Monthly Archives: April 2015

Advice for Women “In That Place”

Read this book. I don't care if you're happy in your marriage or in your relationship. Read it anyway. Please. It could change everything.

Read this book. I don’t care if you’re happy in your marriage or in your relationship. Read it anyway. Please. It could change everything.

Tracy asks:

Do you have advice for women who are in “that place”? You know… The place where you still love your husband, but feel so unhappy in the marriage? I feel that I don’t know what to do… My husband keeps telling me that if he is so bad, why don’t I find someone else? I am seriously considering it these days even though I don’t want to. I need to find a way to get him to see that he’s pushing me and our son (and soon-to-be-born baby) out the door. How do I know if he cares anymore? Thanks in advance for your help.

Disclaimer:

I know I come off like I think I know everything sometimes. I’m not proud of that. I’m not in the advice-giving business. What I try to do is speak (or write) confidently about things I feel strongly about. Maybe a small percentage of people will care.

I don’t want to give Tracy “advice.” If you do every single thing I do in life, you’ll be single, 36, a little bit lonely, spend some holiday weekends alone, have less money than you’d prefer, sit in a cubicle for 40 hours a week, and other shit that really isn’t that great.

I don’t think people should be like me.

I don’t try to tell other people what to do. I just project all of the thoughts and feelings I have inside me and I spew them out here. And sometimes they resonate with people.

I think I know why.

I think it’s because I’m really average. Really typical. Average intelligence. Average income. Average life experiences. Average looking. Et cetera.

Where I’m not average is sometimes I write it all down. Not a lot of people do that.

And because I share so many human-experience silos with so many people, a lot of people can relate to many of the things I write about.

Maybe that helps someone. Some people say it does.

This isn’t advice.

This is what’s inside me.

In the end, everyone has to decide for themselves. Whether to leap.

I think people should trust their hearts. Their guts.

If it says leap…

Leap.

Getting Through to Him

“I need to find a way to get him to see that he’s pushing me and our son (and soon-to-be-born baby) out the door. How do I know if he cares anymore? Thanks in advance for your help.”

You have to understand something. This is really important. All these women write me all the time. Sometimes privately, sometimes publicly. Many think I’m sooo great and they wish their husbands would be like me.

I hate to break it to you ladies, but your husband is like me. I’m like them. We’re not so different. Any of us.

I wish I could tell you how it happened. I wish I could tell you why.

The story of how my wife and I died.

If you sat us both down, you’d get a variety of stories. The lowlights of our marriage that we recall that ultimately led to its demise. A series of unfortunate events. She probably wouldn’t remember or think much of mine. She probably didn’t think they were a big deal. I probably wouldn’t remember hers. I certainly didn’t think they were a big deal at the time.

That’s been the greatest lesson of marriage and human relationships for me: Our ability to destroy people on the inside without even realizing we’re doing it.

Unwitting life destroyers.

We are capable of terrible things.

Tracy, He Doesn’t Know

I’m guessing here, Tracy, but it’s an educated one.

One based on my very specific life experience. You’re unhappy in your marriage. But you still love this man, and assuming this has been going on for a while now, intentionally chose to have another child with him.

I think this is the way most broken marriages go.

There’s love there. The basic tenants of human decency (meaning: no infidelity, no domestic violence, no addiction issues, no child abuse, etc.) are present.

I need you to hear this, and believe it with your whole heart and soul: HE DOESN’T KNOW.

I know you’ve told him. You’ve cried. You’re so exhausted. You’ve told him over and over and over again.

It doesn’t matter, Tracy. He doesn’t know. He doesn’t understand.

What doesn’t he know?

He doesn’t know how scared and alone you feel on the inside. He’s there. Taking care of you and the kids. Going to work every day. Not cheating. Not hitting you. Loving you. Loving you, Tracy.

He has never felt like you do before.

