Monthly Archives: December 2016

On a Personal Note

handwriting a letter

(Image/Corcianonline)

Hey.

I felt like writing to you, instead of another new version of the things I almost always write.

I’m sitting here debating spending $50 on a Wu-Tang Clan ugly Christmas sweater to wear to my friends’ annual (and irreverent) ugly Christmas sweater-themed party. $50 does cross my I-don’t-like-wasting-it financial threshold, and I’m currently thinking about all of the little kids who won’t receive presents or possibly even food on Christmas Day, and thinking that if I drop $50 on a Wu sweater, Jesus will send me a very disappointed text message with a stern emoji face, and my mother will zap me with lightning bolts from the sky.

I might have that backward.

Dolla dolla bills, y’all.

Okay. Moving on.

That Awkward Moment – A Divorce Story

There are probably some cool customers out there who handle every post-divorce life situation with enviable skill and grace.

I’m not one of them.

On the heels of divorce, you experience a bunch of things for the first time, with varying degrees of unpleasantness and/or emotional impact.

It’s awkward when you and your recently separated ex are both godparents to a baby girl at her baptism.

It’s awkward when you hang out with your friends without her.

It’s awkward when you see your friends hanging out with her without you on Facebook before you block the feed for self-preservation reasons.

It’s awkward when you go to parent-teacher conferences together for the first time.

It’s awkward when your little boy cries for his mother when he’s with you, or cries for you when he’s with mom.

It’s awkward when you travel alone for the first time.

It’s awkward when you go on a date for the first time.

It’s awkward when you take a date to a wedding, and your ex-wife’s aunt and uncle you were shocked to bump into are ironically seated at the table next to you.

It’s awkward when you first visit your extended family for holidays as a single adult.

It’s awkward when your ex-wife comes over that first Christmas Eve so you can both watch your son open gifts from his parents.

It’s awkward when you’re driving around town with your mom in the passenger seat who is visiting from out of town, and you randomly see your ex-wife’s vehicle, but a guy you know is driving it at 10 a.m. on a weekend morning.

It’s awkward when your son goes on vacation with his mom’s family and you discover that guy is going too.

It’s awkward when you pick up or drop off your son at his mom’s house and that guy’s shoes are by the door even though he’s not there.

It’s awkward when you pick up or drop off your son at his mom’s house and that guy is there, clearly totally at-home.

It’s awkward when you hear him call her “Babe.”

And it’s a little-bit awkward when the three of you start attending your child’s extracurriculars together.

I arrived at the gym about 10 minutes before tip-off for my son’s weekend basketball game. His mom and her boyfriend were already sitting there. As the people were positioned around them, sitting next to him and not my ex-wife was the sensible move.

Aside from that regretful and/or jealous tinge we bury way down deep, I don’t have any problem sitting next to him. He’s an excellent guy and I have no reason to treat him with anything other than kindness and respect. He’s good to my son and his mom. He’s smart. Polite. Treats people around him well.

Those things matter.

At some point during the game, I caught out of my peripheral his hand reaching over to caress hers. I was surprised to discover it made me want to set myself on fire.

After the game, a bunch of parents were milling around the hall outside the locker rooms waiting for the kids to come out.

That’s when a dad whose son played for the opposing team randomly approached my ex-wife’s boyfriend because they’d gone to high school together.

I wasn’t at all surprised to discover wanting to set myself on fire when everyone was meeting each other and exchanging small-world pleasantries while I stepped a few extra feet away before being miraculously saved seconds later by a hug from a little boy happy to see his dad. Like magic—the I-don’t-really-matter feeling disappeared.

We bleed and scar and heal. We grow—wiser, tougher.

We become okay. Not fake-okay, but actually okay.

But the sucker punches and awkward moments don’t stop ‘til they stop.

Maybe they will someday.

