, many reasons why this happens.

But one of the reasons it begins is because of hedonic adaptation.

You Won’t Want to Believe it Because the Truth Hurts

I know.

I’m sorry.

I swear on everything that is good and beautiful in this life and world that I take no pleasure in writing this. It’s just as hard to type as it was to learn.

Because you’re a person, as is the person you love and trust and promised the rest of your life to (and who did the same for you in return), BOTH of you will take one another for granted (like you do with working electricity in your home), and BOTH of you will get a little bored with one another (like when you stop wanting to play your old Xbox or wear your old shoes, even though they were the absolute best when you first got them).

It’s common for people to spaz over this idea a little and say it’s inappropriate to compare material devices to human beings.

Damn right it’s inappropriate.

It’s bullshit.

But WE DO IT ANYWAY, and we do it with very little awareness that we’re doing it.

We do it even when we genuinely love them more than we love anyone or anything else.

It’s normal for people to be nicer to strangers than they are to the people they love the most like their parents, or siblings, or spouses, or even their own children.

It happens all of the time.

Hedonic adaptation.

Blinded by the All The Time.

Blinded by the constant.

Blinded by the totally obvious.

But then the lights stop working and you notice.

But then you’re out at a restaurant with your wife who you haven’t complimented on how nice her hair looks, or how good her shoes look with her outfit. And you see her eyes and face light up when the handsome waiter pays extra attention to her and treats her just like you did on your first date.

And what do you know? You notice.

I don’t care how much love there is.

I don’t care how objectively beautiful you both are.

I don’t care whether you would win the Super Hot Sex Olympics over every other human couple in history.

YOU WILL GET BORED WITH ONE ANOTHER A LITTLE BIT.

You just will, and I’m sorry.

It doesn’t mean you aren’t soulmates or whatever. There’s no reason to freak out about it. It doesn’t mean you weren’t “meant for each other.”

It just means you’re two human beings with brains that work EXACTLY as brains are supposed to work, and a bunch of time has passed.

WTF. Does That Mean I’m Always Going to Desire Novelty or That My Spouse Will Always Find Other People Attractive?

Probably. Sorry.

And now I want you to consider whether signing up for a long life of potentially “boring” routineness with one person is the choice you really want to make.

After all, you can stay single and keep chasing those exciting new experiences if you want. It’s an option. I think it’s worth considering what your life might look like when you’re your parents’ or grandparents’ age if you make that choice, but at least you’ll “solve” the boredom problem.

If you’re like me, you grew up around people who mostly got married and had kids, and you think the positives of that are worth the risk of some boredom along the way.

I totally agree with you.

Family gatherings, holding your own children and watching them grow up, and having an adult living with you who you trust and love and enjoy being with is pretty amazing.

That’s why it hurt so much when my wife took off her wedding ring and moved out the next day with our 4-year-old in the backseat.

I just stood in the kitchen crying as hard as I can ever remember crying, and then I threw up in the bathroom, and then I tried to watch Netflix, but I couldn’t even do something as simple as watch TV.

And you know what I think?

I think that if someone had taught me about hedonic adaptation when I was younger and warned me of the dangers of taking the most precious things in my life for granted, that maybe I could have done a better job every day between our wedding day and the day she took her ring off nine years later. Just a bunch of little things. Nothing major. But a bunch of little things that would have prevented the most major thing I’ve ever been through from happening.

Crap. That Sounds Awful. What Can We Do About It?

DO NOT GET MARRIED UNTIL YOU’VE EXPERIENCED AND CONQUERED THE BOREDOM AND ROUTINE.

Just don’t.

I honestly think half of divorces are just people who had no idea what they were getting themselves into.

But if you’re aware—if you KNOW that this is what’s going to happen—then you won’t have any weird surprises later when you don’t feel that same excitement and attraction that you did when you first met your spouse.

If you believe THAT is a signal that your marriage is broken, or that your spouse sucks, then you have a real problem on your hands, because THAT WILL NEVER STOP HAPPENING.

So, people get bored with their marriage, right? And then they maybe have an affair or get a divorce and marry someone else.

You know what happens?

They totally get bored with their new sex partner or with their new “upgrade” marriage, and then the EXACT same problems repeat themselves.

Some people get married three or four times, and you might be like What the shit?! How can you get it wrong that many times?

They’re not really getting it wrong.

They’re just lacking the right information. When something good begins to feel bad, it makes sense for people to interpret that as if something’s wrong or broken. It makes sense for people to not deal with wrong and broken things and live a life where things are right and functioning as they should.

For people—people like you—who know the truth, you have two choices, and I won’t judge you for either.

1. Stay Single – It really is an option. If I thought mountains of celibacy and spending my twilight years sad and alone was an attractive proposition, I would for-sure choose it.

2. Get Married with the Appropriate Mindset that Will Help You SucceedBut what’s the appropriate mindset?

I’m so glad you asked.

Happily Ever After Occurs When You Both Choose it Everyday

Sounds too simple, doesn’t it?

It IS simple.

But it’s not easy. It’s hard for people to do which is why there’s so many divorced and miserable people, and I do not want you to be one of them.

It’s really hard. But you can do hard things. You really can.

And the trick is simple enough.

1. You understand that no matter who you were dating or married to that you would ALWAYS feel some of those naturally occurring attraction and lusty feelings go away over time. You exercise wisdom and knowledge to not go foolishly chase the next good time only to realize they’re just going to come out with another new iPhone someday making the one that’s out now old and boring just like the one you’re holding.

2. You understand that there’s no such thing as soulmates or perfect people. That relationships don’t happen magically. They happen intentionally.

3. You understand that FEELINGS change. All the time. Like when you said you loved that one kid back in high school, but then you’ve loved like five other people since, and you kind of feel like a dumbass for saying it a few of those times. FEELINGS are important, but they’re also super-fickle. You can’t forget this. If humans simply did what they FELT like all of the time, society would break down because no one would go to work and pay bills, and everyone would be super-murdery to people in traffic jams and shopping malls, and in work meetings. I think we can all agree that’s not a very good idea. We can’t and shouldn’t do what we FEEL every second of our lives.

4. You keep your promises. Again, not easy, but totally simple. You might not always feel that same level of excitement or sexual desire or physical attraction. You might not laugh at their jokes quite as hard or be quite as impressed by their life accomplishments. The years have passed and these things have become routine. They’ve become ALL THE TIME. Like your electricity. Like the water the fish never notice. So you stay together on purpose. You manufacture the love. You don’t wonder where it ran off to. You MAKE it. Create it. You have to. It’s the only way it works out.

This isn’t always feel-good work.

Two people just got home from crappy days at work, and now the 2-year-old is rubbing a yogurt stick all over the TV screen, and the 8-year-old is whining about how hungry he is, and somebody needs to cook dinner and walk the dog, and do laundry and pack a school lunch for tomorrow.

You’re not going to FEEL like giving your partner a nice six-second hug. (SIX seconds. Don’t cheat.)

But you’re going to do it anyway.

You’re not going to get all those good vibrations in your nether regions after two kids and a busy, stressful daily routine. Nothing either of you are doing is triggering sexy-time feelings in one another, and even if you were, you might not feel like there’s adequate time or energy.

But you’re not going to neglect your partner like a thoughtless sock-sniffer. You’re NOT.

You’re going to—even if it means setting reminders on your phone calendar, or writing little reminder notes for yourself—spend your days and weeks and months INTENTIONALLY doing and saying kind things to and about your spouse, and doing kind and thoughtful things for them.

You’re going to send little I-love-you texts, or maybe even surprise them with some naughty flirty ones.

You’re going to sit still and invest your whole mind and heart into the conversations they want to have with you, NOT because they interest you—you’ll probably be “bored” out of your mind; that’s not why you’re doing it—but because THAT will help a person feel loved. Feel respected. Feel cherished. Feel important.

You are going to CHOOSE to love every day so that the person you promised forever to never feels like they can’t trust you to love them and be their partner.

You’re going to choose it, because you won’t always FEEL like it.

You’re going to choose it, because that’s your ticket to Happily Ever After.

It won’t look or feel like it does in the movies you see or the books that you read. Those are made-up. Those are fairytales that don’t have any shitty work commutes and screaming children or post-partum depression written into the scripts.

In real life, things are hard. But again, we can do hard things.

Love isn’t just something you feel. Feelings come and go.

Love is a choice. It’s a choice you make today and tomorrow and next week and 30 years from now.

You start on Day 1 and you never stop.

There won’t be chariots and amazing ballroom gowns and kick-ass fireworks displays while you make out right before the movie credits roll.

It will be more boring than that.

But it will be real. It will be truth.

It won’t be exciting, but it will be good.

And all you have to do is choose it.

Not once.

Always.

You May Also Want to Read:

An Open Letter to Young People Planning to Marry Someday, Vol. 1

An Open Letter to Young People Planning to Marry Someday, Vol. 2

An Open Letter to Young People Planning to Marry Someday, Vol. 4

Tagged , , , , , ,

An Open Letter to Young People Planning to Marry Someday, Vol. 2

black and white puzzle pieces

Puzzle pieces are cool because they sort of police themselves. Even though several pieces might look like they’ll fit together, they usually don’t, and even if they do, it’s easy to spot the problem and fix it. Try to think of having strong, healthy personal boundaries just like that. When you identify your boundaries, and you enforce them, crappy incompatible puzzle pieces don’t get misplaced and mess everything up. Healthy boundaries take the mystery out of dating and good relationships. Either you fail fast, and avoid a horrible relationship, OR you progress in mostly pleasant, functional ways with a romantic partner who is a great match for the long haul. The people who are still around after you enforce your boundaries like a boss? They’re the keepers. (Image/daninicoleauthor.files.wordpress.com)

You’re not going to like this, but you probably shouldn’t marry your girlfriend or boyfriend.