When you tell a husband and father who is doing all of those good things and NOT doing all of those bad things that you’re sad, scared, tired and miserable, he hears this (this is so important, Tracy):

“You are a bad husband. You are a bad father. You are not good enough. You do not make me feel good. I fantasize about a better life. I fantasize about a better man.”

He feels like he’s sacrificed so much for you, Tracy. I don’t know how to measure that. I don’t know how much. But by committing his life to you and sacrificing his time to provide resources and security and shelter for you, and by NOT doing all the bad things commonly attached to ruining marriages, he feels like he’s giving a good-faith effort at this marriage thing—this commitment he was scared to enter into—but took the leap because he was too afraid to lose you.

Tracy, you feel it now. Fear of abandonment. Of being alone and emotionally isolated. And it’s terrifying. It’s terrifying on the inside and you can’t feel safe in your own life. You can’t feel safe in his arms because he is mostly responsible in your mind for causing these feelings.

He feels it too, Tracy. That same horrible pain and fear. But in most men, it manifests itself not as fear of being alone, but as shame.

Men feel shame.

It’s a chemical thing. Caveman shit we can’t do anything about. Same for you and the things you feel.

I don’t want to speak for you, Tracy, because I don’t know what it’s like to be a woman.

But men? We have a VERY hard time with the following truth:

When something happens. Anything. Our perception of that reality is NOT the same as how the women in our lives perceive it. We literally live in different worlds.

It’s why when you fight, you always disagree about some relatively inconsequential fact that one of you chose to throw in the other’s face in the heat of battle. And then instead of fighting about whatever you’re fighting about, you spend time arguing over this new piece of information that really doesn’t matter.

It’s a constant loop of insanity and it makes both of you so angry. You both want to cry, but the guy will try harder to not cry because crying makes us feel shame.

Here’s what I mean. All these things have happened to you and hurt you in deep and profound ways, Tracy. Your husband’s actions or lack thereof made you feel this way.

When you tell him about it, it comes off to him like you’re picking on him. Like you’re nagging. Like you’re telling him again he’s not good enough.

Because he would NEVER, EVER get upset about the thing you just got upset about, he thinks you’re crazy. Tracy, he thinks you’re totally nuts.

He doesn’t mean to insult you. Every day he just hopes you eventually outgrow what he thinks is emotional instability. Because he doesn’t yet know what I know.

That you’re not wrong or crazy.

That he’s not wrong or crazy.

But that in the context of unconditional love in marriage, you’re both doing it wrong.

He crushes your soul every time he doesn’t validate your fears.

You crush his when you tell him he’s being a bad husband.

You’ll either live like this forever, secretly resenting each other, but sticking it out for the children.

Or you’ll get divorced like me.

Behind Door #3

Or you can take the road less travelled.

Tracy, I know you want to. You’re searching for answers online. Hoping and praying and crying and trying.

This is where women almost ALWAYS outperform men in marriage. The fight for the marriage.

It’s hard for men to do heroic things when they feel ashamed. When they feel disrespected and unloved.

It’s pride, Tracy. More caveman shit.

Ugly truth time?

It took several months of sleeping in separate rooms and never having sex and living in daily fear of her leaving before I started to ask myself better questions.

Before I started actively seeking answers and figuring out how I contributed to breaking everything.

Humans always want to look outside themselves for solutions to the problem. Cognitive dissonance. Our brains will do anything to avoid the conclusion: This is my fault.

My wife—whether it was her being a poor communicator, or me being a prideful, shitty listener—was never able to get through to me.

She would keep telling me things. But the message never got delivered.

Things That Might Help

In my opinion, the most-important thing you can do is read this book. If you can get your husband to read that book, I think it can save both your lives. I couldn’t be more serious.

I think it’s the most-powerful thing I have ever read about male-female relationships, and I couldn’t recommend something more.

I don’t know where you fall on the faith spectrum, Tracy. I would never try to impose faith or prayer on someone as a cure-all. People need to find their own path. But there is something called The Love Dare. If you have the courage and mettle, it’s a worthy adventure. There’s a Love Dare app you can download on your phone, if you want.

