Monthly Archives: April 2016

How I Avoided Bitterness After Divorce

resilience

(Image/coachfederation.org)

Lilly asked: My main question is how did you keep yourself from becoming bitter toward life and women? Not all men (or people) seem to recover from the line in the sand their spouse may have drawn due to the belief there is “evidence there’s a better way.” My spouse is now stuck in bitterness toward me and women in general (because of my audacity to expose that we were doing it wrong). All in all, he would have preferred to have kept his head in the sand it seems. Just wondering from a man’s perspective what keeps some in the game and others eager to jump into a world of solitude and hate after being hurt.

The Disclaimer

That’s an interesting question. Learning about empathy and what that actually means is probably the most important thing I’ve learned post-divorce.

I still have a long way to go, but have made strides.

Because of this newfound ability, I understand and respect that every other guy is not me.

With the exception of severe mental illness and non-sobriety, I believe that when a person shares an honest story about WHY they believe, think and feel the things that they do, a reasonably honest and empathetic person should be able to connect those dots and understand how the other person arrived at those life conclusions.

It might sound like a copout, but I don’t mean for it to. I WANT every guy to agree with me all the time and do what I think is best because I think marriage and relationships, as a whole, would improve overnight. (Which might not be true. I’m just guessing, and I’m wrong sometimes.)

But that won’t happen. I know that it won’t. I know that only a certain percentage of men will ever share enough commonalities with me in terms of life experience, education, emotional makeup, personality type, etc. to draw the same conclusions I have.

I mostly write for them. Those faceless unknowns who I know exist because they sometimes reach out and say, “Hey, we’re kind of the same!”

That was my wordy disclaimer before answering the question, which I hope made clear “This only applies to me, and the vast majority of other people aren’t anything like me, so maybe it doesn’t matter that much.”

Lilly asked: “… how did you keep yourself from becoming bitter toward life and women?”

I faked it at first.

I WAS bitter toward life. Not women, I don’t think. But I was poisoned by cynicism and was wallowing in Woe-is-Me-ism for a bit. It was pathetic.

The early days were dark ones. I didn’t want to die, but for the first and only time ever, I didn’t care whether I did. Everything hurt — head and body — every second of every day with lousy sleep and disturbing dreams for several weeks and months.

It was unsustainable, and I can’t be sure of what or where I’d be had those feelings persisted.

They did not.

Some percentage of healing came simply from the passage of time. I think most people heal if they just keep breathing and stay alive. Like any wound, there might be scar tissue, but the body mends. And life goes on.

Some other percentage of the healing came because of the self-improvement work I was doing.

In my previous 33 years pre-divorce, I’d NEVER set out on any sort of meaningful self-improvement journey. I don’t know why. Maybe everything felt good enough.

But now I was on a self-improvement journey. It felt like I’d spent a lifetime blind and finally could see.

I identified several self-sabotaging things I regularly thought about, felt and did. Then I worked to do better.

I started reading more with an emphasis on books I believed would make me a smarter, healthier, and more-capable person.

It was intoxicating at first.

Not many people read things I wrote then, but it still served as a mechanism to share ideas. Combined with my first-person divorce stories, people found relatable examples of how the common marriage breaks down. Because that’s what my marriage and divorce turned out to be. Typical. Average. Something that happens all the time.

For shame.

I’m motivated to help others avoid the same fate. Sharing those stories was truly therapeutic.

Who I am today isn’t entirely about my life choices.

I had really excellent parents who loved me (still do) and whose selfless intentions to make my life the best it can be have NEVER been in question.

I have really excellent, loving, predominantly functional extended family members. They are very good, loving people who made me feel special and cared for throughout childhood and into adulthood.

I have awesome friends. I don’t often see or talk to most of them because they’re scattered all over the damn place, but I love and miss them, and when we get together, it’s always fantastic.

I grew up in a nice, safe town with nice people. I currently live in a reasonably nice, safe town with nice people.

Throughout my life, there was a reasonable expectation that, when I woke up in the morning, today would be a good day.

I spent my entire life taking THAT for granted. How much would the wealthy pay for that luxury? To wake up optimistic every day because the vast majority of their human experience was positive?

That was my life. I didn’t have money and things and impressive life experiences.

But I had THAT.

It’s a priceless and incalculably valuable gift I was given. I did not earn it.

But because I was young and couldn’t know what I didn’t know, I didn’t actively appreciate the charmed state of being.

And then, BOOM. Marriage falls apart. Woman I love leaves. Son I love more than life itself goes away half the time at EXACTLY the same age I was when my mom and dad divorced when I was 4.

The psychological and emotional fallout is impossible to describe, though I’ve tried. Only the people who lived through something similar get it. Sadly, that’s a large amount of people.

My default state of being for most of my life was one of hope and optimism, and I can’t be sure what percentage of that mindset is rooted in upbringing, and what percentage is from me making the choice. That hope and optimism was always rewarded because things tended to work out for me, even when there were hiccups along the way.

Today, I recognize how fortunate I was to have that, and that many other people have had to overcome much more than I because of those unearned advantages. 

Bitter toward life?

This is going to sound silly, but it’s basically mathematically impossible for us to be alive.

The mathematical odds of the Earth’s relation to the sun and the millions of years of life formation on this planet, and then all of the things that can kill our fragile bodies, including birth, where the doctors at an Iowa hospital told my parents I probably wasn’t going to make it around 5 a.m. one morning in 1979.

But then I did.

And everyone else did, too. It’s, like, pretty much impossible that we’re here and alive and conscious and able to have this conversation.

The odds of you and I being alive are the same as two million different people rolling a TRILLION-sided dice and all rolling the exact same number.

The odds of us being here are pretty much zero.

Yet, here we are.

It’s a damn miracle, Lilly.

Bitter?

Life is a song.

And laughing is always better than crying. And love is always better than hate. And forgiveness is always better than guilt/anger/resentment. And redemption is always better than shame.

When I wake up in the morning, there’s a chance I’ll have a blah, crappy day. There’s always that chance.

But on the other hand? There’s always the chance it’s going to be the day that the greatest thing that ever happens to me, happens. It might be the best day of my life.

Even if it’s not, maybe I’ll have an amazing father-son moment. Share a really kick-ass kiss. Laugh until my cheeks hurt. Learn a new life secret that makes everything better. Make some sort of important personal connection. Or maybe even write something here that resonates with human beings around the world, who then write me nice things to say so.

Among all of that is the perfect combination of “stuff” that makes me me, and not a guy who gets hopelessly bitter and angry.

Being bitter and angry is horrible and feels bad.

Being content and grateful is amazing and feels good.

To me, there’s no choice at all.

We can live in the darkness, or try our best to light it up.

And I choose the latter.

When we decide to make today better than yesterday, and tomorrow better than today, I believe that’s exactly what happens.

I love life and people because I choose to. I choose hope because it’s so much better than the alternative.

And that’s why I’m not bitter, and God-willing, never will be.

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How to Brew Magic Sex Potion

magic sex potion

(Image/betterphoto.com)

Author’s Note #1 – This is intended for men focused on long-term monogamous relationships. It’s NOT for “pick-up artists,” who I’m confident know WAY more than I about how to succeed at having cheap sex with many strangers they’ll never see or speak to again.

Author’s Note #2 – Hey mom! Maybe you should skip this one.

Talking about sex is uncomfortable for some people.

I think it’s because many of us grow up only hearing about it as this naughty, taboo thing we’re not supposed to be doing or thinking about until we’re married.

Some people grow up avoiding sex in an effort to do what they’ve been taught is the right thing. Most of that group is probably doing so out of fear. They might be afraid of eternal damnation, moral judgment from others, disease, unplanned pregnancy, or something I haven’t thought of. Another group might not be afraid at all, but rather are deeply committed to living according to their moral code.

Maybe we succeed in our individual pursuits of avoiding sex or sex-related activities and enter marriage as shy, awkward and intimidated virgins.

Or maybe we failed in those pursuits, and spend our lives carrying a bunch of guilt and shame around like painfully heavy and oversized luggage without wheels.

In EITHER case, we’re suddenly supposed to shut off 25 or whatever years of psychological conditioning the moment we enter marriage because A. It’s totally okay to have sex now!, and not only that, but B. You better be kind of awesome at it, because no matter how much someone might want to deny it, a healthy and active sex life IS ABSOLUTELY one of the structural foundational elements of a marriage that lasts.

Or, put another way—failing in your marital sex life has a few different eventualities, and all seem bad: Divorce, Affairs, Miserable Marriage, or a total psychological disconnect from one’s sexuality in order to cope in a life devoid of physical intimacy.

I’ve been putting more effort into not categorizing things in terms of the gender divide, but sometimes the evidence is so strong that something is true for MOST people, that efficiency demands it:

While men and women both crave sexual satisfaction, the things that create feelings of arousal in men are often not the same things that produce sexual arousal in women.

Men’s sexual cravings tend to be more—I don’t know… superficial? Men’s arousal is often tied to visual stimulation. Body parts. Images of women in the throes of sexual ecstasy. And unfortunately, from novelty—something new or unfamiliar. Men are more prone to view an orgasm as the end game in and of itself. The research shows that sharing the experience with a partner is typically less important to men than it may be to women.

Women’s sexual arousal is much more psychologically rooted than in men. In fact, women often experience a civil war of sorts between their physical and mental responses to sexual stimuli.

Put more simply, a male erection is a virtual guarantee of sexual interest and arousal. But a female exhibiting physical evidence of stimulation can be 100-percent detached from the experience psychologically and emotionally.

In other words, a good female actor willing to lie can convincingly fake sexual pleasure, while men sort of can’t.

How to Make Your Partner Want You

Sometimes I look at the search terms people used to find this blog.

Last week, I saw this one: “magic potion to make a woman crave for sex.”

I laughed and made a note of it. But then I found myself thinking about it because it’s a conversation topic with merit.