Seriously.

You know how it feels safe to eat bacon cheeseburgers, drink milkshakes, or maybe even smoke something without the fear of imminently dropping dead of a heart attack or developing lung cancer?

You feel that way because you have several years ahead of you, which is awesome.

But, you’re also intellectually aware that eating bacon cheeseburgers and milkshakes for every meal and smoking a pack a day will end with you being a VERY unhealthy adult and will almost certainly rob you of several years of life.

I’m asking you to please think of your dating life in that same way.

Things that feel like no big deal right now will WRECK you in your thirties and forties. Big-time suckage.

And the only person who can protect you from those future shitty things is you. On this particular matter, you’re all you’ve got.

Because I’m capable of not concerning myself with three days from now in the interest of enjoying today, I promise that I understand that some or all of you will dismiss this friendly warning.

That’s okay.

I think maybe most people have to learn life’s most important lessons on their own. That’s how I am too. Every important lesson that stuck with me was learned the hard way.

The reason I’m even talking about this is because I got divorced about five years ago, and it was a WAY bigger deal than I ever realized divorce could be. And I say that as a child of divorced parents who lived about 400 miles apart through my formative years which made me cry a lot when I was a little kid.

Divorce was VERY hard, and I think most people don’t talk about it because they’re ashamed, or because it’s such an awkward and uncomfortable conversation to be on either side of. Divorce is COMMON. Thousands of divorces happen every day.

And common things seem NORMAL. Regular. Not weird.

And things that we think of as normal, regular and not weird don’t scare us. So we don’t protect or prepare ourselves because it never occurs to us that we should.

This is me trying to convince you that you should.

According to a couple of researchers who studied the health impact of major life events on human beings, divorce is the #2 most-stressful life event a person will ever experience.

According to the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale, divorce ranks ahead of things like going to prison, the death of a parent or child, and losing a body part in a horrific accident.

And I’m here to tell you that Holmes and Rahe weren’t playing.

You don’t want any part of it.

So when I say things that offend you a little and make both of us uncomfortable like: Your boyfriend or girlfriend who you currently feel super-in-love with is statistically likely to be your life’s greatest threat at the moment, I want you to understand why.

Let that sink in for a minute before we talk about what you can do about it.

The Boring Word You MUST Prioritize to Avoid a Crappy Adult Life

Boundaries.

When I was growing up, if someone tried to talk to me about boundaries, I would have tuned them out like when my gym teacher tried to stress the importance of stretching and eating vegetables.

I’m 17 and can do 25 more chin-ups than you, dude.

And it would make sense to me if you thought I was an asshole for disparaging your relationship that has always felt like a really good and healthy thing, and that it all seems pretty hypocritical coming from some divorced guy.

But I’m totally right about this, so I hope you’ll begrudgingly come along anyway.

Your future non-crying children who enjoy having both mom and dad living in the same house will really appreciate it.

What Boundaries Are and Why They’re Your Best Defense Against Divorce

Your parents aren’t going to like me using this example, but I think it’s probably the quickest way to cut through the bullshit, so I hope they’ll get over it.

I want you to think about being a girl in high school. A junior. Sweet 16.

I want you to imagine walking through the busy, locker-lined hallway, and as you walk by a group of guys, you hear one of them say about you: “Check out the ass on her. Oh man, I would love to tap that.”

You feel embarrassed, but you just keep moving. You kind of know who the guy is. He’s a cliché high school jock that you know is dating one of the cheerleaders. You know that he routinely harasses some of the less-popular kids in the hallway. He’s a jerk and a bully.

His comment made you feel gross, but it’s not as if you’ve never heard things like that before or even heard your guy friends say them about other girls. So, you leave it alone.

I want you to imagine that you have three rules for dating:

  1. You don’t go out with guys who have girlfriends.
  2. You don’t go out with guys whose only objective is to have sex with you.
  3. You don’t go out with cocky dickbags who intentionally bully other kids for a cheap laugh.

And now, I want you to imagine that the new semester has started and that same guy is in one of your classes. He approaches you after class one day. He smiles and asks you if you’d like to hang out sometime. At first, you’re like ewww, but you don’t say anything right away.

You look him in the eyes, studying them. You think he’s cute, and you secretly feel flattered that a popular kid wants to go out with you.

He seems nice right now. He’s so different when his friends aren’t around. Maybe I should give him a chance.

So, you say “Sure. Why not? Let’s get together soon.”

Fast-forward to your first date.

You went to the movies, or grabbed dinner somewhere. Maybe you went to a house party where someone’s parents were out of town.

And somewhere along the way, he kisses you. You like it. You kiss him back. Everything is great.

But then his hands start going to places you didn’t want them to go. “Oh man, I would love to tap that” is on repeat in your head. All of the sudden you don’t want to be there anymore.

You tell him to stop.

He finally does, but he’s got a surprised look on his face as if you’ve wronged him somehow.

“I thought we were having a good time,” he whines.

You make it clear that there’s no way that’s happening tonight.

Now he looks wounded. You’ve bruised his ego. What you don’t know is that he told a few of his friends he was going to get into your clothes tonight.

He doesn’t want to go back and have to explain to them how he failed.

Maybe he calls you a tease.

Maybe he calls you a stuck-up bitch.

Maybe he—inexplicably—calls you a slut.

Maybe he makes up a story about you to his friends, and maybe some people start talking about you at school, and maybe the entire incident is pretty horrible.

The girl in this example has good dating rules, I think. Reasonable ones designed to protect her from bad things happening.

But then, even though she had evidence that Captain Dickface was bad news, she still got caught up in a moment of weakness and rationalized why she should break her own rules just to feel good.

Then everything turned into a big shit-festival.

Because she broke her own rules.

Because she didn’t enforce her boundaries.

The girl wasn’t honest with the guy when he first approached her. Maybe she didn’t feel comfortable telling him how it really felt to hear him say that. The guy wasn’t honest with the girl about his true intentions. There are a million reasons, some noble, most not, for why he didn’t want to tell the truth. Predictably, in the end, it didn’t work out.

You might believe this scenario has little in common with married couples, but I would argue that THIS is largely why so many people end up divorced.

Not because of bullying and unwanted sexual advances, certainly.

But because of people being dishonest about their true intentions, and people failing to communicate and enforce their boundaries—probably because they’re afraid of rejection, or of being alone, or are afraid of what others might think about them.

Let’s Get Even More Real

Married adults sometimes have crappy marriages and get divorced. And you know who all of them were before they got married?

The same people who wouldn’t have liked hearing me say that they shouldn’t be marrying their boyfriend or girlfriend. They would have felt offended just like I would have, and maybe you do.

But now here they are, pissed off and resentful and full of regrets about wasting their life, hurting their kids, and being afraid of what might happen next.

And here’s the No. 1 reason that happened: They tolerated things that shouldn’t have been tolerated, they failed to communicate and/or enforce their personal boundaries, and ultimately lied to themselves and one another about what their long-term relationship with this boundary violator (or victim of our violations) would look like.

If your boyfriend or girlfriend (or better yet, someone you’ve dated a couple of times) does something that HURTS you, and after talking about it, there’s no evidence that he or she is going to stop doing that hurtful thing, you should cut them out of your life.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t forgive. Forgiveness is an awesome thing.

This doesn’t mean that all people who violate your boundaries are BAD.

Some will be good people.

They’ll just be bad marriage partners. They’re not the same thing.

I think that might be the worst part. Very good, very decent, very fun, very awesome people will violate your boundaries—either because they’re a flawed mistake-prone human being like the rest of us; or because they legitimately don’t SEE or FEEL the same negative consequence you do from something that happened.

You won’t want to cut all of them out of your life.

But please don’t marry them.

Please.

It’s okay for people to disagree. It’s okay for people who love each other to have their differences.

But it’s NEVER OKAY for the person we are considering teaming up with for the rest of our lives to HURT us.

Never, never, never.

You will accidentally be hurt in life. I don’t suggest walling yourself off from every person who wrongs you.

But I AM suggesting that your marriage will NOT succeed if you spend every day of the rest of your life with someone unwilling to honor and respect your personal boundaries.

Maybe you won’t get divorced, but you won’t like your life or your marriage.

You’ll be miserable.

Because people who have boundary issues are miserable. That’s just how it works.

How Do I Know Whether I Have a Boundary Issue?

Here’s a good start, from one of my favorite writers, Mark Manson, who uses even more bad words than I do:

“Let’s do the ‘You Might Have A Boundary Issue If…’ list so you know where you stand:

  • Do you ever feel like people take advantage of you or use your emotions for their own gain?
  • Do you ever feel like you’re constantly having to ‘save’ people close to you and fix their problems all the time?
  • Do you find yourself sucked into pointless fighting or debating regularly?
  • Do you find yourself faaaaar more invested or attracted to a person than you should be for how long you’ve known them?
  • In your relationships, does it feel like things are always either amazing or horrible with no in-between? Or perhaps you even go through the break-up/reunion pattern every few months?
  • Do you tell people how much you hate drama but seem to always be stuck in the middle of it?
  • Do you spend a lot of time defending yourself for things you believe aren’t your fault?