The Importance of Mattering

I’ve spent the past three and a half years writing about divorce and marriage and relationships. I did it at the beginning because I needed to get the emotional vomit out of my system. And then I kept doing it because it appeared to be helping some people. That was a big deal to me.

You know? A reason for existing?

A husband and father has purpose.

But some divorced asshole is just another cliché statistic most people don’t want to hang out with lest they contract the Divorce AIDS by proxy.

I’m half-joking.

My little boy remains my purpose. But let’s be honest—mom is the better parent by every measurable standard outside of my genetic advantage in the Involved Fathers Help Children Thrive space.

I know this isn’t unique to me. When she walked out that door, so did a bunch of the purpose I had—without being mindful of it—felt throughout our relationship and marriage.

This is something I didn’t learn as a child—but quickly realized once I was the last person living at home: Our lives MUST be lived for things greater than ourselves.

I was a well-documented shitty husband.

But I loved the woman and cared about many things simply because I was married to her. When good things happened, or I experienced successes, or I received good news or learned something interesting, only a small part of the experience felt good on its own. The good part was sharing the good thing with her.

The craving—something damn close to need—for her respect, her validation, her pleasure, her praise, her love was strong.

I think most husbands feel that in profound ways.

Which does a couple of things:

  1. Helps explain why we feel so mind- and heart-fucked when she moves out and starts seeing someone else.
  2. Makes us incredibly dense assholes for all of the times we blatantly disregard our wives’ expressed wishes because—hell, I don’t even know why—because it’s inconvenient in the 20 minutes we’re living in right that moment?

We’re going on four straight years of self-reflection on all this, and I still can’t explain it.

This Has Given Me Purpose

This has given me a thing to do. A thing that provides value for some people. Where people sometimes say: “Matt. You’re doing something special and important and you matter.”

I want to be doing it for all of the selfless reasons that matter to humanity-at-large, but I’d be lying if I didn’t acknowledge the selfish desire I have to feel like something I do matters.

Everyone has varying degrees of psychological and emotional needs. Super-healthy, functional people with great relationships manage them effectively.

The rest of us just fumble about in the dark, unfairly mother-effing all of the innocent inanimate objects when we hurt ourselves tripping over them.

The Two Ways to Help People

I’ve struggled for a long time with the idea that I didn’t know how to help people in struggling marriages or just trying to get through the day while going through a divorce.

I watched my parents split and grew up with divorced parents as my life narrative.

Then, about 30 years later, after a lifetime of assuring everyone around me I’d never get divorced, I got divorced.

You know the expression “eat crow”? Well, it’s not crow. It’s a giant feces pile composed of digested crow. A big pile that’s not all the way gone.

I don’t write about it much anymore for the same reason most people only share positive-storytelling things on social media. I’m ashamed of it. I don’t want you to know. I don’t want my family to know. I don’t want my friends to know.

Divorce is the dominant theme of my entire life story.

It begs the question: “What does this moron know about how to have healthy relationships and good marriages?”

I get it. I’d wonder the same thing.

I want very much to be able to offer specific actions a person could take to fix his or her marriage.

But I don’t know what to do either. And even if I did, the you-love-another-totally-unpredictable-human-being X-factor will always rule out the possibility for relationship instruction manuals.

I mostly just know what NOT to do. Sometimes that helps people.

“There are two ways to help people in this world: 1) give them specific, tangible advice on what they should do to fix their problems, and 2) normalize their suffering to simply remind them that they are not as alone or as hopeless as they think they are,” wrote Mark Manson in his latest post “6 Books That Make You Less of a Horrible Person.”

“Often what we need the most is not more ‘tools’ and ‘tips’ to get through our hardest hours. What we need is someone who simply understands our pain, and is able to clearly and beautifully articulate that it will one day be OK again.”

I am embarrassed about the basketball-game story I shared. It seems immature and petty to feel as I did. I don’t like that I felt those things. And I don’t like you knowing that after all of this time, things can still cut. I can still bleed.

I think everybody bleeds.