I think this is a critical component of healthy relationships, and fits neatly into the overarching We Must Learn Empathy conversation.

If men assume (as I naively did for years) that their female partners generally experience sexual thoughts and activity in the same ways they do, it’s no wonder there’s so much dysfunction, cheating and crappy relationships happening.

Put another way, your wife or girlfriend leaving you because of your inability to understand how leaving dirty dishes by the sink can inflict severe emotional harm would be essentially the same thing as her leaving you because of your inability to satisfy her in the bedroom. (Hint: It would have almost nothing to do with your bedroom skills or the quality of your performance.)

My anonymous friend stumbling on MBTTTR during his digital quest for magic sex potion is highly unlikely to ever read this. But maybe someone else will.

The Recipe for Magic Sex Potion

1. Wake up each day, and intentionally think and feel: I choose to love my partner today. No matter what happens or how my mood swings, I love her. I am grateful that she chooses me despite my flaws. I appreciate the many things she does for me. Think of those things. There are A LOT. Pick one of those things and then, by speaking face-to-face, writing a note, sending a text, making a phone call or maybe some other really cool way, communicate to her that you appreciate something she does. There’s nothing too small to notice.

2. When you hug her (daily), do it for six seconds. Not four or five. Six. That’s how long it takes for important brain chemicals to kick in and boost our emotional connection with the person we’re hugging. Six-second hugs. Be mindful of stuff like this. These things matter.

3. When she tells you stories about her day, or wants to include you in a life decision she has to make for herself or your household, LISTEN attentively to her stories, and be engaged enough to provide feedback if (and only if) she requests it. Because I have bad news: Your penis WILL NOT make it all better for her. However, if you actually sacrifice just a little bit of time each day to actively listen to your partner, she will be infinitely more interested in touching it.

4. Become an empathy expert and practice demonstrating it. I’m serious. It will change your life. You can actually FAIL a little bit at empathy and still improve the health of your relationship simply through your demonstration of TRYING. Empathy Wizardry. That should be your new thing. So much sex, potion seeker. Or I should say… empathy wizard.

5. Avoid at all costs anything which forces her to do something your mom would have done for you. It’s okay if she WANTS to. I’m talking about the things she doesn’t want to do. Cleaning up after you. Reminding you of that thing you have to do this week. When you put her in a mother-like position, then she starts to feel like your mom and doesn’t want to bang you. This isn’t discussed enough.

6. Be kind. I don’t mean “nice.” Nice is bullshit and it’s not enough. BE KIND. If you don’t know the difference, this might be a good time to figure it out. Not being a prick should be a given. It might be time to learn why she gets upset with you even though everyone else in the world thinks you’re such a nice guy.

7. Exercise, but not because you think she likes toned arms and a flat stomach (even though she probably does). That’s gravy. Exercise demonstrates and results in a few things which women do respond to sexually: A. Self-respect, B. Discipline and follow-through, and actively doing those things breeds within you C. Confidence. These are important ingredients.

There are many other ingredients you can add to your cauldron while you brew future batches of Magic Sex Potion, and I’d love to learn other things I can add to improve this recipe.

People hunting for magic sex potions want a shortcut. A life hack. That’s what Pick-Up Artistry is for. If you love the idea of dying old and alone with herpes, feel free to explore some of those ideas.

But if you’re someone who craves companionship, contentment and connection every day for the rest of your life with a partner who genuinely derives pleasure from satisfying you sexually and from your touch, I think you’ll find this concoction to be an effective tool.

Order your Magic Sex Potion today and I’ll throw in a nice bonus gift:

A guarantee that you’ll literally be a better man every day for the rest of your life, reaping countless riches in the process and helping others do the same.

Go kick ass, potion seeker.

…..

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A Misdiagnosis Can Kill You

misdiagnosis

(Image/dailyherald.com)

An infectious disease specialist who was suffering severe throat pain visited a doctor to figure out why.

Acid reflux, his colleagues said. More time went by. The pain persisted despite treating the acid reflux. So he went to see more doctors. Repeatedly over several months, multiple head and neck surgeons assured him acid reflux was causing the pain.

Finally, a resident performed a simple examination procedure which the surgeons over several visits hadn’t tried, and discovered a cancerous tumor the size of a peach pit.

The doctor with the throat pain underwent emergency throat surgery and had his voice box removed.

All because he spent months trying to fix something that wasn’t actually the problem.

I read it right here in the blog comments of a recent post. Someone wrote that her father was a doctor and often said: “An accurate diagnosis is 90 percent of the cure.”

Sometimes I read or hear something that sticks with me. This is one of those things.

Because, how do we diagnose the problems in our marriages or long-term relationships?

We mostly guess. And I think we mostly guess when we’re angry or sad or afraid.

At any given time, we have a certain amount of facts we know or at the very least, believe to be true. Certainty, real or otherwise.

Regardless, there is also a certain percentage of missing information. About everything. We constantly have expectations about what will happen next, or about what might be going on elsewhere, or about something we’ll be doing in the future.

When you’ve driven the same route to work for five years, you can predict with relative accuracy (even with all the variables) how long it will take to drive to your destination.

You can accurately predict how long it will take for your shower water to turn from cold to hot when you first turn it on.

We expertly perform countless little tasks every day that seem routine and inconsequential, but to someone who had never done them before, the experience would be much different.

Any time we’re missing too much information, our brains use every piece of input it can to try to guess what’s happening or will happen. We fill in all the missing pieces with guesses. Maybe we’re right sometimes. But we’re probably mostly wrong. 

 

During most of my marriage, I would repeatedly choose things I wanted to do over being present and engaged with my wife. I’d sometimes watch movies or ballgames in a separate room, or play online poker or do whatever.

In moderation, two healthy people can have an amazing relationship balancing Together Things and individual pursuits. But outside of our social lives, we didn’t have a lot of Together Things, so I pursued many individual interests.

I made a habit out of leaving my wife alone in a separate room to watch TV or read a book or talk on the phone believing it was a simple matter of us both doing what we wanted to do. Everything’s cool! We’re just both good at letting one another do their thing!

But when you combine it with me not pursuing her intimately as a husband should, and me being disengaged and disinterested in some of her personal interests, and frequently demonstrating an unwillingness to perform household chores and projects, and of course ALWAYS messing up the empathy thing during disagreements, it must have looked and felt much different to her.

She felt alone. Unsupported. Unwanted. Unloved. Disrespected. Rejected.

I never realized people could feel alone with other people around. I didn’t know the typical “shitty husband” behaviors affecting so many marriages were the dangerous relationship killers they are.

There was a lot of incorrect guessing going on all around.

It’s hard to explain how many pegs I had to fall in my own mind to gain the perspective and humility necessary to eat the Crow, the Humble Pie, and the Shit Sandwiches I needed to be the me I am now.

How does one feel genuine gratitude for the worst thing to ever happen to them?

That’s how.

It’s silly for her to be sad and angry!, I thought. She’s misdiagnosing the problem!

And in a way, I was correct. Philosophically, my wife was mistaken. She was loved, wanted, respected, desired, etc. But knowing what I know now allows me to see how everything happened in a way that was impossible (due to ignorance and neglecting to educate myself) for me to see then.

She was missing information. And because our communication was so epically shitty (despite both of us being longtime communication professionals), I was never able to communicate the missing information effectively or convincingly enough to help her more accurately understand those unknown things we’re all constantly guessing at.

During the final 18 months of my marriage, I slept in the guest room, and our already substandard and ineffective communication had come to a near-standstill. Because I was fully disconnected from and disengaged with my wife, the Unknown piece of the Things I Know About My Wife pie chart was expanding.

That was very bad.

The Art of Guessing What We Don’t Know

Back to the example we started with, The Washington Post ran an article about medical misdiagnosis a few years ago. It somehow feels relevant.

“Misdiagnosis ‘happens all the time,’ said David Newman-Toker, who studies diagnostic errors and helped organize the recent international conference. ‘This is an enormous problem, the hidden part of the iceberg of medical errors that dwarfs’ other kinds of mistakes, said Newman-Toker, an associate professor of neurology and otolaryngology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Studies repeatedly have found that diagnostic errors, which are more common in primary-care settings, typically result from flawed ways of thinking, sometimes coupled with negligence, and not because a disease is rare or exotic, the Post story said.

“The problem is not new: In 1991, the Harvard Medical Practice Study found that misdiagnosis accounted for 14 percent of adverse events and that 75 percent of these errors involved negligence, such as a failure by doctors to follow up on test results.”

I started to lose it.

I know people say that as a figure of speech to talk about normalish episodes of feeling upset or whatever. But I mean it a bit more seriously than that. I came undone. I became, to some degree, mentally and emotionally unstable.

I totally lost it during those months sleeping in the guest room while I watched everything break apart from the inside.

I started feeling immature jealous feelings which is something I hadn’t experienced much in life.

Every attractive guy on TV or in real life suddenly became an object of her sexual interest in my imagination. Every text message alert was some guy she probably had a crush on, I thought suspiciously. I’d make up all kinds of thoughts and feelings for her—all of which I was really afraid of being true—and I thought about and worried about these made-up thoughts and feelings so much that they became real for me.

When our friends would come over and we’d pretend to be cool, I secretly thought that the wife in those other couples had been talking to her about our marriage problems and that they were silently judging and thinking bad things about me with fake smiles on their faces.

I wasn’t kidding. I lost it.

Without ever having any sort of mature fact-finding, soul-searching conversation with my wife, I just kept letting my paranoid imagination tell me stories about her thoughts, feelings and dreams. About who and what she wanted. About with whom she was discussing our broken marriage.

It’s funny because I assumed everyone knew, but almost no one did.

Until it was all over, she barely spoke of it, and even then, not much.

I thought I knew my wife better than anyone, and maybe I did. But without communicating effectively or asking the right questions, there was still so much I didn’t know.