“If you answered ‘yes’ to even a few of the above, then you probably set and maintain poor boundaries in your relationships,” Manson wrote.

“If you answered a resounding ‘yes’ to most or all of the items above, you not only have a major boundary problem in your relationships, but you also probably have some other personal problems going on in your life.”

OMG. I Totally Have Boundary Issues. Can I Still Have a Happy Marriage?

Probably not.

But I have excellent news. You can absolutely fix your boundary problem. You can fix it right now, but it will probably take some practice before you get comfortable telling people to pound sand whenever they try to take advantage of you if you’ve spent most of your life not realizing that’s what was happening.

Boundaries are about your emotional health, which might be more important than you realize.

Emotionally healthy people have and enforce strong boundaries. And ALSO, having and enforcing strong boundaries makes you emotionally healthier.

Having strong boundaries means you don’t take responsibility for other people’s crap, and you ALWAYS take responsibility for your own.

I believe we must vigilantly enforce our boundaries (and respect others’ vigilantly enforced boundaries) in order to have high-functioning, healthy, mutually beneficial, and ultimately successful, human relationships.

And what that means is, when people knowingly violate our boundaries, we need to be willing to walk away and cut them out of our lives, which is a really hard thing to do. Because sometimes it’s your spouse, or a parent, or a sibling, or an old friend, or a co-worker, or someone you share children with.

The Bottom Line

When you don’t break your own rules—when you enforce your boundaries (while honoring other people’s)—you know what happens?

ONLY emotionally healthy people with a clear understanding of how to NOT hurt one another (or tolerate hurtful behavior) ever end up together.

It reduces the probability of divorce by probably 90 percent.

When you start tolerating behaviors that your mind and body are telling you not to tolerate, a bunch of bad things happen afterward, and tend to repeat themselves until everyone is miserable and gets divorced or stops being friends.

When you NEVER tolerate behaviors that you know you shouldn’t tolerate, maybe bad things happen once, but you can be sure they will never repeat themselves.

And the people who are still around after all of that filtering? After all of those strong and courageous and confidence-building demonstrations of self-respect?

They’re the keepers.

You May Also Want to Read

An Open Letter to Young People Planning to Marry Someday, Vol. 1

An Open Letter to Young People Planning to Marry Someday, Vol. 3

An Open Letter to Young People Planning to Marry Someday, Vol. 4

Tagged , , , , , , ,

An Open Letter to Young People Planning to Marry Someday, Vol. 1

danger tape

(Image/Sophos.com)

You’re in danger.

You don’t know you’re in danger because it doesn’t feel scary right now. That’s both good and bad, but it might be mostly bad.

I hope you’ll believe me when I say that being aware of danger so that you can do something about it is so much better than getting painfully blindsided later in life.

I don’t mean blindsided, like when you’re a freshman playing defensive back for the scout team at football practice, and the biggest, baddest senior lineman annihilates you on a power sweep right in front of the cheerleading squad you were trying to impress.

I don’t mean blindsided, like when your boyfriend breaks up with you the week of prom or homecoming and your parents already got you the perfect dress, and now you’re feeling sad, confused, and almost too embarrassed to go, even though you didn’t do anything wrong.

I mean blindsided, like your parents sit you down at the dinner table one night and say “Sweetie, your dad and I feel you’re finally old enough to know the truth about our family,” right before your dad rips off his own face to reveal some creepy robot face underneath.

“We’re not human, honey. We’re creepy robots. And so are you.”

I wish I was kidding.

That’s seriously what divorce can feel like.

Like everything you thought you understood maybe isn’t true or reliable or believable anymore, and that shock can feel both painful and frightening.

You know that you shouldn’t play with guns or knives. Adults taught you the dangers.

You know that you shouldn’t abuse drugs and alcohol. Adults taught you the dangers.

You know that you shouldn’t participate in reckless sexual activity. Adults taught you the dangers.

You understand the dangers of texting and driving. Of drinking and driving.

You know about bullying. About unhealthy eating disorders. About the hazards of social media.

You’ve heard it all.

And all of those things are important, but maybe because you’re so aware of them, they’re not the same danger they would be if no one ever warned you about them. You’re probably bored when people want to talk to you about those things because you’ve heard about them so much.

But you know what you probably haven’t heard about that is just as important as those other things, since it literally affects 95 percent of people?

The REAL reasons that so many people get divorced.

Your teachers, principals, coaches and families are failing you.

They are. It’s harsh, but it’s true. They’re not failing you on purpose. They’re not being negligent intentionally or trying to hold out on you.

The truth is, they don’t know either. Because THEIR teachers, principals, coaches and families failed them as well.

No one told you that you are statistically unlikely to have a good marriage.

And you can’t even conceive of what a good marriage might look and feel like. It’s not because you’re “dumb” or because you’re not around adults who actually do have good, healthy marriages. You may be, and I hope that you are.

But the truth is that we CANNOT—ever—know what we don’t know. We think we know all kinds of things, but we’re wrong most of the time. Even all of the adults instructed with teaching you about all of the important stuff in life. ESPECIALLY me. I’m kind of a dumbass. But I’m kind of a dumbass who accidentally discovered something super-important when I got a divorce five years ago and cried a lot more than a man in his mid-30s probably should.

Also, you don’t know who has good marriages and bad marriages, because people who have bad marriages PRETEND to have good marriages. They pretend all of the time. They do it to protect you, and they do it to protect themselves because they’re ashamed that one of the most important and precious things in their lives has become dysfunctional. They’re afraid to lose the comfort and safety of their home and family. They’re afraid of their friends and neighbors thinking they’re failures.

They’re afraid of hurting you, because when you become a parent, protecting your children (even from bad feelings) becomes one of your top life priorities.

Yes. Adults get afraid sometimes, too. Maybe even often. Very afraid.

I hate to be the one to tell you this, but adults are afraid of more things than young people.

The difference between being an adult and a child isn’t the ability to shed fear. It’s the ability to march forward bravely even though you don’t have your parents or older siblings protecting you anymore.

The scariest thing in life might be when we’re in danger and don’t know how to get to safety.

It’s scary when something is wrong and we don’t know how to solve a problem or fix something that’s broken or protect ourselves from being hurt.

That’s what people in bad marriages feel like sometimes. You might think that adults would be able to explain to you WHY they got a divorce, but I think you’ll be both surprised and disappointed to learn that isn’t true.

Because you know what marriage is, right? It’s not that complicated.

It’s a forever agreement to love and be faithful to one another for the rest of your life. Generally, you share money, a home, a bedroom, cars, and often children and pets.

And even you, who has presumably never been married before, understand all of that.

While there are some cultures in the world who still do arranged marriages where people don’t get to decide who they marry, marriage is a volunteer activity for most people.

No one is MAKING us get married.

And no one is MAKING us get married to whomever we choose to marry.

Right?

So, why do you think more than half of all marriages fail? (About half of them end in divorce, and then there are all of the people who are still married but wish they weren’t. I’d like to tell you that’s a small number, but it’s not.)

Even though I’m not super-smart, I kind of know why this happens. There’s a good chance no other adults are talking to you about this (because it makes them uncomfortable OR because they never think about it the way they think about warning you about drug abuse, STDs, and creepy white vans with the words “FREE CANDY” spray-painted on the side.)

The REAL Reasons Your Marriage Will Suck (That Your Parents and Teachers Probably Won’t Tell You About)

Many of you are smarter than I was as a kid, and 100 percent of you didn’t grow up in the same time and place with the same adult role models as me, so our experiences won’t be identical. Please don’t think that because I thought or felt something that it means I believe that you are exactly the same.

But one of the coolest things I’ve learned since writing things on the internet is that no matter how different our lives might be—no matter what part of the world we live in, no matter our gender, or skin color, or sexual orientation, or religion, or politics, or profession, or education, or personal interests—there are ALWAYS life experiences that someone can identify with or connect with.

We’re never the only ones who think or feel or do something.

We’re never as alone as we might sometimes feel. So if you feel like you do something strange or weird inside your own head, or when nobody’s around, I promise you that thousands of other people think and do and feel those same things. Even the kids at school who seem smarter or cooler than you. Even the teachers who seem like they have it all figured out. Even moms and dads, and pastors, and coaches and the guy behind the counter at the convenience store, and the lady in the car next to you.

No matter what, you’re not alone. Promise.

Anyway, here is the first of several reasons your marriage will suck and ruin your life if you don’t know what to watch out for.

What Causes Divorce #1: Accidental Sexism (Boys vs. Girls Stuff)

There’s a possibility that you’re accidentally sexist and don’t realize it.

You need to either realize it OR stop behaving that way, or you’re highly likely to have a crap marriage or get divorced. It’s worse than it sounds.

When I was younger, the boys played football on the playground. We talked about sports, played with action figures, and a bunch of other fake-macho stuff we thought our dads, big brothers, and friends would approve of.

If we got in a fight with another kid during a basketball or football game, we were usually friends again by the following day.

The girls—not always, but often—did different things. Maybe they didn’t play sports because they were dressed much nicer. They often stood off to the side playing with their handcrafted jewelry, or whispering about the boys they thought were cute, or whatever secret stuff girls do that I’d be lying to claim I knew about or understood.

Girls went to the bathroom in groups. They thought boys were “gross,” even while crushing on some of them. Fights could last for entire school years between two girls in my class who were the best of friends just a week earlier.

