Monthly Archives: March 2016

This is Why Your Life Sucks

(Image/thoughtsprojected.wordpress.com)

(Image/thoughtsprojected.wordpress.com)

“Could you explain a little more about what you mean by core values?” Lisa asked.

Yes.

I think most people, including me, lack the ability to summarize their core values, and then shitty things happen afterward, and then we all struggle with trying to figure out why.

But THIS IS WHY the shitty thing happened. Because we don’t know what our values are.

Since we can’t go back in time, the only reasonable choice is to try to make tomorrow better than today.

Our inability to identify our values means we don’t REALLY know who we. And that prevents us from being able to communicate it accurately to others.

And that’s a problem. This non-programmed and ill-defined Life Navigation System is incapable of getting us to our desired destination without blind luck. Thus, whenever we’re not experiencing good luck that we may or may not have earned, life sucks.

I’ve been hammering on this point lately and it’s not just because I think I know things (I don’t), but rather because whatever personal advancements I’ve made in the past three years can be directly attributed to me honing in on my values and learning how to enforce my personal boundaries.

And on the flipside, everything about my life that sucks can be directly attributed to not honoring (or not knowing) my values in certain life areas, or compromising my boundaries (usually because it’s “easier” in the moment, even though we always pay for it later).

“What are Values and Boundaries? This Sounds Like Psychobabble.”

The words “values” and “boundaries” are the kind of words that always sounded like bullshit to me. They don’t sound like they mean anything. They’re just words adults used when I was growing up when they were droning on and on about things that weren’t fun to listen to, and if I HAD listened to them, I’d have had less fun.

Or would I have?

When I was young, I didn’t feel motivated to explore ideas like this or learn new things because everything was always good. I was healthy and safe. I felt loved by family and accepted by friends. All of my needs were met. Because I never wanted for things, I never had to ask myself how to get something I wanted, and then go through the growth process and hard work necessary to achieve it.

But then, almost exactly three years ago (April 1) my wife left, and my son didn’t live at home all the time anymore. I was sad, angry and ashamed.

I was nothing like the happy and confident person I used to see in the mirror back when nothing was wrong.

I was a broken, crying, terrified shell of that kid. If I’m not that person anymore, who the hell am I?

I didn’t matter, and I knew it.

I was weak, and I knew it.

I wasn’t worth a woman’s love or desire, and I knew it.

Those were hard truths to accept, but life is really hard sometimes. After a lifetime of mostly blaming others for anything that ever went wrong because it’s so much easier than raising your hand and accepting responsibility, I finally asked the right questions:

How did I get here? What could I have done differently to prevent this?

The answer is simple enough: I didn’t always live my values, and I didn’t always enforce my boundaries.

Suddenly, these “bullshit” concepts skyrocketed to the top of my This Stuff Really Matters list.

Here are two of my favorite explanations for these critical life concepts.

Here’s Debra Smouse at Tiny Buddha on VALUES:

“Values are who YOU are, not who you think you should be in order to fit in.”

“Why is naming your values important?

“Values are the backbone of life. They are the beacons on our path—in personal life and in business. When you identify your values and get clear with them, something magical happens: They come alive in ways you haven’t even imagined and illuminate and nurture your entire life from the inside out.
“If we don’t know what’s important to us, we spend a lot of time wandering and wondering what we should be doing. There is tremendous power in discovering and living according to our highest values, and experiencing inner peace as the natural consequence.

Here’s Mark Manson on BOUNDARIES:

“Healthy Personal Boundaries = Taking responsibility for your own actions and emotions, while NOT taking responsibility for the actions or emotions of others.”

“People with poor boundaries typically come in two flavors: those who take too much responsibility for the emotions/actions of others, and those who expect others to take too much responsibility for their own emotions/actions.”

Why Does This Matter?

It matters because our lives suck sometimes, and outside of grieving the deaths of loved ones or developing a disease impossible to prevent, it’s pretty much always our fault. We feel INFINTELY more confident and in control of our lives once we accept this truth.

Your wife left you because you were a shitty husband.

Your kids rebelled because you made missteps as their parent.

You lost your job because you failed to make yourself indispensable.

You got sick because you make unhealthy choices.

You don’t have money because you’re unwilling to put in the work or take the risks it requires.

Your boyfriends always cheat and treat you like crap because you don’t love and respect yourself enough to not date men like that.

Bad things happen. And we really feel them because negative emotions tend to register more prominently with us than positive ones.

“A major reason for the more noticeable role of negative emotions is that they possess greater functional value. The risks of responding inappropriately to negative events are greater than the risks of responding inappropriately to positive events, since negative events can kill us while positive events will merely enhance our well-being,” Dr. Aaron Ben-Zeév wrote in Psychology Today.

Maybe everyone else grew up faster than I did, but I was in my 30s before recognizing that the common denominator in most of my life problems was me.

Because I want to feel happy (the real happy that comes from internal peace absent fear, guilt, anxiety and shame) more than I want most things, I made the choice to try to define my core values, honestly communicate my boundaries to others, and then ENFORCE them.

That means, when someone I just met at my birthday gathering says something that genuinely offends me and contradicts my core values, she and I will have a totally uncomfortable and not-fun conversation right in front of everyone, and then when she tries to play nice later and reach out to me via Facebook Messenger in an attempt to score a date, I don’t consider it, even though that’s something I probably would have done just three years ago when I was desperate to feel liked and wanted.

“Your beliefs become your thoughts. Your thoughts become your words. Your words become your actions. Your actions become your habits. Your habits become your values. Your values become your destiny.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Your core values are who you are when no one’s watching. Your core values are what you do and say because it’s your truth, and not what you do to win the approval of your friends, family, co-workers, classmates, neighbors or romantic interests.

Your core values are THE REAL YOU, not who we think we should be so people will like us.

When we live our values and enforce our boundaries, the only people in our inner circles end up being people who share (or at least respect) our values, don’t attempt to manipulate or take advantage of us, don’t bring unwanted drama into our lives, and who love, respect and accept us for who we REALLY are (and not because of what we do for them).

Values.

Boundaries.

Not the bullshit nonsense I once chalked them up to be, but rather ideas with the power to change everything. For the better.

More on Values and How to Define Them

From Dawn Barclay at Living Moxie: How to Define Your Core

From sourcesofinsight.com: How to Find Your Values

From Mark Manson: WHERE ARE YOUR F@#%ING VALUES?

More on Boundaries and Why They Matter

From Mark Manson: The Guide to Strong Boundaries

…..

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SIDE NOTE: I finally have a Facebook page for this blog. It would be awesome to connect with you there. I’ll understand if you don’t want to, because mehhhhhhh.

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Bad News: You Two Probably Shouldn’t Be Dating

caution you're doing it wrong

(Image/amaninthegap.blogspot.com)

Your relationship is probably doomed.

I’m sorry, but it’s true. I’m just playing the percentages.

Half of all marriages will fall apart. It’s a huge bummer but it’s been true for so long that unless a critical mass of people in the future take to heart some of the ideas here, there’s every reason to assume that will continue.

Additionally, what percentage of pre-marriage/unmarried relationships won’t work out? Maybe 80, or even 90 percent? Who knows? A damn lot.

So. Like I said: Your relationship is probably doomed.

Maybe I’m Not Doing It Wrong After All

Tiffany asked:

My question is less about the marriage part and more about the singlehood part. I epically failed at the dating game in my younger years long before epic fail was even a phrase. I am oh so much better at it now, NOT! I have no game or swagger, I’m just me. I’m just real but I guess being real is a complete turn off in this reality-tv, instant gratification society. So my question is, now what? Now what are we divorcee’s supposed to do? Online dating did not exist the last time I was single and neither did texting. We thought our cell phones were smart until Apple raised the IQ bar. Now, there seem to be dating rules that no one has shared with me and once I become privy to what they might be, they change. It seems the sea of fishes are now depleted of sea horses but teaming with sharks. If nice guys finish last, WHERE ARE THEY? In my experience, the divorced, single men in our age bracket are either reliving their 20 something frat boy days or trying to experience that lifestyle they never had. It’s exhaustingly frustrating! I feel as if the first line of the online dating profile I don’t have should read “Hi, I am a strong woman of character, value and self-respect. I’m sorry but I will not be selling my body or soul to the lowest bidder with cheesy lines, free cocktails, Netflix and a ‘chill’.”

I feel like when I go on a first date with someone (which has not happened in over a year because I gave up) I should introduce myself as, “Hi, I’m Tiffany. I’m a real person with thoughts, ideas and feelings not just a pin cushion. It’s nice to meet you.” The guy would turn around and run I’m sure lol. I also have two kids which translates to leprosy I’m finding out. Refer back to the previous statement of reliving one’s 20s and the idea of being a grown man that doesn’t shy away from responsibility is just gone. Maybe they are just too overwhelmed with their own responsibility to think about any more…..Maybe they just don’t know how to tread down this road just like me….Maybe I’m giving them too much benefit of the doubt…Maybe they’ve always been irresponsible and that’s why they’re divorced….Maybe I should stop driving myself crazy with all the maybe’s.
BUT I JUST DON’T GET IT!!!
So please, if you have any thoughts as to why divorced men seem to only want friends with benefits or casual, please clue me in.
Also, the separate problem of divorced men who may be looking for something real, but not seeing me, only the fact that I have kids.

I used to think I was horrible at dating (post-divorce, specifically), and even felt a little bit ashamed of it. But that’s because I was comparing the QUANTITY of my dates to what I perceived to be others’ experiences, and now I’ve come to believe it’s actually the low-boundary, unfiltered attitude toward dating that is causing most of these problems in the first place.

I now think I was accidentally awesome, and believe today that I’m a competent dater in a very deliberate way.

There are two reasons people date:

1. Because they desire companionship and/or sex, casually or otherwise.

2. Because they’re looking for a suitable partner for a long-term relationship and/or marriage.

If casual relationships are the goal, then I think a relaxed attitude about dating is an appropriate disposition.

But if you’re genuinely looking for a compatible long-term partner with the intention of spending FOREVER with them, then I think getting hardcore with your intentions, your boundaries, and your stated expectations are CRITICALLY IMPORTANT to your success and emotional wellbeing.

An intentionally casual dater can date another intentionally casual dater, and have a positive experience.

An intentionally casual dater dating someone looking for love can lead to a lot of bad things happening if neither are honest with one another.

A person looking for love and long-term commitment can date someone else looking for love and long-term commitment, and it can go a million different ways. A lot of people believe if they end up married, that the meeting and dating exercise was a success. But that’s not true. It’s only a success if they actually make it to forever.

This is where most of us get it wrong.

Because I write here and some people pay attention, people in my personal life sometimes irrationally believe that makes me the go-to person for relationship questions. Ignoring how flawed that thinking is, I do my best to listen and provide the honest feedback they seek.

