The Taxonomy of Married Men, Vol. 2

loss of self-awareness

(Image/willemgous.com)

First we took Husbands, and split them into two groups — Good Men and Bad Men.

And this isn’t about “nice guys” versus “bad boys.” Non-conformist “bad boys” engaging in mischief with sometimes aggressive, daring and tough exteriors can still be very good men. We’re talking about character. Not personality type.

Women are often attracted to men who do bad things. But good, healthy people are not attracted to BAD people. (Think Adolf Hitler, not James Dean.) I’m comfortable saying that people should NOT marry, remain married to, or have children with fundamentally bad people.

(Read The Taxonomy of Married Men, Vol. 1 here)

So now we have Husbands who are Good Men, and we’re splitting them into two groups — Good Husbands and Bad Husbands.

Lots of good men are lousy husbands. Being a husband is a skill. Just like playing instruments, flying helicopters and performing heart surgery. A very good person can be bad at marriage. It’s an important distinction. Good husbands can’t benefit from anything I ever think or write, so we’re honing in on Good Men Who Are Bad Husbands.

We split them into two groups, as well: The ones who don’t know they’re bad husbands (which I guesstimate to be about 85% of all married men — yes, I’m serious about that), and the ones who DO know and are trying to be better (which mostly include men on the brink of losing their family, and in their desperate search for answers, realized as I did that they’d been accidentally messing up for all these years).

I’m operating under the assumption that no GOOD man could KNOW he’s a bad husband and intentionally refuse to alter his behaviors. Because that would make him a bad man.

Conclusion: Troubled Marriages Worth Saving Only Involve Good Men

I’m probably biased. I — perhaps delusionally — think of myself as a “good” man. I’m not always nice. I don’t always do the right thing. I certainly upset people now and then. But I know who I try to be, and I’ll share a humanity foxhole with anyone else trying to be this way too.

And I’ll go to bat for these husbands and fathers over and over and over and over and over again, if they demonstrate the humility and effort required to evolve on behalf of their wives and children.

And MANY men will.

The powerful influence of simple AWARENESS in our lives can’t be overstated. People are willing to change when they understand WHY change is needed.

Most men who repeatedly hurt their wives simply don’t know why the behavior changes are needed.

A good man armed with correct information changes the entire world for his wife and children.

Beautiful things. Hero shit.

And we should all be doing a bit more of that.

The Things Good Men Who Are Bad Husbands Don’t Know

For the same reason husbands sometimes believe their wives get disproportionally sad or angry over things that would never upset them (dirty dishes by the sink; Bree and Monica at work going to lunch without asking her to join, or simply his laid-back non-committal attitude about upcoming weekend plans), wives sometimes have trouble believing their husbands aren’t fully aware of how hurt they feel.

It makes sense, too.

  1. She’s told him a bunch of times already. Using the very language they both have spoken their entire lives. She doesn’t remember saying it in code, or anything.
  2. She FEELS it. The gross feeling. The feeling that comes when we feel disrespected or unloved or outright rejected. Things happen. She feels shitty because of those things. Those things = Pain. His inability to understand how these things that make her life miserable make just as much sense and are just as valid as his inability to understand how things he considers to be harmless can cause pain in others.

Every Failing Relationship (With Good People) is Rooted in Unawareness

Good people simply do not hurt one another on purpose. We don’t.

We do it thoughtlessly, and our crime is not the thoughtless things we do, but rather our lack of respect for our partners’ expressed pain and our unwillingness to put forth the energy to changing whatever’s required for the pain to stop.

It’s the idea that changes the world. But most people don’t know about it.

Marriages rarely die from big, dramatic things. It’s death by 10,000 paper cuts.

What most married people — OFTEN husbands — don’t know is that what kills marriages, precipitating affairs and divorce, are an incalculable amount of moments pushing two people apart so minutely that we can’t detect that shift. Some cancer and heart disease goes undetected until the symptoms show up and it’s too late to save us.

That’s what marriage is, too.

We don’t work hard to avoid things that end our marriages because they don’t hurt enough to register with us as they’re happening.

It’s The Undetectable Death.

If two spouses find themselves arguing or fighting (without resolution) about these things, then The Marriage Death Watch has already begun:

  • Time spent watching sports and/or managing fantasy teams
  • Time spent playing video games or on their phone
  • Time spent working at a job
  • Time spent tinkering in the garage or in the yard
  • Time spent on any individual hobbies or interests which don’t include the rest of the family

These things are felt and interpreted by the spouse who is hurting as rejection and abandonment.

Men are most often the offending party.

He would rather play video games than play with his children. They miss him so much, and he doesn’t care at all. It hurts me to see my children rejected by their own father, she thinks.

Here’s the other big one:

He’s never romantic. EVER. He never tells me I’m pretty or makes me feel as if he’s interested in pursuing me. I have to beg him to come to bed, and he usually says no. If the choice is between me and watching football, he always chooses football. I don’t see nor feel evidence that my husband loves me anymore, she thinks.

Sometimes fears, anxieties and insecurities start to rear their ugly heads. Very little good has ever happened as a result of the stories we make up in our own minds to try to make sense of why the behavior of people we love makes us feel so bad.

Is he REALLY working late tonight?

Is he REALLY going to the gym?

Is he REALLY “just friends” with Joanna at work?

All the sudden, a decent man who works hard, tried to keep his body in shape, and has a respectful and professional relationship with a co-worker, creates feelings of uncertainty and suspicion.

And then, sometimes another thing happens.

She learns that he’s jerking off to internet porn on the family computer or on his phone. It makes her feel ugly and rejected in ways she’s never felt before.

Oh my God. I ask him all the time to come to bed with me, and he always says no. We haven’t had sex in over a month. And now he’s getting himself off while watching THAT on the internet? He PREFERS strangers on a screen and his own hand to me.

If you live a secret life, no matter how innocent you consider it since you’re “not hurting anyone!,” your marriage will probably end, and it will totally be your fault.

Spouses SHARE life. That’s the design. And when you deny or hide parts of yourself — no matter how innocent or noble you think it might be — things will eventually crash and burn.

You can’t NOT do the work of the shoveling coal in your marriage every day and expect your spouse to not notice since she/he MUST shovel enough coal to compensate for the deficit you leave.

The Good Men Must Wake Up

Like Neo in the Matrix.

It’s a little bit harder to see the world as it really is. Life is less convenient. But it’s Truth. And good men seek truth.

We are unaware.

We either stay unaware or become aware.

Once we’re aware, we make good choices. Selfless ones, that put those we love ahead of ourselves.

What we see looks convincing enough. It looks real. So when the person next to us reacts differently than we would, we scream: “YOU’RE WRONG!!!”

And that’s what ends us.

The simple, hard-to-detect realization that they’re not wrong. They’re just different.

Wrong is intolerable.

But different is beautiful.

And once we see the beautiful Different instead of the ugly and hate-inducing Wrong, our relationships can thrive.

It’s a story I keep telling over and over again, and maybe everyone who gets it is bored by it, but it’s too important to not talk about.

It’s the idea that changes the world. But most people don’t know about it.

It’s not a secret. There are simply so many people who NEVER think about this, that the idea never spreads far and wide enough to impact the critical mass of humanity we need for this to always be top of mind.

But someday, that’s going to change.

And all of the good men righting their shitty husband wrongs will be the catalyst.

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The Taxonomy of Married Men, Vol. 1

taxonomy illustration

(Image/aiim.org)

Tax·on·o·my – /takˈsänəmē/ – The classification of something.

Here’s the breakdown:

1. Husbands

All husbands fall into one of two camps, which for the purpose of this exercise, require defining.

A. Good men.

A good man is the kind of person you’d let spend the night in your house without hesitation. A good man can be trusted to care for your children and pets. A good man is generally kind, honest, reliable, respectful, polite, loving and demonstrates loyalty and commitment to his family, friends, co-workers, teammates, etc. A good man is not perfect. But his Pros in the character department far outweigh his Cons.

B. Bad men.

A bad man does not care — even a little bit — how his actions affect others. He hurts people physically and emotionally without remorse. He cons people in order to take advantage of them. He lies. Cheats. Steals. Rapes. Murders. Abuses. He is toxic to himself and everyone around him, and his toxic behavior is intentional. His behavior can legitimately be described as EVIL. He revels in chaos, drama and dysfunction. He takes pleasure in others’ pain. A bad man is a constant danger to himself and anyone near him. His Cons far outweigh his Pros.

I am not going to waste thought and space on men who are bad. I lack the maturity and patience to explain to a stranger who is unlikely to be reading this or to ever care what I say, why knowingly marrying, or intentionally remaining married to, a BAD man are shitty life decisions.

2. Husbands Who Are Good Men

All good men who are married fall into one of two camps.

A. Good husbands.

A good husband performs the duties of marriage with skill and competence. His success is usually most apparent to his wife, who often feels loved and secure every day of her life, and who loves and respects him in ways she’s only ever felt for her children and her very closest family members. He is often appreciated by his in-laws, admired by his friends and neighbors, secretly or not-so-secretly wanted by women who covet the things he provides his wife and family in their own lives, and has very little drama or life stresses at home with his wife and/or family as a result of human conflict.