There were obvious differences between boys and girls, I thought.

I always liked girls, both in the I-want-to-make-out-with-them way, and in the I-enjoy-hanging-out-with-them way. I’m generally well-mannered and was taught to respect people, so I certainly never acted in a way that I would have considered “sexist.”

I didn’t think boys were BETTER than girls.

I didn’t mistreat or disrespect someone because they were female.

But I WAS sexist, and I just didn’t know it. And because I was accidentally sexist, I did (or didn’t do) things during my marriage that contributed heavily to its end, and the entire time, I NEVER knew I was harming it. Scary.

You ever say or hear a boy make fun of some other kid playing a sport by saying he “plays like a girl”?

You ever say or hear someone say the phrase “cry like a little girl”?

You ever say or hear a guy accuse one of his buddies of “menstruating,” or “PMS-ing” or of needing to “clean the sand out of his vagina”?

I used to hear and say things like that.

Our intention was never to belittle women by saying those things. Our intention was to razz one another in that bro-culture way guys use to bond by giving one another a hard time. It’s just something many of us do, and I wish I could explain why.

But the implications of saying any of those things is that being a girl, or doing things like a girl, is bad. Right? Right.

And if we’re saying it’s bad to be a girl, aren’t we kind-of saying that being a guy is better than being a girl? Aren’t we kind-of saying that men are better than women?

We are.

And it’s a total dick move, so you should try to stop immediately.

Even if you don’t want to stop because it’s disrespectful to every girl or woman you know, it’s a good idea to stop simply because not stopping will lay the groundwork for your future divorce that neither you nor I want you to experience.

Who Does the Laundry?

Sure, lots of guys do laundry.

I used to wash my clothes periodically in college, and even a little bit during my marriage.

I wash my clothes all of the time now because I’m divorced and live alone.

You might think that my bedroom is the most-depressing room in my house. You’d be mistaken. It’s the laundry room.

I hate it there.

But I didn’t hate it there when my wife’s clothes needed washed and dried as well.

So now I’m a guy who does a lot of laundry because my wife moved out a few years ago. There were a lot of reasons why, but probably for NONE of the reasons you might be guessing inside your head.

If you knew why I got—and most people in crappy marriages get—divorced, I wouldn’t need to write this.

I didn’t get divorced because I hit my wife or called her names.

I didn’t get divorced because I did drugs or drank too much. I didn’t stay out all night and not tell her where I was. I didn’t sleep around. I didn’t do any of the things that I believed to be The Reasons People Get Divorced when I was growing up.

One of the reasons I got divorced is because my wife did 80 percent of the laundry. Maybe more.

And so, back to the boy-girl thing.

When I was growing up, my mom always did stuff like that. My mom washed, dried, folded and hung all of the clothes.

My mom cleaned the kitchen and bathrooms.

My mom vacuumed the carpet. Mom swept the floor. Mom dusted.

And when I went to visit my grandparents, my grandma did all of that same stuff.

So, you see, my mom learned that those things were her job from her mom. And I learned that those things were “her” job from my mom.

And that means that when I got married, and my wife didn’t do things exactly as my mom did them, I thought she was doing it wrong.

She was AWESOME at home-care. But she didn’t just silently take care of everything like my mom always had. She told me that I wasn’t pulling my fair share.

I thought that was a load of crap.

But I’m not the world’s biggest moron either. Even I could see that my wife working as many hours per week as I did made her and my situation different from my mom, who spent several years keeping a pristine and well-run home during the hours my wife had to be at work just like me.

So, I tried even harder to help around the house than I perceived my stepdad to do with my mom, or that my dad did with my stepmom.

I cooked a lot. Went grocery-shopping. Did a fair amount of dishes. And made an effort to help her clean the house on weekends, even though I was a whiny jerk about it whenever I didn’t want to spend a few weekend hours cleaning, which was approximately 100 percent of the time.

And this is the part I’m going to leave you with because it’s the most important lesson I can offer you in this first entry:

It’s not so much the amount of physical work one does that creates the anger and imbalance that will end your marriage. It’s more about the amount of MENTAL work one does to make sure that the things that need done, get done.

When you get married, and you just keep acting like you do when you live at home with your parents, where they always take care of everything so that you don’t have to—when you force your partner to do the same things your mom did for you—she (or he, potentially) is going to get tired.

Really tired.

And strong people keep going when they’re really tired, but even the strongest people have to stop and rest at some point.

And when the person holding the marriage together needs to rest, it’s all over.

It’s not about how many dishes are washed or towels are folded.

It’s not about how often someone goes to the store or how many meals get cooked.

It’s about the mental strain of being RESPONSIBLE for making sure the dishes get washed, laundry gets folded, groceries get bought, the food gets defrosted for dinner, the birthday gifts and Christmas cards get sent, etc.

It’s pretty hard for people even when they don’t have kids.

But when they do have kids, it becomes impossible to spend every day being RESPONSIBLE for EVERYTHING that needs done—not just for yourself, but for your spouse, AND your children.

Kids aren’t hard on marriages because kids are inherently difficult as much as kids are hard on marriages because they push people on the brink of mental and emotional exhaustion OVER the brink.

Not because of the children. But because of the lack of support for providing care for them.

Some people fall and never get up again.

Some people break when they hit the ground and never get themselves put back together again.

And your job—your solemn duty as a husband or wife—is to make damn sure they never fall or never break in the first place.

And there’s a good chance no one told you that house chores—House chores! How stupid does that sound?!—can be the reason your marriage will end and that your whole life can fall apart.

But, as God as I my witness, you better believe they can.

You better believe they will.

And then do whatever you must to make sure you’re never letting your spouse carry too much. Don’t try to pick them up after they fall. Don’t try to piece them together after they break.

Just do the work of LOVING them enough each day to carry whatever needs carried so that they never fall or break in the first place.

We’ll talk more about this idea later, but you’ll need it in your long-term romantic relationships and/or marriage: Love is a choice. A choice you must be disciplined and courageous enough to make every day.

So that our loved ones never break.

Because, maybe then, neither will we.

You May Also Want to Read:

An Open Letter to Young People Planning to Marry Someday, Vol. 2

An Open Letter to Young People Planning to Marry Someday, Vol. 3

An Open Letter to Young People Planning to Marry Someday, Vol. 4

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Prison Break: Free Yourself By Taking the Red Pill

yellow saltwater fish

This fish has spent its entire existence swimming in water, yet is probably completely unaware of what water is. Maybe the fish does know, and we have even bigger problems than I thought. It’s hard to be certain. And that’s the entire point. (Image/Unsplash)

We’re going to talk a little red pill, blue pill.

Not the way dudes who hate women sometimes talk about it, though.

But like Morpheus does—the impeccably dressed part-time sage, part-time badass in The Matrix.

We’re going to get a little weird. Please don’t run like I would have five or six years ago.

Try hard to not do the thing I always did in late-night college pot-smoking circles when one person would inevitably start waxing stoner philosophy, and I thought they sounded like morons and thus insta-dismissed whatever they were saying.

Because there’s this idea that I think might be the most important idea in the world.

The idea that we’re dangerously blind to what’s constantly in front of us.

Like fish that spend their entire lives in water, but don’t actually know what water is.

And I think the amount of people we hurt or help in life, and how people will remember us after we’re gone, and the relative success of our marriages and work life and parent-child relationships is entirely dependent on how well we manage to execute this ONE life skill.

You see, when I consider what makes someone interesting, or “deep,” or intelligent, I tend to think about it in terms of how much they know, and their capacity for learning, or their capacity for thought.

Maybe you do too. I believe it’s common.

But the more I think about this way I thoughtlessly measure how intelligent I consider something to be, the more I agree with the brilliant David Foster Wallace’s suggestion that a good education should be less about someone’s capacity to think, and more about a person’s ability to choose WHAT to think about.

And that is going to seem intolerably banal to many people, and maybe you want to stop reading now.

Like breathing.

Like blinking our eyes.

You almost never think about doing them even though they might be the two things you’ve done more times than anything else in your entire life. Boring as hell, to be sure. But so important. If you stop blinking, you’ll go blind. If you stop breathing, you’ll die.

I think this idea is just like that. Like blinking. Like breathing.

If you’re feeling that mental-auto-pilot nudge to shut your brain off now and move on to the next thing, then maybe that is your little warning light to hang on just a little longer. That means I’m writing this sentence just for you.

I know you might not care, and that’s okay.

I’m not writing it because I think you’re wrong or bad or dumb, or need help from some idiot writer on the internet.

I’m writing it because sometimes we humans mess up our entire lives, and damage our children, and lose everything that’s fragile and dear to us, and if someone asked us to explain how it happened, most of us wouldn’t be able to.

Not because we were careless, even though it might feel like that afterward.

Not because we were reckless, even though it might feel that way to the people we hurt.

But because we CHOSE to think about something else in moments when thinking differently would have changed our entire lives for the better.

That’s not a small thing.

Our health.

Our bank accounts.

Our human relationships.

Our souls.

I must ask, as Wallace did in his remarkably poignant commencement speech that first introduced me to this idea, that you please “bracket for just a few minutes your skepticism about the value of the totally obvious.”

The Real Value of The Matrix’s Red Pill/Blue Pill Lesson

Morpheus - red pill blue pill The Matrix

(Artwork/Joel Jerry)

Before it was hijacked by men who I perceive to be intentionally trying to recruit broken, depressed and angry guys to join their Women are the Real Enemy Cult, the red pill/blue pill symbolism portrayed in The Matrix served as a valuable thought exercise.