The truth is hard to write:

We both guessed incorrectly about what the other person thought and felt, we both did an awful job trying to bridge the communication gap, and the kiss of death was my assumption that My Way—the way I thought and experienced the world through my own individual perspective—was somehow “more correct” than her way. That inherently flawed belief helped me justify not putting in the work reading books and talking to people who knew better than I did what love really is.

I don’t know how long I believed my marriage problems were simple acid reflex instead of cancer.

Maybe if I’d started down this path sooner, everything would be different.

Maybe the misdiagnosing and early detection failures at the start of our relationships are ultimately the things that kill us.

There can be no answers when we fail to ask the right questions.

There can be no cure when we don’t even know what’s wrong.

We think it’s this thing. But really it’s something else. So we never get the medicine or treatment we need.

And then we die.

…..

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Is Your Spouse Hurting You On Purpose?

albert einstein the power of asking the right question

(Image/CoSchedule)

Pain sucks.

Some people enjoy the muscle burn after a hard workout because it feels like progress. Others like the achy remnants of vigorous bedroom activities, or headaches the morning after a fun party, as a reminder of the fun.

But we can mostly agree that pain in most forms and at most times is a predominantly negative experience. Hurt someone long enough or hard enough and they won’t even be the same person afterward. It’s a big deal.

My go-to defense when my wife was upset with me in our marriage was to say I didn’t do it on purpose (which was true). To me, it felt unfair for her to be mad about whatever the thing was. Or at least AS mad as she sometimes was.

Inflicting damage intentionally is a universally frowned-upon thing. When your actions result in harm to other people or their property, the penalties in the criminal justice system (presumably everywhere, but certainly in all developed nations) are most severe when the damage was intentional.

Accidents are sometimes punishable as well, but usually with softer penalties. They’re often labeled “negligent,” or “reckless.”

Whenever my wife was mad and I thought she was charging me with murder when my crime was actually driving too fast in a construction zone, I’d get defensive and pivot the conversation to her lack of justice instead of the thing about which she was upset.

My marriage fights mostly consisted of me attempting to invalidate my wife’s complaints under the basic premise that I considered them petty or unworthy. I treated her arguments as illogical. And because, in my mind, her arguments lacked logic and reason, I categorized them as WRONG.

I was right. She was wrong. And since I believed that, she was the real rabble-rouser in the marriage and nothing was ever my fault.

I was either accidentally (and I do mean accidentally) a master manipulator OR an intolerably oblivious moron, depending on how well a given observer understood relationship dynamics as we discuss them here. Since both my ex-wife and I are socially competent, we didn’t have many disagreements in front of others. There were some, but I don’t remember ever being pulled aside so someone could point out my (or my wife’s, if applicable) douchebaggery.

That’s probably because their relationship arguments looked exactly the same.

I was months into divorce before the truth found me:

  • This is what most marriages and relationships look like. Most couples have the same, predictable fights and outcomes.
  • Holy shit. I WAS hurting her worse than if she’d been smacked in the face. (We all get outraged when people physically strike others, but no one gets outraged by emotional neglect, which actually hurts much worse. Why?)
  • I never knew my actions were literally causing pain because I didn’t believe her when she told me. Did I think she was lying? No. I guess I simply thought she was wrong.
  • The intense pain from divorce was my first real taste of emotional pain. I’m not talking about how we feel when the girl at school doesn’t like us back, or even when our parents get divorced when we’re little. I’m talking about BREAKING on the inside.
  • That experience gave me the ability—for the first time in my life—to consciously empathize with others. While I was struggling to perform basic life tasks, only two things helped—family and friends who knew me BEFORE I was married because we had a pre-existing relationship to fall back on, and other people who had gone through divorce. I used to say “they just get it.” That’s true. But what they were actually doing was EMPATHIZING, which is my new favorite life skill and one I consider to be No. 1 on our Things We Need to Succeed at Marriage lists.

When two sober, healthy and seemingly functional adults love one another and promise each other they will continue to do so every day forever, it seems reasonable to expect that to work more than half the time.

But it doesn’t. Half the time it’s Hindenburg dot com. (That’s code for: crashes and burns.)

I can’t overstate how powerful the moment was when the puzzle pieces came together and I finally understood WHY. My Ah-Ha Moment. Our day-to-day existence is so much easier when we live unaware of danger. There’s nothing to fear or stress over, so you just derpy-derp around all the time, and it feels good. Hakuna-ma-dipshit-tata.

But living life unaware can result in everything you know and love going away, including your very sense of self (the YOU that you’ve known and recognized every second of your life dies). And that’s dangerous. I think marriage is important. I think children growing up with both of their parents together and showing them by example how to love effectively is important. And I think MOST divorce is needlessly wasteful because most don’t learn enough to have any more success in their next relationship than the one they think they’re escaping.

When I had my Ah-Ha Moment, I felt like I possessed the secret to life. This stuff is important. Damn near everyone on Earth, regardless of how they think about it, and independent of romance and intimacy, have interpersonal relationships, the quality of which will determine how good or bad life feels every day.

It’s not like it’s hiding or anything. These ideas SHOULDN’T be a secret. All the fish are swimming in water every second of their existence too, but they don’t know what water is.

It appears most people are born, grow up without the information they need to have healthy, functioning relationships, get married with a bunch of people patting them on the back and congratulating them, bring CHILDREN into their flimsy world, and then even though everyone is pretty good and pretty smart, it all breaks and turns to shit.

And why? Because we were unaware. We just—didn’t know better.

But when we’re in it—fighting with our spouses and feeling betrayed because they don’t seem to be loving us as they promised to on our wedding day—we sometimes feel like they’re deliberately causing us harm. And that hurts more than the thing they’re doing. That feeling that they would WANT to hurt us. That’s what hurts the most.

How to KNOW Whether Your Spouse is Hurting You on Purpose

You ask them.

Don’t roll your eyes. I’m totally serious. ASK THEM. Effectively.

We rarely ask ourselves or others the right questions.

What are the right questions?

The right questions challenge our assumptions and beliefs and force us to consider an alternative.

better way.

Matthew E. May shared this classic story about the advent of Polaroid:

“Back in the 1940s, Edwin Land was on vacation with his 3-year-old daughter. He snapped a photograph of her, using a standard camera. But she wanted to see the results right away, not understanding that the film must be sent off for processing.

“She asked, ‘Why do we have to wait for the picture?’ After hearing his daughter’s why question, Land wondered, what if you could develop film inside the camera? Then he spent a long time figuring out how—in effect, how to bring the darkroom into the camera.

“That one why question inspired Land to develop the Polaroid instant camera. It’s a classic Why/What if/How story. But it all started with a child’s naive question—a great reminder of the power of fundamental questions.”

‘What Question Should I Ask?’

Great question! I think it has a simple answer.

“Do you know why I am upset with you?”

Or.

“When you think back to [insert personal experience] and how that hurt you—on the inside—do you understand that I feel similarly right now?”

Or. (A more cooperative exercise.)

“In an effort to try to understand you and not fight about this, I want to try to make your argument for you. I want to accurately state what you think and feel, and why you think and feel that way so that you know I understand you. I was hoping you would agree to do the same for me. Will you?”

The point of this entire post is this: Until your husband, boyfriend, wife or girlfriend, demonstrates beyond doubt they can accurately articulate your point of view, you can safely conclude that THEY DON’T KNOW HOW YOU REALLY FEEL.

I don’t think the significance of that can be overstated.

I don’t think any of us sensitive to the other side of divorce could sleep at night if we had a true picture of the amount of broken homes, broken families, broken people, broken children, broken spirits that have resulted from this one little notion…

Two people didn’t actually know how the other felt.

What if all the pain and dysfunction is just one, big misunderstanding?

What if looking at the world through the curious eyes of children can save our adult selves?

What if something simple and ironic like asking the right question is the answer we’ve been looking for all along?

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Do Bad Husbands Ever Really Change?

(Image/lonerwolf.com)

(Image/lonerwolf.com)

Blackolives wrote: “Found your Huffpo ‘dishes’ post earlier today. Still laughing at how an appalling number of people didn’t get ‘dishes as metaphor’, and used that to cement classic women-are-irrational narratives. Now I’m going through everything you’ve written about shitty husbands. I feel less alone — it’s weird that a ‘shitty husband’ is having this comforting we-are-not-alone effect on women who are married to good friends/nice guys who also happens to be heartbreakingly bad at marital responsibilities.

“Thank you for all your self-deprecating but also — self-improvement writings — so, I am just — and please forgive me for my own cynicism — I am just wondering if you believe your self-awareness will now impact you in a positive way so that you wouldn’t habitually make those mistakes in a future relationship. I have this belief that, nice people/shitty spouses usually don’t get to self-awareness and introspection because they stay in the bitter/blame the other stage. But you have recognized your active role in the failed relationship — well done. Is that enough to create enough change in active participation in relationships? I believe most of us aren’t resilient enough to constantly fight against our instincts — in the case of the shitty husbands you describe — stubbornness and belief that if you don’t think it’s important, she’s overreacting, and that makes you not ‘feel like’ doing whatever it is.

“(I have been criticized for believing [most] people don’t [not can’t] change — having wasted a considerable chunk of my life on emotionally abusive immediate family members and a nice-guy/shitty husband, which cemented a narrative of ‘people don’t change’ in me. People will always prefer being right. Me included. I’d be so pissed if everyone did 180s and became fabulously self-aware and innately empathic :)”

There is some mathematical probability that I’ll divorce again or suffer a tough breakup resulting from my personality, habits or behavior causing problems.