B. Bad husbands.

A bad husband is shitty at marriage. No matter how GOOD of a human being he is, he blows ass at the complexities of human relationships. (Note: This puts him in the 95% of everyone who at times struggles with the complexities of human relationships. This does not make him stupid or incompetent or unfit necessarily for anything good men are suited for. It just makes him bad at marriage. Throughout human history, good men have been bad at many things, like singing and dancing, or constructing high-rise buildings, or playing the piano, or carving ice sculptures, or solving advanced mathematics.)

I am not going to waste thought and space here on men who are good husbands. They’re awesome. I appreciate them. I hope you do too.

3. Good Men Who Are Shitty Husbands

All good men who are bad husbands fall into one of two camps.

A. Men who don’t know they are bad husbands.

Either these men don’t know they’re bad husbands because they don’t know what shitty husbandry is and/or no one has ever taught him that he’s one, OR anytime someone (usually his wife) says that he is, he doesn’t actually believe it. (Note: I believe, of all married men in existence, the VAST majority — I’m talking 85-ish% — fall into this category.)

B. Men who know they are bad husbands but want to be good.

This is a very bad spot to be in, because to arrive here, one usually has to have a miserable, failing marriage wreaking so much emotional havoc, stress and anxiety in our home lives, that we FINALLY decide to ask ourselves the right question: What can I do to help fix this?

An Earnest Search for Answers Uncovers Life-Changing Truths

One night at dinner, my wife said: “I don’t know if I love you or want to be married to you anymore.”

I reacted poorly and selfishly, making it entirely about me. I pouted and started sleeping in the guest room, from which point every day got a little harder and more difficult over 18 months before she chose to move out and end our relationship. But months before that, something in me snapped. I wanted to — needed to — understand why this was happening.

I knew that I loved my wife. I knew that I wanted to stay married. And I thought because I was a good man, and because we shared a son, our entire adulthoods, a home and many friends, that we should be able to pull through.

All you need is love! Right? RIGHT?!?!

Wrong.

Just like being a good man and being a good husband can be mutually exclusive things, so too can love exist in the shittiest and most painful of marriages.

One night, I found myself reading a book called “How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It”. The book is written by two long-time marriage counselors who used their experiences with clients and years of notetaking to explain common marriage problems and how husbands and wives commonly experience them.

The experience of reading about random married couples having IDENTICAL conversations and reactions as my wife and I had a profound effect on me, and set the stage for the fundamental shift from who I was to who I am.

Here’s What My Brain Did Afterward

Realization #1

Wow. Our marriage problems are so common that generic, made-up stories in a marriage book totally NAIL my marriage. These exact same marriage problems are affecting almost everybody.

Realization #2

If these marriage problems are this common, that means my wife and I aren’t somehow fatally flawed. We’re not NOT soulmates or freaks unfit for marriage. These marriage problems are practically universal and we don’t have to feel ashamed for having them.

Realization #3

If nearly all marriages suffer these common problems, then that means it’s foolish to get divorced with the intention of replacing your spouse with someone else. Because these same problems will ALSO exist with that other person. If my wife and I love each other, our son, and both generally prefer marriage to being single, the most logical course is to work hard on this marriage, rather than trying to start new relationships as middle-aged divorced single parents only to inevitably have to work hard on THAT relationship, but with the added suck of all the family and friends breakage, and losing so much time with our children.

The Most-Asked Questions of Hurting Wives

It’s one of two, but they both mean the same thing.

Either “You get it! How can I get my husband to read your stuff or understand what you now understand?” or “What could your wife have said or done to help you understand this before it was too late?”

Tomorrow, in Vol. 2 of this post, I’ll attempt to lay out what I perceive to be The Things Good Men Who Are Accidentally Bad Husbands Don’t Know.

But since it will inevitably cover plenty of familiar territory, you can get a preview by reading what I think is among my most helpful posts, Cracking the Code: 7 Ideas That Would Have Saved My Marriage.

It’s hard to be the guy desperately trying to save his family while his wife has checked out of the marriage because she’s been beaten down emotionally so much through the years without him — a genuinely good dude who simply sucked at marriage — realizing it.

And now he KNOWS. Now, he gets it.

But she’s done.

Few relationships come back from the dead. It’s a pill that’s hard to swallow.

But the value of understanding where we went wrong, how to avoid being shitty husbands in the future, and how to teach our children to have healthy and functional human relationships can’t be overstated.

I have to believe all the good men will agree.

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The Illusion of Incorrectness: The One Time Seeing the Other Woman Can Save Your Marriage

optical illusion old lady young lady

Surely, most of you have seen this famous optical illusion before. Many of us can see “both” women — the young woman facing the other direction, as well as the large-nosed old woman. But our brains tend to default to one or the other, forcing us to really “look” for the other perspective. Is it WRONG to see the young lady? Is it WRONG to see the old one? Two different conclusions, but NEITHER are incorrect. Both are right. This happens in life and marriage all the time, but we’re less quick to let others see what they see. We tell them they’re wrong. And then, sometimes, everything breaks. (Image/Gizmodo)

Megan wrote: “I posted your ‘She Divorced Me Because I Left Dishes by the Sink’ article on FB and my one woman friend who always disputes the existence of sexism replied, ‘This wife could’ve learned that dishes in the sink actually isn’t an act of deep disrespect worthy of divorce just as easily as he understood she interpreted it that way despite his intention. I think he’s better off without her. Part of marriage is accepting small flaws rather than blowing them out of proportion. But I say this as someone who’s not a neat freak, nor married to a neat freak (thank God!).’ I’d be curious to hear your reply to that.”

I don’t think Bob Dylan’s music is all that great. I hear it and naturally don’t like it as much as music played by others.

I think shopping in retail stores on Black Friday is insane. I can’t save enough money to justify putting myself in the middle of those crowds.

I think bleu cheese makes everything taste worse. If I was kidnapped and starved by a gnarly hillside cave dweller who scraped a dead skunk off the road, ate it raw along with all of the bugs and grossness crawling on it, had a bowel movement, and then presented it to me as an alternative to a regular meal with crappy bleu cheese sprinkled all over it, I’d have a difficult decision to make.

But people like bleu cheese. A lot.

Black Friday is, I think, the second-most-popular shopping day of the year.

And Bob Dylan’s an absolute legend. I think we all can agree that on the Great Musicians Totem Pole, Dylan ranks considerably higher than Twenty One Pilots, GZA, or The Decemberists, yet the latter are all in my phone and listened to semi-regularly. I don’t hear much Dylan unless I’m somewhere and classic rock is being played.

I got caught up the other day reading a monstrous comment thread on Facebook underneath a Tasty video where a macaroni and cheese recipe called for cottage cheese.

People lost their minds. Some called cottage cheese an abomination. Others said they loved it.

Was anyone right?

The Worst Thing We Do In Relationships

Think about your life for a moment.

You are born. And then you have all of these individual experiences, feelings, educational opportunities (formal or otherwise) and emotional responses to things based on your specific makeup combined with all of those life things.

Now, whenever anything happens to you, you respond accordingly.

When you see a car driving on the street, you probably don’t think anything of it.

If a member of an indigenous Peruvian tribe living in the wilderness saw one, maybe they’d freak out like Brendan Fraser’s caveman character in Encino Man when he saw his first garbage truck.

Total indifference to a passing car AND being blown away by seeing a car — a machine you didn’t know existed — driving by for the first time are equally reasonable responses in context.

It would be weird if a 30-year-old American living in suburbia freaked out when a car drove by.

It would be weird if a person who had never seen a complex machine before paid no attention to a passing automobile.

But when we have the whole story (and we NEVER have the whole story), we understand why someone else responded differently to something than we would.

People draw upon their background and experiences to interpret information.

Everyone you meet will like you so much more, and you’ll be able to grow meaningful connections with them if you DO NOT trash and invalidate their memories and experiences just because they’re different than yours.

This exact same phenomenon happens in each and every one of our relationships up and down the spectrum, from parents and siblings, to friends and coworkers, to our kids and romantic partners.

I am divorced today for many reasons, but I think this is the biggest one:

I never honored, respected or demonstrated any real effort to understand my wife’s individual thoughts, feelings and life experiences during disagreements.

The patience and compassion I would grant to the tribesman in awe of seeing modern civilization for the first time, I denied my spouse. And I honestly don’t even know why, and can only guess it must have felt more difficult to agree with her and I have a nasty habit of choosing “the easy way.”

And here’s the REALLY scary part — I was honest, self-assured and felt confident I wasn’t doing anything wrong each and every time I did so.

I was doing one of the worst things a person can ever do to a loved one, and I was doing so without one shred of remorse because I didn’t know any better.

After doing so enough times, the worst thing that ever happened to me happened and I never saw it coming.

I was so certain of my opinions and personal preferences throughout most of my life that I thought I was doing my wife and other people a favor by challenging theirs. Like, if they just start doing things MY way, imagine how much happier their lives will be!