20-Year-Old Movie Spoiler Alert: The film’s protagonist Neo is given a choice by Morpheus.

Neo can choose the blue pill, which will put him to sleep and allow him to wake up in his bed with no memory of recent events, and carry on with his low-stakes, ignorance-is-bliss life. That would have been easy. No risk. Very little danger.

Or, he can choose the red pill. The red pill won’t taste so good going down. It will be hard to swallow. He’ll have to face some really uncomfortable truths, and life will inevitably feel harder. But it will be REAL. It will be the TRUTH. Even if it doesn’t feel as good. Even if it’s more difficult.

Neo chooses the red pill.

After swallowing it, the world melts around him. Neo wakes up in this alien goo pod with a bunch of cords and shit sticking out of him. His weird, goopy, hairless body is hardwired into some kind of massive biomechanical machine tower with millions of other human bodies all sleeping and hardwired into the same system.

Big machines are flying around.

Aside from the machines and the enslaved humans in sleeping pods, the world is nothing but rubble and ash.

Neo had spent his entire life in a simulated computer life that the machines built to make him think he’s living just like the rest of us. With houses and cars and day jobs.

But actually, he was unwittingly a slave to an intelligent race of alien machines harvesting humans to produce energy.

Whoa.

The Importance of Choosing What to Think About

My mind wanders. A lot.

I have an ADHD brain, and I take medicine every day for it.

That means I have a capacity for unawareness (when I’m on auto-pilot) that I believe exceeds the average person, and which I think contributed heavily to the demise of my marriage.

But even if you don’t have similar brain chemistry, you are still affected by blindness to all of the things hiding in plain sight. (Breathing. Eye-blinking. Fish not knowing what water is.)

Our minds—on autopilot—file everything we see, hear, taste, feel, or experience into some kind of bucket.

OMG. That’s amazing.

Or.

OMG. What hot garbage.

Or.

OMG. What happened, again? I wasn’t paying attention because I just dripped coffee all down the front of my shirt and now I’m for-sure going to look extra-assholey today. NEAT.

We automatically—without any thinking whatsoever—classify stuff in our own minds. How good a movie or song is. How attractive that gal or guy is. How we perceive what others will think about us if they know that we like or do [insert whatever here].

We value and measure whatever we just heard or saw or tasted based on a million prior experiences—which calibrates our personal measuring sticks totally differently than other people’s measuring sticks.

It’s cool that this happens because it saves us an enormous amount of mental energy. Our brains go on auto-pilot, and for that we’re not needing to start drinking heavily or go back to sleep by lunchtime just to survive the mental strain of our brains working a thousand times harder than they do now.

But it’s also NOT cool.

Because maybe when we were young, we were either taught something that wasn’t true (or was only partially true) because we were too innocent, inexperienced and naïve to question what people taught us.

I’m not talking about the big, scary things like religion and politics. Most adults, parents, teachers, older siblings, celebrity influencers aren’t intentionally trying to brainwash people. They simply believe something as surely as everyone else does, and if we value their thoughts and opinions, maybe we adopt them for ourselves.

Most of the time, it’s harmless.

Some of the time, it’s not.

I’m talking about the stuff most people think very little about—whether it’s cool for a man to be a ballerina; whether dogs or cats make better pets; what the vehicle someone is driving says about them.

I know a lot about NFL football and NBA basketball, which many guys like to talk about.

But if I go to a random pub in Dublin, Ireland; or Juneau, Alaska; or Istanbul, Turkey, will the average guy there give even a miniscule shit about North American football and basketball?

I don’t know.

But certainly less than you might expect to find in downtown Cleveland, Ohio; Chicago, Ill., or Boston, Mass.

It’s because people know what they know, and NOTHING else. We can’t know what we haven’t been exposed to or experienced ourselves.

And for everyone, everywhere, we are the stars of our own stories. You, me, the people in Bangladesh, and some other people in Argentina. Everybody. Everywhere.

We have experienced EVERY moment of our entire lives from the view inside of our own heads and first-person perspectives, and filtered through the prism of our specific individual experiences.

And really, this is great most of the time. That you are a unique individual. It’s awesome that you’re not identical to everyone else, because that would seem really boring to me and others. It’s amazing that you’re you. Don’t stop being that.

But it’s also a handicap, even though most people don’t think of it that way because few people like selfish egomaniacs, and most of us want to be liked.

A significant handicap. One with life-and-death consequences.

“Blind certainty, a close-mindedness that amounts to an imprisonment so total that the prisoner doesn’t even know he’s locked up,” Wallace said in that commencement speech. “The point here is that I think this is one part of what teaching me how to think is really supposed to mean. To be just a little less arrogant. To have just a little critical awareness about myself and my certainties. Because a huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded. I have learned this the hard way.”

This isn’t about being a good person or being a bad person.

This isn’t about encouraging people to be virtuous.

“It’s a matter of my choosing to do the work of somehow altering or getting free of my natural, hard-wired default setting which is to be deeply and literally self-centered and to see and interpret everything through this lens of self. People who can adjust their natural default setting this way are often described as being ‘well-adjusted,’ which I suggest to you is not an accidental term,” Wallace said.

The Life-Saving Opportunity Crowded Supermarkets, Traffic Jams, and Adulthood Monotony Provide Us

busy supermarket by ABC News

(Image/ABC News)

Note: I just want to reiterate one more time that these aren’t my words. They are from Wallace’s commencement speech to Kenyon College graduates in 2005. And the only reason I know about it is because one of my favorite writers, Mark Manson, shared it several years ago.

It affected him profoundly.

It affected me profoundly, even though I still mess up often.

And I wonder: If it affected EVERYONE profoundly, would most of what’s wrong in the world go away?

I think the answer to that is: Yes.

And I think people who apply what Wallace is encouraging us to do to our relationships with our spouses, friends, siblings, children, co-workers, and even the strangers we encounter in the world—I think if we can muster the strength and courage to take the extra step of choosing WHAT to think, then we can prevent the worst things in our lives from ever happening in the first place.

Maybe we don’t get cancer because we quit smoking.

Maybe we don’t have a heart attack because we exercise and eat healthy.

Maybe we don’t get divorced because we don’t spend years accidentally swinging bats wildly in a room full of the most precious and fragile things in our lives.

Now, Wallace is going to take us home.

“And I submit that this is what the real, no bullshit value of your liberal arts education is supposed to be about: how to keep from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life dead, unconscious, a slave to your head and to your natural default setting of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone day in and day out. That may sound like hyperbole, or abstract nonsense. Let’s get concrete. The plain fact is that you graduating seniors do not yet have any clue what ‘day in day out’ really means. There happen to be whole, large parts of adult American life that nobody talks about in commencement speeches. One such part involves boredom, routine and petty frustration. The parents and older folks here will know all too well what I’m talking about.

“By way of example, let’s say it’s an average adult day, and you get up in the morning, go to your challenging, white-collar, college-graduate job, and you work hard for eight or ten hours, and at the end of the day you’re tired and somewhat stressed and all you want is to go home and have a good supper and maybe unwind for an hour, and then hit the sack early because, of course, you have to get up the next day and do it all again. But then you remember there’s no food at home. You haven’t had time to shop this week because of your challenging job, and so now after work you have to get in your car and drive to the supermarket. It’s the end of the work day and the traffic is apt to be: very bad. So getting to the store takes way longer than it should, and when you finally get there, the supermarket is very crowded, because of course it’s the time of day when all the other people with jobs also try to squeeze in some grocery shopping. And the store is hideously lit and infused with soul-killing Muzak or corporate pop and it’s pretty much the last place you want to be but you can’t just get in and quickly out; you have to wander all over the huge, over-lit store’s confusing aisles to find the stuff you want and you have to maneuver your junky cart through all these other tired, hurried people with carts (et cetera, et cetera, cutting stuff out because this is a long ceremony) and eventually you get all your supper supplies, except now it turns out there aren’t enough check-out lanes open even though it’s the end-of-the-day rush. So the checkout line is incredibly long, which is stupid and infuriating. But you can’t take your frustration out on the frantic lady working the register, who is overworked at a job whose daily tedium and meaninglessness surpasses the imagination of any of us here at a prestigious college.

“But anyway, you finally get to the checkout line’s front, and you pay for your food, and you get told to ‘Have a nice day’ in a voice that is the absolute voice of death. Then you have to take your creepy, flimsy, plastic bags of groceries in your cart with the one crazy wheel that pulls maddeningly to the left, all the way out through the crowded, bumpy, littery parking lot, and then you have to drive all the way home through slow, heavy, SUV-intensive, rush-hour traffic, et cetera et cetera.

“Everyone here has done this, of course. But it hasn’t yet been part of you graduates’ actual life routine, day after week after month after year.

“But it will be. And many more dreary, annoying, seemingly meaningless routines besides.

“But that is not the point. The point is that petty, frustrating crap like this is exactly where the work of choosing is gonna come in. Because the traffic jams and crowded aisles and long checkout lines give me time to think, and if I don’t make a conscious decision about how to think and what to pay attention to, I’m gonna be pissed and miserable every time I have to shop. Because my natural default setting is the certainty that situations like this are really all about me. About MY hungriness and MY fatigue and MY desire to just get home, and it’s going to seem for all the world like everybody else is just in my way. And who are all these people in my way? And look at how repulsive most of them are, and how stupid and cow-like and dead-eyed and nonhuman they seem in the checkout line, or at how annoying and rude it is that people are talking loudly on cell phones in the middle of the line. And look at how deeply and personally unfair this is.