One of my friends liked a guy. He was the first guy she really liked in a long time. They met on an online dating site. They started seeing each other regularly. But to her displeasure, he was non-committal. He remained engaged in online-dating activities and was presumably seeing other people.

She wanted my advice. I didn’t think the solution was complicated.

“What should I do?” she asked.

“Only you can decide what you’re willing to tolerate,” I said. “The first thing I would do is decide exactly what you want and what your intentions are. Do you want him to be your committed boyfriend, or don’t you? Are you okay with him logging onto online dating sites and dating other people, or aren’t you? Once you know what you want, those are your boundaries. Then you clearly and honestly communicate those boundaries to him. Then—the hardest part—you ENFORCE those boundaries. You need to be willing to walk away if he doesn’t respect them,” I said.

“Isn’t it too soon for that?” she said. She didn’t want to seem “crazy” or “possessive,” she said.

She was afraid that being honest would cause him to reject her.

“I don’t want to seem insensitive about this, but if your relationship is going to fail, you WANT it to fail fast. Be honest about what you want. If he’s unwilling to give you what you want, or honor your feelings, or he runs away, isn’t that all you really need to know about him in terms of your long-term compatibility?” I said.

Maybe she thought really wanting him to be a certain kind of guy would magically transform him into that person. Like The Secret.

She never had the conversation with him. A couple weeks later, he cancelled plans with her for the third or fourth time, then she ended it, and they haven’t talked to one another since.

The entire scene felt insane to me. THIS is a major reason so many people end up divorced, I thought.

Why Does Dating Suck?

Because people don’t establish strong-enough boundaries for who they date.

Because people aren’t willing to be vulnerable and choose honesty when expressing who they really are on the inside, and what they really want.

And then sooner or later, it all crashes and burns because two people with different values and different expectations and different goals tried to force it using rainbow wishes and unicorn dreams, blaming culture, circumstances and everything but the person standing in the mirror for willingly participating in the madness.

Being a victim of con-artistry is the ONLY honest excuse for crushing heartache in the dating game.

Sure, rejection hurts, when one honest person doesn’t reciprocate the same emotional investment as another honest person. But, A. Don’t you WANT to be with someone who wants you back?, and B. How is that not an infinitely better result than investing years and/or marriage with someone who ultimately rejects you because you never really knew each other in the first place?

I can’t emphasize this belief enough: Every failure-to-launch relationship is a GREAT thing that eliminates wasted time, gives us critical life experience, and ultimately opens the door for people to find legitimately awesome and compatible romantic partners.

I know everyone’s in a big hurry all the time. But as mom always said: Life is what happens when we’re busy making other plans.

This is how dating goes when you’re from a small Midwestern town in the United States (maybe it’s a lot different in big cities and other cultures): You go to school in kindergarten, and for the next 13 years, you’re almost exclusively surrounded by “people like you,” which I’m loosely defining as single people with similar values, similar life experiences, similar educational opportunities, similar financial prospects, and similar long-term goals and expectations.

There’s no such thing as classmates or even two random students at the same school who don’t share several common interests and cultural similarities, relative to how varied our experiences and worldviews can be as single—divorced, widowed, or never-married—adults.

Unless you’re someone who moved around a lot during your school years (which must come with its own social-development issues and challenges), you’re typically 18 at the earliest before you meet a potential romantic interest with a radically divergent cultural background or value system.

I think exposure to other beliefs, cultures and customs is extremely important for people to figure out who we are. Diversity is critical for us to be able to ask the right questions during our formative and explorative years.

But I’m not sure I believe diversity to be particularly useful in marriage or committed long-term relationships (especially those involving children—more on that in a minute).

How Dating is Like Business

As an internet marketing professional, my job is, in a very generic sense, to generate as much web traffic as possible to pages containing products or services I hope to sell to as many visitors as possible.

Let’s pretend I own a company that sells exclusively men’s t-shirts which read: “Donald Trump Has Very Specific and Credible Plans for America, Excellent Hair, and Should Be President of the World.” And now my job is to sell as many of these stylish and in-demand shirts as possible.

quizzical baby

(Image/mums-corner.com)

Let’s pretend I’m going to try to sell these shirts using targeted online advertising and email marketing (because I magically have access to everyone’s email address), and I have to decide how to wisely spend my email marketing and advertising budget.

And finally, let’s pretend I decide to target the following groups of people for my men’s Trump shirt sales initiative: Registered Democrats who voted for President Obama in the 2012 election, Women who live in Poland, and everyone on Hillary Clinton’s F.B.I.-seized private email server.

I probably wouldn’t have much luck selling Trump shirts to those groups.

There is something in business called a Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL). A shirtless man carrying a 12-pack of Natural Light at a Trump rally might be an MQL for one of these Trump shirts. A Hispanic Los Angeles resident with a Bernie Sanders yard sign would not be.

I think many daters look for love and marriage using the I’m Trying to Sell Trump Shirts to Sanders Supporters strategy.

Online Dating Can Actually Help With This

Online dating sites allow you to establish parameters to weed out people with incompatible or unattractive traits. This is really helpful for women who receive more attention on dating sites than they can handle and for men with strong boundaries, selective tastes and specific preferences.

It’s probably bad for all of the low-boundary people who care more about feeling liked and accepted than they do about actually having healthy and successful relationships.

Maybe people are lonely and afraid they’ll be alone forever. I remember feeling that way.

Maybe people are worried about what friends and coworkers think. Maybe they want to “keep up” with their ex who has already moved on with someone new. Maybe people are trying to have sex more often than never. Maybe they’re trying to find a financial partner, or just someone to binge-watch Netflix with them.

I don’t know.

I just know that a frightening amount of people voluntarily enter relationships with people who don’t share their values, and subject themselves to all kinds of abuse or dysfunction afterward, and it often seems as if it’s because they’re more afraid of being alone than they are of being mistreated or suffering a horrible break-up.

Single Parents Must Use Stringent Filters to Find MQLs

I don’t think people are discriminating enough, and I think that’s why dating is so frustrating for people, and why so many relationships fail. I think vigilant discernment while dating is extremely critical for single or divorced parents, and any young people who intend to have children someday.

People who look different can have great relationships.

People with differing interests can have great relationships.

People with diverse life experiences can have great relationships.

People from different places can have great relationships.

People with varying personality types can have great relationships.

But, people with DIFFERENT VALUES? I have yet to see evidence that two people with conflicting core values can succeed, particularly when they share children, or are raising them together.

Dating often sucks because people aren’t honest with themselves, and then they make it worse by not being honest with those they date.

If you don’t know who you are and what your values are, YOU HAVE NO CHANCE.

If you haven’t identified your personal boundaries, or aren’t willing to vigilantly enforce them, you’re going to experience a heavy dose of frustration and heartache.

If you do it my way, you’re not going to go out on many dates, and you may often feel frustrated by what seems like a frightening lack of options. The temptation can be great to go out with people simply because you find them attractive and they’re interested.

But I implore people to be deliberate with their intentions, and be courageous enough to share their honest expectations, values and feelings with the people they’re getting to know.

Divorce is A LOT scarier than a relative stranger deciding not to date us anymore.

It bears repeating: If we’re evaluating whether that person across from us is an appropriate choice for a long-term or lifetime commitment, should we REALLY be afraid of how they might react to something honest and true about us?

Can we achieve forever with someone who doesn’t want the real us?

It’s not fun or easy. It won’t always feel good. It’s the furthest thing from sexy.

But it’s the first real step on the path to reducing divorce.

Or, more appropriately, the first real step on the journey to Forever.

SIDE NOTE: I finally have a Facebook page for this blog. It would be awesome to connect with you there. I’ll understand if you don’t want to, because mehhhhhhh.

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I Wish That I Knew What I Know Now When I Was Younger

(Image/financeandmortgage.com)

(Image/financeandmortgage.com)

I heard a car alarm going off while exiting the mall.

I’d have ignored it like I do most car alarms, but I was still on high alert from a previous car break-in in the not-too-distant past. I had left a large shoebox with about 70 compact discs in plain sight on the floor behind the passenger seat. I had also failed to remove the detachable face from my car’s CD player. Someone broke a window and stole them.

It was the first time I’d ever really felt violated. It’s a unique sort of anger. I replaced the broken window, the CD deck and about two-thirds of the CDs with insurance money and my father’s generosity.

Then, not long after that on my 17th birthday, my mom and stepdad took me to dinner and then the mall to buy me gifts. I realized while walking out into the mall parking lot that the car alarm I heard was mine.

My walk turned into a run.

Sitting in my passenger seat with my car door open was some asshole trying to yank the CD unit from my front dash, and my fight-or-flightometer was firmly set on fight.

Arms spread wide and displaying the universal sign language for Tough Guy® I yelled: “What the fuck, man?!” and just kept coming. I had every intention of slamming my heavy 1986 Buick Regal car door into him over and over again, but this guy was spry.

He jumped out and pulled a knife. It wasn’t a hardcore Crocodile Dundee knife, but it wasn’t some wimpy punk knife you wanted shoved into your gut either.

The switch flipped on the fight-or-flightometer, and I backed up. Dude ran away. My stepdad chased him, presumably less afraid of being gutted than I was. I always thought that was awesome, but only because he didn’t get stabbed. Later, I ID’ed the guy to police detectives from a series of photos at the police station. Maybe that guy is dead or in prison now. Or maybe he reads this blog and remembers that night (Hey man!).

Standing in my father’s kitchen with all four of my parents, my dad totally ripped my ass, which he almost never did. After going through all of that trouble with the police and insurance and him spending more money so that I could have my stupid (but awesome at the time!) car stereo that drove all the neighbors crazy, I had left a detachable face on the CD deck and more CDs just laying around in my car like a Welcome sign for thieves.

He was pissed. So I spent the evening of my 17th birthday, getting a verbal ass-kicking from my dad in front of all four of my parents who were pretty much never in the same room at the same time.

I totally deserved it, too.

(Listen to this song on repeat for the rest of the time you’re on this page, please.)

I turn 37 tomorrow.

For the same reason I left that detachable CD player face on even though I’d already had it stolen once, and the same reason I foolishly sprinted up to some stranger where I could have easily been shot and killed, I don’t know that there’s ANYTHING you could have told me 20 years ago that would have kept me from (stubbornly) “needing” to figure things out on my own—often the hard way.

I tell my young son 100-percent of the time we’re eating together to eat over his plate so crumbs and sauces and whatever fall on his plate and not on his shirt, lap, or the floor.

And pretty much 100-percent of the time, he gets crap all over his clothes and the floor. Because, almost certainly to his mother’s chagrin, he’s a little bit like his father.

But what if I could somehow get Doc Brown to fire up that old DeLorean time machine and hand-deliver it to myself in 1996? Wouldn’t I pay attention then? Probably not. But let’s pretend I would to eliminate some of the pointlessness from this exercise.

If I had to give the gift of knowledge and wisdom to a young man oblivious to his need for it in the form of a time-warped letter, what would I write?