And even though I think it’s an asshole move, I think I still involuntarily do it almost every day in moments big and small.

That Certainness Will End Your Marriage

Here’s what I think most of us do. We think:

1. I’m of sound mind and body. I’m not insane. My choices and beliefs make sense.

2. That other person is saying that X made them angry or sad or embarrassed. But I experience X all the time, and it doesn’t make me angry or sad or embarrassed.

3. Because my choices and beliefs make sense, this other person disagreeing with them must be wrong.

It makes perfect sense that we do this. Which is why it’s so scary that it’s at the heart of virtually every human conflict in global history.

“We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.”

Anaïs Nin, author

We don’t have time to go over EVERY imaginable life scenario. Surely, there are times where facts and evidence should sway reasonable people toward certain conclusions.

But on matters which are CLEARY subjective — “That movie sucked,” or “Vegan meals taste amazing,” or “When the person I love repeatedly chooses to play video games or watch football alone rather than touch me or spend time together, it HURTS badly” — the future of marriage and healthy human relationships across the board is dependent on our ability to let people own those opinions and feelings, even when they clash with ours.

Everyone who isn’t an exact clone of ourselves with our super-specific set of emotional reactions, habits, beliefs and life experiences, might react in ways we don’t expect to something we do or say. They might enjoy things we don’t, or want to avoid things we want to do.

And if you tell that person that they are WRONG, or MISTAKEN, or FLAWED, or STUPID, or CRAZY, or otherwise INCORRECT because they don’t arrive at the identical conclusions that you have, you’re going to wreak havoc and dysfunction in all of your relationships.

That means, anytime you surround yourself with confident, boundary-enforcing, authentic people who care about you enough to always tell you the truth even when it’s uncomfortable, and you have a disagreement with them, it’s going to end with one or both of you walking away, perhaps causing irreparable harm.

And maybe there are people out there who thrive in isolation, but it’s my observation that the quality of our human relationships tends to dictate how good and pleasant, or how shitty and miserable, our lives are.

Megan asked me for my response to the woman who suggested my wife could have adjusted just as easily to my behavior and thoughts, as she expected me to do to hers.

The woman said I’m “better off without her.”

At the risk of putting words in this total stranger’s mouth, I think this woman said the equivalent of: “Because the husband’s feelings were just as valid as the wife’s feelings, and she failed to recognize it, this guy should be happy that he’s now divorced and only sees his son half of the time, because I can tell from this one metaphorical story that she is more trouble than she’s worth.”

In one Facebook comment, a stranger dismissed the value of my family and marriage because she disagreed with the premise of my blog post, or perhaps objected to her friend Megan liking and sharing it.

Make of that what you will.

We’re all a little bit blind, or at least colorblind, to the world as it really is.

We can’t know what we don’t know, and that’s nobody’s fault.

But once we KNOW, it becomes our job to stay AWARE.

Don’t forget. Remember. Every day:

Other people are different. My spouse is different.

They are not wrong or crazy. They simply arrived at a conclusion different from mine, and in the context of their entire life story, it makes PERFECT sense that they did.

I want to be friends with them.

I want to have good relationships.

I don’t want my family to break because I was an unaware asshole worsening each and every problem.

And then we go to work trying hard to understand WHY the people we know and love believe things different from us.

In the end, we become smarter and stronger. And we have great friendships.

And I think, just maybe, we have the kinds of marriages we set out to have when we first say “I do.”

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The Magic of Boundaries: Date Well, Marry the Right Person, and Love Hard Forever

line in the sand

Establish boundaries. When someone knowingly crosses them? Say bye. Because life is too short. (Image/pando.com)

Yep. We’re talking about boundaries again. They’re THAT important.

Because I’m a hack writer (or possibly just because every single person on earth hasn’t read or doesn’t remember all of my posts), our conversations about boundaries are getting gray and cloudy like a sucky winter day in Cleveland.

And that’s bad. Because boundaries are magical. Like when the sun comes out during the rain and gifts you a sweet rainbow to frolic on, or how God doesn’t strike me dead when I order groceries online and an underpaid high school kid loads them in my Jeep for me curbside while elsewhere deserving people starve.

The best thing I’ve ever read on boundaries was written by Mark Manson (who coincidentally released a new book this week AND graciously agreed to a Q&A with me which you should obviously read).

For the 90 percent of you who won’t read Mark’s piece, I’m going to share a small part because it’s really important. From Mark:

“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. 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.”

If you’re like me, you nodded your head ‘yes’ a few too many times because it hits a little too close to home, or because you remember how the younger you did all those things and maybe that’s why many shitty things happened.

Boundaries are about Emotional Health.

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.

You can’t always just walk away from people to enforce boundaries without innocents (like your kids or other family members or friends) becoming casualties of the decision.

One thing we can be sure of is that if we’re in such a spot, it’s because at some time in our past, we failed to enforce our boundaries in healthy ways, and later we suffer the consequences.

We’ll leave the family and friendship drama for another time.

For now, I’m focused exclusively on enforcing boundaries while dating. And then later, during marriage.

THESE ARE NOT THE SAME THING.

Let’s talk about why.

The Magic of Dating Boundaries

Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

Girl meets Boy. It’s all flowers and Facebook status changes and sexting and orgasms.

But then Hedonic Adaptation does what it ALWAYS does, and the lovey-dovey stuff wears off for the Boy.

Boy starts behaving differently. Communicating infrequently. Spending more time with friends or maybe other girls.

Boy’s behavior makes her feel bad. She tells her friends and her diary, but she doesn’t tell the Boy.

Eventually, things get more serious.

Meal planning, domestic housework, calendar scheduling, and sharing resources comes more into play.

Boy’s behavior forces Girl to take on lion’s share of that work because he’s totally disengaged outside of their date-ish time together.

Girl finally tells Boy that she’s upset, either because he finally asks her what’s wrong, or because she works up the courage to say something even though she’s afraid of the potential fight or making him feel smothered and pushing him away.

Boy tells her she’s delusional. That she’s imagining things. That she’s crazy. “OF COURSE I love you!” he says.

But no matter how much he tells her she’s being overly emotional or misreading the situation, she continues to feel sad and anxious about his behavior. He says her feelings aren’t real. But they damn sure FEEL real to her.

Girl keeps feeling uneasy, but she doesn’t want to break up.

Boy only gets upset WHEN she points out his behaviors that hurt her feelings, so she stops bringing them up so much, because she doesn’t like fighting, and the fear of him rejecting her or of being single again somehow outweighs the fear of his behavior hurting her feelings again.

Maybe he’ll change one day, she thinks.

Maybe she talks to her mom about it. “Oh that’s just how men are, honey,” Mom tells her while cleaning up after a weekend family meal while Dad goes to the other room to watch TV. “You see how your father is. He’s a good man. This is life. This is just the way it is.”

It seems a little depressing to Girl. But she’s already invested two or three years in the relationship, all of her girlfriends are getting married, and all of the guys do stuff to upset them once in a while.

I guess this really is just the way life is, she thinks.

Girl marries Boy.

Five to seven years later, they’re miserable because the same behavior that hurt her feelings while dating hurts even more now that he promised to love and care for her forever, but she doesn’t feel loved, nor cared for, nor emotionally safe or secure in any way.

Boy is oblivious.

Girl is stressed to the max.

Girl gets a phone call. Her mother was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer.

Girl loses her mother.

Girl breaks because losing a parent can feel impossibly hard. She feels responsible for caring for her father who doesn’t know how to cook and clean for himself. She needs to grieve but it’s hard because there’s no one else around to take care of Life Things.

Girl takes care of Life Things until she finally collapses emotionally.

Boy is absolutely zero comfort. She didn’t know it until right now—but he doesn’t feel steady like her mom did. He can’t comfort her even when he tries.

Girl rejects Boy. Boy feels sorry for himself. One or both of them seek comfort in the arms and privates of someone they’re not married to.

Very bad things happen.

More breakage.

Mid-life misery ensues.

And even though it’s not her fault, it is her responsibility.

This happened because she didn’t enforce her personal boundaries while dating.

Enforce Your Boundaries Vigilantly

I work in marketing.

It’s a complete waste of time and damaging to marketing programs to try to sell products and services to people unlikely to want or need them.

You don’t want to open a fishing bait shop in the middle of the desert. You want to open one by waters used for fishing.

You don’t want to sell “Make America Great Again” hats at Hillary Clinton political rallies. You want to sell them to fans of her political rival.

For marketing programs to succeed, we must target customers intelligently.

And so it goes in dating.

I’ve written repeatedly that I think people should vigilantly enforce their boundaries while dating.

That doesn’t mean you cut somebody off the first time they upset you. No one would EVER stay together if that was the case.

But what if Girl made different choices in the above example? What if, when Boy started exhibiting behaviors she was uncomfortable with, she simply communicated that to him?

What if she said: “Hey. I really care about you and want to see where this can go, but you need to know that I felt really crappy when X happened earlier. Maybe I’m misunderstanding, or getting something wrong. But I have plenty of things in Life that hurt and will hurt me in the future. The person I’m going to spend the rest of my life with WILL NOT be one of them if I can do anything about it. I just want you to know that what happened crosses a hardline boundary with me”?