Blackolives’ experience tells her that people don’t change, so she asks a fair question: “Do you believe your self-awareness will now impact you in a positive way so that you wouldn’t habitually make those mistakes in a future relationship?” and “You have recognized your active role in the failed relationship — well done. Is that enough to create enough change in active participation in relationships? I believe most of us aren’t resilient enough to constantly fight against our instincts — in the case of the shitty husbands you describe — stubbornness and belief that if you don’t think it’s important, she’s overreacting, and that makes you not ‘feel like’ doing whatever it is.”

I’ve had several bouts of fear with these questions in my three years of post-divorce reflection.

I know that it’s less expensive and generally healthier to cook at home than to eat out all the time. But because I don’t like cooking for one, and because my life is busier than it has ever been and don’t like grocery shopping as much as I once did, I often eat out.

I know that having a book published will give me a greater feeling of accomplishment than anything I’ve done as it’s long been a dream of mine, yet EVERY DAY, many of my choices would seem to prioritize other things ahead of book progress.

I know about MANY things I could or should do to improve my life, yet I sometimes make choices that work against me.

I’m a pretty reflective and self-aware guy. So, yeah—I’ve asked myself the question: What if BEING ME is, in and of itself, something that kills love and relationships? What if I’m, ultimately, not cut out for marriage?

The Power of Awareness

I shared this last week, but it’s so powerful, I want to do so again.

From the mind of the late novelist David Foster Wallace: “There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, ‘Morning, boys, how’s the water?’ And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, ‘What the hell is water?’

There is ENORMOUS power in the simple concept of awareness.

I posit—sometimes to the disbelief of wives currently or formerly married to guys like me—that men can go YEARS hearing their wives repeat themselves about how something like leaving socks on the bedroom floor can inflict physical, emotional pain and HAVE NO IDEA that it’s actually happening.

It’s The Secret About Men Most Women Don’t Know.

I understand how bizarrely oblivious and neglectful that might sound to someone who has been painfully and frustratingly living on the opposite end of those relationships.

But, since I actually lived this, I know it’s true. We don’t always get it until she walks out the door.

Wow. She totally meant what she said all those hundreds of times.

Put simply: Good men can be bad husbands, because it’s not always about character. It’s about awareness, relationship skills, and making the choice to apply those skills in a way consistent with loving and respecting our partner.

One of the advantages I will have in my next relationship, is that I’m HYPER-aware of these things. Writing, thinking and talking about these ideas often certainly helps because these things are top of mind for me.

In the future, a lack of awareness will not be my downfall, though it may be a huge factor for others.

The Power of Habit

Much of our lives—nearly 40 percent!—are comprised of things we do out of habit.

Or, you might say, thoughtlessly.

I have some bad habits, including biting my fingernails. I think about how disgusting and unattractive it is every day, yet I probably bite one of my nails at least once every day. No part of my nail-biting habit is me thoughtfully going: Hmmm. If I bite my nails right now, I’ll get to enjoy some gross microscopic germs hiding under them and have uglier hands afterward! Awesome!

I just bite the damn things and sort of realize it later.

Maybe poor relationship habits are that way too. Maybe much of what we do to hurt those we love—or at least much of what I do—are byproducts of bad habits.

The Future

I believe that when I choose to love someone for the rest of my life, that I’ve now been through enough divorce horribleness, and possess enough sensitivity, self-awareness and knowledge to remain aware and not let unrestrained bad habits cause it to crash and burn.

But, it’s a nagging thought and concern. One I probably worry about too much.

And it’s probably something many people don’t worry about enough, and it will ultimately lead to their divorce and a bunch of other sad and uncomfortable things.

I don’t own any crystal balls. I’m a good guesser, but still guess wrong sometimes.

I may—in the context of marriage—be fatally flawed.

Blackolives doesn’t believe necessarily that people change.

But I know they sometimes do. Because I’ve changed.

If I ever suffer through another divorce or bad breakup, it’s not going to be because I was a victim of circumstance with no power to influence the outcome. It’s not going to be because I’m some oblivious dumbass with his head in the sand.

It will be because I chose selfishness over selflessness. It will be because I chose easy over difficult. It will be because I chose lazy over love.

There’s always a chance that could happen. Anything’s possible.

But I’m betting on hope. On change. On me.

Maybe others will bet on themselves too.

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You Don’t Understand Me for the Same Reason Couples Divorce

Some things simply get lost in translation. (Image/funcage.com)

Some things simply get lost in translation. (Image/funcage.com)

I wrote a post exactly three months ago today which was so popular and relatable to the average married couple that several million people read it.

It’s so popular that it has remained the most-read post on this site every day since, quadrupling MBTTTR’s daily traffic from pre-“dish” post levels.

The reason it became popular is because people read it, recognized their own lives, and wanted to share and talk about it with others.

And even though She Divorced Me Because I Left Dishes By the Sink mattered so much to so many, it yielded and continues to elicit radically different reactions from readers:

“I like that this guy got to the deep issue of respecting his wife. It takes a lot of self-reflection for a man to understand that little things like this can really hurt a woman.”

“This will contribute to saving my marriage. I read it, felt like I understood him better. Then read it to him, and now (I think) he understands me better. Thanks!”

“This article is a heap of stink. A woman divorces a man because of him not putting a glass away makes her feel insecure and not loved. It may make her feel that way but to the point of no return and a broken marriage? Get real.”

“Your wife’s petty and you’re justifying it to your own detriment.”

Some readers identified with my ex-wife. Others identified with the me from five years ago. And another group thought the entire thing was a huge time-waste.

Millions of people read the exact same words, but describe it differently.

Millions of people see a dirty glass sitting by the sink, and describe it differently.

Sometimes, when two people describe the same thing differently, they will debate who is correct. “I’m right. You’re wrong. Let me explain why since you have a small, idiot brain.”

One person sees the dish and KNOWS it’s a freaking dish sitting by the sink. No more, no less. If one of the cars got wrecked, or one of them became terminally sick, or a Nigerian 419 scammer cleaned out their bank account, the last thing either of them would care about is a dirty dish.

The other person sees the dish and KNOWS it’s a thoughtless, disrespectful, negligent act of emotional abuse, and if repeated enough times, will be the death of their relationship. And what could be more important to a couple who shares homes, beds, resources, children—entire lives—than to protect that relationship?

It’s a matter of perspective. A matter of mutual respect. A matter of the life skill I perceive to be the most-influential factor in which couples make it, and which do not: Empathy.

I’m Either Sexist, Racist and Anti-Semitic, or… I’m Not

Yesterday, I published a post titled “Empathizing with Hitler…” and I think a bunch of people freaked out about it but didn’t say anything, maybe because I’ve built up a bunch of goodwill credits with them.

I think it is probably the most important post I have ever written, and it had an intentionally shocking headline, yet low readership and engagement, and I think maybe it’s because many people saw those words, jumped to conclusions, and chose to do something else.

Including the words “Empathizing with Hitler” in the headline was probably unwise. But when the goal is to help a man understand what the word empathy REALLY means, and what empathy REALLY is, I find the headline totally defensible, and still haven’t decided whether I’ll change it.

I do not empathize with one of the biggest mass murderers in world history. I do not in ANY way condone, respect or agree with his political and ideological beliefs or actions.

I simply thought a guy like me might be able to read it and make the connection I wanted him to make: Empathy probably isn’t what you think it is. Here is what it ACTUALLY is. Even evil mass murderers can find people to empathize with them. Because empathy is not a feelingsy emo noun, and you don’t have to feel like a “girly pussy” for being empathetic. Empathy is a SKILL. An action. We empathize when we relate to other people in a way that connects us like we do with our high school sports teammates, or childhood friends, or other people in our hobbyist groups who like all the same things we do. We FEEL “me too” and that creates an important connection. It’s EASY to do with people who agree with us on everything and like all of the same things we like. And it’s REALLY HARD to do with people who disagree with us and have different goals, like our wives and girlfriends sometimes do. Which is why if you don’t want to lose your wife and kids to divorce, it will make your life better to become a stud at deliberate empathetic behavior.

I despise the term “African-American” as a generic label for black people (unless I can be certain the people are actually American).

We don’t call white people “European-American” even though most Caucasian American’s ancestors were European. I don’t know WHY we don’t say “European-American” but one good reason would be because that white person sitting over there might have grandparents from Australia, or New Zealand, or South Africa.

Ever see actors Idris Elba, Chiwetel Ejiofor, or Lenny Henry in a TV show or movie? They all have fantastic American accents, so if I didn’t know they were British, and then saw one of them at LAX, maybe I’d elbow my travel partner and say: “Hey! Look! That’s totally Stringer Bell from The Wire!”

“I didn’t watch The Wire. Who are you talking about?”

“The African-American gentleman standing at the gate directly across from us.”

“Oh! That’s Idris Elba from the show Luther! He’s in lots of stuff! He’s actually not American. He’s British.”

And now, even though I was trying to be sensitive or whatever, I was actually being an ignorant and presumptuous D-hole.

One of the many blessings of the “dishes” post doing its thing and growing readership here, is that I have a handful of new people I’ve been able to get to know through the comments.

One of the most awesome is a Gottman fanatic named Lisa. And earlier today, she asked the following:

“As you know, I write all these annoying comments about how men and women are not as different as presented. That many of the things you describe are human and not really at their core pink and blue experiences.

“I fully acknowledge it’s important to understand nature/nurture reasons men and women see the world differently in the same way it is important to understand why blacks did whites see the world differently. But I think it is damaging to our common quest to help men do the hard work of learning empathy skills to perpetuate the idea that men and women are just fundamentally different in more ways than we are alike. I think the opposite is true and it makes it easier to empathize with someone you view as essentially similar even if the details are different.

“The underlying human needs are the same, we all want to feel respected and valued. Anyway, I empathize greatly with your own personal journey. I’m constantly humbled by my own inability to let go of my sense of rightness to empathize with others’ points of views. I greatly enjoy your blog and ‘seeing’ you transform your understanding of relationships. It inspires me to keep learning and struggling to change to be a more emotionally intelligent woman.”