A Letter to Myself on my 17th Birthday

3-24-2016

Dear Matt,

Happy birthday, dude! I really wanted to come back to ’96 and just have a nice sit-down talk with you, but Doc was all “blah-blah-blah… time paradox… blah-blah-blah… space-time continuum… blah-blah-blah… destruction of universe…” so I was like: “Fine, Doc. Whatever. Give him this letter AFTER you tell him he’s a 37-year-old divorced single father who lives alone, works in an office cubicle for 40-plus hours per week, and doesn’t smoke or even drink often to help manage the shame. It’ll probably go over his head because I was kind of a dipshit at 17.”

Sorry I said that. But you really are kind of a dipshit. You get solid grades and have an excellent vocabulary so you fake everyone (and yourself) out. But you’re totally dumb. This isn’t unique to your teenage years. You’re actually a moron all the way through your twenties.

Intellectually and maturity-wise, turning 30 is really good for you. But sadly, that’s also when a bunch of bad personal-life things will start happening, and since you fake being smart instead of actually being smart, your entire life is going to fall apart. Like, clinically depressed, fall apart. Like, have a few things in common with suicidal people, fall apart.

Today, you have no idea who or what you want to be. You see all these other kids who are going to go off to college knowing their career path. You see people who seem focused and disciplined and who seem to genuinely crave knowledge.

You sometimes wonder what’s wrong with you because you don’t know what you want to do with your life. You don’t know why you never seem to be able to maintain long-term attention and focus. You don’t understand why all of these other people want to learn things. School’s boring. You just want a job that helps you pay the bills so you can get to that next weekend party. Living for the weekend.

But now you have a secret weapon. The knowledge of what you WILL want. I’m going to tell you what some of those things are, how you can have them, and a few bonus secrets, too. You’re welcome.

There Are No Shortcuts

There’s only the long way. But here’s something awesome I didn’t expect at 17: Today feels the same as Today did in 1996. I know 37 sounds totally old to you. But it doesn’t feel old when you’re in the moment. The 20 years between your Today and my Today is more than enough time to master everything you want to master, even after learning what I’m about to tell you.

You Have Something Called ADHD

You’ll hear a lot about it later. You’ll think it’s made up. People will tell you it’s a fake thing Big Pharma is pushing to sell drugs to kids. And maybe it is! One of the best things about being 37 is that you’ll get really comfortable with the idea of uncertainty. It’s totally okay to not know things! Pursue knowledge. Pursue truth. Try your best. Learn about ADHD and how to manage it. That will help you with everything you do, and your relationships with everyone you meet.

You Value Money Too Much

I’m not saying it doesn’t matter at all. It’s nice to have. I’m just saying you rank it above most other things, and it’s a really bad idea. You should put most of your energy into the most important things. If you had a billion dollars, and then you found out you had brain cancer, would it matter that you were a billionaire? When your health is poor—mentally, physically, spiritually and emotionally—everything in your life falls apart, and there aren’t enough dollars to fix it. Which brings us to…

College (Fresh out of High School) is Overrated

Not only is it overrated, there are some fields in which attending college can be demonstrably proven to be a bad financial proposition. It’s not your fault. In 1996, it seems like only the kids with no future skip college. The losers. And the conventional wisdom is you need a bachelor’s degree to get a professional job. But it’s a big lie everyone believes and I can’t figure out why. Some fields of study lend themselves to higher education. Law. Medicine. Engineering.

But pretty much everything else? You’re paying tens, sometimes hundreds, of thousands of dollars for a piece of paper that says you learned things that if you drank enough beer, you didn’t actually learn.

At 37, I’ve had three full-time jobs following college graduation, NONE of which benefitted from me attending college.

I’m NOT saying be a burnout loser. I’m NOT saying don’t learn things. But I AM saying don’t take on a bunch of debt for a crappy four-year degree after classes you won’t remember and having acquired zero useful life skills or valuable knowledge.

Instead, read every book you can on the subjects which genuinely interest you, and then spend 40 hours per week actively practicing a skill or attempting to create something in your field of interest, instead of sitting in expensive classes that won’t help.

Because you’re you, it will take you five years to earn your bachelor’s degree and cost a small fortune.

You can get 10,000 hours experience (a time length generally accepted as achieving expertise at any given thing) by putting in 40-hour weeks for 4.8 years. Guess how many 22-year-olds with bachelor’s degrees are experts at anything other than bong hits and using coin-laundry machines?

You’re Not the Only One Who Thinks and Feels That

About what? About anything. You have thoughts and feelings and fears and questions and beliefs, and you never talk about them with anyone because it feels safer to keep it a secret. Maybe you’re afraid your friends won’t be friends with you. Maybe you’re afraid your parents won’t love you. Maybe you’re afraid you’re a freak, and if everyone figures out who the real you is, they’ll all laugh at you, and you’ll die alone and celibate with no friends.

EVERYONE else is ALSO thinking and feeling those same kinds of things. That’s an awesome life secret. Don’t be a fake version of yourself in order to win the approval of your friends, or family, or people you know from back home, or for girls you meet. No one will like the fake version of you any more than the real version.

Just be yourself, no matter what, and enjoy the absence of insecurity that comes from being surrounded by people who love and accept you as you are. Changes your whole life.

You’ll Have to Change Your Eating Habits and Exercise Regularly to Maintain Your Shape

One day, your metabolism slows, and you’ll gain weight. You’ll have to exercise even though you’ll no longer compete in organized athletics. When you do so in the morning, you will feel really good all day long, and you’ll look better, and the combination of those two things will improve your confidence and performance in everything you do. Which is good.

Write Down 10 Ideas Every Day

You’re going to discover a writer you really like named James Altucher. He preaches this, and it’s because he’s really smart. It doesn’t matter how good or how bad the ideas are. The point is simply to habitually be able to come up with new ideas all the time. When you’re 37, the superpower you wish you could have is the ability to quickly come up with several viable solutions to ANY problem as needed. It’s how you help people. It’s how you make money. It’s how you improve at things. It’s how you do anything. You think of something that may or may not have been tried before. Then you figure out how to execute it. Then you give it a try and see what works and what doesn’t. Repeat the good stuff. Avoid the bad. The applications for your ability to generate new ideas are limitless.

Human Beings Weren’t Designed to Sit in Office Cubicles and Take Things So Seriously

You’re pretty good with people. You have a lot of friends. It’s one of the best things about you. Don’t let the world tell you that you should abandon the love you have for your friends and the joy you feel from social connectivity because “it’s time to grow up.” If you meet a girl and she wants you to abandon your social life for her because she wants no part of it, you run. You’ll never make it with anyone who doesn’t share your values. You need not be ashamed of valuing fun and your social network. It matters so much more than money ever will.

You will learn SO MUCH about romantic relationships and about yourself over these next two decades.

Don’t Marry Until the Day You Love Someone More Than Yourself

If you’re wondering whether she’ll make you happy, she won’t. Making you happy is your job. If you WANT to make her happy, you’re on the right track. Marriage isn’t for you.

Marriage is harder than you think, no matter how many people told you it was going to be “work.” It’s hard to be afraid of what you don’t know. But I hope you’ll believe that you should be. Fear is generally bad. A healthy fear of divorce is wise.

It’s hard to understand that being a good person is not the same thing as being a good husband or a good father.

When you’re young, you don’t realize something VERY important: Your brain is hardwired to feel bored when you do any one thing too long, or when you fall into routine and familiarity. It’s not just you. It’s every person in the world. It’s called hedonic adaptation, and it’s probably responsible for most divorce, feelings of depression, sexual affairs and addictions. If everyone knew about this, we’d all stop looking for the bigger, better deal all the time and ruining our relationships and destroying our chance at contentment on our never-ending pursuits of happiness we never achieve.

So, no matter how gorgeous, fun, kind, smart, sexy your wife is, you will get used to her like all other good things in your life you take for granted (health, income, safety, shelter, transportation, etc.). Make it a daily habit to feel gratitude for the good things in your life and major discontentment will never set in.

People who do whatever they “feel” like will never have healthy relationships, will never pay bills, or hold down jobs, or take care of children, or accomplish anything, EVER. We succeed when we rise above our feelings and make good choices. Some days you will feel “in love” in your marriage. Other days you will not. If every couple who didn’t feel “in love” got divorced, 100-percent of marriages would end in divorce. Never forget this: Love is a choice.

Lastly, there’s a word you don’t quite understand. You’ve just heard adults use it. It’s probably the most important word you can ever fully understand as an adult if you like healthy relationships and a low-drama lifestyle.

The word is: Empathy.

It sounds a little feely and bullshit to you. I get that. You know what else feels like bullshit? Divorce. So shut up and pay attention.

You’re alive and you think things. You look around and you see the world, and you react to others and life events based on all of the things that have happened to you from birth until right now.

This is very important. Every other person on Earth thinks and feels differently than you. Sometimes what they think and feel will conflict with your thoughts and feelings. This is okay. People disagree all the time, and often work things out.

Sometimes, something happens, and it feels like a HUGE deal to you and you can’t figure out why someone else doesn’t feel the same. Other times, something happens, and someone else makes a HUGE deal out of it, but you don’t get it because it’s not on your radar or doesn’t impact your life.

You’ll accidentally rub strangers the wrong way once in a while in situations like this. Fine. Whatever. Just try to be polite.

But here’s the really scary part: You’ll also accidentally upset those closest to you in situations like this. Like your girlfriend or wife. They’ll TELL you. And you STILL won’t recognize the gravity of the situation.

I know you don’t get it. She likes Reba McEntire’s music, and you think it’s absolute GARBAGE. And then when you say so in a chiding, not-particularly-serious way, she acts super-butt-hurt about it and you can’t figure out why. You think she’s overreacting and you’ll say so.

She’ll want you to apologize for hurting her feelings.

But since apologizing is tantamount to admitting fault, you won’t do it. You did nothing wrong! She freaked out like a crazy person. If anyone owes anyone an apology, she owes me!, you think.

You will KNOW that you’re in the right and she’s in the wrong.

You’ll know it because your heart tells you that you love her, and that it’s totally insane to conclude that your repeated mocking of Reba McEntire music is a punishable crime.

Every time a situation like this arises, you will argue your well-thought-out and honest point. You will see her anger and frustration grow. You’ll hold your ground because you’re certain she’ll eventually come around to your mature, emotionally stable and intelligent point of view.

And then one day, she’ll leave you. Over something as seemingly benign as a dish left by the sink.

You’ll be taken by surprise. First, by the move, then by how miserably broken and lost you feel. It’s hard to breathe sometimes when it REALLY hurts. It’s not something you’ve ever had to deal with. You’ll be terrified because you didn’t know the human body could feel like that. Joyless. Totally defeated.

Then you’ll go on living, and all around you everyone else is pretty normal. They laugh at jokes and do fun things on the weekend. You’re on the brink of a breakdown, and a constant threat to cry. (I know! CRY! Like in front of people. It’s wild.)