One of three things happen afterward.

  1. He can act like he usually does and try to explain to her how she’s wrong and her feelings are stupid, and then she can walk away toward a future where she gives someone else a shot to demonstrate actual love and respect.
  2. He can promise to try harder and fail. She avoids a sad divorce later.
  3. He can promise to try harder and succeed. They have a healthy marriage.

When people enforce their boundaries vigilantly while dating, ONLY people with a high probability for success will ever end up exchanging wedding vows with one another.

Will there be a shit-ton more break-ups? Absolutely. But explain to me what the problem is. If all of the people destined for divorce or shitty marriages don’t end up getting married, how does that make the world a worse place?

Exchanging Vows is Something Else

In the ideal scenario where everyone is making good Life choices, two assholes incapable of healthy marriage don’t end up marrying each other in the first place.

That means boundary enforcement during marriage rarely rises to the level of causing divorce. Two people vigilantly enforcing their dating boundaries are WELL PREPARED for the kinds of unselfishness and communication necessary to thrive.

But we don’t live in an ideal world. And no one owns a kick-ass DeLorean time machine. And that means many of us find ourselves in shitty relationships where the criteria for being willing to walk away from the relationship can’t be the same as that of the unattached dater with options.

There’s a fundamental difference between two people who are dating, and two people who are married.

When you’re dating, you can dump someone over something petty like how loud they chew their food, or the fact that they root for a sports team you hate. When you’re dating, you’re allowed to have any personal boundaries you want. It does NOT matter what someone else thinks is reasonable. You are not beholden to anyone.

You are free to create or eliminate any boundary you want, for any reason, at any time.

The important thing is that when someone crosses your line and inflicts pain, that when they KNOW they did, they exhibit remorse and a desire to avoid causing future pain.

If they dismiss what you’re saying and feeling, indicating this shitty thing will continue to happen over and over again? We should walk away.

Our marriage boundaries shouldn’t be superficial.

And our vigilance should be limited to major vow-breaking violations, and not just a fight over what to put on the TV that night or whether you’re going to attend the family get-together next weekend.

And that’s because when we get married, we vow—VOW—to love generously. Forever.

We promise to sacrifice. To give more than we take. To forgive. To lift up the other when they’ve fallen. To choose love each and every day regardless of how inconvenient it might feel.

That’s what it means when we say “I do.”

Our marriages are shit today because the younger, dumber versions of ourselves didn’t know what we didn’t know. And now we have some hard choices to make. Choose to love, even though it isn’t easy? Or divorce, even though it isn’t easy?

Life is HARD.

Not easy.

And there are no judgments here. People need to do what they need to do. People need to make mistakes and figure things out. That’s how human beings learned that fire and water—two amazing, life-giving things—can also kill us.

Marriages rooted in poor boundary enforcement will be difficult and dysfunctional. Most will fail.

But the conversation about boundary enforcement changes between people who are dating and people who are married.

We enforce boundaries while dating IN ORDER TO achieve a healthy and successful relationship.

And in marriage?

We love hard. Not because we feel like it every day. Because we choose it every day.

We choose it today. And then tomorrow. And then the next day.

And when our partners do the same in return, Forever happens.

Rarely easy.

Often worth it.

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Maybe You’re Giving Too Many F*cks: A Q&A With Author Mark Manson

Tim doesn't give a fuck. Image/Mark Manson

This makes me laugh every time I see it. You go, Tim. (Image/markmanson.net)

There are bad words in this post.

More than usual. I used to publish many bad words here, but have cut back, probably because I worry too much about what other people think. Which is bad.

That’s what Mark Manson’s new book The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: The Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life is mostly about (along with Mark’s original blog post which inspired it).

We all spend a lot of time and energy on trying to be who and what we think other people want us to be. And it leaves us feeling a little dirty and dissatisfied because it’s inauthentic and bullshitty.

Our mental, physical, spiritual and emotional well-being is affected by a variety of meaningful and important things. Some people think profanity is meaningful and important. Some people want to use only nice words and feel comfortable all the time.

But sometimes, I think we MUST feel uncomfortable, because that’s when we figure out what really matters and what doesn’t.

I don’t intentionally cuss in front of children (or my grandma), and I value politeness and respecting others’ opinions.

But once in a while, boats need rocked, beliefs need challenged, and taking a counterintuitive approach is what’s needed to live well.

You might not like it. I’m fairly certain my mom doesn’t.

But for this post, at least? I just don’t give a fuck.

subtle-art-cover

F-bombing the book title is a bold choice. The word “Shitty” will live in mine.

Mark Manson is one of my favorite writers, possibly my very favorite.

He’s smart. He’s funny. And many of the things he writes hit me in that place where your mind, heart and body go: Ohhh. That feels uncomfortably true.

Other than me being a big fan and admirer of his work, Mark and I don’t know each other. I’m not pimping Mark’s new book for any other reason than I believe his writing has the ability to help certain people have better lives.

I truly believe that Mark’s work helps humans flourish. And that matters.

I think you should read his book. It would be awesome of you to buy a copy. By the time you read this, my pre-ordered copy should be sitting atop my book stack. Which is awesome.

A Q&A With Mark Manson

Matt: I’ve read a lot of your work and have been majorly influenced by a handful of your ideas. I value your opinions. What is so important to you about this specific concept that made it meaningful enough to dedicate an entire book to it?

Mark: I wanted to write a book about the importance of pain — that pain is often a good and necessary thing in life. It’s something that’s not said often and I feel like in our overly-consumer culture these days with social media and everything, it’s more important than ever for people to allow life to suck sometimes. They need to learn how to stop giving a fuck about everything all the time. In a sense, you could say it’s an approach to personal growth not through pursuing and achieving more, but rather by pursuing and achieving less.

Matt: I mostly write about relationships (the dating/marriage kind). How can learning how to give fewer fucks help someone or couples experience greater relationship success?

Mark: Not giving a fuck is essentially about choosing what to care about: choosing your priorities, your values. Most people who struggle in the dating/relationship area struggle because they’re giving too many fucks about the wrong things — being admired or receiving validation, avoiding rejection, or pumping up their own ego. For a relationship to function and flourish, one needs to get clear about what truly matters to them and what does not, and then develop the ability to sort and screen through potential partners to find someone who shares those values.

Mark Manson

That’s Mark. (Image/Forbes)

Matt: It was you who introduced me to David Foster Wallace’s commencement speech which you shared in your post “This is Water.” It had the same chemistry-shifting impact on me as I believe it did on you. (So, thanks.) How do we balance in healthy ways critical concepts like Awareness and Empathy with the self-preservation techniques of fuckage withholdment?

Mark: One of the subtleties to not giving a fuck is that it’s not about being indifferent, it’s about being comfortable with being different. Many people see not giving a fuck as this armor of indifference — by learning to not care about anything, they’ll protect themselves from being hurt. But the truth is that indifference is just another way of giving too many fucks. To truly not give a fuck about what does not matter, we must first discover those things in our life that matter the most.

Matt: If you had to pick just one of your articles, which would you choose that hit on one of those life-altering moments for you, in an effort to help others see the world as you believe it is?

Mark: It’s funny, the articles I love the most are often not the articles that readers get the most out of and vice-versa. For me though, the biggest ones would probably be “Being Special Isn’t So Special,” “Love is Not Enough” and “The Four Stages of Life.”

Matt: One of the great lessons of adulthood for me has been learning about Hedonic Adaptation. It is, in my estimation, the root cause of human dissatisfaction across the board, from how we always grow tired of our shiny new toys, adjust to pay increases, and perhaps most importantly, take for granted our romantic partners. What besides Mindfulness would you recommend to people (especially guys) for combating that psychological condition on behalf of their marriages and families?

Mark: The hedonic treadmill usually only applies to superficial, worldly pursuits — earning more money, buying nicer cars, banging more women, etc. This is why these things are generally considered superficial values and poor things to pursue (or to put another way, poor places to invest your fucks). As humans, we need a sense of progress in order to feel happy, therefore it’s important to choose goals and values that have no definitive end to them — becoming a great musician, being a good father, having a pleasant social life, etc. These are things that can always be worked on and improved upon.

Matt: The No. 1 question I get is: “How can I get my husband to understand what you’ve written here? He never listens to me any time I say anything he perceives as critical.” I care about helping others, and I believe husbands actively listening to their wives (hearing her, I mean; not following her directives) would dramatically improve relationships/marriage. What advice would you give women on how to communicate concerns or dissatisfaction in ways men are more likely to truly listen to?

Mark: Questions like this are hard because they’re so person-dependent. It’s hard to say with certainty without knowing the couple. After all, maybe there’s something in the wife’s communication style that is preventing him from hearing her. Maybe the husband has some deep insecurity that is causing him to avoid dealing with the issue. It could be a million things.