At no point in reading this did I feel as if Lisa was attacking or criticizing. In fact, I’m certain she has my best intentions at heart and wants me to be the best-possible person and writer I can be, both for me and for anyone who might read things here.

I nonetheless felt a few pangs of diet-PTSD following the explosion of the “dishes” post.

Because of my personal experiences and worldview, I have written MANY posts through the prism of Men Commonly Think and Feel This & Women Commonly Think and Feel That, which several people have suggested is, or explicitly labeled it as, sexist.

Maybe it is. I haven’t decided yet, but I’m never afraid of asking myself hard questions and challenging my own beliefs. I’m also not afraid of explaining why I think and feel things, which is why shortly after the “dishes” post, I wrote I Guess I’m a Little Bit Sexist.

Lisa said, “…I think it is damaging to our common quest to help men do the hard work of learning empathy skills to perpetuate the idea that men and women are just fundamentally different in more ways than we are alike. I think the opposite is true and it makes it easier to empathize with someone you view as essentially similar even if the details are different.”

Why I Write the Way I Do

I might be getting worse at this as I grow more confident in my personal understanding of human psychology and emotional health, but my goal has never been to tell someone else how to think or what to believe. Not ever.

My goal is to accurately explain what I believe, how I arrived at those beliefs, and WHY I still maintain them. I’m not afraid to be wrong because if someone can demonstrate that I am, then I get to eliminate another false or incorrect belief and be a smarter, better human being afterward. Everybody wins.

I’m confident that when I say: “I think this, and I think this because…” that I’m reasonable enough that many people will agree with me, or at least understand me, which is enough. (Empathy!)

I don’t believe it is sexist to say that men and women are different. I think cars and trucks are different. Both machines are vehicles. But they are different kinds of vehicles. One is not better than another, though depending on the application, one might be a more appropriate choice.

Being different IS NOT the same thing as having more or less value.

Men are generally stronger (in terms of physical muscle mass only) than women. Men tend to demonstrate stronger spatial skills. They usually have penises.

Women generally demonstrate greater academic proficiency, better memory and stronger social skills. They usually don’t have penises.

Different. NOT better or worse. Simply, NOT the same.

And that gets complicated because the word “same” and the word “equal” can be synonyms. And there is NO question that women have long had to fight for equal treatment in too many life areas to list.

And women who have been fighting this exhausting fight in mind-blowingly subtle ways every day of my life sometimes take issue with me framing my stories through the gender divide.

I’m not insensitive to, or oblivious of, that fight.

Maybe this won’t always be true, but from the moment I wrote the first An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands post, this blog has been about ONE thing: Helping married people stay married if they want to.

I wanted to stay married, but everything was shitty and broken, and when I took a super-honest and uncomfortable look at my life and choices, I realized I always possessed the power to prevent my divorce, had I made better choices. Marriages don’t usually end from one loud and bright defining moment. They end from a million little moments so subtle and seemingly insignificant at the time that most of us don’t remember them.

Today, I think I know a lot (not relative to brilliant PhDs and therapists, but relative to the common man) about relationships and how they fail. People have shared thousands of stories with me, so now it’s easy for me to identify typical patterns because I have such a huge data sample.

Here are my non-scientific conclusions:

  • Husbands commonly make certain mistakes in marriage, and even after his wife expresses disappointment several times, he still will continue to make the mistake not realizing how important it is that he stop (if he wants to stay married and truly loves his wife—which I believe most husbands do).
  • Wives commonly feel the same feelings as other wives resulting from the same types of behaviors from their husbands.
  • Husbands commonly express thoughts and feelings to wives during fights which mirror those of other husbands in other marriage fights. It’s common for wives—whether they live in New York City or a little town in South Dakota or Canada or South Africa (my experience is limited to English-speaking countries)—to reply to those common husband arguments in ways similar to other wives all around the world. In other words, in my experience men predictably display certain communication habits and thought processes while women predictably display different and conflicting ones.

Dr. John Gray got super-famous in the early 1990s when he published Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus (which I’ve never read) because this metaphor made sense to millions of people. I’m assuming the ideas in the book saved a bunch of relationships. I can’t be sure.

I was Common Husband Guy every day of my life until some random day during my 18-month stint of sleeping in the guest room while my marriage died slowly and painfully. Finally, the discomfort of my life outweighed my stubbornness and pride, so I began a search for answers.

I read a bunch of things on the internet. I had lots of private conversations with husbands and wives. I went to the bookstore to grab books that I thought might help me find some answers.

Standing in the “My Marriage is Totally Screwed and I’m Obviously a Piece of Crap Husband” section of my local bookstore, I spotted How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It. I’d never heard of it or the authors. I went home that night and started reading it.

It blew my freaking mind, because page after page was explaining my marriage to me.

The truth hit me hard and fast: If this book can so accurately explain why my marriage ended while providing examples of how things I did and said hurt my wife, while things she did and said hurt me, and we both slowly drifted apart, then that means this must happen to other people all the time.

That is the moment I subscribed to Men Often Do This, and Women Often Do That, and it helped my brain make sense of things.

Maybe men and women are different because of a gajillion years of cultural influence, socialization, societal beliefs, etc.

Maybe men and women are scientifically hardwired to internally operate differently. That doesn’t seem THAT hard to believe to me that biology could be a factor. One has a penis. One has a vagina. One isn’t necessarily better than the other. They’re just, different.

I’m not sure the Why matters to me.

Recently, I’ve concluded that I’m committed to continuing my personal education on gender differences because I’m interested in the pursuit of truth, and I don’t want to spread ignorance or perpetuate myths, ESPECIALLY if they’re needlessly offensive or demonstrably untrue.

But my goal remains the same: To help men be better men and better husbands, because that will help them stay married.

I focus on men, because I’m convinced—no matter what the reasons may be—that women ARE better than men at competently demonstrating relationship skills. I think men accidentally self-sabotage themselves and their marriages, and are in turn mostly responsible for our world’s staggeringly high divorce rate.

And I think if I tell my story, through my eyes as Common Husband Guy, that some percentage of male readers will see themselves in the story as I did while reading the How To Improve Marriage book back in that guest room.

I know that women must practice empathy every bit as much as men should. But I also believe they’re (generally!) already better at it than their husbands and boyfriends. And I’m thoroughly convinced they don’t mind discussing it and trying to better understand it.

But I think men might mind discussing it. I think men might resist trying to better understand it.

Because men will go to great lengths to never appear weak. Great lengths.

And the truth is, we’re all weak sometimes. Some are just less honest about it.

The day everyone learns how important empathy is to their quality of life will be the day much of this stops being a problem.

Because the presence of weakness is simply another opportunity to strengthen something. And when we make enough pieces strong, we get to come out of hiding, stop faking it and walk tall.

Not like men or women. Like people.

Not like you or me. Like us.

One.

Indestructible.

…..

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Empathizing with Hitler: How Being Aware of This One Thing Can Save the World

empathy

It’s so much more important than I ever knew. (Image/abigailleighphillips.com)

Settle down, kids. I don’t mean it like THAT.

I think I know why our relationships fail more than half the time, and how most men—even good-character guys who are easy to get along with—can be colossally shitty husbands and boyfriends.

Every day, millions of wives and girlfriends turn to the internet desperate for an answer to this question. Sometimes they find this blog and write me comments and emails asking various forms of it.

This question is at the heart of this blog’s existence and my personal search for answers because it’s the same question my wife—crying and desperate—begged me to answer during our marriage fights. It’s the same question many—maybe even, most—wives and girlfriends ask themselves about the men in their lives:

“Why don’t you love me?”

We husbands and boyfriends stand there dumbly because we’re at a total loss. How crazy is this chick right now? Why don’t I love her? I gave up (or am planning to give up) my ENTIRE LIFE to marry her, share the rest of my life and things and experiences with her, and have children with her. I say ‘I love you’ every day. EVERY DAY! How in the hell can she stand there, question my love for her, and expect me to take her seriously?!

We think she’s from another planet, and we tend to act like it. Even if we’re not being actively hostile, our inability to understand why she’s upset down deep in her bones, twists the knife even further.

She thinks we’re from another planet, and she tends to act like it, especially when she’s packing bags and moving out while we stand there like drooling oafs.

And why?

Because most of us don’t know what the word “empathy” means, or that if we worked to be as skilled at empathy as we are at driving cars, or playing golf, or whatever our primary work is, our lives would transform from shitty to awesome.

Important Things Men Don’t Often Understand or Think About

I think when we strip off all the clothes and trimmings, and let it stand there naked and exposed and broken down to its most basic form, the truth about common destructive male behavior in relationships stems from the following:

1. Men don’t know what EMPATHY is.

2. We don’t know it is the most critical skill to acquire in order to have good relationships and avoid divorce.

3. We don’t WANT to learn about it because it’s ignorantly mistaken for a feely “girl” concept that threatens our sacred identity as Real Men.

4. Behaving in ways that avoid the appearance of weakness (even though most of us secretly feel weak and afraid at times under our faking-it masks) trumps love-affirming behavior because we don’t realize our wives are actually going to leave us, and that it’s going to be way worse than our fear of looking weak.

5. Men are mostly unaware of this, like we’re living in The Matrix, and don’t see the world as it really is.

A Short Lesson on ‘Awareness’

Consider this parable from the late novelist David Foster Wallace: “There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, ‘Morning, boys, how’s the water?’ And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, ‘What the hell is water?’

Men Are Unknowingly Empathetic, Just Like the Nazis

I used Adolf Hitler’s name in the headline for cheap shock value and in a Moonwalking with Einstein-sort-of way, but I could have used the name of anyone who sucks. Joseph Stalin. Pol Pot. Mao Zedong. Osama Bin Laden. Take your pick.