How is it possible, I can feel like THIS while they’re right there feeling like THAT?

BOOM.

Two people. Same situation. Two RADICALLY different experiences.

Empathy.

Things happen to other people that affect them emotionally in profound ways. You won’t always understand because the event didn’t affect you at all.

How healthy your relationships are, and how happy your life turns out will hinge predominantly on your ability to care about things that affect people in your life—not because they impact you emotionally, nor because you are naturally interested in whatever the subjects are—but because the people you love care about them.

On its own, this wouldn’t matter to me. But this matters very much to her. I love her. She matters very much to me. Therefore, I care about the thing, too. It now matters to me BECAUSE it matters to her.

That’s it, kid.

That’s your birthday present. You don’t understand how important it is, and if you work a little bit, you may never have to because all of your relationships can be mostly healthy, and free of pain and drama. That would be awesome for all involved.

It’s the little things that can change everything. Some crap like Reba McEntire. Or even just dirty dishes.

Now, go play your Alice in Chains and The Fugees, then don’t forget to remove the detachable face when you’re done.

Happy birthday.

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The Truth About Love You Might Not Accept

"The Vagabond/Prodigal Son" by Hieronymus Bosch

“The Vagabond/Prodigal Son” by Hieronymus Bosch

There was a wealthy farmer with two sons.

The younger son, dissatisfied with his boring life, went to his dad and asked for his inheritance early. The request was demanding and entitled. It would have been interpreted at the time a little bit like he wished his father was already dead.

Then the young man, armed with a lot of money, left home, abandoned his family and their business, traveled far and wide, and lived lavishly.

Fancy clothes. Expensive meals. Wild parties. Lots of sex.

He did that every day until he ran out of money right around the time the economy tanked and weather patterns decimated regional crop farming. Widespread famine took hold.

The rich, entitled kid had nothing left. No real friends. No viable job prospects. And now there was a food-shortage crisis, so he couldn’t find food.

With no other options, he would have to return home, tail tucked between his legs, and beg his father to let him come back. He didn’t expect a warm welcome. He was going to ask his dad to hire him as a farmhand to work the land, and sleep in one of the barns with the farm animals.

But to the young man’s surprise, that’s not how it went down. When his father heard word that his wayward son had come home, he dropped everything and sprinted to him.

Instead of admonishing him for being so selfish, foolish and irresponsible, he hugged him tight with tears of joy, expressing his love and gratitude for his safe return.

Instead of punishing him for abandoning the family and his responsibilities to waste a small fortune on excessive living, he threw a massive party to celebrate his child’s return.

The older brother was pissed. While his idiot brother was out burning money on wine and prostitutes, he had stayed home and dutifully tended to the family business and was an all-around respectful and obedient son.

No one ever threw me a party for doing the right thing!, he thought.

He went up to his dad and said what most of us would: “Umm. Dad. This is total bullshit. I’ve been right here doing all the right things all these years while that douchebag was off wasting his entire fortune on drunken orgasms. Then he comes home, and we treat him like the conquering hero? Where’s my party, dad? Where’s my ‘Atta Boy?”

The father understood his elder son’s frustration, but said simply: “Celebrating your brother’s return is the right thing to do. We thought he was dead. But here he is, alive. He was lost. And now he’s been found.”

Anyone even loosely familiar with the bible knows that story. It’s the parable of the Prodigal Son—a story about redemption. My favorite kind. It’s supposed to symbolize the endless mercy of God, personified biblically as a loving father.

But it’s also the best story I know which addresses the thing we need to talk about, because I think maybe a lot of people don’t know what it really means. And I think maybe that lack of understanding is ruining their marriages; their relationships with children and parents, with siblings, with friends, with neighbors, with co-workers, and everyone else:

Unconditional love.

Because We Care What Others Think, We Do Stuff

It’s uncomfortable to admit. We all want to believe we’re so courageous and unique and authentic. We all want to believe the decisions we make are for us because we’re genuinely pursuing whatever it is our hearts and minds compel us to chase in life.

But that’s bullshit, and we all know it.

We do things to win the approval of our parents. You didn’t go to medical school at Dartmouth because you wanted to go to Dartmouth or become a doctor. You did it because your grandfather did that, and then your dad did it, and if you don’t do it, you’ll always be the person who tarnished the family legacy, and you were afraid of the shame and possible rejection.

We do things so that other kids in school will accept us. You dated Lauren because she was hot and you wanted to look cool to the other guys, not because there was some legitimate emotional connection. You avoided playing in the band, not because you didn’t love music, but because you didn’t want your football teammates calling you a “band nerd.”

You didn’t drink beer because you actually liked it. Cherry Coke and Dr. Pepper always tasted better. You did it because you wanted to fit in.

We still do this as adults. All the time.

It affects our choices about the houses we live in and the cars we drive. It influences the clothes we wear. Who we hang out with. How we treat our friends.

We worry about our children’s behavior sometimes, not because we’re ACTUALLY worried about the long-term impact on our children’s lives (most of the dumb stuff they do will have almost no bearing on how their lives turn out, and are in fact necessary experiences from which to learn important life lessons), but because we worry about what other parents might think about us as that kid’s parents.

We do and feel many things for no other reason than we invest in other people’s perception of us. The most interesting part of that is, we don’t really know what another person thinks of us. So we project our personal feelings on others, and essentially guess what they think will make us look attractive or smart or funny or successful or whatever. And then we try to display that ideal image as much as possible. We do so in an attempt to win favor with those around us for whatever conscious or subconscious reasons we have. So we ultimately end up living a huge percentage of our lives in the service of others who probably don’t care, and even if they do, we don’t know what they actually believe anyway unless we take off the masks and build legitimately authentic relationships with them.

We’re always pretending a little.

I don’t think that makes us phonies. I think it just makes us humans who haven’t yet asked ourselves the right questions, nor answered them correctly.

If we had, we wouldn’t be driven by fear.

Learning to Enjoy Dating After Divorce

Okay. “Enjoy” is an overstatement. Dating after divorce generally blows.

But there’s one aspect of it I’ve learned to love: I don’t give one iota of a shit what the girl I’m meeting thinks of me.

Let me clarify: Of course I want to be liked. I prefer the feeling of someone liking and desiring me MUCH more than the feeling of non-interest or rejection.

But because dysfunctional relationships, emotionally inconvenient breakups, nor God forbid, another divorce, aren’t thing I want; and because I learned the hard way that wearing masks and shutting out partners from our innermost thoughts and feelings we’re too scared and insecure to share for fear of rejection is a proven path to relationship failure; I’ve developed a taste for courageous honesty. Frankly, it isn’t all that courageous anymore because I’m no longer afraid to share it.

If I tell the girl on the other side of the dinner table something honest about myself and she doesn’t want me because of that honest thing, how was a relationship ever going to work out in the first place? Why would I WANT to be with someone who only liked the fake version of me?

Men have been lying to women to get them into bed for as long as people have had the ability to communicate. (I can’t prove that. I’m just certain it’s true. Cro-Magnon Man was totally grunt-lying to cave chicks about the size of that last bear he killed.)

But if the goal is something with staying power and long-term sustainability, doing the thing most guys do in high school and college to look cool or high-status to girls we meet, is pointless. It amounts to little more than trying to impress them and win their superficial approval. Even if we succeed, it provides no value to our future selves or our current or future children.

Dishonesty—even in the form of not disclosing those two or three things you don’t like sharing with others because you’re afraid they’ll run away or think less of you—WILL break your relationship. And the longer the relationship goes, the greater the pain will be.

So, we choose honesty.

I’m divorced, and largely responsible for it.

I have a young son.

I have ADHD and it sometimes strains my relationships and can affect other parts of my life, professionally and financially.

I’m a child of divorce.

I’m totally middle class but genuinely work hard to be more.

I’m not the kind of dude who can fix your overheated engine on the side of the road, or build you a shelter with my imaginary knife I always carry with me if we get lost in the jungle before I go kill our dinner.

This, this, and this is wrong with me.

I believe X, Y and Z even though it might make you uncomfortable and not want me.

After you take off the mask and share THE REAL YOU with someone? Those who want you, admire you, crave your companionship, enjoy your company; and want to be friends with you, invite you to parties, introduce you to their family and professional network, and think you’re the kind of person who could positively influence their children…

THOSE are the people with whom you build long-lasting, meaningful relationships in whatever capacity you choose.

THOSE are the people who love you, not because of what you do for them, or how you make them look to the people in their lives whose approval they seek, but because they really, just, love YOU.

Mark Manson’s “Maybe You Don’t Know What Love Is” got my wheels turning about this. In it, he writes:

“If you want to remove or repair the conditional relationships in your life and have strong unconditional relationships, you are going to have to piss some people off. What I mean is that you have to stop accepting people’s conditions. And you have to let go of your own.

“This invariably involves telling someone close to you “no” in the exact situation they want to hear it the least. It will cause drama. A shit-storm of drama in many cases. After all, what you are doing is you are taking somebody who has been using parts of you to make themselves feel better and denying their ability to do so. Their reaction will be angry and they will blame you. They will say a lot of mean things about you.

“But don’t become discouraged. This sort of reaction is just further proof of the conditions on the relationship. A real honest love is willing to respect and accept something it doesn’t want to hear. A conditional love will fight back.

“But this drama is necessary. Because one of two things will emerge from it. Either the person will be unable to let go of their conditions and they will therefore remove themselves from your life (which, ultimately, is a good thing in most cases). Or, the person will be forced to appreciate you unconditionally, to love you in spite of the inconveniences you may pose to themselves or their self-esteem.”

Life is difficult. It’s not easy even though we all wonder: Why not?! Relationships are difficult because they require energy and maintenance. Everyone wants love to be a feeling flowing from an eternal spring of easyness like infatuation and lust, two reasonably bullshit feelings exposed as frauds by how short-lived they are.

But not love.

Because love isn’t bullshit. Maybe love “the feeling,” is. But not real love. Not love “the choice.”

It’s the one you wake up and choose to give because you love without expectation of getting something in return. It’s unconditional. You don’t love because of what the person does for you. You don’t love because of how they make you feel about yourself. You don’t love because of the opportunities they provide you.

You just love. Without agenda.

Just because.

Maybe that’s how things come back from the dead.

Maybe that’s how something sacred and lost gets found.

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Husbands Are Negligent Criminals, Wives Are Flawed Judges

Lady Justice

(Image/blogs.monash.edu)

There are several ways I could kill three people.

One way would be to successfully craft and execute a plan to murder them. Using a weapon or poison or something else, I could intentionally take three lives.

Another way would be to do something dangerous, reckless or negligent that ultimately caused their deaths. Maybe I attacked them with the intent to cause physical harm but they died from the injuries. Maybe I set their house on fire not realizing they were inside. In the end, three people are dead because of something I did that was bad.