And I think the reason to talk about it is so other people who also are bleeding or feeling shitty or feeling afraid or sad or ashamed can feel: “That happens to me too. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one.”

In the end, I think that’s how I might be able to help someone. I think that’s how I might be able to help myself.

I don’t really know anything. I can’t provide great wisdom or teach any valuable life skills.

But I think—sometimes—I can help a person feel like they’re not the only one.

I hope that can be enough.

Looking Toward 2017 and New Things

Holy shit, right?

2017.

That’s insane. I’ll turn 38 in March. Maybe other things will happen also. We’ll find out.

This blog will need to evolve.

I would like to convert it into a multi-contributor platform with other writers willing to bleed on the page a little.

I’d also like to introduce a new feature of some kind, and audio and/or video content seems like the obvious evolution.

Because I’m occasionally shy, I’m going to ease my way into it by doing simple blog-post readings of posts new and old using Facebook’s new Facebook Audio feature. (You can follow the Facebook page here.)

That might be fun.

I’m looking forward to trying it out and seeing what you think.

In the meantime, it’s Christmas again. They come so fast anymore. For the first time in my life, Hanukkah coincides with Christmas. I’m not sure why that’s cool, but it seems so.

No matter what you celebrate, I hope you have a very happy and blessed holiday season, and to my Christmas compadres, a very merry and beautiful and connection-building and relationship-healing Christmas with loved ones.

Thank you so much for giving your valuable time and attention to this place. It means the world.

We have another opportunity to light up the darkness. Please do.

Do good things.

Cheers, you.

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We Can’t Always Get What We Want, But if We Try Sometimes…

maslows-hierarchy-of-needs-by-angela-duncan

Everyone needs a few things. If you deny help to your partner in their pursuits, or become an obstacle, then your relationship will inevitably suck or end. (Image/Angela Duncan)

You and outside forces are engaged in a never-ending dance—working in harmony, or against each other—to motivate your spouse or partner to stay with you or leave you.

While I never thought of my marriage as any sort of Gotcha!-trap for my wife, it’s pretty clear upon reflection that my behavior frequently conveyed the belief she would never leave and that I had no power nor responsibility to influence her decisions or motivate her to choose me and our marriage over other options.

Maybe it’s because I grew up Catholic and didn’t see much divorce.

Maybe it’s because I was ignorant and oblivious.

Or maybe it’s because I was a stupid asshole.

It has become clear to me in the years following the 2013 divorce that ended my nine-year marriage that my wife needed things in life (whether or not I agreed with her conclusions) and that my job—my solemn duty as her husband—was to help her acquire or achieve those things, even if those things were as simple as more attention, more respect and more empathy.

Our opinions regarding others’ needs have little impact on their behaviors and choices. If THEY believe they need something, they will pursue those needs with or without us.

We can accept that and thrive, even if it means exerting more energy and giving more of ourselves to others.

Or we can reject it, and learn the hard way in our failed relationships (even when we mask the truth and convince others—and sometimes ourselves—things are okay even when they’re not).

What Do Our Partners Need? What Do We Need?

People need things.

We can debate semantics surrounding the word “need,” like whether electricity or indoor plumbing or Wi-Fi or sex or vehicles qualify. But if you’ll grant me some latitude on using that word, it will help very much.

Psychologist Abraham Maslow famously published his hierarchy of human needs in 1943.

It’s normally presented in pyramid form like this:

hierarchy-of-human-needs-pyramid-image-by-huriata

Image/Huriata

In reverse pyramid-stacking order, people need:

1. Physiological (Basic Needs)

We need air, water, food, clothes and shelter.

Typically, if any of those are missing, we don’t care very much about family drama, the economy, or The Walking Dead season finale.

2. Safety

We need to feel safe.

If lions and bears are chasing us, or someone is pointing a gun at us, or we are diagnosed with a life-changing or threatening disease, or the financial markets crash and we lose all of our money, or terrorists detonate bombs in random public places, we lose our ability to feel safe.