And that leads me to the final thing.

You’ve been neglected, Tracy. Maybe even mentally and emotionally abused.

So, it’s unfair for me to ask you this.

But maybe you muster up the strength to do it anyway: Love him harder than you ever have before. Lift him up.

Tell him every day how much you love him. How much you respect him. How thankful you are for all he does for you and your family. How good he makes you feel when he makes you feel good. How PROUD of him you are. How much you believe in him. That you know he’s going to accomplish whatever he pours his heart into.

Tell him how much you appreciate that he has dedicated his life to you and the kids.

All the things you want him to do for you. You show him how without asking for anything in return.

I know you don’t feel like doing that, Tracy.

It’s pride. Cavewoman shit.

And it’s going to tell you that you’re not going to give any more than you’ve already given. Because he doesn’t deserve it.

But you deserve it, Tracy. Your children deserve it. Your friends deserve it. Your family deserves it.

You deserve the peace that comes from knowing you gave all you have to give.

Broken marriages are not fights to be fought with anger and resentment.

They’re fights meant to be fought with love.

Not the kind of love we see in romantic comedies or read about in sappy Nicholas Sparks novels. That’s all poisonous fantasy.

But the gritty love. The love you feel in your heart for your child even when they’re driving you mad.

It’s the love you choose when you wake up in the morning.

When the feeling goes away, it’s all we have left.

The choice.

And Tracy, if you can find the courage to make that choice even when you don’t feel like it?

I think your husband—a good man, I want to believe—I think he’ll muster up the strength and humility to choose it too.

Two people. Giving more to each other than they take for themselves.

Waking up every day, and saying: I choose you.

Tracy, that’s what forever looks like.

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When Bad Isn’t Wrong

01-16-13-right-and-wrong

I probably won’t ever murder anyone.

I feel really confident saying that. It’s not in my heart to hurt people, animals, or even things. In fact, I get enormous satisfaction out of helping people and making them feel good—so much so that I sometimes feel selfish about the immensely gratifying feelings I feel when performing selfless acts.

I say “probably won’t ever murder,” because maybe I’ll suffer really bad head trauma one day and lose all my memory and identity and reemerge as a murderous shithole. If that ever happens, I hope someone will remember me like I am now.

Assuming I keep my sense of self for the remainder of my life, all living things that aren’t big-ass spiders in my house should feel totally safe with me.

But, What If?

What if…

I caught someone trying to seriously harm my son?

And I had my finger on the Live or Die button?

Dead.

What if…

I had to determine the fate of masked men intent on beheading a bunch of innocent people they abducted?

Dead.

What if…

Someone was trying to hurt school children?

Commit violent rape?

Invade some family’s home?

Set off a bomb?

Shoot up a public place?

Dead.

All of them.

I have immense faith in my sense of right and wrong. That my justice scale is calibrated in a way that promotes good and condemns evil.

I believe in a God that commands: Thou shall not kill.

And still—STILL—I have enormous faith that I have the moral green light to stop those evils from happening with deadly force, if necessary.

Killing is bad. Horrible.

But it’s not always wrong.

‘…my fault my father raped me…’

“Hey Matt! Why are you writing about this shit on Easter!?”

Because a woman named Deborah wrote this to me a couple hours ago and made my heart hurt in a profound way:

“Matt, please keep writing. I just happened to come across your blog when I Googled why my husband treats me like shit. Finding your blog was a miracle and yesterday after my husband called me everything but a child of God and told me that he was not giving up porn and wanted to be roommates, I found your letters. I do not know what I am going to do or what my future looks like but the way he has treated me for the last 8 years has made me want to go sign in at the mental clinic. I am to be a schoolteacher, so that cannot happen. I went back to school because I relocated to be with him and found that I had to change careers. I have no friends at all since being here because I cannot leave the house and he chooses to not to have me with him. I am not fat or ugly. I try to talk to him but he is totally indifferent. Trying to explain how I feel, according to him, is fussing and he wants out because I try to express to him in a calm way everything you have said in your blogs but it always results in him calling me a bitch and that it is my fault my father raped me when I was a child and that I enjoyed it. He gets in my face and screams and has headbutted me, poured water over my head in public and says when we are out in grocery store / public that he wants to f every woman he sees. He would also rather masturbate to tranny porn than be with me. :(…..I do think it is time for me to leave. Thank you for showing me that there are some men out there who are kind and considerate.”