A third way would be to somehow be involved in a total accident. Maybe another vehicle hits me. My tire blows. I spin out of control and my car hits some innocent pedestrians, and three people die.

The U.S. criminal justice system takes the particular circumstances into account when determining an appropriate punishment or whether to press charges at all.

The premeditated murder of three people will likely send you to prison for the rest of your life, and might get you a death sentence. It’s very bad because you deliberately planned to do one of the two most horrible things imaginable, and then actually went through with it.

When you do something bad and then people die incidently, it’s usually labeled involuntary manslaughter or negligent homicide. You didn’t intend to kill. But you clearly were doing something you understood to be harmful or dangerous and it resulted in people dying. A common sentence for such a crime can range from months to 10 or more years in prison.

And then there are no-fault accidents. Deaths ruled as accidental don’t result in any criminal charges or punishment.

Fighting Couples Often Mislabel Crimes, Then Improperly Punish Them

I used to say it to my wife all the time when she was getting on me about some random thing I’d done that she thought was a big deal: “Ummm. The calibration on your This Is How Mad I Should Be About This Right Now thingy is totally broken. It’s like the punishment never fits the crime with you. I accidentally do something, and you want to try me for murder. I love you, for God’s sake. Get a grip.”

As is true in most relationship disagreements, we were both a little right and both a little wrong, and since neither of us were willing to admit we might be wrong nor made any effort to acknowledge where the other might be right, we’re not married anymore.

When you’re in the middle of those fights, you sometimes feel like you’re the only person going through it. It’s not something I wanted to talk about. Whether it was because I loved and respected my wife too much, or whether I was worried about someone judging me for marrying someone that “crazy,” I didn’t talk much about marriage fights with friends or family.

One of the most important things to ever happen to me happened while I was reading this relationship book in the guest room bed trying to figure out how my life had fallen apart. And the book described, in exquisite detail, a common argument between a husband and wife.

We all know what it’s like to make a connection with someone or something by discovering some common bond. It’s great. It’s how we make friends, or fall in love with music and fictional characters and art. But it’s different when you’re desperately trying to keep your entire life and everything you know intact.

I read a stranger describe my marriage for me.

The truth smacked me in the face and it felt like the eighth shot of tequila at a beach party—amazingly mind-expanding, and also like I needed to vomit.

If a stranger can accurately describe the same exact fight I always have with my wife, then that must mean that pretty much EVERYONE has this same fight.

It’s awesome, because you realize you’re not the only one and that if everyone’s going through this, then it’s all the more reason to keep the marriage alive and continue to grow and evolve.

And it’s intensely sickening, because this is so common that ANY experienced couples therapist or even just some dumb blogger can accurately describe the common fight and dynamic that causes half of all marriage to fail, yet it’s somehow still a major secret the vast majority of people walking around are completely oblivious to. They just keep trying and failing in their relationships, moving onto the next one, because maybe this new person will make me happy!

That’s always it, isn’t it? We want other people to make us happy, and we don’t want to take any responsibility for it. We deny our partners certain treatment they say will make them happy and then get bent out of shape when we’re treated the same in return.

Husbands mess up.

We inflict emotional pain on our spouses in ways indistinguishable from neglect. These are pretty good guys I’m talking about. They’re not looking for ways to hurt their wives. They’re not murdering.

When I was a senior in high school, someone killed my uncle in a hit-and-run highway accident. We never found the guy driving the white Pontiac Grand Prix heading south toward Chicago. Eyewitness accounts say the driver aggressively swerved into my uncle’s truck which led to the accident.

My uncle was 37, just like I’ll be in a few days.

White Grand Prix Guy didn’t murder my uncle.

But he’s also not completely innocent in his death.

Husbands hurt their wives accidentally insofar as they do harmful things that inflict emotional damage without intending to. And because they “didn’t mean to hurt anyone,” they expect their wives to give them a total pass for it.

Someone died. “It was an accident!” the husband says, asking his wife to not press charges. “It’s not fair because I didn’t hurt you on purpose!”

That husband is White Grand Prix Guy.

I was White Grand Prix Guy. Only I eventually got caught. And I deserved it.

Wives mess up.

They often don’t try their emotional criminal cases based on the facts of just one case. In the United States, there are laws in place to protect people from being tried twice for the same crime.

Our wives don’t give a shit about criminal justice analogies, though.

You just left the damp towel wadded up on the bedroom floor, and she’s freaking had it because she’s asked you to not do that about 50 times, and you apparently don’t care how bad you make her feel, which pretty much means you don’t love her, because people who love people care about respecting and protecting the feelings of the people they love.

During your trial, you will not be charged with leaving the damp towel on the floor one time. You are being charged with leaving the towel on the floor all 50 times, PLUS every single other thing you have ever done or not done that produces within her this feeling that you are INTENTIONALLY not doing some little thing she’s asked you for, and all 14 million of those moments have her at her wit’s end.

You committed negligent homicide.

She’s charging you with premeditated murder.

And then you make it worse by arguing for all charges to be dropped.

There’s a line, and I don’t know how to identify it.

Men, in my estimation CAN honestly and legitimately claim ignorance regarding how their behaviors sometimes adversely affect their wives.

But how many times does she have to say it with you dismissing her before it stops being innocent? At some point, innocent ignorance becomes willful ignorance becomes neglect.

Unfortunately, the people least-equipped to make that determination—the husband and wife themselves—will be the ones making that call and getting it wrong.

The husband claiming total innocence while his wife suffers.

The wife applying malicious intent to accidental carelessness while her husband withdraws further.

The negligent criminal. And the flawed judge.

Unwittingly sprinting to divorce court.

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The Secret About Men Most Women Don’t Know

smoking man

(Image/upwallpapers.net)

The January 1956 edition of The Atlantic Monthly quotes The American Cancer Society as saying it “does not hold that smoking causes cancer of the lung. It does not propose to tell the public not to smoke.”

In the 1960s, a person sick with a respiratory illness could visit her doctor and think nothing of him smoking a cigarette in a closed-door, windowless room while examining her.

Into the 1990s, smoking on airplanes and inside most public buildings was commonplace.

Sure, there were plenty who suspected tobacco smoking was a major individual and public health concern long before the Surgeon General got involved, but smoking was so routine and considered so benign, that things like “Smokes for the Troops” fundraising campaigns existed to supply tobacco to U.S. soldiers in 1918 during World War I.

In the following years, doctors began discovering the correlation between the heavy-smoking war veterans and the various cancers and respiratory diseases we now understand to be indisputably linked to smoking.

It was 1994 when I started smoking in high school. I was 15.

There was certainly a false sense of invincibility common to young people. That was a factor. But I’m not reckless regarding life and limb, and never have been.

I’m not a motorcycle guy for that very reason. It’s not because I don’t think they’re awesome, or don’t want one. I don’t ride a motorcycle because I’m not voluntarily signing up to do something where—no matter how skilled or cautiously I ride—some texting-and-driving asshole might clip me at a tortoise-like 20 miles per hour in the middle of a busy four-way intersection and kill me even though I didn’t make any mistakes.

I understood that smoking was bad. But I knew of plenty of people in their 70s and 80s who smoked regularly. There were still smoking sections in most restaurants then. How bad can it really be?

As a 15-year-old, smoking was bad for me for a variety of reasons. I didn’t make much money to buy them. I didn’t have a car. I couldn’t smoke whenever I wanted because I was trying to hide it from my mom. My Catholic high school would have come down hard if they ever caught me with cigarettes or actually smoking. And it made conditioning for track season infinitely less pleasant.

But I did it anyway.

And anyone who has never smoked, nor felt the pull from a nicotine addiction, nor understood the allure of a bad habit would rightfully question why I’d ever want to.

Anyone with memories of watching a loved one die slowly and painfully from a smoking-related illness, or with a uniquely wise or mature life outlook, are probably incapable of understanding how a person could intentionally make the choice to smoke when it seems so obvious to so many how dangerous and harmful it is.

Over time, more people figured it out and have collectively instituted personal and societal changes for the better.

Emotional Neglect is Cancerous to Marriage in Less-Obvious Ways

Many wives don’t understand how it can happen. “I have told you over and over and over and over and over again. I’m exhausted from telling you. And now I say I’m leaving you, and you REALLY don’t understand why?”

My only lifelong female friend, despite being super-smart and thoughtful, is by her own admission the least-responsible car owner in the history of the universe. Throughout her marriage, she never paid attention to the oil-change mileage, the air pressure in her tires, the depth of her tire tread, or any unusual brake noises.

It left her husband totally vexed. “How in the hell could she be so negligent?” He’d complain about it. He’d try to explain to her why a particular aspect of vehicle maintenance was important for safety or financial reasons, and that would be the end of it until the next incident.

A lot of husbands might be able to relate to that. Shit happens. It’s kind of our wife’s fault. We’re annoyed because it costs money or creates a new broken thing to fix, or a new problem to solve. But, typically, once we find some kind of solution or workaround to the problem, everything goes back to normal and we forget about it.

From a How Angry Did That Make Us? standpoint, we tend to not have prolonged anger-and-freakout sessions over such things, and we usually move on quickly. We like this about ourselves.

This is why our immediate reaction when our wives appear—in our estimation—to be inordinately angry about a pair of jeans tossed on a piece of bedroom furniture or an empty glass sitting by the sink, is to get defensive and think it’s unreasonably harsh and unfair.

I don’t treat you like this when you make mistakes, we think, so why should I sit here and take this?

But it’s a lot more than that.

We think it should be REALLY obvious that you shouldn’t drive a car 10,000 miles without an oil change. We think it should be REALLY obvious that the DVD/CD-ROM slit on the side of the iMac is not designed for mini-discs.

Cars cost tens of thousands of dollars. iMacs cost a couple grand. Then our wives break shit on them. Then we get a little pissed about it, but work hard at being cool.

And THEN, we get taken to task over where a pair of pants or a used glass is set down?

In the moment, it feels very unfair when this is happening, and when it appears our wives are so incapable of taking historical context into account in any sort of fair or thoughtful way.

Our wives talk and talk and talk and talk, but we don’t hear it. It’s because we’re pissed. Really pissed. We don’t hear the things they say. And EVEN when we do, we don’t get it.

We don’t understand how if broken cars and expensive computers aren’t worthy of fighting about, we have to defend ourselves over something as petty as a dirty dish, or a pair of pants in the bedroom no one but us will ever see.

We Don’t Get It Because It Doesn’t Make Sense to Us

Wives and other female readers of this blog keep asking the question: “Hey Matt! I don’t get it. If she told you a bunch of times that leaving the dish by the sink hurt her feelings, how can you claim that you didn’t know you were hurting her?”

For the same reasons men don’t understand how “silly little things” related to housecleaning and grocery shopping and childcare can so profoundly affect their wives’ emotional health and jeopardize their marriages, women often don’t seem to understand how those men could continue to neglect them emotionally UNLESS their husbands were doing it intentionally.

