I don’t have enough clout to recommend things and have people actually do what I suggest.
I love my second-grade son more than anything, have never given him a reason to not trust me, and I STILL can’t get him to do or try certain things I know to be better than his shitty 7-year-old ways that don’t work.
I’m sort of smart enough and self-aware enough to know when I’m talking out of my ass. But when I’m pounding the table, saying: DO THIS! IT WILL MAKE YOUR LIFE BETTER!, you can rest assured I believe it strongly, whether we’re talking about shredding your own blocks of cheese instead of lazily (and foolishly) buying pre-shredded grossness, or about things that actually matter, like how to not ruin your marriage and create a life of misery for you and your children who deserve better.
I received an email over the weekend which included this question, which is fair and reasonable if you don’t have access to my checking account: “Are you singing the praises of ‘How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It’ because you’ve been promised a commission?”
It kind of made me laugh. But then I let it roll around in my brain for a while, and I started to worry that other people might actually think this too. Because I DO strongly recommend the book often. To be clear, I don’t care if people incorrectly believe I make money I don’t actually make. But I do care about helping men better understand their wives, and encouraging them to give more to their marriages than they do. I also care about being credible so they won’t immediately dismiss things I’m saying that contradict their current: “My wife’s crazy and overly emotional, and if she’d just relax like me, our marriage would be perfect!” philosophy.
The answer to whether I’m a paid shill for that book, or any book, is: No. I just think it has a legitimate chance to save marriages, and better yet, contribute to happy ones.
If the woman who asked me that could look at my bank statement after the holiday shopping season, she would totally get a reverse-lady boner and realize there’s no way I’m earning secret book money.
‘I Can’t Believe I’m Asking a Stranger on the Internet for Help’
I have a series of posts that—in the context of this blog’s weak internet traffic—are semi-popular, called An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands. There are 12 posts in the series, and I secretly think the first three are crappy and I’m ashamed they are read so much. Collectively, the dozen posts are read more than a thousand times a day, and sometimes more when shared on Facebook.
Because of that, I get varying versions of this paraphrased email several times per week:
“My marriage is in trouble and I was looking for information online when I stumbled on your Open Letter to Shitty Husbands series. I’m in tears. It’s nice to read I’m not a crazy, psycho bitch and that other people feel this way too. I really think this can help people. But I have one question…”
Uh-oh. Here it comes.
“… how can I get my husband to understand this, too?”
That question is relentless. It haunts me.
I hate it because the answer sucks and isn’t at all helpful: I. DON’T. KNOW.
I’m not your husband! Some people like cabbage, and prefer winter to summer, and purposefully wear costumes to weekend Renaissance festivals for fun. These are not things I understand.
I have no idea what it’s like to be inside the mind and consciousness of another person—even people I see daily and think I know well.
I can only tell you what happened to me and hope that someone recognizes some of it, and then can make better choices that can lead to a better life.
Wives want to know how I became “enlightened.” How I figured out the secret. Because they believe if their husbands learn the secret too, their marriages can be saved and the pain and fear in their lives will go away.
I’m talking to people sometimes who are more afraid and in more pain than they’ve ever been. I remember what that’s like. It’s so bad that you stop worrying about dying, because dying is less scary than feeling like this forever.
Me telling them “I don’t know” probably feels the same as when broke, desperate and hopeful job hunters get form-letter responses from human resource departments thanking them for applying and promising to keep their information on file.
I don’t want wives to abandon hope, because I didn’t want my wife to give up on me, and at least some percentage of these men have what it takes to turn it around with the right information.
Those men and their wives and children are who I’m thinking about every day when I’m answering an email from another crying spouse on the brink.
Why That Book?
I don’t recommend that book because anyone is paying me to do so, or because I’m lazy and haven’t read any others, or because I assume everyone will feel exactly the same as I do about it.
I recommend it because—FOR ME—reading it was like Neo waking up from the Matrix, or Agent Kujan realizing he’d just spent the past few hours talking to Keyser Soze. I was seeing things as they really are for the first time. It’s the thing that flipped the light switch for me. It’s the thing that put me on the path to being able to write things that thousands of people read and say: “Oh my God! That’s just like my marriage!”
For me, it was: FINALLY!!! I get it now! I understand why my wife and I always have the same fight! I understand why she always brings up things from the past to be angry about even though I’ve completely forgotten them! I understand why more than half of all couples divorce or have unhappy marriages!