Stress and anxiety consume us, and we are stuck on the second rung of the Life Needs ladder until the feelings of safety return.

3. Love/Belonging

We need to feel loved and/or as if we belong to a tribe.

Humans have such a profound need to feel loved and part of something that they will often sacrifice personal safety to cling to physically/sexually/mentally abusive parents, caregivers and romantic partners in their pursuit of feeling loved and connected to others they identify as being “like them.”

4. Esteem

We need to feel respected and accepted.

We crave professional success, mastery of a hobby, accumulation of wealth, victory in competition, as well as fame and recognition in a constant pursuit of feeling respected by others.

Maslow called this craving for the approval of others the Lower form of Esteem.

Because we can NEVER feel respected and accepted until we respect and accept ourselves. Self-respect is the Higher form of Esteem, Maslow said.

5. Self-Actualization/Transcendence

We need to achieve whatever our individual or collective potential is, and accomplish whatever we are capable of accomplishing in order to live and die without shame and regret.

As you move up the five-step pyramid from Basic Needs for staying alive to more mind- and heart-based needs, you will notice the group sizes getting smaller and smaller.

That’s because we must not just understand, but master, a level of human need before we are able to move on to the next. Maybe people for many reasons live their entire lives without feeling loved, without respecting themselves, and never really feeling safe or comfortable in their own skin.

Also, let the record show you can regress and fall down a peg or two.

Because I’ve lived many years succeeding in the #4 Esteem space, and now I mostly stumble around back in #2 (an apt bathroom metaphor) trying to figure out what the hell is wrong with me and whether I’m even capable of pulling myself out of the sewage-like post-divorce shit bog to achieve a satisfying life for myself and those I love.

‘Is My Marriage/Relationship Suffering Because ACTUAL Needs Aren’t Being Met?’

Yep.

You need things. And she or he needs things too. And when one or both of you need things, you (often involuntarily) will pursue them.

And the simple truth is this: When we are obstacles to our spouses’/partners’ pursuit of needs, or when we neglect to fulfill any of their needs required of their partners, then we are complicit in our partners’ decisions to pursue those needs elsewhere.

No, guys. That doesn’t mean it’s cool to cheat on your wife or girlfriend because she won’t agree to threesomes, or to jerk off to internet porn at the expense of sex with your wife because you claim she doesn’t satisfy superficial sexual “needs.”

No, ladies. That doesn’t mean it’s cool to have an affair with Greg at work, or Brad at the gym because the attention they provide satisfies your feel-good emotional needs.

But I think it DOES mean that we should all be super-intentional about discovering our partner’s needs (not what WE think they are, but what THEY think they are) and commit to helping them achieve their personal five levels to become their best-possible selves.

Either that, or communicate quickly and clearly that we’re unwilling to so they can pursue a great life without us deliberately holding them down.

Your Marriage is Dying Because You Don’t or Won’t Trust Each Other

I always honed in on infidelity when discussing the word “trust” in relationships.

That always seemed like a big deal. To be loyal and trustworthy. I also believed there was merit in being a “trustworthy” financial partner and co-parent.

I figured: I don’t cheat, I don’t physically abuse, I don’t gamble away all of our money, I’m not an addict, and I’m not a threat to abandon her or our children. I’m trustworthy!

But that’s not the equation for Trust.

The equation is:

Safety + Belonging + Mattering = TRUST

That’s according to Christine Comaford who writes about neuroscience and business leadership.

There’s a problem, of course: Our faulty brains.

While amazing and miraculous, they’re also totally unreliable. If we all bought our brains at The Brain Store, most of us would have returned them already for ones we hoped would work better. Not that I’d be able to find the receipt.

Comaford helps business executives understand that their employees NEED things. Fundamental, primitive things. And that no matter how unimpressed the employer may be with those “needs,” a failure to help employees achieve them (at home for personal reasons, or at work for professional ones) will always keep employees and business teams underperforming, or inadvertently motivating people to seek work-oriented need fulfillment elsewhere.