Most of the time, (like 98 percent, probably) men don’t hurt their wives or girlfriends on purpose. They do it accidentally. Wives have A LOT of trouble believing this.

But just like we can improve marriages by husbands understanding how a dish by the sink can actually cause pain, we can also improve marriages by wives understanding how husbands can accidentally hurt them by doing the same things over and over.

It seems to be one of those intangible concepts that seem obvious to men, but remarkably difficult to understand for some women, especially those hurt by the men they love.

There’s a guy who lately has been commenting often, engaging in thoughtful and respectful conversation with other readers.

His name is Travis B. Maybe his real name is Travis. Maybe it’s not. Travis and I don’t know each other.

But Travis, in the comments of a recent post, explained this dynamic so much better than I ever have. I found it insightful, well-written and totally accurate in terms of how I experience life as a man capable of accidentally hurting the woman I love.

I don’t think I can write it better than Travis, so I’m not going to try.

Other readers (who go by “Donkey” and “wandathefish”) asked questions.

Travis replied to those questions. And any wives confused about the idea that men are ACCIDENTALLY neglectful should read it a dozen times and tell all their friends.

How Men Accidentally Hurt Their Wives (as written by Travis B.)

Travis: Please understand that the explanations and theories I’m offering up from my own male perspective are not to be taken as justifications or defenses of them.

Donkey: “But when he’s been made aware of it over and over? Isn’t the reality then that he behaves (to put it simply) at work and accepts feedback there because he has to, but he doesn’t at home because he believes she won’t leave him anyway so he won’t bother with the effort?

If that’s what you’re saying, then guys can’t also claim to have been blissfully ignorant of being bad husbands. Then he’s just exploiting that she won’t easily leave him.”

Travis: Yes, I am saying he doesn’t put out the necessary effort because he doesn’t believe she will leave him, and yes, I’m ALSO saying we men can accurately claim to have been blissfully unaware of being bad husbands at the same time. You see, this always comes back to Matt’s “dishes by the sink” post because we don’t ever believe our wives will actually leave us over such issues because, from our perspective, we can’t fathom how something so unimportant to us can truly be so important to you.

This is the point that I see missed over and over by women here—this sense that there has to be some sort of active maliciousness happening on the part of the men in your lives to properly explain your misery.

I’m sure there is a subsection of men in the world who are true down-in-the-marrow-of-their-bones assholes who legitimately seek to ruin the hearts and spirits of their wives, twisted and damaged men who can only keep themselves psychologically afloat by hurling all their inner loathing at anyone who will willingly endure it, but I very much believe (naively? I dunno) they’re the exception, not the rule. The majority of us dunderheaded husbands aren’t actively trying to exploit you. It’s that when we hear you complain for the umpteenth time about the dirty dish being left out, it’s simply that we’re not taking the complaint seriously because, again, we don’t relate to the importance of the “pain” associated with the “crime.” We don’t hear (even if these are the actual words used!), “I’ve told you so many times that this matters to me, and you constantly dismiss it, which means you constantly dismiss me, and I refuse to live a life where nothing that matters to me matters to you.” No, instead, instead, we’re thinking: Boy, you can always count on women to make the most minuscule complaints in the most overdramatic ways, can’t you?

It’s not that we know how much it means to you and don’t care, it’s that we don’t truly believe you care about it that much, either. We just think you’re taking a minor pittance of a concern and, to be frank, just “laying it on rather thickly.” Now is that sexist? Very possibly. Is it passively disrespectful? Most certainly. BUT IT’S NOT INTENTIONALLY DRIVEN BY MALICE AND A DESIRE TO HURT AND DEMEAN.

You don’t have to like that answer (heck, it may, paradoxically, even hurt worse than if our behavior was intentional) but you better serve your quest to find peace with the men in your lives to accept it as the fact of the matter. Again, it doesn’t EXCUSE our behavior, but it sheds light on our psychology and the gulf between our perception and what we desperately need to start understanding about our wives’.

wandathefish: “Why don’t you see the ever-present palpable threat for the spouse, that misalignment with spousal duties and expectations can and will lead directly to a cessation of the relationship? Even if it’s neither quick nor clinical? Why don’t men fear losing the person they are supposed to love more than anyone else in the world more or at least as much as they fear losing their job??”

Travis: The majority of men with their heads screwed on at least halfway will clearly recognize that, if their wives catch them having an affair, or gambling away all their paychecks and savings, or killing innocent people, or filling their veins with heroin every day and the like, divorce is almost surely going to be fast-tracked. But, at the risk of sounding like I’m going back over the same ground I just went over, do any of us assume we’re literally going to lose the love and presence of the wives who’ve taken life vows with us because of dirty dishes? Toilet seats with pee drops on them? Weekends of being plugged into the week’s big games? Eye rolls at being asked to watch a “chick flick”? Changing the radio without asking from your Beyonce to our AC/DC? Not for a second.

Because, again, these things seem such trifles to us. Wrongfully. Wrongfully. Let me beat that drum. WRONGFULLY.

But, nevertheless, we do think that way, because, when similar behaviors are practiced against us, they don’t typically wound our sense of dignity and internal equilibrium the way they do for most women. We simply do not relate. Not even close. It’s a very alien perspective to us.

wandathefish: “Moreover, your reply would seem to back up the theory that men are not unable but rather unwilling to make their partner’s happy.”

Travis: You’re quite right there, but again, that comes not from an actively malicious place but from a passively disrespectful and lazy one.

If men could truly process and internalize that the little shreds of dismissiveness we toss at our wives’ expressed needs, complaints and concerns festers into a tsunami of disrespect and wholesale invalidation in their minds, hearts and souls, the majority of us would be shaken to our core. But it’s so outside the pale of our internal normalcy as males that it almost always takes packed bags and loveless, dead-eyed messages of, “I’ve reached my breaking point and I’m not taking another minute of living life like this” before our proverbial light bulb belatedly goes off.

wandathefish: “And I can’t see anything for her to give him the benefit of the doubt on. Where do you see benefit of the doubt applying in this scenario? It comes across as simple and deliberate cruelty or at best indifference to her suffering. There is no possible positive intent that could be involved in this scenario. If a man tries hard and fails then yes, you could see positive intent but when no serious attempt is even made to understand a woman’s position then you can’t spin that as anything other than callous disregard. Can you?”

Travis: Well, I hope I’ve provided a bit more perspective above in addressing this concern. I do believe that it is better for all concerned in a loving relationship to always approach matters of both communication and observed behaviors from a perspective of assuming positive intent and providing the benefit of the doubt (because, really, if you think so very little of your mate’s motives, why did you betroth yourself to them for life???).

The positive intent from a man’s perspective is that, if he demonstrates how unimportant these issues of dishes, watching click flicks, et al are in the grand scheme of things, surely the woman will recognize the “truth” of it, too, and be freed of her angst over them. Does this amount to disregard? Yes. CALLOUS disregard? Not intentionally, or wantonly, no. Simple cruelty? Yes. DELIBERATE cruelty? Again, not at all.

I’m telling you, I feel 100% confident that the toxicity most men pour into their marriages stems from a complete lack of proper frame of female reference, not because of any willful, vicious, targeted desire to wound, belittle and demoralize. To paraphrase a quote from Mr. Spock, “Our scanners only recognize what they have been programmed to recognize.” Men need better programming.

Slapping on the Bow and Shipping It

I started smoking when I was 15 because I didn’t understand HOW bad it was for me, nor did I have the ability to feel mortal peril like I can in my 30s, nor did I have a child to love, protect and teach.

But today I do understand. And that’s why I quit smoking long ago. And now we live in a world where most people don’t smoke and most kids will never start.

I am divorced because throughout my marriage I didn’t understand how dangerously horrible my wife and I were at comprehending and accurately interpreting one another’s thoughts and behaviors, nor did I understand how hedonic adaptation unknowingly lulls us into treacherous complacency, and how ugly and life-changing divorce can really be.

But today I do understand. And that’s why I write things here.

And maybe someday we will live in a world where most people do understand how these nuanced moments in our relationships ultimately make or break them.

And maybe most kids won’t grow up to learn the hard way like you and me.

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My Podcast Conversation with Therapist Lesli Doares

Stop Me if You Think You've Heard This One Before

(Image/thesmithsmuseum.org)

I’m still working on a more sensible way to share audio content than to create a new post every time I have something.

But until then, I must settle for this. Sorry.

I was a guest recently on marriage counselor and coach Lesli Doares‘ podcast, Happily Ever After Is Just The Beginning! Our philosophies about modern-day marriage, it turns out, align very closely, and it was very flattering that she cared even a little bit about what I had to say.

The podcast episode is about 30 minutes. I don’t think it went as well as my first-ever radio interview last month, but maybe some of you will like it anyway.

You can listen to or download the podcast episode here at Web TalkRadio, or check out the “What Causes Divorce Isn’t What You Think” episode free on iTunes here.

The conversation covers mostly familiar territory for regular readers of this blog, but perhaps you’ll gain value from Lesli’s thoughts, or take pleasure in whatever stumbly dorkness I display with a few strange voice inflections, probably because I was trying to sound smarter than I am.

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It’s Not Your Fault, Men; Just Your Responsibility

(Image/dfay.com)

(Image/dfay.com)

Many men neglect and abuse their wives emotionally, and it leads to thousands of new divorces every day.

Husbands do this totally unaware and accidentally, and sometimes wives think it’s a cop-out to say so, but it doesn’t make it less true. Their husbands don’t know, even though their wives have told them once or a thousand times.

There are more than 3,000 daily divorces in the United States, two out of three which are initiated by wives. It’s too depressing to figure out how many children that affects, so I’m not going to. Too many.

But, guys? IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT.

Sure, some guys are the worst kind of human beings imaginable. Disgusting. Violent. Physically and verbally and sexually abusive. Criminally irresponsible. Dishonest and unreliable. Remorselessly unfaithful. I’m still trying to figure out how women end up marrying men like this, but regardless, these marriages usually end badly, and it’s generally safe to point fingers at the guy in such situations. Your fault, dick.

But that’s not who most of us are. Most of us are—flawed and imperfect though we may be—decent people with aspirations of being “good.” Most of us are good men. Good men who are also bad husbands. Being good at marriage is like being good at your job, or being good at woodworking, or being good at motorcycle repair.

Being a good husband is a skill. And the reason it’s not your fault you’re shitty at it is because no one told you that you were shitty at it until your wife did. The person you gave up your previous identity for and promised to faithfully love and share resources with forever. The person you tell “I love you.” The person you help provide for. The person you trust with your life and the lives of your children.

She’s the first one to break the news, and it doesn’t go down easy: “You are a shitty husband who makes me feel bad and unloved.”

IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT. It wasn’t my fault, either.

My great-grandfather didn’t teach my grandfather who didn’t teach my father who didn’t teach me. Maybe it’s my great-great grandfather’s fault. Or maybe his dad’s. I don’t know.