It’s important to disassociate the concept of empathy from good vs. evil, or right vs. wrong. Two evil people can empathize with each other. One good person could even empathize with an evil person if he or she wanted to. A compassionate Jewish widower could conceivably empathize with a Nazi man who lost his wife.

Empathy is NOT an emotion. It’s not a feeling. Empathy is simply the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

“Empathy is a choice. And it’s a vulnerable choice, because in order to connect with you I have to connect with something in myself that knows that feeling,” said author and speaker Brené Brown in this excellent little video designed to help viewers understand the distinction between the words “Empathy” and “Sympathy.”

Every man who isn’t a sociopath (mental health experts say 4% of the population is sociopathic) probably exhibits empathy regularly, even if it’s only with a few like-minded people, like his guy friends.

Guys who are heavily invested in tribes (like friends or athletic and business teammates, brotherhoods, and enthusiast groups) likely behave empathetically in most interactions with fellow tribe members.

I’ve known and seen countless men who prefer to hang out with their buddies than their wives or girlfriends. It’s because there exists a MONUMENTALLY IMPORTANT connection with his friends that doesn’t exist between him and his significant other. He’s simply never been able to label it before. But it has a name.

It’s empathy.

“Empathy? Stop being a gay pussy, Matt, and start being a man,” a terrifying percentage of guys would think if they actually read this far into the post. But they usually don’t because they don’t know they need help. They don’t know they lack empathy in their most critical relationships, and they don’t know that it matters.

They just don’t know.

How do we make people aware of a nuanced concept so subtle that it escaped me for 36 consecutive years, including recently, while I was looking for it every day?

While wives Google: “Why doesn’t my husband care about me?” or “My husband is an asshole” (which this blog ranks #1 for), men want answers also: “Why does my wife hate me?”

All along, most of these men loved their wives. But because they lacked empathy skills and often never realized it was something to worry about, their wives BELIEVE their husbands don’t love them. Over time, wives retreat emotionally because it’s virtually impossible to perpetually love someone who perpetually hurts you. When she retreats, it often feels like hate, repulsion and disgust to her husband.

And sometimes it is.

Men, You MUST Understand What Empathy Is

Again, guys already do it! They sit next to each other at the bar, or on the patio table after a round of Saturday golf, and one says “Betsy is all over my ass right now to repaint the half-bath in the basement and she got all pissed off last night and this morning about us playing golf today,” and his friend says: “Ha! Join the club, brother. Val wants me to help her plan a Disney trip for us and the kids next summer that I don’t really want to take. They’re always complaining about something, right?” and then they clink their beer bottles together at 11 a.m., delaying their return home by ordering another round.

THAT. IS. EMPATHY.

And if you can figure out how to intentionally behave and speak to your significant other (and pretty much everyone!) with conscious empathy, you will transform all of your close relationships (spouses, children, siblings, parents), and then, like MAGIC, a bunch of drama and dysfunction will begin to disappear and life will suck less, and maybe even morph toward amazing.

It’s EASY to empathize with friends who think and feel and like all the same things we do. It’s why we have all of these naturally easy relationships with people who share our interests, temperament and circumstances.

It’s DIFFICULT to empathize with people whose thoughts, feelings and interests conflict with ours.

Empathy is a life skill which requires practice and repetition. So, first we learn that it’s a thing. We wake up. We become aware of the water. We learn what empathy actually is. Then we decide whether we care. (Since your life will suck more and your marriage will fail or be defined by misery if you don’t, I hope you’ll choose to care.)

Then we get started. With a real, God’s-honest chance to change the world.

More Resources on Empathy

Thanks to readers of this blog, I was introduced to Dr. Brené Brown’s remarkable research, writing and speaking on critical ideas most men aren’t actively thinking about. But it’s only because they don’t know how life-changing it would be if they did. Brown’s work kicks ass. 

Here are a couple things to get you started:

Brown’s TED talk on The Power of Vulnerability

Brown’s online courses, COURAGEworks

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That Probably Doesn’t Matter

caveman fire

Do you have ANY idea how much better life got once the cave folk discovered fire? (Image/en.paperblog.com)

“What probably doesn’t matter?”

Most things. Most things don’t matter.

Whatever has you stressed. Whatever you’re doing instead of playing with your children. Whatever you’re doing instead of the things that make you feel joy. Whatever you read in the news that pissed you off this morning. Most of the things you thought about, and most of the things you said, and most of the things you did today. (Not all! Just, most.) None of that shit matters.

Here’s a thought experiment most of us have probably done before: (Don’t cheat. Do it. Yes, especially you.) Imagine an asteroid of the world-ending variety is barreling toward Earth, and that you’re NOT the kind of asshole who is going to loot stores for flat-screen televisions and diamond rings. It doesn’t matter when impact is. Tomorrow. Three months. Take your pick. The experiment works either way.

Now, even though you should write this stuff down and look at it every day for the rest of your life and live accordingly, I know you won’t because you’re too busy like me worrying about things which don’t actually matter. So, instead, just think really hard and try to remember it later when you’re contemplating replacing your family room TV with something bigger and more high-definitiony. “OMG, my 50-inch 4KTV is soooo grainy and shitty compared to Randy’s new 60-inch 4KTV!!! Watching ‘Force Awakens’ on Blu-ray isn’t even fun anymore!!!”

You, everyone you know, and every stranger you meet has a fast-approaching death sentence.

Who do you want to be, and who do you want to be with?

What are the things you want to say to people you know and love?

What do you want to experience, and why?

In a non-apocalyptic, real-life scenario, what’s stopping you from doing those things right now? Okay, back to We’re All Gonna Die…

Are you still pissed about that thing you saw on Facebook?

Are you still stressed about whatever you’re stressed about?

Are you still hung up on politics, your favorite sports team, that argument you had over the weekend, or work “problems”?

If you’re dead next month or next week or tomorrow? Those were rhetorical.

Maybe we can make better choices.

OMG, Let’s All Freak Out About [Insert Stupid Thing Here]!!!

Last week, the Rogue One: A Star Wars Story trailer was released, and it was pretty awesome but that’s subjective and not why I mention it.

I mention it because it only took humanity via the internet about an hour to try to ruin it for everyone.

“OMG!!! ANOTHER female lead?!?! WTF, Star Wars?!?! Are we ever going to see another male lead?!?!”

No, Guy Who Is Super-Mad About a Second-Consecutive Female Lead in a Star Wars Movie. Every Star Wars film from now until the end of time will have a female lead, you know, except for the Han Solo and Boba Fett projects which have already been confirmed. Settle down, shit eaters.

Some people got worked up because the writers included a martial arts expert in the story and had the audacity to cast an Asian man for the role.

One guy on Twitter counted the number of male and female actors appearing in the ‘Rogue One’ trailer, categorized them by race, reported the numbers, and used them as evidence Disney is secretly racist and sexist.

I wonder how many of those people would give a crap about racial quotas, and how many actual racists would measure people by skin color if that asteroid was showing up tomorrow.

Sometimes, people care about stupid things

I did something important for me and my son Saturday on a one-night Cub Scouts camping trip.

There was a decent-sized group of parents and kids staying at the campgrounds. We rented two cabins. One with a kitchen with all necessary appliances, running water, central heating, two bathrooms, and located right next to a parking lot; and one thin-walled wooden ice box with visible gaps under all the doors, large bugs crawling around, super-uncomfortable cots, one fireplace for heat, and some rickety open-air outhouse toilets at least a football field away that—even in a biological emergency of epic proportions—were so uninviting that I would have chosen death by dysentery before using them.

My son and I drew the short straws and were asked to stay in the Haitian shanty while 90 percent of the Scouts and parents were staying in the well-heated Bellagio. In total, four dads and five sons were asked to stay in the rustic cabin.

The overnight temperatures were in the low teens. Very, very cold.

Because of a no-show, two beds became available in the Bellagio cabin late in the evening. The head Scout guy asked whether I’d like to stay there with my young son, and even though I secretly wanted to say yes, I did the right thing by declining.

“I have electricity and climate-controlled air every day of my life. We need this,” I said, truthfully.

My son, who has never known life without the mobile web and unlimited on-demand video content, was forced to entertain himself by laughing with his friend in the neighboring bunk, making faces at each other in the glow of the fire.

I slept next to a three-inch-thick non-insulated wooden wall, purposefully avoiding the bottled water on the window sill next to me because there was no simple way to biologically purge it. I can’t overstate how cold, wet, muddy and all-around uncomfortable it was outside where wild turkeys and deer kept their distance from the howling coyotes.

When you don’t want to drink water (which many in the world don’t even have easy access to) because “using the restroom” is more trouble than it’s worth, and you feel cold in your bones when not under several blankets even though you’re well-dressed for the conditions, your brain starts working better.

Functioning thermostats are neat. Insulation is neat. Running water is neat. Appliances are neat. My bed is neat. The ability to go to the restroom whenever and without stepping outside is neat. Kitchens are neat. Pavement is neat. Overhead lighting is neat.

You get the idea.

Perspective. A change in focus. Like we’d all have if that killer asteroid was heading this way.

Wives: ‘How Can I Be a Better Spouse?’

Relativism is a funny thing.

For wives married to shitty husbands, I stand with them in their intolerance of hearing bullshit comparisons in defense of lousy spousal behavior. “I don’t cheat on you like Rodney does on Kathy!” or “At least I’m not drunk every night like Gary!” or “At least I provide this nice house for you to live in unlike Trailer Park Bob!” as if those things somehow magically offset shitty husbandry.

Guys, just because you know other guys who score F grades on the “Am I a Good Husband?” Test does NOT make your D+ or C- something to brag about.

But on the other hand, a wife using relativism as a tool to achieve perspective? Might that be useful? I think so. I think seeking out the good in people and situations is the surest way to avoid feeling miserable all the time, which is really important to avoid.

Wives ask me all the time via comments and email: “But what about ME?! I can be a shitty wife, too, sometimes. What more can I do?”