In an emotional move that proves my heart is devoid of the requisite amount of Jesus, I wished insta-death on that man as soon as I read Deborah’s note. I encouraged her to leave him in my reply, and as far as I can remember, it is the first time I have ever encouraged someone to end a marriage.

Because, fuck that guy.

Fuck. That. Guy.

If I hear you tell your wife it’s her fault her father raped her and that she’s a stupid bitch who enjoyed it and then you headbutt her, I will have zero qualms about bashing your skull with the nearest swingable object.

It’s BAD to swing dangerous objects at people’s skulls. Really bad. I don’t want to do it.

But in this case? I don’t think it’s wrong.

I hope anyone reading who prays will pray for Deborah. That she has the courage and resolve to safely remove herself from that prison.

I’ve written so much about fighting for marriage. About doing the hard thing. About sacrificing wants and needs for the greater good when the situation calls for it.

And I believe all of that.

Two years ago when my wife left and all I wanted was for our relationship to heal, I might have never typed something like that.

I guess I don’t know.

God knows I don’t want families to break, nor marriages to fall apart. But today, more than ever, I believe we should identify that line. That place where boundaries were so violated that, while we can forgive someday, we’re not going to forget.

Where we realize: It’s time to leave.

We should always try to do good. To be on the side of righteousness. And I guess today, it dawned on me in a very specific way that doing something “bad” can be righteous. It doesn’t make it good. It just makes it necessary.

The key is knowing the difference.

On a Lighter Note

In a move that showcases my breadth of “talent,” I created a short comic strip about Easter one year ago.

I read it again, and it made me laugh, so maybe some of you will like it too.

You can see that masterpiece here.

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Two Years Later

two-candle-birthday-cake-e1349305921801

I always thought anniversaries were a little dumb.

I don’t mean celebrating wedding anniversaries or birthdays. And I don’t mean observing holidays or commemorating events of historical significance. Those are good things. All good things have merit.

But sometimes when bad things happen, we hold onto those dates and relive those feelings we felt however many years ago.

It seems so arbitrary to me. For yesterday to be typical, and tomorrow to be uneventful, but today to be a big deal.

Is today a big deal?

I don’t think so.

But not being a big deal doesn’t prevent the events of two years ago from affecting today.

I told one person about it.

She said: “I can appreciate the general unpleasant feelings that come when you wake up on the anniversary date of something bad that has happened. It kind of hangs over your day.”

I can’t say it better than that.

A subtle pall, obscuring focus and clarity.

A splinter in your mind.

730 Days

Two years.

Twenty-four months.

A hundred and four weeks.

Exactly 730 days.

That’s how long it’s been since the most-important thing that ever happened to me happened.

I’d like to tell you being born was a big deal. But I don’t feel anything when I think about it.

And I’d really like to tell you the birth of my son was more important, and if you want to have a semantics argument, I suppose we can. That was huge.

But I’d be lying if I said April 1, 2013 wasn’t more profound. That little boy was a huge part of it.

Our life and marriage had grown tired and broken and shitty.

But it was normal, at least. Something you could really count on, like the ground being there when you take your next step. Even at our worst, we would still make dinner for one another, run errands for one another, share work stories with one another.

Even at our worst, our son still had mommy and daddy tucking him in every night, and hugging and kissing him each morning.

I don’t know why April 1 stands out.

She took her ring off the day before. That one totally knocks the wind out of you.

But on April 1, it was, just, different.

There was a suitcase and a little boy who didn’t understand what was happening. All the same things you’ve seen in the movies.

