“Have you ever thought (even if briefly or secretly) that your divorce was more her fault than yours? I ask because I know we’re supposed to accept our part in things but I REALLY think it is more on him. I’m struggling with that.”
I am a lot of things—including occasionally hypocritical—but I am pretty skilled at evaluating a situation and understanding who is responsible for what.
People are horrible at accepting responsibility for their life circumstances. HORRIBLE. And it makes us all feel like victims. And when we feel like victims we can’t make our lives better because everything in life is just happening to us against our will.
It makes us powerless to change anything.
When we accept responsibility for where we are in life and own our choices, THEN, and only then, do we have the power to make things better.
I don’t know Eilene. But on faith, I believe her. In my experience, wives get marriage right INFINITELY more often than husbands do. I’m sure her husband or ex-husband sucks at marriage every bit as much as I did. People often don’t get this: Good people can be awful at marriage. You don’t have to be a bad person to suck at marriage. It’s a skill. I can’t fix a car. That doesn’t make me shitty at life. I just don’t know how to fix cars. But I can learn. I didn’t know the really important information about marriage until it was too late. I think a lot of men might be like that. Objectively, it probably is more on him than Eilene. Just like in my marriage.
But never again can I allow myself to start pointing fingers at others.
Let me walk you through my bouts with victimization since turning 30:
My father offered me a job at his small company 500 miles away. Assuming I’d done a good job (and I would have), I would be making top 1% money in my 40s and 50s and have every opportunity to retire a multimillionaire and live the kind of life most of us dream about. My wife didn’t want to go. It was our first major fight.
Victim Matt: I can’t believe how unfair this is that I can’t secure our financial future simply because she doesn’t want to move eight hours away. How could she be so selfish? This will solve EVERY money problem—forever. And now I’m stuck. Because of her.
Smart Matt: I will lose my family if I do this. Money isn’t, and will never be, more important than family. I chose to marry this woman. We make decisions together. She feels like she can’t do this. Okay. We’ll find a way to make more money here in Ohio.
It wasn’t my wife’s fault that I chose a profession (journalism) where making money is such a challenge. It wasn’t my wife’s fault that she didn’t want to live in Illinois far away from everyone she knew. And once I stopped being angry, I saw it as a good thing I had married someone who valued family more than how much money her husband earned.
I was laid off from my job on Jan. 1, 2010. Only people who have lost a job unexpectedly can appreciate what an enormous loss and psychological impact it can have.
Victim Matt: I can’t believe how unfair it is that I lost my job even though I always did it well. How am I supposed to find work now that I’m 30 and have no experience except in newspapers? Now what am I going to do?
Smart Matt: The company was losing money. Without layoffs, EVERYONE would have lost their jobs. Had I been the best, most-valuable employee at the paper, I would probably still be there. So, work harder next time and don’t take employment for granted, asshole. I accepted that job. I wanted it. No one made me take it. I am responsible for choosing to work there, and I am responsible for not ultimately proving myself indispensable regardless of circumstances.
My marriage ended. On April 1, 2013, technically, but not legally until August a few months later. I thought it was unfair because I didn’t want to get divorced.
Victim Matt: When I was standing on that alter and said: “I do,” I meant it. ‘Til death do us part. Sure, it had gotten bad. Really bad. But I wanted to fight for it. I was in marital limbo. A situation in which I didn’t want to get divorced, but was mentally and emotionally incapable of sleeping in the guest room much longer. It was a brutal time. The hardest thing I’d ever been through. Sometimes I’d cry in the guest room. I could hear her footsteps in our room upstairs. And I’d just cry because: This is so un-fucking-fair. After she left, I learned about a new relationship. All I could think about was how happy she must be with this new guy. And I’m sitting in our empty living room and I can’t even breathe. How could she do this to me?
Smart Matt: I caused this. Not because I’m a bad guy. And not because she doesn’t bear any responsibility also. But because I COULD HAVE and SHOULD HAVE been a good husband. A really good one. I used to not know how to cook or drive a car or read or play poker. But then I took an interest, I learned, and I excelled at those things. What if I’d invested more of my time in the most-important thing in my life? What if I’d EXCELLED at marriage? At being the best man, husband and father possible? Had I spent each day being exceptional at those things—would she have left? She’d have never wanted to. This isn’t something that happened to me. This is something I allowed to happen. Through negligence, irresponsibility and a lack of discipline. Sure, it may not all be my fault. But you can bet your ass I’m responsible.
Own Your Shit, Please
If you ask yourself the right questions, an adult can always come to this conclusion: You are ALWAYS responsible for what happens to you. Somewhere along the way, you made the choices that led you right here, right now. Other people didn’t make the choice. You made the choice.
I am responsible for me. No one else is.
I am not responsible for anyone else. These are the strong personal boundaries we need to establish if we want to have healthy relationships with potential mates, friends, family, business associates, etc.
I’m tired of everyone’s reasons for why they “can’t” do something or why it’s always some outside force or lack of opportunity that prevents everyone from doing whatever it is they say or feel they want to do.
The first step to achieving whatever it is we desire is to accept that the No. 1 factor in whether we will achieve or not achieve that thing is the choices we make.
Good choices yield positive results.
Bad choices yield negative results.
This has always been true and will always be true until the end of time.
And once we come to grips with this—once we shake off the gravity of realizing just how large of a role we play in the vast majority of bad things that happen to us, we can take a deep breath and smile.
This is good news, you think. Because now I can do something about it.