I just know that I got married when I was 25, and no one had ever said anything until my wife did around the age of 30. I had the same reaction as the rest of you guys.

Really!? My fault? Why is it ALWAYS the guy’s fault!? The ones who don’t gossip, who stay out of drama, who rarely complain, who never have fights with others, who never start fights at home, who forgive and forget? What a crock of shit.

I’d get really pissed and defensive just like you. Because it wasn’t my fault. And it’s not your fault, either. Maybe other people are blaming you, but I’m not.

IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT.

But your wife’s wellbeing? The state of your marriage? The stability of your family?

It’s your responsibility.

Come With Me If You Want To Live

Terminator 2: Judgment Day Spoiler Alert: An artificial-intelligence computer called Skynet developed for military applications becomes self-aware, takes control of U.S. military weapons systems, and launches a global nuclear attack to wipe out humanity. Judgment Day.

The computer processor which would evolve into Skynet was invented by a cybernetics scientist named Miles Dyson. He was a decent guy. Married with a young son. He was Director of Special Projects at Cyberdyne Systems Corp. Just a guy doing his job, developing advanced technology. He probably believed he was doing something valuable for the world.

But his greatest achievement led to global destruction.

As most of you know, this was an accidental side effect of Dyson’s work. OF COURSE he wouldn’t have developed those technologies if he knew humanity would face global extinction as a result.

The end of the world WAS NOT HIS FAULT.

But it was his responsibility, which is why he helped the protagonists blow up his lab and destroy all of the research, losing his life in the process.

Sacrificial redemption.

The Secret to Making Your Wife Happy and Your Marriage Awesome

Men are looking for the cypher to crack the code. A solution to the problem. They want someone to say: “Here’s what’s wrong! And if you do X, Y, and Z everything will magically get better!”

Bad news, guys. There is no actual secret code.

There’s no shortcut. There’s only the long, slow way, like saving for retirement or building a successful business:

We love hard. We listen to our partners and believe them when they tell us things. We devote the same energy we devote to learning how to be good at our jobs, or how to succeed in our competitive endeavors and hobbies to learning the intricacies of our spouse.

We don’t stop flirting with them and courting them and learning about their hopes and dreams just because we don’t feel all young and lusty like we did when we were dating.

We give a little bit more to them than we take for ourselves. (And of course they should do the same — so no one ever vampire-sucks the life out of the relationship.)

And then we all show our kids how to do it, so future generations won’t have all this broken shittiness.

It’s not just that our parents and grandparents and ancestors didn’t pass down any secret knowledge about how to not ruin our relationships. No one else talked to us about it either. Not in school. Not in some secret How To Be Married Club. Not even some random older married-couple mentors to talk to you about what this is all supposed to look and feel like. But please don’t blame them. It’s not their fault. Because no one bothered to tell them either.

Someday, we will need to start having these talks before we get married. But no one is motivated to figure this stuff out until their marriages fall apart and it feels like the sky is falling. When we’re young and care-free and ignorant, we don’t know enough to even ask the right questions.

The reason no one can figure it out is because it’s not just one thing. And there isn’t an 80-20 rule either where there’s one big thing to concentrate on that might help.

It’s a million teeny-tiny, imperceptible moments.

And simply by being ourselves, combined with our lack of awareness that being ourselves causes emotional damage to our partners, we fail these little moments over and over again without realizing it.

And it’s fine when we’re dating. And it’s fine in the first couple years. And it might even be fine after the first baby.

But after a couple of kids, and several years, and work and financial stresses, and one of your parents dying unexpectedly?

BOOM.

It’s finished. And you didn’t see it coming because you didn’t know you were supposed to be looking for it.

The vast majority of men have absolutely no idea what it looks and feels like to meet a woman’s emotional needs, and no one has EVER talked about it with him before in his 20-30 years of life prior to engagement and marriage.

These aren’t just foreign concepts. They’re entirely absent.

No one is talking about these things with young men. These kids just think they’re supposed to be well-mannered. Respectful. Polite. Kind. To help protect. To help provide.

You can do almost all of those things through the prism of the male experience and neglect your partner emotionally completely by accident.

Which is what usually happens. Then the emotionally neglected wife is often unable to communicate the emotional neglect in a way that A. Makes sense to him, and B. Doesn’t come off like an ungrateful attack on his faithful husbandry.

Then they both slowly push one another away, one angry disagreement at a time, but with the husband often never considering divorce. Because of that list of things he’s been raised to believe about what he must do for his wife.

Being responsible for her “feelings”!? That seems like an incredibly unfair burden to a man who wasn’t educated on the intricacies of human emotional response and psychology.

He never asks his wife to be responsible for his feelings, but he’ll tell her all about it when she “attacks” him. He’ll fire back about the times he was upset about something she did, but that he never “stooped so low” as to try to make a fight out of it, or suggested marriage might have been a mistake, or tried to make it out like she was an inadequate spouse simply because she hurt him.

It’s unfair to her because he doesn’t give her what she needs, and when she tells him, he simply denies it, or rejects the idea that he owes more.

It’s unfair to him because she doesn’t give him the same courtesy he gives her: He doesn’t EVER threaten the marriage because of disagreements that seem minor and petty compared to his promise to love her and remain faithful forever.

This is where almost everyone waits for the other person to finally “see the light” and agree how right the other is. Then almost everyone ends up divorced because no one ever “sees the light.”

And IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT.

We husbands do a million little things to destroy our marriages. But until we understand how and why, it’s not our fault that it’s happening.

But is it our responsibility? You’re damn right, it is. And now it’s our responsibility to change it.

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Male Commenters Are From Mars, Female Commenters Are From Venus 

Mars and Venus

(Image/National Geographic)

I can see both sides now in a way I never could before.

I wish I could explain how, because that might be helpful information. I don’t think it’s more complicated than me wanting to figure out why my marriage fell apart and how, even though I knew things between my wife and I weren’t perfect, I ignorantly floated through life unaware of just how upset she really was.

It’s not like she didn’t tell me. She told me. Using English and everything.

But then one day at dinner she said, “I don’t know if I still love you, and I don’t know if I want to be married to you anymore.”

I’m pretty smart, but I still can’t figure out how I could have so poorly misjudged my wife’s feelings and the viability of our relationship.

Let’s recap for anyone just joining the party:

My wife and I were two pretty nice, pretty friendly, pretty smart, pretty fun people, who, several times openly talked about how important it was for us to make sure we did what was necessary to stay married and love one another forever. Staying married, philosophically, was a major priority for both of us.

We had a son together. A beautiful one.

We had great friends, good times, were physically compatible, and I can’t speak for her, but seemed sufficiently physically attracted to one another.

We both graduated from college, were competent professionals with upward career and financial mobility, lived in a nice, safe, clean home, and despite not being wealthy in 1% terms or even in upper-middle-class terms, we made well over twice the median household income in our seemingly average but pleasant suburban town.

We were a typical married couple. No major divorce red flags or obvious dysfunction to speak of.

Two typical people who met as college freshmen, started dating four years later, got engaged two years after that, were married the following summer, and had a baby as 29-year-olds.

It’s hard for me to know what “typical” looks like. Maybe everyone thinks their experience is typical because they don’t know any different.

But it seems to me, trying to see it through the most objective lenses I own, that my marriage was—at least in terms of my generation—a very average, very typical marriage.

That’s why this is such a scary thing.

This divorce epidemic affects not just the “obvious” couples comprised of people with poor educations, abusive upbringings, criminal histories or violent tendencies, but EVERYONE. The marriages we might expect to make it seem to fail at the same rate as any others.

I’m a pretty nice guy and decent human being. My ex-wife would corroborate that.

I’m reasonably intelligent. I WANTED to stay married. And I really did love my wife.

And she didn’t keep her frustrations a secret. She looked me in the eye, and she spoke words to me I could comprehend linguistically, but apparently not their meaning. I can’t honestly say whether I didn’t understand her, or whether I didn’t believe her.

I did what most husbands do. Tune out, or dismiss things our wives say, perhaps because we’re angry with them for complaining about us, and we decide to care more about how angry we are than whatever they’re saying.

Maybe it’s as simple as us caring about our feelings much more than we do about our wives’ feelings. I don’t think I know why this happens. But I think I know that it DOES happen.

I think I know that it happens over and over again, and as it’s happening, husbands, and maybe their sad and angry wives too, don’t realize that each of these little moments are the things that will end their marriage.

I think if everyone was aware of this, we’d all speak and behave much differently and divorce infinitely less often.

It Looks Kind of Like This 

Even though I avoid reading comments on things I write for other publications, I read through a thread underneath the HuffPost version of “She Feels Like Your Mom and Doesn’t Want to Bang You which has been making the rounds on the internet this past week.

The premise of the post is that women, especially mothers, in 2016 have incredibly demanding lives, and when men obliviously add to those demands instead of alleviate some of them, their romantic partners frequently lose sexual interest because it feels more like a parent-child relationship instead of the partnership she craves.

Predictably, many women say: “Yep! This is so true!” And many men say: “It goes both ways!!! Wives need to respect OUR feelings too! Withholding sex as a weapon is every bit as bad as a husband not knowing how to help around the house!”

After a few wives responded to the post saying it accurately summed up their experiences, some men jumped in and effectively simulated a common marriage or dating disagreement. Here are the highlights:

Wife #1 – I love my husband and we are celebrating 15 years of marriage next week. But I am thankful for this article (and the previous one!). It isnt about housework. It is about sometimes NOT looking at your wife and saying “what do you want me to do?” It is about seeing _______ needs to be done and doing it. It is about looking at the damn master calendar ON THE PANTRY DOOR and noticing that everything in the family’s life is there and still saying “I didn’t know what the plans were” and instead saying “how about I take junior to soccer?” No one is perfect and marriage is hard. But the last thing a woman wants to do after taking care of everything all day long and finally getting a break at 9pm is to have sex with you. She wants to be left alone and not have to make any decisions, take care of anyone or even, sometimes, have to talk to anyone. So thank you for writing about this topic.

Wife #2 – Thank you!

Wife #3 – A-freakin’-men!

Wife #4 –But the last thing a woman wants to do after taking care of everything all day long and finally getting a break at 9pm is to have sex with you.”
Yet men are still so surprised and offended when we’re not in the mood.

Guy #1 – Door swings both ways, ladies. With all respect, the housework, kids, etc… should be shared chores. If your guy is not helping out, he’s lazy and sucks, but you need to tell him that, not use sex as a weapon or hold it hostage. Sex should be totally separate from the daily goings on. This is a major failure point for a lot of couples. Once the sex is gone, the relationship withers. Don’t throw the relationship away because you don’t think your guy is helping out enough…just TELL HIM. Guys are cavemen, we need to be told sometimes. Don’t take away the sex. It’s the glue in the relationship. It’s like taking food away from the dog for peeing on the carpet. Don’t starve the dog, teach it how to pee in the yard. Two separate things. Sort ’em out properly.