But in general, the short answer, is that whenever someone in a relationship has problems with their partner, it always needs to be communicated in such a way that responsibility or blame for each person’s emotions are not shifted to the other. For instance, many people naturally approach their partner by saying something like, “You don’t care about me and make me feel horrible because all you want to do is X.” Because this is said in such a way that puts all of the responsibility on the partner, they will naturally become defensive or seek a way to avoid dealing with it. After all, I can’t control how my wife feels 24/7!

A much better way to communicate it is something like, “When you do X, it often causes me to think/feel badly because I feel unloved. Maybe that’s my own insecurity, but is there something we can do to make it better?” In this example, the person approaching their partner with the problem is owning their responsibility for their own feelings and reactions, and are looking to find some solution. There’s no blame or guilt-tripping going on. This is far more likely to be successful.

Then again, a lot of men are raised and socialized to be emotionally shut down and distant from pretty much everyone (but especially women), so it can be a much more long-term issue that may actually have little to do with the wife herself.

Thanks, Mark

A big thank-you to Mark for making time for our tiny corner of the internet.

If you think as highly of Mark’s work as I do, perhaps you’ll give his new book a read and share it with anyone in your life who might benefit from it.

This sort of thing is good for everybody.

Because we mostly give too many fucks about the wrong things. And it makes us feel bad as we invest in other people’s opinions of us, or chasing things that ultimately leave us feeling empty.

Remember: Fuckage withholdment isn’t about being indifferent. It’s about being comfortable with being different.

We can participate in bullshit group-think and try to blend in.

Or we can be like Tim in the image up top. Each of us gets to decide.

Now, where did I leave those red balloons?

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Having the Same Goals Won’t Save Your Relationship

hands slipping part

(Image/singleblackmale.org)

An unexpected phone call changed everything.

I was in the middle of failing to learn how to speak Spanish effectively when my dad handed me the house phone.

“Hello?”

She spoke.

Oh man. It’s her.

I hadn’t talked to her in six months, and even though we’d known each other for a few years, we didn’t know each other particularly well.

After a lifetime in Ohio like me, she was moving to Florida with friends, she said. She had just graduated from the same university where I had another year of classwork before I’d get my degree.

Something was telling her she needed to see me before she left. You know — a feeling. Just like in the movies.

Dad reluctantly agreed to a stranger he had never met flying into town and staying with us for a few days that set the direction for the rest of my life.

The family loved her. My friends loved her.

I loved her.

She canceled her planned move to Florida, knowing I was planning to move there a year later. She would wait.

I instantly stopped living like a single 21-year-old. I would wait.

We had the same goals.

And for the first time in my young life, I was pretty sure I had found someone with whom I wanted to chase them with forever.

An Unmatched Pace Will Cause Just as Much Distance as Misalignment

I think alignment between two people is a prerequisite to them having a successful relationship.

Two people must want the same things in life for them to have a functional, mutually beneficial partnership.

We can generically call them “goals.”

But what I really mean is that two people must achieve alignment with their values (and honor one another’s boundaries) to have any chance of making it.

I think people need to share core beliefs about life (especially if they are raising children together), otherwise I think their lives will suck. Painfully.

I think people need to honor their partner’s honestly communicated boundaries, and I think people need to enforce (that means, being willing to walk away) their own well-communicated boundaries when they are violated.

When you Share Values and Enforce Boundaries, you achieve Alignment.

And that shit’s important.

Here’s what happens when two things are off by just one degree, according to Antone Roundy’s blog post about achieving alignment in business:

“I’ve been thinking lately about the big differences little things make.

“Consider this. If you’re going somewhere and you’re off course by just one degree, after one foot, you’ll miss your target by 0.2 inches. Trivial, right? But what about as you get farther out?

  • After 100 yards, you’ll be off by 5.2 feet. Not huge, but noticeable.
  • After a mile, you’ll be off by 92.2 feet. One degree is starting to make a difference.
  • After traveling from San Francisco to L.A., you’ll be off by 6 miles.
  • If you were trying to get from San Francisco to Washington, D.C., you’d end up on the other side of Baltimore, 42.6 miles away.
  • Traveling around the globe from Washington, DC, you’d miss by 435 miles and end up in Boston.
  • In a rocket going to the moon, you’d be 4,169 miles off (nearly twice the diameter of the moon).
  • Going to the sun, you’d miss by over 1.6 million miles (nearly twice the diameter of the sun).
  • Traveling to the nearest star, you’d be off course by over 441 billion miles (120 times the distance from the earth to Pluto, or 4,745 times the distance from Earth to the sun).

“Over time, a mere one-degree error in course makes a huge difference!”

Going the Same Direction Doesn’t Mean You’ll Arrive Together

My wife and I always wanted the same things. Sure, there were times we had competing interests and personal things take us in opposite directions, but never far enough that our hands couldn’t reach out and grab the others’.

However, we had a catastrophic problem with pacing.

She didn’t enforce her boundaries strongly enough when I was an asshole.

And I didn’t enforce my boundaries strongly enough when she wanted to me to keep up with her — for me — unsustainable running pace.

As serendipitous and magical as it all felt having her call me out of nowhere that one night and change all of her life plans to give us a shot at Forever, I was still just a kid in his early 20s trying to figure it all out.

She wanted to leave Florida faster than me.

She wanted to get engaged and married faster than me.

And she wanted to do a bunch of little life things, which added up to Huge Life Things, at different speeds than me.

She’d get her way sometimes because I’d reluctantly agree. I’d get my way sometimes because she’d reluctantly agree. And rarely, if ever, were we feeling the simple joy of doing something for someone we loved.

Rarely, if ever, were we giving more than we take with a grateful and unselfish servant’s heart.

We were shoveling coal to keep the steam train moving, but not without a lot of resentment and questioning of whether the effort was worth it.

Throughout our lives and relationships, we grow and evolve as Life introduces All The Things to us at whatever pace it chooses. New opportunities, major life events like having children, illness, financial hardships or windfalls, and a million others.

Sometimes we’ll want this and that. Sometimes we’ll want this and that in a certain timeframe.

Sometimes they’ll want this and that. Sometimes they’ll want this and that in a certain timeframe.

Sometimes that will work out for everyone.

Sometimes it won’t.

The question then becomes: Do I want this and that more than I want my relationship? Or, a much better and unselfish one: For the benefit of my Marriage which I want more than This And That, am I willing to give what is required to help my partner achieve their This And Thats?

Alignment matters. Am I willing to continue in that same direction?

Pacing matters. Am I willing to speed up or slow down so my hand stays connected to their’s?

Simply having the same goals won’t save your relationship.

Only love will.

And only you can decide which direction you’ll move and how much effort you’re willing to exert to keep walking hand in hand.

Because, love? It’s not a feeling.

Love is a choice.

…..

AUTHOR’S NOTE: One of my favorite writers is a guy named Mark Manson. He has written some of my favorite pieces on Values here, and on Boundaries here. They’re awesome.

Mark’s new book, “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck” is being released tomorrow much to the chagrin of everyone who hates profane language more than they hate learning how to embrace discomfort for the sake of growth

Mark agreed to do a short Q&A with me as part of his book launch, which I’m super-flattered about.

I’ll be sharing that tomorrow. Bad language will be involved.

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The Truth is What We Save From the Fire

Value of hard things vs. easy things

Like vigorous exercise, a disciplined reading regiment, and giving more than we take in our marriages, there is VALUE — tons of it — in doing hard things. So maybe don’t run away. Maybe allowing ourselves to feel is THE way. (Image/Carl Richards – New York Times)

I’m afraid of someone using a circular handsaw to cut open my skull.

But I’m more afraid of dying, so if the choice is certain death or brain surgery, I would choose brain surgery.

I’m afraid of jumping off of 100-foot cliffs into unknown waters.

But I’m more afraid of being eaten by big-ass dinosaurs, so if a genetically modified hybrid Jurassic World dinosaur was chasing me, I would totally jump if the alternative was being Indominus Rex’s lunch.

Broken down in the most primitive way possible, human beings are motivated by just two things:

  1. Feeling pleasure
  2. Avoiding pain

Psychologists say most people devote more energy to avoiding bad feelings than chasing good ones.

I believe them.

It’s always the same.

Whether I’m standing poolside, on the edge of a boat, or on a sandy beach, and I know the water is especially cold (which I realize is subjective), it always takes me a little longer to brave the plunge.

The water generally validates my fears as my body revolts. I lose my breath a little. My male extremities disappear like a sick David Copperfield prank. I may or may not lose consciousness for a second. All I know is I want to sprint to warmth and dryness because swimming is supposed to be fun and not take your penis away.

However. Inevitably. In what feels like a few years, but is probably only a few minutes, your body temperature begins to regulate itself. Your breathing normalizes. Your body parts are usually all in place.

Phew.

Depending on wind and air temperature, your body often adjusts so well to the water that it begins to feel almost like a warm bath relative to the chilly air.

I was afraid to take the plunge. I was afraid of the discomfort.

But I always adapt. All of us do.

Change is uncomfortable. But we always adapt.

I allow myself to bathe in the discomfort, sometimes because there’s no other choice. But the truth hits you pretty fast: This was the only way to adapt.