“Or, of course, if I’m in a more socially conscious liberal arts form of my default setting, I can spend time in the end-of-the-day traffic being disgusted about all the huge, stupid, lane-blocking SUV’s and Hummers and V-12 pickup trucks, burning their wasteful, selfish, 40-gallon tanks of gas, and I can dwell on the fact that the patriotic or religious bumper-stickers always seem to be on the biggest, most disgustingly selfish vehicles, driven by the ugliest [responding here to loud applause] — this is an example of how NOT to think, though — most disgustingly selfish vehicles, driven by the ugliest, most inconsiderate and aggressive drivers. And I can think about how our children’s children will despise us for wasting all the future’s fuel, and probably screwing up the climate, and how spoiled and stupid and selfish and disgusting we all are, and how modern consumer society just sucks, and so forth and so on.

“You get the idea.

“If I choose to think this way in a store and on the freeway, fine. Lots of us do. Except thinking this way tends to be so easy and automatic that it doesn’t have to be a choice. It is my natural default setting. It’s the automatic way that I experience the boring, frustrating, crowded parts of adult life when I’m operating on the automatic, unconscious belief that I am the center of the world, and that my immediate needs and feelings are what should determine the world’s priorities.

“The thing is that, of course, there are totally different ways to think about these kinds of situations. In this traffic, all these vehicles stopped and idling in my way, it’s not impossible that some of these people in SUV’s have been in horrible auto accidents in the past, and now find driving so terrifying that their therapist has all but ordered them to get a huge, heavy SUV so they can feel safe enough to drive. Or that the Hummer that just cut me off is maybe being driven by a father whose little child is hurt or sick in the seat next to him, and he’s trying to get this kid to the hospital, and he’s in a bigger, more legitimate hurry than I am: it is actually I who am in HIS way.

“Or I can choose to force myself to consider the likelihood that everyone else in the supermarket’s checkout line is just as bored and frustrated as I am, and that some of these people probably have harder, more tedious and painful lives than I do.

“Again, please don’t think that I’m giving you moral advice, or that I’m saying you are supposed to think this way, or that anyone expects you to just automatically do it. Because it’s hard. It takes will and effort, and if you are like me, some days you won’t be able to do it, or you just flat out won’t want to.

“But most days, if you’re aware enough to give yourself a choice, you can choose to look differently at this fat, dead-eyed, over-made-up lady who just screamed at her kid in the checkout line. Maybe she’s not usually like this. Maybe she’s been up three straight nights holding the hand of a husband who is dying of bone cancer. Or maybe this very lady is the low-wage clerk at the motor vehicle department, who just yesterday helped your spouse resolve a horrific, infuriating, red-tape problem through some small act of bureaucratic kindness. Of course, none of this is likely, but it’s also not impossible. It just depends what you want to consider. If you’re automatically sure that you know what reality is, and you are operating on your default setting, then you, like me, probably won’t consider possibilities that aren’t annoying and miserable. But if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.

“Not that that mystical stuff is necessarily true. The only thing that’s capital-T True is that you get to decide how you’re gonna try to see it.

“This, I submit, is the freedom of a real education, of learning how to be well-adjusted. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t. You get to decide what to worship.

“Because here’s something else that’s weird but true: in the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship–be it JC or Allah, be it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles–is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.

“Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful, it’s that they’re unconscious. They are default settings.

“They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing.

“And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving…. The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.

“That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.

“I know that this stuff probably doesn’t sound fun and breezy or grandly inspirational the way a commencement speech is supposed to sound. What it is, as far as I can see, is the capital-T Truth, with a whole lot of rhetorical niceties stripped away. You are, of course, free to think of it whatever you wish. But please don’t just dismiss it as just some finger-wagging Dr Laura sermon. None of this stuff is really about morality or religion or dogma or big fancy questions of life after death.

“The capital-T Truth is about life BEFORE death.

“It is about the real value of a real education, which has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over:

“’This is water.’

“’This is water.’

“It is unimaginably hard to do this, to stay conscious and alive in the adult world day in and day out.

“Which means yet another grand cliché turns out to be true: your education really IS the job of a lifetime. And it commences: now.

“I wish you way more than luck.”

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The Secret Way Sex and Faith Collide to Destroy Your Marriage

secret

(Image/OCD Life)

Before we begin, let’s address three truths everyone should understand:

  • No matter your spiritual beliefs, Christianity’s reach and impact has been enormous through the centuries, and likely affects your life in ways you’ve never even considered. While only 33 percent of people globally identify themselves as Christians, the VAST majority of the English-speaking world (the only language in which I write and speak fluently) are Christian. That’s 83 percent of Americans, 76 percent of Europeans, 80 percent of South Africans, and about half of the population of Australia and New Zealand.
  • You’re probably going to get married or be involved in a long-term relationship which approximates marriage. Humans crave connection and companionship. In the United States, 95 percent of people 18 and over are either married, formerly married, or planning to marry. That’s 9.5 out of 10, which any statistician will tell you is basically everyone.
  • Sex is like, totally a big deal to people. It’s easy to prove. “Sex” and “s e x” are the top two Google searches every day out of the 3.5 BILLION that people type into the world’s top search engine. More than 250 babies are born every minute worldwide. (Sex-ed spoiler alert: Most pregnancies occur from a man and a woman doing the hibbity-dibbity, and most hibbity-dibbity sessions do not result in pregnancy.) Lastly, the pornography industry earns about $100 billion per year globally (if you believe the stats I read on the internet). The Hollywood film industry releases about 600 movies per year, and makes about $10 billion in profit. The porn industry produces 13,000 films per year, and makes about $15 billion in profit, which means the adult film industry makes more money than the NFL, NBA, and Major League Baseball combined.

I think Christianity might be negatively affecting young men in ways that has produced generations of guys who hide their sexual desires or activities out of shame, which then leads to relationship-destroying trust issues in marriage.

NOTE: I am NOT saying Christianity is bad. So don’t even, please. I’m saying in its current form culturally, modern Christian teachings might be accidentally creating a human condition that I believe fundamentally harms marriages.

And I think this might lead to a wide-range of commonly occuring marriage-killing conditions, including:

  • Secret pornography use.
  • Sexual anxiety that can adversely affect performance.
  • Discomfort discussing sex with their wives, which can prevent intimacy building, and lead to wives questioning their own desirability and self-worth.
  • A belief that all sexual thoughts and desires and activities are taboo outside of marriage, which can create a psychological condition where forbidden sex becomes a turn-on in a way “approved” sex with one’s spouse never could. The negative implications of which should be obvious.

…..

Is porn messing up your relationship?

If so, I made new friends yesterday who I think can help you. They’re a husband-wife team who I hope to do a lot more work with.

…..

Burn in Hell, Sinners

Let’s start at the beginning.

Me and all of my friends were taught growing up that any sexual thought or action we had was sinful (if we weren’t married, and none of us were because we were little kids).

I don’t mean sinful like “That’s naughty!”

I mean sinful like “If you die—which could literally happen any minute—Jesus is going to be so disappointed in you that he might send you to Hell for eternity!”

Have you guys ever spent a couple of hours in a hospital waiting room? Stood in line at the DMV? Got stuck in bumper-to-bumper vehicular traffic when you were in a huge hurry? That’s just hours.

ETERNITY is FOREVER.

No end. Holy crap. Have you ever contemplated eternity before? You probably haven’t, and you shouldn’t, because I’m pretty sure everyone who does has an aneurysm and dies.

Nobody talks about this, but we need to, because it’s a thing that’s destroying people’s marriages, but the root causes (fear, guilt, and shame) are never dealt with in healthy or productive ways.

A HUGE number of young men are growing up with naturally occurring sexual urges, and believing that if they act on them, there’s the chance they will spend FOREVER experiencing the worst-possible pain and suffering imaginable. Perpetual shitty days. Not regular-shitty. Mega-shitty. Forever.

Sexual desires, thoughts, and certainly actions (the ultimate sign of weakness and low self-control when you consider what’s at stake, right?) produce SHAME. Not a little. A lot.

And profound feelings of shame can cause men to do some very funny things, almost all of which can lead to divorces nobody wants.

English-speaking countries, where Christianity is prevalent, has NOT made it safe for ANYONE to discuss the human activity that MOST people think about, and want to do more than anything else (depending on individual circumstances, of course), every day.

I’m 99 percent sure that isn’t Jesus’ fault. I don’t think the New Testament writers ever quoted him saying the things I was taught.

It’s a condition that crept up organically. No one set out to create generations of sexually dysfunctional men and couples. It’s a consequence of teaching billions of people that they’re doomed to an eternity of fiery torment if they have an orgasm before they’re married, or even think about it too much.

Do Guys, or Their Wives, Understand the Impact of Sexual Shame on Their Marriage?

I grew up like this, and while nobody meant to screw me up, I think that’s what happened anyway.

Sex was forbidden, so maybe I craved it even more than I would have simply because I was a person.