Wife #5 – It’s not a punishment. They are two separate things. That’s what you’re not getting. As a separate thing, sex is another thing on the list of stuff to do. Sex is a lot of work for a woman. She has to shave a bunch of things, maybe put on something nice, make sure she has protection in place, and even if she’s not in the mood, she knows if she doesn’t put out her guy will act increasingly sullen and resentful. That sort of thing turns sex into another chore, another thing on the to-do list. If it happened only when she wanted it to and she didn’t face repercussions for failing to perform, it would be different.

Consider also the many other leisure activities she doesn’t have time for, none of which are ever “allowed” to rank higher than sex. Sex isn’t making time for herself, but making time for someone else.

The worst part is that she probably already feels guilty because society has conditioned that response, so anything from the other party that would increase the guilt is piling on.

Guy #2 – That is PRECISELY why I am (and will stay) single. If you think sex is only for the guy, your relationship failed before launch. My marriage failed (18 YEARS together) and we were in complete role reversal…you just took the ‘revelation’ of this article and ‘weaponized’ it…exactly what my wife did. You blame shift, everyone loses. Let me clarify that for you…sex is for you BOTH. If you want to see it as a chore, you are now nothing more than an overpaid whore (yes, I went there. I once figured out what my marriage and divorce cost me vs the amount of time I approximately had sex…I could have visited a Vegas brothel 3x a week and STILL had had a fully funded retirement). THIS is precisely why relationships fail…blame shift.

Wife #1 – What is not surprising is that it is, again, our fault for not asking for help. The theme I see over and over is that men feel they have little to no responsibility in the problem because women “don’t ask for what we need” and also feel like women use sex as a punishment against them. As though women are that petty.

But therein lies the problem.

This article isn’t really about chores. Or sex. It is about the fact that women want a partnership in life. They want a partner in the care-giving aspect of daily life. Because they don’t always have one, they truly feel as though they have another child to take care of and not a husband and life partner.

We’re not withholding sex as a tool. We are honestly tired and don’t want to take care of one more person, even if that means not having sex with you. We don’t want to make a decision right now. We want to have 1 hour of quiet time, of not having to take care of everyone or make every single decision.

The point is if men did chip in more, we wouldn’t NEED this hour of solitude so often and we would be more open to having sex on a regular basis.

Guy #1 – It’s too bad that some women feel sex is just another chore instead one one of the most important connection points in a relationship.

With that mindset, I would hope those women are ok with their partners finding someone else to handle the “chores” that they don’t want to have to do. Are any of you ladies ok with your man having an outside affair if need be? If you were to say yes, I would see that as open minded and rational. If no, where is the “give” or compromise?

Wife #1 – You are SO RIGHT! We should expect our husbands to have affairs and be totally OK lest WE be accused of not compromising.

And that folks is why the divorce rate is near 50%.

I am so glad that the author of this article, at least, has recognized what the problem is in many marriages. Too bad his attempt to share that knowledge has fallen on deaf ears.

Guy #1 – I think the message has been delivered to listening ears, but double standards don’t work for anyone. Take care of your mate or someone else will. Goes both ways.

Some women aren’t getting their needs met with the housework and some men aren’t getting their needs met in the bedroom. Ask any guy to chip in more on the housework so that there is more time left for bedroom activities and 99.9% of the guys will jump at the opportunity.

It would be interesting to see the complaint from another angle if the men withheld something that the women needed on a regular basis… money, time, food, shelter, security?

Wife #6 – (Addressing Guys #1 & 2) It’s not about holding sex hostage or using it as a weapon, it’s about not being in the mood or in a state to engage with the other person on that level.

Sex is absolutely about both people, but when one of them is tired or stressed and not in the mood, it’s an issue. And if that stems from an unbalanced workload, that issue needs to be addressed outside of sex so that things can be brought into balance, which will usually return the sex life to a balanced and wonderful thing.

When a guy isn’t in the mood there is usually something at about hip level that indicates lack of interest to all parties involved. It’s a physical sign that things aren’t happening. Women don’t have that visible signal but we do have physical reactions that you may or may not be aware of. When we’re exhausted or stressed in ways that keep us from feeling amorous there are issues with lubrication and muscle tightness. Sex in this state runs the range from uncomfortable to outright painful. Painful sex of this kind is not a pleasant experience and is indeed a chore when it shouldn’t be.

When a person, man or woman, is relaxed and happy and satisfied in other areas of their life they usually are in the sexual arena as well. When they aren’t… sex suffers.

Guy #1 – That, I get. Thanks for the well-articulated explanation.

I think we’re intermingling a few different but related topics here. Nice to hear the female perspective but also troubling as all of this is supposed to be fun, relaxing and relationship building instead of a chore or pain in the ______ (pick your body part.)

Thanks for the banter. I literally have a day’s worth of chores, laundry, housework, care-giving and car maintenance to do. Over and out!

Wife #7 – (Responding to earlier Guy comments) If a man is demanding, demeaning, does not show any appreciation for his wife, expects to be waited on like a child, and **becomes sullen or angry when denied sex**. SEX BECOMES A CHORE for the woman. It becomes a necessary thing to check off the list to keep peace in the house. Because, if a woman is married to a man that behaves in this way it is difficult to feel any attraction toward him. But the show must go on or there will be an even worse tempered spoiled belligerent brute to deal with.

No woman wants to be married to a 6 year old.

Guys, it doesn’t matter what you believe is right and wrong. It doesn’t matter how fair or unfair you think it is. It doesn’t matter how much you disagree with her. If you are interested in staying married, you MUST understand this, and then do what you must to not be a man-child.

Your exhausted wife doesn’t randomly pop lady-boners while she’s folding your underwear like you might experience in reverse. She doesn’t fantasize about you making it all better with your penis. She fantasizes about a life, or even just a few hours once in a while, where she doesn’t have to be in charge of making sure your lives don’t spiral into chaos if she doesn’t manage it all.

She doesn’t want you because of some sexy comment or physical move you make. She wants you because you respect her and demonstrate it.

She doesn’t feel safe because you’re a tough guy or know how to use a gun. She feels safe because she can count on you to keep the bills paid on time, and the house in order and the kids’ schedules intact if some life event prevents her from doing so.

She doesn’t feel loved because you say “I love you.” She doesn’t even feel loved because you ACTUALLY love her.

She feels loved when you show her.

And most of us guys don’t know what that looks like. But creating opportunities for your wife to have time for herself to not worry about anything by thoughtfully and effectively completing chores which prevent her from doing so, is a really good place to start.

Give that gift to your wife and children’s mother every day, and things will never be the same.

In a very good way.

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The 4 Easy Steps for Getting Your Husband to Finally Listen to You

The Art of Conversation

(Image/gentlemansgazette.com)

“How do I talk to my husband about this without making him defensive?” is a variation of the question I probably get asked most often in emails and blog comments.

I try really hard to keep my focus on speaking to men, because it feels unfair and out of line for me to address wives when discussing broken marriages. But this post is for all of the wives on a desperate search for answers.

For reasons I still don’t understand, I have managed to write a bunch of things that somehow communicate the feelings of many frustrated wives in bad marriages or those on the brink of divorce.

Many read, then cry, then say “Thank you” because reading their feelings and frustrations spelled out from a guy willing to accept responsibility for his divorce sometimes validates their pain and sadness in a way they desperately crave from their own husbands. In a way my wife probably craved from me, but never received.

I’ve been repeating and rehashing a lot of the same turf lately. I know this, and I’m sorry.

Just a few weeks ago, I attempted to address this frequently asked question in a post titled How to Avoid Spit in Your Food and Get Your Spouse to Work on Your Marriage, where the crux of the message was encouraging people to be kind even when they don’t feel like it. Tone of voice and word choice has a major effect on how the person we’re speaking to reacts to us, or whether they “hear” us at all.

This is something that’s super-easy to talk and write about, and incredibly hard to execute in a live-fire exercise when feeling ragey and nuclear.

But since strong, healthy marriages are way more important than trying to out-anger our spouses, intentional kindness is always a pretty great place to start—even if it’s forced as a means to an end.

You want to be heard. Being kind will help.

But I think I found something that will help even more.

I was scrolling through my Twitter feed when I saw this impossible-to-not-click headline from Brain Pickings’ Maria Popova:

Hey, Frustrated Wives! THIS is How You Get Through to Him

Popova’s nearly two-year-old post, perhaps divinely gifted to me like a walk-on-water miracle (I spend very little time perusing my Twitter feed, or any other social media), delivers the goods with brief and substantive clarity. She nails it in the very first sentence:

“In disputes upon moral or scientific points,” Arthur Martine counseled in his magnificent 1866 guide to the art of conversation, “let your aim be to come at truth, not to conquer your opponent. So you never shall be at a loss in losing the argument, and gaining a new discovery.”

In other words, if you want to argue or criticize effectively, your goal can’t be to WIN. The goal must be to ARRIVE AT TRUTH.

The goal can’t be to win an argument in which you might not actually be correct, or in which there is no obvious right or wrong answer (Example: Watching a football game is more fun than watching a reality show on TLC). The goal, when offering criticism to someone else should aim “…not to be right at all costs but to understand and advance the collective understanding.”

So if you’re married to a shitty husband hell-bent on leaving dishes by the sink and accusing you of being irrational when you suggest such a “petty” thing is somehow worth fighting about, this is how you get your husband to listen to you, read things you wish he would read to better understand you, and transform—overnight—the way you communicate and connect for the rest of your relationship which is hopefully forever.

From philosopher and social psychologist Daniel Dennett’s Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking via Brain Pickings: 

How to Compose a Successful Critical Commentary

1. You should attempt to re-express your target’s position so clearly, vividly, and fairly that your target says, “Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way.”

2. You should list any points of agreement (especially if they are not matters of general or widespread agreement).

3. You should mention anything you have learned from your target.

4. Only then are you permitted to say so much as a word of rebuttal or criticism.

He leaves his dishes by the sink. He doesn’t actively listen when you speak to him. He appears to value his personal interests more than you and your family.

And now you want to communicate that in a way he will understand, but every time you try, you guys end up having the same old fight you always have.

You keep saying the same things in the same way, and his reaction and the results are always the same. Your husband will likely have to look in the mirror and ask himself some really hard and uncomfortable questions for your marriage to last. If he’s honest with himself, some of the answers will make him squirm. He will have to meet you halfway, and possibly come even further if your marriage is to arrive at Ever After.

But maybe right now you’re looking for a way to affect change. To be active in healing old wounds.

You asked, and I didn’t really know what to say.

Then Life delivered.

And now you have a tangible way to get through to him. Maybe this is something that can truly help your marriage if you’re willing to swallow the pride necessary to cooperatively seek truth more than victory.

To borrow an oft-used phrase in my posts to substandard husbands: Maybe you could start right now.

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