No screaming. No fighting.

Just sadness so suffocating, I don’t remember being able to speak.

That was the first time I can remember crying at the kitchen window watching them drive away.

It wasn’t the last time.

So, What Happened Next?

One of the things I like to do is tell you what happened to me because it seems like a lot of people have the same experiences.

And what that means is, if your marriage just ended or some other bad thing, and you kind of feel like you want to die, you can find out what it’s like two years later in order to have something to hold onto. A gauge. A measuring stick. Something. Anything. Because when you break on the inside, you feel so lost and out of control, you need something to hold onto. Even if it’s just one stranger’s story that might be kind of like yours.

What does it feel like two years later?

Most days, it feels just fine. I’m fine. And I don’t mean “I’m fine!” in that pretend way that people say they’re fine when they’re really miserable.

I’m okay. Really.

Two years later, I mostly feel peace when I’m alone.

I still feel sad sometimes, but it’s just as much feeling sorry for myself as it is suffering from the loss. It’s hard to tell the difference anymore.

The worst thing you still feel two years later is loneliness.

Maybe people with different circumstances feel less so. If you live near where you grew up, chances are you have institutional friends and family around. Those are very good things to have.

For a variety of reasons, including too much divorce, and some life choices I made geographically, I live far away from all of the people I used to know. Life-long friends and family. I don’t see them very often.

The only people I have locally are the friends I’ve made (and retained post-divorce) in the nine years I’ve lived here.

It’s one of the reasons writing here and connecting with so many of you has been such a valuable experience. As kind and thoughtful as many of my friends are locally, they all have lives, and no one sits around worrying about what the single 36-year-old is doing, nor should they be.

Staying connected is critical. It lifts you up and reminds you that you’re not alone. And by “not alone,” I don’t mean: Hey, look at all my online friends! I’m not alone!

I mean, you feel wretched and empty.

Lost and broken.

And one of the most important discoveries is when you find other people who know exactly what’s going on inside you. People walking the same walk. Feeling the same things.

The more connected you feel, the less isolated you are, and the faster you can start to breathe again.

You’re not alone.

Two years later, I still haven’t found a way to master all the organizational life skills my parents handled when I was young, and my wife handled the first dozen or so years of adult life.

My laundry system is suspect.

I throw away A LOT of food I buy at the grocery store because I don’t know how to shop for one and a half.

I forget little things my son needs for school on occasion—moments which serve as little reminders to my ex-wife how unreliable I can be.

I’m not the best house cleaner.

I’m not a particularly good planner.

I think I am probably my best self with a partner. But when you’re in your mid-thirties and you work full-time and you have your son half the time, meeting people is a massive challenge. I knew it would be hard, but I didn’t realize it would be this hard.

After two years of being single, I find dating to be infinitely easier, and not particularly scary.

That’s not what I mean.

But if you want someone to be the other half of you, things get really tricky.

There are children.

There is baggage.

There is fear.

When you’re single and in your mid-thirties? It generally means you’ve been through some shit.

Said shit keeps the It’s Complicated quotient rather high right up until that moment it doesn’t anymore.

I’ll let you know whether that day ever comes.

Everything’s going to be okay now.

You say it and believe it after six months. Again, after a year. But sometimes it takes this long to feel it on the inside.

After two years, you make your own rules.

After two years, you can go an entire day not even thinking about your old life even once.

After two years, you can drive by where she works every day and rarely turn your head to look for her car.

After two years, you can stop feeling ashamed.

After two years, you can know you’re good enough.

730 days.

A hundred and four weeks.

Twenty-four months.

Two years.

The anniversary does kind of hang over your day.

But it doesn’t define your day.

It doesn’t get to decide whether you smile, or how much fun you can have, or block out the spring sunshine.

It doesn’t determine who you get to think about, or how beautiful tomorrow is going to be.

Two years later, you can’t even really remember how you felt.

Because you’re someone else now.

Someone better.

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