Sex was forbidden, so maybe every time I didn’t succeed at saving myself for marriage, I felt fear that I would be punished for eternity, I felt fear that I contributed to jeopardizing the spiritual health of someone else, I felt ashamed that I wasn’t strong and disciplined enough to do what’s “right” or to be a “good” person, that I’d let down my parents, and the people I used to go to church with, and that I failed to live up to the behavioral standards all the adults around me seemed to demonstrate.

When I get married someday, everything will be okay.

I wouldn’t have to be afraid, or be ashamed. I wouldn’t be “bad” anymore.

But then I got married, but I didn’t feel any different.

I’d already felt guilty thousands of times because of sexual thoughts or activities. I didn’t know how to shut it off.

I didn’t know how to talk about it with my wife. I didn’t want her to know that I was “bad.” That I was “weak.” I didn’t want to poison our marital bed with shame.

I wanted my wife. Lovely woman, she is. But there were so many times I avoided being honest with her about things I thought and felt, either because I was trying to “protect” her from dirty, evil things, or because I was trying to conceal things about me that I was worried she might consider perverse or offensive or otherwise undesirable.

And I’m left with a couple of simple questions:

  1. Did my fear and shame and embarrassment related to sharing my true thoughts and feelings about sex impact my marriage negatively, and was that a major contributor to my eventual divorce?
  2. If I never felt fear or shame or embarrassment while discussing sex with my wife, is it possible we could have built intimacy, and created a relationship-strengthening connection in that way?

I believe the answer to both of those questions is: Yes.

I’m almost 40 and I don’t know things. I just think things.

Today, the only thing I’m sure of is that I don’t know anything for certain.

I know that SOMETHING is true. Something is Absolute Truth. But I also know that I currently don’t know what that Absolute Truth is. Maybe nobody does, even if they believe they do and tell you that they do.

And that’s a scary thing, right? Uncertainty?

Because I used to KNOW things. And there’s comfort in certainty. There’s comfort in a foundational belief system that guides your decision-making and calibrates your moral compass.

I was raised in a small Ohio town, where almost everyone went to church and believed that Jesus wanted you to vote Republican.

We’re not going to debate theology here.

I’m not here to be an advocate for, nor discourage, a faith-based life.

I think Jesus and his core message are all kinds of rad, but I sometimes have doubts about some of the people who claim to follow him.

I don’t claim to know the mysteries of the universe. I’m just pretty sure divorce is bullshit, and messing up all kinds of lives in all kinds of ways.

And sex—or a lack thereof—can be one of the greatest influences on divorce.

And if we continue to heap shame on young men because of their sexual desires in the name of Good and Evil, or Faith and Love; and we never create a safe environment for them to discuss it without being judged, mocked, or rejected, how can we realistically expect the success rate of long-term relationships to improve?

I don’t pretend to know what’s right or wrong.

I don’t pretend to know how to reconcile helping children to not feel fear and shame because of things damn near EVERYONE thinks and feels while trying to impart on them a deeply held spiritual belief.

I don’t pretend to know what God or Yahweh or Jesus or Allah or anyone—all-powerful or otherwise—wants us to actually do, think or feel.

But I do know that if we don’t start having this conversation, nothing is ever going to improve.

So many silent sorrows you’ll never hear from again,
And now that you lost tomorrow, is yesterday still a friend?
All the bridges we built were burned
Not a single lesson was learned
Everything that mattered is just a city of dust covering both of us.

The men who grew up like me may never find the courage to talk to their wives about how it might be negatively affecting their relationship.

And their wives, missing critical pieces of information, may never know WHY something is happening or not happening.

But maybe if he did, and maybe if she did, something amazing would happen.

I don’t know.

I just think.

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The Real Reason Why Women Leave Men

David vs. Goliath

(Image/Flickr User upside of inertia, via CC)

“Hey Matt! You’re a big, stupid idiot!

“How far do you want us to bend over backward to excuse women’s poor behavior?! We shouldn’t have to pretend it’s okay for them to act this way. What are you, some kind of feminist? You hold men to this high standard, but not women! This is why everything women do is fine, but men will always be the bad guys with you, you sackless loser.”

Signed, A Thousand Male Readers Who Think I’m an Asshole

Listen, guys.

I used to be you, so I very much understand where you’re coming from. I also used to be married, and now I’m not BECAUSE of just how much I used to be you.

We’re pretty sure we’re not crazy, so when our wives or girlfriends say or react to something that challenges our brain’s parameters for Normal Human Response, we conclude that something must be seriously wrong with them.

If you’re anything like me, it scares you. Bat-shit crazy is terrifying. Especially when you love them. You want to help, right? You want to help them think correctly and believe all of the true and wise things you believe, so that these weird and seemingly unnecessary arguments stop happening. I remember. I thought and felt those same things.

I was missing one critical piece of the puzzle, though. Unfortunately, that piece of the puzzle represented 80 percent of the actual image, so I was never entirely sure of what I was looking at and now, through the prism of hindsight, I understand that I’d spent my entire marriage guessing incorrectly.

This elusive puzzle piece that I was missing is absent in MOST marriages. I believe 100% that it is the greatest contributor to divorce and relationship break-ups everywhere.

I tried to share this magical, relationship-saving puzzle piece many times before.

In a story about colorblindness.

In a story about dishes.

In a story about painful second-degree burns.

And I’ve even shared this exact one in radio interviews and article comments.

I hope it makes sense this time more than all of the other times, because this life-saving truth is evasive.

This truth hides from you in plain sight. This truth is uncomfortable because it requires that we trust other people more than we trust ourselves, and we are understandably afraid of doing that. This truth is uncomfortable because it shatters our very perception of reality.

Other people hurt us. Other people don’t always have our best interests at heart. Others are more difficult to trust than our own eyes and ears.

I know what I saw.

I know what I heard.

I know what I felt.

Everyone feels that way. And since everyone is in constant disagreement with someone about SOMETHING, we can safely conclude that at least some percentage of us are getting it wrong.

No matter how sure we feel, we pretty much never KNOW things.

If you are so certain of what you saw, heard and felt that you argue with someone sharing a different account, then I have bad news: You are probably going to get divorced.

It really sucks, so I hope you don’t.

I’ll make you a promise, right here, right now.

If you’ll bravely open your mind and heart to honestly consider whether what I’m about to share might actually be the difference between you having a healthy, lasting marriage and wonderful family life vs. a depressing, shitty divorce that negatively impacts your kids and strains all of your family and social relationships; you might just find a bit of magic to transform your entire world and the lives of your partner and kids.

Because THIS is it.

This is everything.

The Simple Secret That Could Save Your Marriage

Most people are familiar with the bible story of David and Goliath. It’s frequently used to characterize any underdog scenario in life where an individual or competitive sports team might be facing seemingly insurmountable odds.

With apologies to Old Testament writer Samuel, I’m going to share three versus from the famous David-and-Goliath story, but I’m going to replace ONE word three times, because doing so might save your marriage, and I’m pretty sure Samuel would want that.

48As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him. 49 Reaching into his bag and taking out a cotton ball, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The cotton ball sank into his forehead, and he fell facedown on the ground.

50 So David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a cotton ball; without a sword in his hand he struck down the Philistine and killed him.

Holy shit!

Did you just see that, guys?!

Little shepherd boy David just smoked that giant Murdery Hagrid-looking sonofabitch right in the forehead with a small piece of balled-up cotton fibers and dropped him like third-period French!

Wait.

That’s a bunch of crap, right? Bollocks? Nonsense? Stupid? Impossible?

This is where I need you to take the leap of faith. Please.

You guys ever see a movie or read a book where the story’s protagonist knows something really important and tries to tell everyone about it, but no one believes her or him, until something horrible happens later and everyone goes “Ohhh. Holy shit. Voldemort REALLY is alive, terrorists REALLY have taken control of Nakatomi Plaza, Freddy Kruger REALLY is murdering teens in their dreams, future murder bots called Terminators REALLY are travelling through time to try and kill various members of the Connor family! I should have believed them! Now I feel like a huge dick!”?

This moment, right now, is EXACTLY like those moments.

You’re being the huge dick who isn’t believing the person who really needs you to and who also happens to be the person who loves you, trusts you, and gives you more than anyone else in your life.

Sometimes, you see a cotton ball hurling through the air and bouncing softly off of someone else—usually your wife or girlfriend—which is then followed by them freaking out as if that harmless cotton ball actually hurt them.

What a bunch of drama-queen psychos.

We get so focused on their whiny bullshit over that cotton ball hitting them, that what they’re actually saying hardly registers with us.

We are concerned with their ability to process information within the framework of reality, right? How scary is it to live with a person who literally can’t tell the difference between what’s real and what’s not?

And the secret—the one that can change your entire relationship and worldview is this: While you are seeing and feeling a cotton ball in your hand and hurling through the air, it’s not only possible, but likely, that your spouse or romantic partner is seeing and feeling a stone. Not a pebble. Not a tiny speck of gravel. A substantial, hard, shitty, ­­don’t you dare throw that at me, you prick kind-of stone like the one David slayed the giant with in the bible story.

You Might Not Believe Me Yet, But You Should

What’s more likely?

That every romantic partner you’ve ever met or heard of is clinically insane or mentally incompetent, OR that both of you, despite living through the same moment, are experiencing it much differently than one another?

Here’s the part that ruins everything.

It MAKES SENSE for BOTH people to think, feel, say, and do what they do after a disagreement in which one person is getting pelted by stones by their asshole partner, but loves them and is trying to communicate that they need help from them; but the OTHER person is defending themselves like “OMG. Cotton balls! They were just cotton balls! Calm down, please. Why are you acting like a psycho?”