The parallels to our marriages and personal relationships are obvious.

“So as a leader, and as a human, you must identify whether it is safety and or belonging and or mattering that is most important to the people in your life… and then do everything you can to satisfy that subterranean subconscious need,” Comaford wrote in this Forbes piece on human motivation.

“Safety + belonging + mattering = TRUST.

“This means leaders must behave in ways that make employees feel that they are safe, that they belong, and that they matter. Doing so will help shift them out of their fear-driven Critter State (where all decisions are based on what they perceive will help them survive) and into their Smart State (where they can innovate, collaborate, feel emotionally engaged, and move the company forward).”

The People You Love Need Things

And they will pursue them—again, regardless of whether you agree with their “need” list.

People are programmed to crave and pursue their needs.

The concept of meeting the needs of our spouses/romantic partners/families isn’t new to me.

But until I applied the concept of basic fundamental human need and motivation to my own failed marriage, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen so clearly how one must aid his or her loved ones in their individual pursuits up the five-level Life Need Pyramid or, at the very least, avoid being an obstacle.

My wife needed things and stated them. I either didn’t believe her or chose not to act because I disagreed with her priorities.

But our marriage WAS a priority to me, even if my behavior failed to demonstrate that.

And I think if I’d understood that NOT being an active participant in my wife’s climb up the Life Need Pyramid would stamp my divorce certificate, I might have made different and better choices.

And I think if I’d made different and better choices, I’d be enjoying the upper levels of the Pyramid, instead of the damp and musty basement.

And I think everyone who makes different and better choices gets to reach that top-floor penthouse where genuine peace and contentment live.

Where life is LIFE. Joyful. Uplifting. Satisfying.

Where energy is abundant, and we collectively give more to pulling people up, up, up to the top floors with us.

Where we’re living for something greater than ourselves.

I think maybe that’s where fear, shame and self-loathing go to die.

I think maybe that’s what it means to really live.

And I think the view’s probably pretty nice up there.

And if we try sometimes, we just might find, we get what we need.

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The Strangers We Live With: Maybe Birth Control, Food & Aging Dooms Our Relationships

sinkhole

Sinkholes open without warning, sometimes destroying things and killing people. I think body chemistry might work that way, too. (Image/CNN)

Even the most-honest people lie sometimes.

When we love or even just like someone, the last thing we want to tell them is that we don’t like their new haircut, or that the meal they just prepared for us tastes gross, or that their ass totally looks fat in those jeans.

Maybe that’s not a “lie.” When you’re trying to protect someone’s feelings. Or maybe it is, but it’s not bad due to its noble intentions.

Or maybe a lie is a lie, and it’s ultimately bad no matter how well-intentioned it is because dishonesty is NEVER better than honesty. I don’t think we’ll ever know because humans are never going to collectively start telling the whole truth.

So, maybe we’ll never really know why attraction went away and they left. Or why we chose someone else. Or why love died. Or whether love and attraction were ever present in the first place.

Maybe everyone has a secret they’ll never tell. And maybe being afraid of everyone, or even just one person, discovering that secret will keep us “lying” our entire lives.

Maybe those lies—or rather undiscovered truths—will prevent us from ever “solving” the problems that harm or end our relationships, sometimes ruining our lives.

Maybe we never really know someone all the way.

And, just maybe, even if we do know someone all the way, they don’t always stay the person we’ve gotten to know.

And, just maybe, we don’t always stay the person we think we’ve gotten to know.

And, just maybe, when you can no longer recognize yourself in the mirror, all bets are off.

Why Do So Many Relationships Go Bad?

Let the record show that until proven otherwise, I maintain the stance that Shitty Husbandry (which is mostly accidental) is the No. 1 cause of failed marriages and divorce.