Changed my life.
The book taught me something I generally knew in a boys like blue, girls like pink sort-of way, but didn’t understand:
Men and women (to varying degrees—nothing is one-size-fits-all) are fundamentally different in how they process thought and emotion, and there are very specific evolutionary science reasons as to why. Those unique abilities and differences helped our ancestors survive bear attacks and invasions from other tribes during the hunter-gatherer days. But today, those differences wreak havoc on our relationships because our natural, instinctive emotional responses and communication techniques clash. Our fear responses now kick in during arguments in the kitchen instead of in our wigwams. Totally helpful in the wigwam! Totally NOT helpful in the kitchen! Because we usually say horrible things to one another and then storm off afterward to do whatever we do to make ourselves feel better (which has the added bonus of also making our partners feel even more abandoned).
Having a high-level understanding of what was happening for the first time was a total game-changer.
And here’s what my brain did:
When something happens, I have always assumed my wife saw it, heard it, felt it and experienced it just as I do. Because I’m pretty smart, and she’s pretty smart, it makes sense that we see things the same way. But NOW I KNOW THAT IT’S NOT THE SAME. And when I apply my natural translator to something, and she applies her natural translator to something, we are probably going to disagree about what really happened.
The moment you realize your wife or husband isn’t broken or crazy, but actually responding to things exactly as he or she is naturally programmed to do, (and if your partner can understand that and give it back to you) you can instantly eliminate the majority of conflict in your relationship.
That won’t guarantee marital happiness. But it’s a pretty good first step.
Combining the knowledge gleaned from that book with my memories of conflict between my wife and I helped me put a bunch of the puzzle together.
Then I got divorced anyway, because most troubled marriages are over by the time the husband figures it out.
My divorce destroyed me emotionally.
I am a child of divorce and hyper-sensitive about it. My parents split when I was 4, and I grew up 500 miles from my dad, only seeing him during school breaks throughout my childhood. Every day of my life reinforced divorce = bad.
It was the one thing in life I was really sure about: I’ll never get divorced!
It hurt so much after she left that I needed to figure out how to not hurt anymore AND how to make sure nothing like that ever happens again. I’ve spent countless hours reading about, thinking about, and talking about relationships and human psychology.
Now I’m this new version of myself.
And I like how it feels to know one of life’s greatest secrets.
Will the Same Thing Happen to Others?
Sometimes husbands read this stuff and think it’s bullshit. They can’t accept that their individual consciousness and worldview can be so radically different from others’. In their defense, it’s a really hard concept to grasp, and women are equally guilty of not understanding or respecting the fundamental differences between her and the men in her life.
Sometimes husbands refuse to read it because they’re prideful and don’t believe they need help, or maybe think acknowledging relationship troubles is a sign of failure and weakness, and most men will go to great lengths to conceal failure and weakness.
Sometimes husbands don’t appear to love their wives and family, and have little interest in anything that might be difficult to save something they don’t actually care about.
It’s hard to identify with people when they’re so much different than you.
But it’s really important that we try.
Sometimes guys like me read this stuff. They’ll leave a comment or a note, or maybe I’ll hear from their wives afterward: “Thank you. This changed our lives. You may have just saved my marriage.”
If there’s really a God that I get to meet on the day of my judgment, this is the one thing about which I get to hold my head high. This is the thing I get to say I did that mattered. Punching these keys and telling people I never met how I screwed up my marriage so maybe they can make better choices. Maybe someday I’ll get to tell God that a little 4-year-old boy was able to grow up with both his mom and dad because of something his father learned from me.
That’s why I always recommend the book. Because none of this is mine. It’s years of accidentally hurting my wife because I was selfish and ignorant. It’s years recovering from brokenness following separation and divorce.
It’s countless hours of combining the wisdom and lessons from a bunch of amazing thinkers and writers into a huge vat with all my nonsense and making something new.
Most of the time, people won’t care. Until a person is in total agony and desperate for answers, it’s really hard to care.
And even if you do care, you might think I’m totally full of shit. Maybe I am.
But every so often, when the stars align just so, the right person reads the right sentence at the right moment for them and everything becomes clear.
The Eureka Moment has a transformative effect on the heart and mind.
And then that person gets to be a better version of themselves for the rest of their lives, accidentally changing the world as they go.
Just like you.
Just like me.