Do you recognize the danger?

Two good people, trying their best, both reacting TOTALLY NORMALLY to the events they’re experiencing.

It’s not always gender-specific, but so often it’s the men feeling under attack for something they’re being accused of doing or neglecting.

These guys’ wives and girlfriends are like: “Why would you hurl stones at me?! What is wrong with you? Don’t you love me?”

“I didn’t throw stones at you.”

“Yes, you did.”

“Umm, no I didn’t Kathy Bates in ‘Misery.’ How about we put down the sledgehammer and take a stress tab or something?”

“You’re not listening to me! Why would you want to hurt me? Stones hurt!”

“I didn’t throw stones at you. I threw cotton balls at you, and now you’re acting like a baby about it.”

“You’re such an asshole. Are you, or are you not going to stop hitting me with stones?”

“Since that ISN’T what happened—cotton balls; they were COTTON BALLS—I’m probably not going to stop. Cotton balls don’t hurt people. They’re soft and light, and bounce harmlessly to the floor, so please stop trying to turn this into something it’s not.”

“I can’t believe you’re doing this to me. I don’t even know who you are anymore.”

Maybe there are tears. Maybe there is fear.

Maybe then, his defensive anger melts and his protective instincts kick in.

He runs to her rescue. She sucks when she’s mad, but nothing gets to him quite like when she’s sad.

“I’m so sorry, baby. I would never, ever, ever do anything to hurt you. Never. I’m really sorry. Everything’s going to be okay.”

You have a finite number of those moments, husbands and boyfriends (or whoever).

It feels like you’re having The Same Fight over and over and over again. It becomes routine. You get used to it. Because you get used to it, you don’t think it matters.

But it matters.

Because every time you have that conversation, she is becoming more and more convinced that you’re going to keep throwing stones at her. She’s going to keep getting hurt.

So, now she can’t trust you.

She concludes that you’re either doing it on purpose, or that you care so little about her, that you’re unwilling to help her not feel pelted by stones anymore. Has to be one of those two, right?

AND IT MAKES SENSE THAT SHE WOULD FEEL THAT WAY.

It does.

Stop throwing rocks at me, dick. I don’t care what you’re calling them. It hurts and I’ve told you this a million times, and you haven’t stopped, so I’m out. You’re mean, dumb or both, and I can’t trust you to be my partner. I can’t trust the rest of my life to you.

AND IT MAKES SENSE THAT YOU THINK ALL OF IT IS BAT-SHIT CRAZY TOWN DOT COM.

Because, after all. They were just cotton balls.

Just some little, harmless cotton balls that have never, and will never, hurt anyone.

God, she’s crazy.

I believe that if we can help more people understand that the various realities people experience aren’t identical—that one person can see and feel cotton balls, and that another person can see and feel stones—and that based on that fact, it MAKES SENSE for everyone to behave as they are, then people can accommodate for that in their communication with one another.

They’ll be able to meet each other halfway.

“Oh man. I had no idea, babe. Can you understand how crazy it seemed when you were freaking out about the cotton balls? Obviously, I would NEVER throw a rock at you. I would never try to hurt you on purpose. Ever. In fact, it hurts when you tell me otherwise. You’ve been feeling pummeled by stones this entire time! I’ve been hit by stones. That shit totally hurts. I get it, and again, I am so so so sorry, and I swear, if you just tell me moving forward that it’s another situation where even though it appears harmless to me, it’s physically harming you, I’ll understand what you mean, and we’ll be able to get through it without accidentally destroying each other.”

About 70 percent of divorces are initiated by women. Thousands, every day.

And for most of them, THIS is why they’re leaving. This cotton ball-stone thing.

All that you see, touch, taste, hear feels as concrete and tangible as anything else in our lives. Of course we’re going to default to trusting our first-person experiences.

It’s monumentally difficult to doubt our own interpretations enough to trust others’ conflicting accounts of what happened, especially when it makes us out to be assholes.

But, if you can muster the courage, the trust—the faith—to believe your partner when she or he tells you about something that doesn’t jibe with your perception of reality—I think you’ll discover that giant missing piece of the puzzle I referenced earlier.

The one that completes the picture and helps you see things as they really are.

It’s the piece that says Happily Ever After on it.

And it’s the story ending you and your family deserve.

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I Do Not Care About That But I Do Care About You

don't care

(Image/The Mind Unleashed)

Author’s Note: A very special thanks to the author of “The Secret Blind”, whose post with this very same title inspired this one. The headline so perfectly encapsulates the message I’ve repeatedly, and in multiple ways, attempted to share here. It is my greatest failure as both a husband and human being. My failure to treat things with care simply because they hold so much value for other people, even if they do not for me personally.

My wife enjoyed marching band performances, snow skiing, and white wines.

I like those things much less.

I generally preferred watching the live sports where marching bands often played, and thought of their performances mostly as a sideshow at best, and distraction at worst. I don’t like doing much of anything in snow. And if I’m drinking wine, I’m choosing a dry-ish red more than nine times out of 10.

There are no limits to the list I could produce illustrating differences between how my wife chose to do things, or her personal preferences; versus how I chose to do things, and my personal preferences.

We had many surface-level differences.

In fact, I think it’s fair to say that we OFTEN did not care about the same things.

You know, like that dish sitting by the sink.

Or how I would be emotionally affected by the outcome of a football, basketball or baseball game I was watching, and the result—good or bad for my favorite teams—wouldn’t faze her either way.

There was a list of Things My Wife Cared About.

And then there was a separate list of Things I Cared About.

The lists were quite different.

I think it’s TOTALLY NORMAL and INSTINCTUAL, frankly, for human beings to react with passion and interest to events or subject matter that live on their Things I Care About lists.

And I think it’s also totally normal and instinctual to lack interest in any subject matter or event NOT on that list.

Most of the time, this is a non-issue.

When readers pick up The New York Times, some of them will go straight to the Sports page while others go to Business news, or Classifieds, or the Opinion page.

Businesses and entertainers have been catering to diverse audiences since the dawn of commerce. None of this seems weird to anyone.

And that’s why it can be so shocking later in life when your spouse’s or romantic partner’s total disinterest in the things that matter to you can be the thing that stress-fractures your previously amazing relationship, and slowly but surely chips away at its structural integrity until it splits in two or totally levels it in a fiery explosion.

How can these TOTALLY NORMAL and COMMONLY OCCURRING personality differences or differing points of view be THE thing that is causing us to fall apart? How did this happen?

These are the questions some of us are left asking ourselves after our spouses move out, and we’re crying in the kitchen, and we miss our kids, and no amount of alcohol can make the hurt stop.

Two people gave varying degrees of shit about several things, just as ANY two people in human history would. And THAT somehow ended the most cherished and important human relationship they’ve ever had.

Damn.

Competing interests can cause nations or groups of varying ideologists to go to war.

Competing interests can cause supporters of opposing sports teams to treat one another like assholes.

And competing interests can cause two people who vowed to love one another for their entire lives to go back on that promise—and JUSTIFY doing so because it feels like their spouse broke that same promise first.

Maybe It’s Not As Hard As We Think

Teed-up That’s what she said jokes aside, maybe it’s true, even though I’m pretty much in a constant state of Sucking at This.

Maybe we do sometimes over-complicate divorce. Maybe we overthink it. Maybe we overestimate the problem facing us societally, or within our own relationships.

Maybe—just maybe—when we take the time to invest our energy in the stuff on the Things My Wife/Husband Cares About lists (not because we naturally care about those things, but because we mindfully care about our loved ones), those existing stress-fractures can heal.

Maybe when we’re focused on investing in the Things [Insert ANY Person We Value] Cares About list, people won’t drift apart, or feel abandoned, or disrespected, or neglected, or unloved, or underappreciated, or any of the countless other emotions we all feel from time-to-time (even though the people who love us would NEVER intentionally try to make us feel that way).

Our habits and naturally occurring instincts are NOT bad. We’re not wrong or broken or evil for responding in the moment in whatever way is most authentic.

HOWEVER, after vowing a lifetime of love, service and partnership to another, and should it turn out that our habits and naturally occurring instincts cause painful stress-fractures and emotional suffering in their hearts and minds, do we not owe them the daily effort to avoid behaviors that they tell us are hurting them, and invest in behaviors that actually foster good?

I didn’t give even the slightest iota of a shit about some of the things my ex-wife loved and valued.

That’s okay.

But then I actually behaved in ways that communicated how little I valued and respected those things that she cared about.

And THAT response hurt—HURT—her. A little at first. Then more. Then every day was a grind and something to dread, and then she eventually stopped wanting to keep doing that.

How long would our relationships last if, from Day 1, we said things like “Hahaha, that’s so stupid! Everything you like sucks, and all of your opinions are bullshit. You must be dumb like your parents and all of your dumb friends.”

I think, even when we don’t speak—or even think and feel—those words, our actions SAY them when we are constantly dismissive of and inattentive to the Things My Wife/Husband Cares About lists.

You probably don’t think everything on those lists is particularly interesting. Just like if you prefer chocolate ice cream while she/he prefers vanilla.

We all like different things. Seems harmless enough.

But THIS is the thing that’s breaking us.

You don’t care about something, and that’s okay. It would be inauthentic and bullshitty to start faking it now.

BUT.

What if you cared simply because THEY did?

And what if, instead of throwing empty words at them, we actually acted like it?

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