Some people really are married to shitheads. I know this.

But, sometimes? They’re married to pretty great guys and have spent years ignoring many of the good things about them, choosing instead to focus on the “bad things,” or on everything that’s missing.

Sometimes, wives are so pissed that Netflix is buffering in the middle of their show, they forget to remember and be grateful that they’re watching high-definition video on-demand for $8 a month on a kick-ass TV made possible by the technological miracle of readily available internet access and electricity.

As comedian Louis CK famously said: “Everything’s amazing and no one is happy.”

God knows I’m not asking wives to just grin and bear it if they’re dealing with abuse or neglect. But everyone needs to accept more responsibility for their lives and how we feel about ourselves, and that, by definition, includes married women.

Look around and see how others live. Recognize things about their lives you’re happy you don’t have to deal with. Feel good about those things.

Look around at what you have. Recognize that MOST of it consists of things most people around the world don’t have but wish they did.

Even the aforementioned Trailer Park Bob lives like a king compared to millions.

This isn’t just a wife thing.

EVERYONE needs to work harder at gratitude.

EVERYONE needs to work harder at recognizing that how we feel about almost everything is based less on each thing’s individual merit, and more on how it compares to something similar, or our preconceived expectations.

I’m 37, and I’ve already heard four generations lament the loss of the “good old days.” About how something from our particular childhood was somehow infinitely better than every other generation’s childhoods in human history.

It’s because we’re ego-centric, selfish, ignorant, lack humility and always forget to ask the right questions. You know… relatively speaking.

But I don’t think we have to be that way.

Because if the asteroid was coming, we wouldn’t be.

And since none of us are getting out of this alive, you might say that it kind of is.

 

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Maybe This is How My Wife Felt

Bill Murray throws golf club

This.

I want to quit my job even though I like many things about it.

It’s not just because I find traditionally structured 9-to-5s to be wholly dissatisfying, but because there aren’t cool-enough bosses (mine are mostly awesome) nor enough money in the world (I do okay) to buy my unquestioning loyalty.

In military, law enforcement, firefighting ladder companies, mountain climbing teams, space shuttle crews, and other applications, you’ll find an established chain of command. Not following—or even questioning—orders can be the difference between life and death. I understand this and have a fundamental respect for leadership structures and believe people in management deserve a modicum of respect by virtue of that chain of command.

The stakes tend to be less in for-profit business. I work for a private company. We sell things no one needs, but many people want. For better or worse, the bottom line is the bottom line, though our corporate culture is particularly people-friendly and community-minded.

By all appearances, inside and out, it’s an excellent company that is No. 1 in its market globally, has a reputation for being professional with customers and business partners, and has as many multi-decade employees as I’ve ever seen. I still want to quit.

I like my bosses and the vast majority of my co-workers. I still want to quit.

I like the actual internet marketing work I do and try to improve my craft every day. But I still want to quit.

And I think maybe there are a bunch of parallels here to how wives and mothers feel about their married lives, sharing homes with their husbands and children, and doing her best to raise good kids in a life where she’s being pulled in so many different directions.

I think maybe I feel about my job the way, in the end, my wife felt about me.

On Loyalty and Effort

I didn’t just accept this job five years ago because it seemed better than my old job, and come into it with a ho-hum work ethic and mindset.

This job, in many ways, saved my life.

On Jan. 1, 2010, I became another in a long line of laid-off newspaper reporters following the 2008 economic implosion. And because I’m never intentionally masochistic, I chose to move on from my journalism career and find another way to make money. I was jobless for 18 months, freaking out because I had a toddler son at home and a wife who clearly was not digging being married to an unemployable loser. I made money freelance writing, but with child and family healthcare costs, I needed to find something steady with a benefits package.

Eventually, I was hired into one of my company’s coolest and fastest-growing departments, and work with a bunch of good, smart people.

I went from total loser, to well-paid guy with a seat at the table for macro-level conversations about business strategy, overnight.

This job gives me the money to pay for my home and Jeep, and the money to support my son.

This job provided something steady during my divorce.

This job introduced me to friends I hope I’ll have forever.

This job gave me a real-world laboratory to study marketing and human behavior, and gave me a front-row seat to the constantly changing digital world where it’s sometimes hard to keep up.

I am grateful for this job. I LIKE my job. 

But I still want to quit.

And if my next career move wasn’t going to be me jumping off into entrepreneurial waters, maybe I’d already be gone.

Why?

Because the leadership at my company despite their best intentions are the business-world equivalent of shitty husbands, and no matter how many good things there are to appreciate and admire about them, I have—in metaphorical-relationship terms—transitioned to Apathetic Robot Wife mode, and recently realized: I’m done.

I’m done because I don’t care enough anymore. And the leadership at my company, even though they do so many good things for us and create a mostly nice place to work, is the reason why.

Husband: ‘Why Are You Doing This To Me?’

“Um. You did this to yourself,” she replies.

I was hired by my company to do a job. I write things—website copy, emails, blog posts—designed sometimes to educate and inform existing or potential customers, and sometimes to provide a very specific sales call to action. Buy this awesome thing right now!

They give me money in exchange for these services where I’d like to believe I make them a lot more money than I’m paid.

Like a newlywed bride, I was totally psyched to be here five years ago. I devoted a lot of time and energy to honing my craft, studying its impact, and generating new ideas. I felt emotionally invested in my work, proud of my contribution, and passionately spoke up in meetings about doing things “the right way” as I perceived them. Best practices = Success. I really believe that.

I came in early and stayed late. I poured myself into the work knowing I could make positive contributions, studying results, and always striving for incremental improvement.

Because in the digital world we can measure with decent precision the performance of a marketing email send, or blog post, or social media engagement, or web traffic, we don’t always have to guess how our customers respond to our work.

We often can see that doing X generates good results and more sales, and that doing Y does not.

My switch flipped to No-More-Fucks-Left-To-Give mode when my bosses made crappy decisions that costs us money for political and ego reasons, despite evidence supporting our protests.

Then we tried one more time and it happened again.

Surely, we’ll go back to doing the right thing with this overwhelming evidence we’re sabotaging our efforts, I thought.

And then it didn’t. And that’s when I felt a part of me shut off.

Okay, dicks. Have it your way.

One of my jobs is to write emails. Some people further up the corporate food chain probably don’t think it’s super-important. Kind of like how some husband feels about his wife’s efforts to keep the kitchen clean.

Our company makes a lot of money, so as a percentage, any individual email I write—some of which generate more in 48 hours than my annual salary—still might not register much with upper management.

Nonetheless, what I love about email marketing is that I can measure my impact on the company. If I write a subject line that gets 18 percent of people to open it and 2 percent of people to click to our website, that’s worth a certain amount of money. If I write a better subject line and copy, I might move 23 percent to open that email and 4 percent to click through. Over time, those incremental improvements are what I live for, professionally. I fight for those inches. If my effort and creativity improves those numbers just a point or two every large-scale email, over the course of a year, it means we sold a lot more stuff, and we make a lot more money, and I feel good when that happens.

I care. Not because they’ll give me a big raise if I do this. (They won’t.) Not because I’ll receive recognition or pats on the back outside of my annual review. (I will not.)

It’s because I take pride in my work, and I want to do it well. It’s because I’m part of something, and am invested in our success. It’s because I feel loyal, and it is my pleasure to make meaningful contributions.

I can live with the fact that no matter how hard I work, I’ll get little more than cost-of-living raises.

I can live with the fact that no matter how little someone else works, they will too.

I can live with the fact that I have to wear crappy business casual clothes that are neither casual nor particularly nice or professional like a good little cubicle soldier.

I can live with the fact that even though I can do my job from any internet-connected computer in the world, I’m not allowed to work elsewhere.

But I can’t live with the people I’m supposed to respect being given evidence their decisions cost us money and sabotage our work, and then watch them choose to stay the course.

They’re Not Doing It Purposefully

Making us feel shitty about our jobs, I mean. They’re not. They don’t know they’re doing it.

They’re good people. I’m sure if they REALLY UNDERSTOOD how their decisions affected the rest of us on a psychological and emotional level, they’d maybe do things differently. 

But they don’t get it. They expect us to work just as hard on the next project even though we know it can’t perform as well as it should. They expect me to care like I always have. They probably think because I no longer argue as passionately as I once did that I’m totally satisfied with things here.

Then, it hit me: My bosses are husbands who leave dishes by the sink.

And some of my co-workers and I are the wives who finally have had enough. I can’t keep giving THIS much of a shit for something that doesn’t reward the effort.

Maybe this isn’t what’s happening. Maybe they’re NOT stubbornly clinging to their I’m-The-Boss egos. Maybe they really believe they’re doing the right thing, and maybe they’re totally oblivious about how that impacts our job satisfaction, work performance, and office culture.

But if sure-as-shit FEELS like they’re intentionally doing things that undermine our efforts.

I could take it the first time. It didn’t faze me.

I could take it the first hundred times. There’s so much good here to be grateful for.

I could take it the first thousand times, even as frustration mounted.

But somewhere along the way, one of my bosses left one too many “dishes” by the sink.

And now things will never be the same.

I’ll write their things because they give me money to do so. But I used to write things with an attitude of wanting to give more than I take. That’s gone now, and I wish it wasn’t.

I want to believe in unconditional love in marriage, but I now understand there will always be some conditions.

If you wake up every morning, and your partner says to you “Hey! You’re a stupid, ugly asshole!,” and then punches you in the face, there are a finite number of times you’ll stand there taking the verbal and physical punch.

Sometimes, love dies.

I’m not sad about my job. I’m maybe a tiny bit angry. Mostly, I’m apathetic.

And no matter how comfortable I am, or how many fond memories I have, or how much I like and appreciate my job and wish things were different, I’m done now.

I don’t know whether I’ll leave in three or six months, or in one or two years. But I am leaving.

In my heart and mind, I’m already gone.