But there’s something else that happens to people which we’ve rarely, if ever, discussed here. All humans are affected by changing hormone levels and body chemistry at different points in our lives for various reasons. And while I’m no science whiz, I’m reasonably confident in saying that, when you change something’s literal chemistry, that thing always changes into another thing.

You don’t even have to change the actual building blocks to change something into something else.

Mix carbon and oxygen so that there are two units of oxygen for every unit of carbon, and you get carbon dioxide (CO2), which is our friend, and used by trees and grass to produce breathable air.

By simply reducing by half the amount of oxygen in the equation, you create carbon monoxide (CO). And if you don’t know, that shit will kill you.

The difference between Life and Death.

All because you changed the amount of one of just two basic ingredients.

Which begs the questions, I think:

Can changes in our hormone levels—our literal body chemistry—turn us into entirely different people?

Isn’t it possible that we all change into different people who sometimes transition into people unattracted to, or incompatible with our partners?

Isn’t it possible that we all change into different people, and that sometimes, our partners don’t like nor are attracted to the new and different versions of us?

Isn’t it possible that we all end up living with strangers or discovering them in our reflections, and that when one or both members of a marriage change into someone else, it strains the relationship in ways difficult or impossible to properly repair?

Maybe Hormones are the Sinkholes of Relationships

Let me just say this: Sinkholes are bullshit.

There are a lot of things to be afraid of in life. Natural disasters and disease and mortal enemies and other things. And most responsible people take precautionary measures to avoid these things when possible, which is how the human race has survived to this point.

But sometimes, you’re just sleeping in your bedroom at night, and then the ground gives way beneath your home, and your house falls down into the planet, and then you die.

It’s pretty much the least-fair thing I can think of. And the thing I am theoretically most afraid of due to its fundamental randomness. I can’t even trust the ground I stand on.

And maybe hormones are just like that.

One time, the person I loved most and knew best in the world had a baby and then everything about her body chemistry changed for a while afterward, and then later still, everything about Us got sick and died.

And when We died, I don’t think either of us were still the same person who met at that college party 15 years earlier.

Many things affect hormones.

The birth-control pill, in particular, interests me because it has been demonstrated to take away a biological tool women use to choose partners—smell. Pheromone detection via the olfactory system. It’s a thing, I guess.

According to this article in The Telegraph (U.K.): “…the Pill could stop women picking up these important genetic clues because it alters hormones which make the body think it is pregnant. While that stops women getting pregnant it also means they would rather be surrounded by close family members, and so are more attracted to people who are genetically similar. And for choosing a partner, that is dreadful.”

Pregnancy and child birth, menopause, and menstrual cycles all affect women’s bodies in chemistry-changing ways.

Most forms of contraception (about 60-ish%) affect hormone levels as well.

Estrogen, progresterone, testosterone, adrenaline and cortisol are some relatively well-known hormones. Leptin and ghrelin are some appetite-related lesser-known ones.

We all have all of these hormones. But as the levels of one or many increase or decrease, we literally become different versions of ourselves.

Different versions who tend to be shitty at the things that keep marriages thriving, or even simply afloat.

The food we eat matters.

Men today have significantly lower testosterone levels than our fathers and grandfathers. Some of the pesticides used to grow much of our food has high estrogen levels, which many in the science community point to as an explanation.

The food supply would affect women equally, on top of the previously mentioned changes.

Lifestyle factors like sleep, poor nutrition and a lack of exercise all affect us as well.

Sinkholes scare me. And they’re a bullshit, unfair wrinkle in our collective efforts to not die.

Hormones? They’re just like that.

Affecting all of us indiscriminately.

Turning people into someone else.

Turning lovers into strangers.

Turning Life into Death.

And maybe if everyone keeps on hiding the changes we feel because of this or that, maybe we’re all doomed to end up living with strangers.

Even when we live alone.

…..

(Update: Edited to correct nonsense scientific claim that trees and grass produced carbon dioxide rather than oxygen, because we don’t live on Venus.)

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