We like to run from discomfort. We’re smart. We know that putting ourselves in certain situations, or subjecting ourselves to certain experiences are likely to cause discomfort. Sometimes, intense pain.

And we run.

But at some point, we realize the only way through it, is through it.

We allow ourselves to feel.

And God, it sucks.

But we adapt. We always adapt. And then some uncomfortable things no longer make us uncomfortable. Certain painful things don’t hurt as much.

Because we’re, just, stronger now.

So, Give Me The Fire

“Pain is sometimes an indication we need to set boundaries, learn to say no more often, or take better care of ourselves; but sometimes it just means that it’s human to hurt, and we need to let ourselves go through it.” – Lori Deschene

I don’t believe in fate, per se. I don’t believe necessarily that “everything happens for a reason,” because little kids get cancer. So, no.

But there is no question that enormous value can be gained from the horrible things we experience.

Maybe there were parents who weren’t very attentive to their child, and were on the fast track to divorce, but then their young child was diagnosed with cancer, and everything changed.

Maybe a sick child can teach you how to prioritize things that really matter in life.

Maybe overcoming adversity can teach them the life skills needed to handle future challenges.

Maybe the entire experience was a galvanizing moment for a struggling couple who finally learned how to choose love and practice gratitude.

Everything may not happen for a reason. But if you ask the right questions, you can always pinpoint the positive results of negative events.

If I have to choose between living with the wool pulled over my eyes, or feeling growing pains, then damn it, I choose growing pains.

I choose truth.

You fight for what you love. It doesn’t matter if it hurts.

You find out what it’s worth, and you let the rest burn.

Ashes from the flames, the truth is what remains.

– Switchfoot

Carry On, Warrior

That’s the name of Glennon Doyle Melton’s first book.

Her second book, Love Warrior, released Tuesday.

I caught a couple quotes from her recently that mattered enough for me to save them for a moment such as this.

Glennon said this in a recent Facebook post:

“I spent the first half of my life being afraid of pain. I found a million easy buttons to transport myself out of pain: Food, booze, sex, shopping, snark, scrolling.

“I was afraid of the wrong thing.

“I’m no longer afraid of pain — I’m now afraid of the easy buttons.

“Because I’ve learned that all my courage and wisdom I need to become the woman I want to be is inside of my pain. When you transport yourself out of it, you miss your transformation.

“First the pain, then the rising.

“You can do hard things, Warrior. You were born to do this.”

You will NEVER hear me celebrate my divorce. Not ever.

I failed my wife and son. I haven’t decided yet who I failed more.

It remains the worst and most painful thing that has ever happened to me.

Which raises something of a philosophical moral dilemma: Would I rather be married still walking through this world oblivious to the harm I cause others, to my wife’s persistent discomfort, and without the ability to help my son grow into a man capable of understanding what it takes to succeed in his human relationships?

Or… can I accept that this is what had to happen for me to arrive in a place where I have a real chance to be a decent human being moving forward?

Blissful ignorance and comfort? Or tormented enlightenment and discomfort?

I don’t know how to say that I’m happy my marriage ended, because that’s not how I feel.

I would NEVER say that I think my son’s life is better with his parents apart.

But I know how to say that I’m genuinely grateful for the opportunity to experience the kind of trauma required to instill real change.

I NEEDED to hurt.

I NEEDED the fear.

I NEEDED the anxiety.

I NEEDED to break.

I NEEDED to cry.

That was my path to right now. There could be no other.

I don’t know that anyone captures the true essence of the human condition in the midst of life’s most challenging moments as well as Glennon.

I wrote about my intense admiration for her in a post last month. And it’s because I am magnetically drawn to people like her — people who accept responsibility for their life choices, who don’t blame others for their problems, who courageously admit their flaws for the sake of helping and encouraging others, and are the ones willing to stand up and raise their hands to say: “This is what it’s REALLY like when I’m not pretending to be who I think everyone wants me to be!”

Because then we all get to feel a little more “normal” afterward. It takes the brave people admitting things for us to realize we aren’t the only ones with those same feelings and fears.

It takes courageous people to teach us how to live courageously.

From Chicago Tribune columnist Heidi Stevens’ story about the Love Warrior book release.

“It’s a beautiful lesson for each of us who takes on the responsibility and privilege of partnering and parenting: Do it authentically.

“I asked Melton if it’s daunting to embark on such a public life — book tour, speaking gigs — on the heels of announcing her separation.

‘I’m used to going out all busted up,’ she said. ‘It’s where I’m most comfortable. Now, more than ever, people don’t want shiny, perfect.

‘Lovely and easy and shiny people are really comfortable talking about their problems when they’re over,’ she continued. ‘We’re not allowed to struggle until after we’ve done our victory lap. That’s fine, but it’s less helpful than hearing from people in the trenches. How do I show up in the during? Maybe this all happened to me so I can go out there and be seen in the during.’

Thanks, Glennon.

I know exactly what you mean.

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How Colorblindness Can Destroy Your Marriage

(Image/ewao.com)

(Image/ewao.com)

What’s more damaging to relationships: Inventing problems that don’t actually exist, or denying the existence of those that do?

I felt like I was on another planet, sitting next to my wife in front of the marriage counselor.

Hearing her tell it, you’d think our marriage was a trainwreck.

Hearing her tell it, you’d think I neglected my wife, constantly choosing other things over her and our family.

Hearing her tell it, you’d think I was a shitty husband.

I knew she was wrong.

But I can’t be a shitty husband! Those are the guys who drink excessively, hit their wives or call them names. Those are the guys who gamble away the family savings account, are never home, sleep around, and do a bunch of drugs or whatever.

Right? If a bad guy showed up at the house, pointed a gun at us and said: “It’s either you or her,” I’d be terrified, sure, but I’m standing in front of her.

NEGLECT! That’s insane. What about all those guys who go out drinking with the guys every night? THAT is neglect. I don’t do things like that. So I can’t possibly be neglectful.

Our marriage couldn’t possibly be a trainwreck.

If our marriage was a trainwreck, SURELY I would want to get out of it, too. I mean, I don’t want anything to do with trainwrecks or subjecting myself or a child to anything horrible or dysfunctional.

After more than 30 years of living, I thought I had a decent handle on reality.

I had a clean bill of mental health. There was no reason to assume I was crazy or delusional. There was no reason to assume I was evil or out to cause damage.

In fact, there was every reason to assume I was a really nice guy who people mostly enjoyed being around. Given all of the horrible things that happen in the world, one might say my wife was lucky to have someone like me.

I had a hard time sitting there listening to her tell the marriage counselor all of the ways she considered me to be a substandard husband.

I couldn’t stop thinking about all of the really huge assholes out there, and how I wasn’t like them, and just how unfair it felt to sit there listening to her indict me in front of this stranger who doesn’t ever get to see what it’s REALLY like at home.

I was certain I wasn’t certifiably crazy.

I had ample evidence of people liking and trusting me.

It seemed clear by every measurable standard I knew of that I was a “good” and competent human being.

So if she’s saying there are relationship problems, and I’m saying there aren’t, my conclusion was that she must be mistaken. She had to be wrong.

Hearing her tell it, we had a lousy marriage. I took that personally, and spent a lot of time feeling sorry for myself about it.

When I was asked about the marriage, I only had good things to say. We were two good people who loved one another and could count on the other to always be there.

“In fact, the only things we ever fight about are these little things she wants to turn into big problems,” I’d say. “If she’d stop finding new things to be upset about, everything would be perfect.”

Thought Exercise: Guilty or Innocent?

Imagine being accused of murdering 30 people. Or of being a Columbian drug lord. Or anything really that is so far outside the confines of your reality that when someone accuses you of it, you can just laugh.

When people accuse us of legitimately outrageous things, we don’t generally get angry. You can’t say “Hey Matt! You’re an asshole because you tried to release a poisonous gas in that shopping mall in Berlin, Germany in 1973!!!” and get any kind of rise out of me.

I’ve never possessed poisonous gas (nor tried to harm anyone). I’ve never been to Berlin. And I was still six years shy of being alive in 1973.

It’s laughable. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t hurt to be accused of outrageous things.

So, what might it mean that when my wife accused me of being a shitty husband, that it did hurt and cause a bunch of discomfort?

I’m Going to Say This As Gently As I Can

You’re probably colorblind and it’s probably damaging your relationships.

Imagine the world before vision specialists were able to prove colorblindness is real.

How would two people looking at the same colored object ever come to an agreement on what they were experiencing?

Person #1 says it’s orange. Person #2 says it’s green. Person #1 says it’s yellow. Person #2 says it’s pink.

They’re both correct.

AND they’re both incorrect.

Because as much as some people don’t want to admit it, perspective, context, and frame of reference DO impact how true or false something is from time to time.

Maybe the reason you and your partner are both so certain of yourselves while you continue to have The Same Fight over and over and over again is because you’re BOTH right.

It’s frustrating when you know something is green but the other person insists it’s orange. But I think reasonable people can question whether those disagreements are grounds for breaking up marriages and families.

