If I kill a pedestrian with my car while obeying all laws and cooperating with law enforcement, I am unlikely to be charged with a crime.
If I kill a pedestrian with my car while texting and drunk driving 15 miles per hour over the speed limit, I will almost certainly be charged both criminally and civilly with wrongful death and/or vehicular homicide. Even though it was an accident, a life might have been saved had I been more responsible.
If I kill a pedestrian with my car intentionally because I’m acting like a homicidal maniac, I would be a murderer and could easily spend the rest of my life in prison.
In all three scenarios, a person is dead because I hit them with my car.
But the consequences and whatever happens next all vary dramatically depending on the details.
If you’re my ex-wife and reading this, you’re probably annoyed because you’ve heard this one before and think I’m full of shit. And you wouldn’t be wrong to think so because I used this example in arguments with you when you were right and I was wrong.
The idea wasn’t wrong. I was just wrong to use it.
It’s a fact that I never intentionally—not even one time—set out to hurt my wife’s feelings. But, sometimes I hurt her feelings anyway. “It was an accident!” I’d protest. She’s overreacting AGAIN, I’d think. I didn’t MEAN to hurt her feelings, so she shouldn’t be so mad at me!!!
But I didn’t know then something I know now, and I wrote about it in An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 10.
The “intent” argument only works the first time.
If you’re out hunting and you fire a shot that accidentally kills someone in a nearby home you didn’t realize was there, you are unlikely to be charged with murder or homicide. Because it was an accident.
But if you go out hunting again to that same spot and accidentally kill a second person due to negligence? Have fun in prison.
My crime wasn’t hurting my wife’s feelings the first time. An accidental one-time offense is almost always forgivable. My crime was hurting my wife’s feelings repeatedly, even after she explained why it was happening.
Because I don’t respond to things the same way she does, I never really changed, and expected her to adjust to my “correct” way of thinking and feeling and behaving.
In other words, if you’re not willing to set aside stubbornness and defensiveness and pride in order to not inflict emotional pain on your spouse, you’re being an asshole. You get a pass the first time. Apologize and try again. But if you keep doing it and she keeps getting upset and you keep trying to convince her YOU’RE right, and SHE’S wrong?
You’ll be the captain of the masturbation squad in no time. (The implication being that she or he will stop having sex with you because you’re doing a bad job.)
There are two points I want to make and they somewhat contradict each other which is always a problem.
1. INTENT MATTERS
Accidents and malicious intent are not the same thing, and if you treat both the same (with me), we’re going to go rounds.
And I think people need to establish strong personal boundaries and draw the line where they’re not going to let other people mess with, or manipulate them, emotionally.
The best thing I have ever read on personal boundaries was written by Mark Manson. It’s titled The Guide to Strong Boundaries, and will take you about 15 minutes to read. Even if you don’t have time, you should make time if you feel like you’re the kind of person always getting the short end of the stick or always in dysfunctional, dramatic relationships.
Manson says it’s a sure sign of boundary issues, and I think being conscious of these things and changing your normal operating procedure is an excellent way to make yourself a higher-functioning, happier, more-confident, more-capable, more-attractive person.
In conclusion? Don’t let someone charge you with murder when you’ve made an honest effort to do the right thing.
However, it’s easy to be dishonest with yourself about this one, and I used to be, so it’s critical to know the difference.
Here’s what I mean.
2. YOU MUST SACRIFICE AND COMPROMISE FOR PEOPLE YOU LOVE
I used to tease my wife for watching shows I thought were beneath her. Stuff on MTV, or Real Housewives of Bitchville, or whatever.
Anyone who knows me in real life (and I always assumed—incorrectly!—my actual wife) should know that I respect her intellectually. I don’t like talking to people I think are dumb, let alone, living in the same house with them.
My teasing would offend her. Sometimes, it would erupt into a real-life argument. She was upset because I wasn’t respecting her. I was upset because of all the people in the world, you’re not going to give ME the benefit of the doubt!?!?
I bet this exact same fight happens in virtually every marriage.
This is another classic guy-being-dumb scenario in which I became an expert. (Because I was being dumb.)
Because her teasing me about some show doesn’t bother me, I would get offended by it bothering her. I literally thought I should get special treatment since we were married.
I did something that upset her, but I didn’t think it SHOULD bother her, so instead of working really hard to stop the behavior, I just kept doing whatever I wanted without apology because she shouldn’t have been upset in the first place!
The time for strict boundary enforcement is in your professional relationships. With family and friends in adulthood when you are mature and wise enough to sniff out emotionally manipulative bullshit. And in your romantic pursuits—at the very beginning when you’re first meeting people and deciding how much you’re going to let them in.
Partners change the game.
It’s not just about you anymore. It’s about we. It’s about us.
Strong personal boundaries are critical to healthy living.
But those walls have to come down when choosing another. Vulnerabilities and scars exposed.
And you build new boundaries and walls around both of you. Together.
Because you are them.
And they are you.
Two tangled souls.
But no end.
There’s a time for fighting.
And a time for not.