And no, the irony isn’t lost on me.

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The 4 Ways Women Can Help Save Marriages

Queen chess piece

(Image/iStock)

Someone asked: “I dont have a failed marriage, but I do have a failed engagement. We were together for 6 years, and I eventually called off the wedding and the relationship because, well, we had so many of the problems you describe here. I just couldn’t picture getting married to someone under those sorts of circumstances.

“Anyway, I would love to hear your thoughts to women – sort of what can we do in these circumstances? I think a lot of your advice could really go both ways (because, lets be honest, we can be equally guilty of being terrible partners), but are there specific things women can do? I would love to hear your thoughts on preventing issues (since I’m just starting a new relationship) and then how to fix it (if I fail to follow the first set of instructions)!”

Dear Failed Engagement,

In the interest of being the anal-retentive, hair-splitting quibbler over semantics that I am, I would argue that you did not have a “failed” engagement.

Any fatally flawed relationship that doesn’t end in divorce, but still results in a bunch of introspection and personal growth, strikes me as a highly successful one. By saying so, I risk insulting your happy memories associated with said relationship, and disrespecting the emotional fallout following the end of any relationship, regardless of whether marriage vows were exchanged.

But so long as there’s an institution of marriage, public promises to love one another forever, and a formal acknowledgment of said promises, I’m going to draw a personal line in the sand between what happens before marriage, and what happens after. If marriage isn’t something more, then I fail to recognize its purpose for existing.

Thus, I enthusiastically applaud your recognition of a toxic relationship and calling it off, instead of doing the Sunk Cost Fallacy thing where people are too afraid to abandon something because of how much money, time, or energy they’ve already invested in a losing proposition.

Because I’m me and spend most of my life flying by the seat of my pants, I’m thinking about and writing this on the fly, when a lot of reflection and conversation with other thoughtful, self-aware husbands and boyfriends would be in order. But here’s what my totally-winging-it answers look like.

What Can Women Do to be Part of the Solution?

Let me start by saying I think MOST women are already part of the solution, by virtue of demonstrating a much higher level of competence and awareness about relationship dynamics than their male partners. I’m not saying women, by virtue of being women, are “better at relationships.” I’m saying, I perceive women to be more knowledgeable about, and more skilled in, the mechanics of successful relationships than men.

And I perceive MOST women’s greatest fatal flaw to be impatiently marrying their boyfriends (who couldn’t POSSIBLY have demonstrated high-level relationship knowledge or skill up to this point), and perhaps assuming incorrectly that their boyfriends understand things about them and about how to make them feel loved and safe, or maybe believing she can “change him.”

By “understand things about them,” I mean the whole Dishes By The Sink Thing. I mean empathy. I mean that too often we see a wife in a situation in which she thinks and feels one way about it (sometimes quite painfully), and her husband interprets the situation differently. Neither are wrong. And then both fight about it and usually end up feeling like their partner is “stupid” or “crazy,” instead of really understanding on a fundamental level that two people can experience the same event at the same time, and come away describing it differently without either being incorrect.

I don’t know that I believe there to be a more critical concept for young people to understand about their romantic partners. This is NOT taught to any extensive degree growing up.

At least, it wasn’t in my world where I had educated and conscientious parents, an upper-tier high school education, and then spent five years (don’t judge!) getting my overpriced and not particularly useful bachelor’s degree. And at no time between ages 5 and 23 did someone try to explain this worth-more-than-gold life secret to me.

Well, maybe my girlfriend did while crying after a fight, but I probably just told her she was a stupid emo girl before meeting my buddies at another keg party.

In my opinion, women could contribute more positively to their relationships by doing the following:

Enforce Boundaries Early and Often

Here’s what I see ALL THE TIME, including in my own failed marriage. Guy accidentally and obliviously sucks ass at his relationship or marriage. Whenever his girlfriend or wife calls him out, he gets defensive and tells her she’s wrong and stupid, and his evidence is that no one else in his life accuses him of making them feel as she claims he makes her feel. He resents it more than you might imagine because, in his mind and heart, he thinks by virtue of committing to her, and loving her (which he probably believes he’s appropriately demonstrating by not cheating, and supporting her financially or otherwise, and spending more time with her than anyone else in his life) that he deserves more credit and respect than her accusations of emotional neglect make him feel.

This goes on long enough, and both of them start to feel disgust, then a little bit of apathy toward one another.

I have to believe 90-ish percent of affairs begin here. Husband feels disrespected and unappreciated and unwanted, so he bangs a co-worker or the waitress at his favorite lunch spot because she looks up to him and makes him feel like a Man. She wants him and admires him. “Since my wife doesn’t want me and doesn’t fulfill my needs, I’m going to go stick my privates in this other person. I mean, is it really THAT different than when I jerk off thinking about her in the shower?”

Or, wife feels like her husband is doing this on purpose. She’s told him, literally, hundreds of times the exact same thing, but he just keeps doing it. “He doesn’t love me. He doesn’t want me. He doesn’t make me feel safe or desirable in any way. But Brad at the gym? He makes me feel 20 again. He’s always so eager to listen to me talk about my feelings or ask me how my day was. I love his arms and scent. I bet they’d feel good wrapped around me. Since my loser husband doesn’t want me and doesn’t fulfill my needs, I’m going to let Brad do anything and everything he wants to me because he makes me feel so good. I mean, is it really THAT different than when I touch myself thinking about him in the bathtub?”

Even without an affair, shit has totally hit the fan in a relationship and the wife (in two out of three cases, statistically) has had enough and wants a divorce.

She says it out loud, and the husband acts like someone just told him he’s living in The Matrix and nothing he knows is actually real. As soon as the husband realizes she means business, and the previous thousand instances of brushing off her complaints as inconsequential were actually things she was serious about, he tries to transform overnight into Super Husband Mode®.

He’ll start doing a bunch of things she had wanted him to do all along. See! See! I can change!

Maybe he really has. Maybe he really hasn’t.

Most of the time, she thinks it’s too little, too late. When a wife is prepared to end her marriage, she has usually thought about it for a LONG time. It only feels rash to the idiot, oblivious husband who failed to trust her sincerity in all of these previous conflicts.

She often sees his behavioral changes as insincere. The marriage is over.

But if young women would enforce these boundaries EARLY in relationships, young men would have their Come-to-Jesus moments with their girlfriends so much earlier. Are they less inclined to put in the work to change than a husband with shared children and property? Probably. But those who would make sincere changes would make for great husbands and fathers, and those unwilling to probably weren’t worth keeping around and having children with anyway. And if that rejection happens to them enough times, maybe they’ll figure some shit out and more quickly mature into a man capable of being a great husband and father than most of us do.

This has the added benefit of improving the collective self-esteem of women, and reducing instances of children being born to crappy fathers.

Become Near-Experts on Relationships

Men generally respect and respond well to logic-based arguments rooted in demonstrative knowledge and expertise.

Don’t read ONE relationship book, and then the second you find some passage that validates your feelings, sprint to your husband or boyfriend yelling: “SEE!? SEE!? You’re a stupid asshole just like I always say! I’m right and you’re wrong because this one sentence from this one writer says so!!!”

That’s a poor communication strategy.

Instead. REALLY become highly knowledgeable about relationship dynamics. Learn how to make your boyfriend’s or husband’s argument FOR him. Articulate it with precision, proving that you understand and respect it fully, and even realize why he feels that way.

And then explain to him the truth. With love and respect, where he’s not made to feel like a big, fat, stupid asshole for not knowing these things (which MOST of humanity doesn’t know).

That would help.

Take Ownership of Your Emotions

This happens as a natural byproduct of enforcing strong boundaries, but I believe many (I won’t venture a percentage guess) women spend much of their lives showcasing a power-draining You Made Me Feel This! philosophy, and blaming everyone around them when they experience negative emotions.

Certainly, it’s reasonable for us to expect our close friends and family, and romantic partners to demonstrate concern for our emotional wellbeing, and make an effort to respect our feelings.

But to lay the responsibility of our emotions at the feet of another human being? THAT is the epitome of not enforcing our boundaries. That’s giving someone else total control of our lives, and not accepting the all-important job of being in control of ourselves. Remember being little kids? “You’re not my boss!!!”

When we hand over our emotional health to others, we make them our boss. It’s a bad life strategy, and it’s one of the few areas of relationship dynamics where I perceive men to generally outperform their female partners.

Focus On Good and Demonstrate Gratitude

It can’t be said enough times: One curse of the human condition is that you WILL bore of everything sooner or later. It’s called Hedonic Adaptation, and every one of us deals with it. We take our health, and money, and safety, and homes, and cars, and jobs, and whatever else for granted once we are accustomed to having them as a matter of routine.

It happens in love, too. We feel all those lovey-dovey infatuation feelings early on and it’s great. We feel all those lusty, achy feelings early on and that’s pretty great, too.

But then time marches on.

And that stuff goes away. And it’s not because you’re not soul mates, just like having your house and money and health isn’t less awesome than it was when you first acquired them.

It’s because it is a psychological inevitability that you will take things (even really important things) in your life for granted.

There’s nothing you can do about it. It won’t go away.

The only thing you can realistically do is vigilantly combat it. And the only way to do that is to wake up every day (and maybe before you go to sleep at night, too) and express and feel gratitude for all of the great things in your life.

Everyone should do this every day, always, always, always. It’s a prerequisite to happiness. And happiness is pretty freaking important when it comes to whether being alive is a good experience, or a bad one.

Wives and girlfriends are often viewed as “complaining nags” by their husbands and boyfriends. Daily demonstrations of gratitude (combined with strong boundary enforcement) would seem to be a surefire way to make sure a relationship never falls into the too-common cycle of shit so many do today.

Speaking of gratitude, I had no idea what I was going to write today.

And you, Failed Engagement (but not really), helped me think of something.

Thank you.

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