But what about when the “colorblindness” is about more than just identifying color?

What if the person who sees green is being hurt?

I’m not talking about bullshit hurt, either. I’m not talking about crying over spilled milk. I’m talking about situations where someone takes damage on the inside.

Is it really so hard to imagine a scenario where the person who sees orange ignores the person seeing green’s cries for change or help over something they can’t see, feel or experience for themselves?

When You Talk: Do You Want to Win, or Understand?

Another thing people don’t always like talking about is the topic of behavioral traits by gender. Some traits are prevalent in men. Others are prevalent in women. It creates arguments when people are jerks about it. I’m not trying to be. I’m just saying someone smarter than me noticed how men and women tend to communicate during conversation and it’s worth thinking about if you dislike divorce, missing your children, and frequent sobbing.

I was trying to read about football when Football Perspective’s Chase Stuart introduced me to communication concepts I’d never heard of before: The Rapport Dimension and The Status Dimension. In short, the “rapport dimension” is about using conversation to connect with the person you’re speaking with, and the “status dimension” is about looking awesome by sounding funny or smart or whatever.

As you might have already guessed, women more often use conversation as an attempt to build rapport with the person they’re speaking with. And men? Men often use conversation as an attempt to prove how brilliant and desirable and successful they are. Men often use conversation to increase their “status.”

Pardon the Inceptiony nature of this, but Stuart’s article references a Vox article about presidential campaigning which included a linguist’s observations that caught Stuart’s attention. From the Vox piece:

“’Listening is something women value almost above everything else in relationships,’ says Deborah Tannen, a Georgetown linguist who studies differences in how men and women communicate. ‘The biggest complaint women make in relationships is, “He doesn’t listen to me.”

“Tannen’s research suggests a reason for the difference: Women, she’s found, emphasize the ‘rapport dimension’ of communication — did a particular conversation bring us closer together or further apart? “Men, by contrast, emphasize the ‘status dimension’ — did a conversation raise my status compared to yours?

“Talking is a way of changing your status: If you make a great point, or set the terms of the discussion, you win the conversation. Listening, on the other hand, is a way of establishing rapport, of bringing people closer together; showing you’ve heard what’s been said so far may not win you the conversation, but it does win you allies.”

Just like the people we love who are diagnosed with colorblindness, maybe we need to learn how to trust that some of their experiences are fundamentally different than ours.

We don’t say: “Haha, you stupid moron!!! Of course it’s orange and not green!!! Dumbass!!!”

We understand that they literally see a different thing. We have context for the disconnect.

We don’t assume we know what it’s like to see what they see.

So we ask good questions. We listen.

Not to “win” and look awesome. Simply to understand. To build rapport. To connect.

Maybe there’d be a lot less brokenness that way.

Maybe then it would seem like we’re all living on the same planet.

Maybe then it wouldn’t matter so much what colors we see.

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The Ism Theory: Maybe There’s Less Hate Than We Think

Remember the Titans screenshot

They didn’t like each other. Right up until they became friends. Then, wouldn’t you know it? How they were different didn’t matter at all. (Image from “Remember the Titans”/listal.com)

ism — a distinctive practice, system, or philosophy, typically a political ideology or an artistic movement.

I had a mild case of homophobia growing up.

Gay people were “weird” and different. Kids threw “gay” around as meaning the same thing as stupid.

I use the term homophobia when I really mean something closer to bigotry. I wasn’t afraid. But I was something akin to intolerant.

But it didn’t matter! Because I didn’t know any gay people!

I also didn’t have any close black friends before college.

I didn’t know anyone who didn’t believe in the Christian God of the bible.

I didn’t know any feminists or really even understand why there was a gender-equality conversation to be had.

I wasn’t exposed to anything except one story about right and wrong growing up. Fortunately, I was raised by kind and decent people, so any ugliness stemming from my core belief system was always rooted in a general love for human beings, rather than having people teach me that certain groups of people were evil and warranted my hate and discrimination, as many less fortunate children are taught.

I was an only child, so I gravitated to my friends, but one of my closest friends was a cousin about my age. At family gatherings for holidays or weddings, he and I were mostly inseparable.

We spent countless hours talking about girls, playing video games and playing basketball.

Years later, I was the best man in his wedding where he married an awesome girl I’m not sure I’ve seen since.

They fairly quickly divorced, and my cousin—one of my lifelong best friends—moved to another state.

Turns out, he’s gay. Which caused a bit of strain in the intimacy department before everything broke.

What was different about my cousin between all of those years he was among my dearest friends, and after coming out?

I thought about that for a bit.

The answer was simple: Nothing.

“For in spite of itself, any movement that thinks and acts in terms of an ‘ism becomes so involved in reaction against other ‘isms that it is unwittingly controlled by them. For it then forms its principles by reaction against them instead of by a comprehensive, constructive survey of actual needs, problems, and possibilities.” ― John Dewey

The Kinda-Racist Old White Guy & the Young Black Kid He Adores

Maybe (if you grew up anything like I did) you remember the old prejudiced guy in your personal circle who predated The Civil Rights Movement.

The guy you could count on to say something super-racist at Thanksgiving dinner or while watching an athlete showboat on TV after a good play. Maybe he even dropped an N-word or two now and then.

And because you KNOW him, you know he’s a pretty good person, if a bit out of touch.

But here’s where it gets interesting:

This lovable old guy (who you’ve NEVER seen mistreat anyone short of using offensive or insensitive language about a group of faceless strangers in private conversation) doesn’t BEHAVE as a racist.

A group of black people who committed a crime on TV might earn a foul label from him, but as he goes through life, he treats the actual individuals he meets with kindness and respect regardless of their skin color.

Maybe he meets a nice kid named Daryl because Daryl is a waiter at the old guy’s favorite breakfast spot, and Daryl is working hard to save money to go to college. Maybe Daryl is also a star on one of the old guy’s favorite local high school teams.

The old racist guy loves Daryl after getting to know him, and you can’t help but notice how he still speaks in (unintentionally) offensive ways about people of different races or cultures, but he sings the praises of Daryl.

Daryl – the hard-working, intelligent, well-mannered, kind kid from the restaurant who always makes sure the old guy’s coffee is full, and who delights the old man when he’s sitting in the stands cheering on Daryl’s team.

“So. Old Guy. I gotta ask: You periodically say things about black people we see on TV which is racist by every known definition and interpretation of the word. But then over here, you’re always raving about Daryl. Daryl has the same skin color and is from similar communities as all of the people you are categorically speaking ill of. It’s inconsistent. What gives?”

And then maybe the old guy responds: “Daryl’s a great kid! He’s not like the others.”

But the real truth is, if he spent the same amount of time with any of those others, getting to know them on an interpersonal level, he’d feel the same fondness for each new person.

If he didn’t? It wouldn’t have anything to do with skin color. It would have everything to do with the same personality conflicts we have with People Like Us.

Did you ever see films like “American History X,” or “Remember the Titans,” or “A Time to Kill,” or “Gran Torino,” or “Crimson Tide,” or “Men of Honor,” or “The Help”?

Do you remember when former vice president Dick Cheney’s daughter came out as being lesbian and he changed his entire tune on homosexuality as a U.S. social issue?

I don’t believe people actually hate one another to the degree the social narrative suggests.

I believe everyone simply hasn’t gotten to know each other yet.

When People Meet and Develop Relationships, It’s Never Skin Color, Gender, Sexual Preference, or Creed That Fosters Dislike

There are clearly notable examples in history where people really do hate as much as they say. They behead innocent people on video, and they violently attack through word and action people who belong to some group they’ve identified as being Different From Themselves.

I think a lot of people subconsciously think (especially when young and unexposed to different cultures): I’m me. I belong to this group. We are good. I am good. Those people over there don’t belong to this group. They are different than me. We have competing interests sometimes. They must be bad.

But when we ACTUALLY spend time around other people with diverse beliefs and backgrounds, we are regularly exposed to the fact that human beings share so many commonalities, and mostly have the same goals.

It’s not a black football player and a white football player. It’s teammates who play for the Titans.

It’s not a black defendant and a white attorney. It’s two fathers who love their daughters and demand justice.

On Sept. 11, 2001, it wasn’t “That stupid idiot Bush fighting his daddy’s war over oil!!!” Or black or white or Hispanic or male or female or Christian or Jew or atheist or gay or straight or New York Yankees fan or Boston Red Sox fan.

It wasn’t even American or “foreigner.”

Because for a moment, it was only about humanity.

When we realized that fiery explosions kill people no matter what tribes they belong to, or what beliefs they have.

When we meet human beings where they are—or when we meet each other where WE are—we work together or play on sports teams together or fight battles together or laugh together or pray together, and then we collectively grow together.

I felt weird about gay people because I didn’t know any.

But then I found out that I did, and there had been nothing weird about it at all.

Every one of us is a minority somewhere.

Every one of us is different in another part of town.

Every one of us has an accent.

Or. Just maybe.

No one is a minority.

All of us have a million things in common.

And underneath all the nonsense, everyone actually speaks the same language: Human.

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The War Inside: If You’re Not Uncomfortable, You’re Probably Doing it Wrong

angry goat

(Image/trinitypropertysales.com)

I’m a little outraged by all the outrage.

One group of people is outraged because an NFL quarterback chose to remain seated during the U.S. national anthem before a game.

“It’s disrespectful!” “If he doesn’t like America, he should get the hell out!” “People died for that flag, man. Honor the troops!”

A separate group is outraged for the very reason San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has decided to protest the national anthem.

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL Media in an exclusive interview after the game. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

49ers fans posted videos of them burning Kaepernick jerseys to let him know how they felt about his decision.

Some of my friends badmouthed him at my fantasy football draft yesterday.

I don’t know how many of the angry people can accurately explain Kaepernick’s reasoning. I think it’s fair to assume at least some of them jumped to conclusions, and that most if not all of them have never been targets of harassment, racial profiling, or discrimination in any fundamentally dehumanizing ways.

Similarly, I don’t know how many angry Black Lives Matter activists can accurately explain official police procedure for officer-involved shootings, or have ever been in the type of highly stressful, life-threatening situations most law enforcement officers volunteer for to protect innocent people and, by extension, our very way of life through the preservation of civil order.

I think maybe some people just like to scream about things.

‘What’s wrong with the world?’ This. All This Self-Righteous Certainty.

Men often say how exhausting it is for them to have “talks” with their wives or girlfriends. You know—the ones they didn’t initiate. The ones that force us to deal with things like criticism, or questions about certain behaviors, or listening to the women we love tell us how we make them sad and miserable.

We have all kinds of reactions:

Silence.

Walking away.

Defensiveness.

Retorting with complaints of our own.

Haughty moral superiority.

“I don’t want to talk about this right now.”

Fighting.

Sometimes we fight because we think it might end the conversation. We often regret that once the anger subsides. We apologize and try to make peace. But nothing gets resolved because we never actually listened to her with focus and intention in any kind of effort to instill personal changes that would solve the problem.

If she decides to bring it up again (which she often won’t simply to avoid the fight, even though it hurts her a lot to do so) sometimes we just get angry all over again. Maybe we accuse her of “always trying to pick a fight!”, or “always finding something new to complain about!”

It’s bullshit.

Having the conversation she wants to have is making us uncomfortable because it forces us to look inward for answers, and ask ourselves hard questions. It forces us to deal with our flaws, it exposes our weaknesses, and brings us face-to-face with our demons.

That’s when we squirm.

The hard truths make us squirm.

The prospect of needing to change makes us squirm.

This is why people are angry about Colin Kaepernick.

This is why people are angry about Black Lives Matter.

This is why people are angry about Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton or Gary Johnson.

This is why people are angry about atheism.

This is why people are angry about God.

This is why people are angry about feminism.

This is why people are angry about Red Pill philosophy.

This is why people are angry about homosexuality.

This is why people are angry about abortion.

Talking about these things makes us uncomfortable. These are the things that make us squirm. It’s because we all have stories that we tell ourselves about each and every one of these things, and it hurts when these core (and sacred-feeling) beliefs are challenged.

EVERYONE has different points of view. And EVERYONE usually has some kernel of Truth—or at minimum, some real-world, first-person experience—at the core of whatever they believe.

We MUST Discuss Uncomfortable Things, Else Nothing Ever Changes

I love the American flag and the national anthem. Americans piss me off constantly. Our federal government is something of a dysfunctional, financially inefficient pool of incompetence. But I love my country, my flag, and our anthem. I have problems with many things in our country. But I will not protest the flag.

But I am WAY more outraged by the people who think Kaepernick exercising his Constitutional right to free expression warrants insulting him, harassing him, or suggesting he’s un-American and should leave the country.

That’s just my opinion. It might be unpopular. Let’s talk about it.

Let me ask you this, Outraged NFL Fan or Outraged American who thinks Kaepernick’s national anthem protest is disrespectful of the men and women who have died protecting the many freedoms we enjoy as American citizens.

Which is the greater crime against patriotism: Kaepernick’s sitting down during the national anthem (a PERSONAL decision he didn’t seek attention for—a media member approached him about it, not the other way around), or the NFL accepting millions in taxpayer dollars to promote “patriotic” displays before and during NFL games?

And here’s another: Which is the greater service to our brave military men and women—standing at attention for the national anthem, or actually getting off of our asses to donate time and money to the tragic problem of what happens to many of our veterans when they return home?

I’m raising my hand on this. I am one of you, and we are many. The people quick to criticize a man not doing the same thing we would do during the national anthem in the name of patriotism, only to turn and look the other way when we hear about the sad state of veterans affairs in the United States.

Why?

Because it makes us uncomfortable. It’s easy to scream at Kaepernick.

But it’s HARD to solve real problems.

I love the police. I assume the reason my house isn’t regularly broken into by gunmen who might hurt my son, or why my car isn’t stolen, or why there aren’t more high-speed fatalities in neighborhoods where kids play and people walk dogs is because of the police.

You know what else I love?

People NOT getting shot and killed (especially children) who do not present a deadly threat to police or other people.

Why does it have to be one or the other? Why can’t we strongly support the police AND respect and honor the feelings of those participating in Black Lives Matter?

White people in suburban neighborhoods around the country never experience or even think about what racial discrimination or oppression looks like. I get it. I’m a white person in a suburban neighborhood who almost never experiences those things either. But how are WE the Arbiters of Truth on issues affecting black communities? We couldn’t be more ignorant about it if we tried.

Millions of black Americans believe police officers have unjustly killed children or their friends or their neighbors or just someone with the same amount of melanin in their bodies.

Worse yet, many believe that the people doing the killing are unfairly enjoying paid leave instead of being scrutinized the same way they or other people they know have been scrutinized by police.

Maybe all of the officer-involved shootings were justified.

Maybe none of them were.

I’m not focused on that (even though they obviously merit our concern). I’m focused on what a shitty job everyone is doing at dealing with it.

Thought Exercise: The Goat-Sex Conundrum

I hope you’ll take this seriously.

Would you prefer to:

  1. Have sex with a goat, with assurances that no one will ever find out. Or,
  2. NOT have sex with a goat, but everyone will believe you did, no matter how much you protest or try to convince them otherwise?

Normally, this mental exercise is designed to help you figure out whether you place more value on what you think and feel about yourself, or on what others think and feel about you.

I intend it a slightly different way.

Maybe the Police are a bunch of racist murderers. Or maybe they’re not.

Maybe the Black Lives Matter movement is totally out of line and wrong in their beliefs.

And to either side, I’d say: Does the truth even matter if no one believes it?

Maybe Exchanging Stories and Ideas with People Who DON’T Share our Life Experiences Can Help

We avoid conversations and experiences that make us uncomfortable.

It’s just easier that way.

But I wonder what might happen if every police department in the United States invited community leaders, Black Lives Matter representatives, and everyday citizens to a friendly and public conversation about these issues.

What if law enforcement officials collectively spent more time investing in understanding the day-to-day lives of those who mistrust them? What if BLM officials invested more time in police ride-along programs to get a closer look at what our bravest first responders face?

People (mostly men, I think) scoff at the call for empathy.

They’d rather bitch and moan about whatever new controversy is on TV before getting back to the routine of not paying attention.

The most powerful and healing move we can make in ANY conflict—from international disputes and wars, down to our most personal relationships, is simply to pour energy into understanding what daily life or a specific situation looks like through the prism of another person with sometimes intensely different lenses and filters.

It’s easy to dismiss our relationship partners. They’re being crazy.

It’s easy to dismiss our political opponents. They’re obviously stupid morons.

It’s easy to dismiss people of different faiths. I just want what’s best for them!

It’s easy to dismiss people who make different lifestyle choices. Those people are freaks, and nothing like me!

It’s easy to dismiss people from different cultures. We’re already doing things the best way!

Because NOT dismissing them makes us squirm.

NOT dismissing them makes us explore questions we’d rather not have to answer.

NOT dismissing them forces us to have the uncomfortable conversations we’re all constantly avoiding.

But maybe those are the only ones that actually change things.

I’m With Kaep

It’s easy to criticize Kaepernick. My initial reaction was to do just that.

No matter what your beef is, you should honor the flag! But that’s my personal opinion.

But after hearing what the man had to say?

What do you want from him? To shut up and do things your way?

Is that what you want your wife, and people of different faiths and different lifestyles and different political opinions to do?

We have TWO choices:

  1. Have a group take over by force, overpowering or enslaving the opposition, and then imposing new laws which everyone must follow. That’s one option.
  2. The second option is freedom. The second option is acknowledging that everyone gets to be and do and think and feel whatever they want so long as doing so doesn’t restrict those same freedoms of others.

Please let people be themselves. It is the best way I know to be less of an asshole.

And please accept this truth about ANY disagreement discussed with kindness and empathy:

In the end, you’ve either proven how smart you are and helped another person understand your point of view, OR you’ve been properly convinced of a better idea and evolve into a smarter, higher-functioning human being.

It’s the Everybody Wins Strategy.

And it would save the world if we would just let it.

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