Monthly Archives: August 2017

8 Ways Good People Invalidate Their Partners and Ruin Relationships

(Image/Pinterest)

NOTE: Listen to the audio version of this article here.

That’s an important word—“invalidate.” But I haven’t always thought so.

My wife would sometimes ruin an otherwise perfectly good night at home or dinner conversation by accusing me of “invalidating her feelings,” to which I’d usually roll my eyes at my silly, overly sensitive wife and her cute little feelings.

Feelings aren’t facts, right? So facts matter and feelings don’t—a convenient excuse to fall back on any time the topic was about something impacting her emotionally but not affecting me.

“It’s always about what Matt wants,” she’d say. I’d get angry (and all of the sudden feelings mattered!) and remind her that she’s the one who started it by freaking out because I apparently didn’t do or say what she wanted me to. I’m not a mind-reader, freak-o!

Even today, I’m guilty of thinking back on my marriage as a relationship with fights about things that didn’t matter. Little, insignificant things we’d blow out of proportion. A dozen years of being unable to see the forest for the trees.

EVERY one of those fights mattered. They signaled that something was wrong and I dismissed or ignored that for years, probably because it hadn’t started hurting yet. EVERY one of those fights was the result of a conversation where one or both of us made a thoughtless, selfish, emotionally impulsive and undisciplined choice.

Only masochists who hate themselves would create and execute an action plan to sabotage every conversation they have to provoke an emotionally unpleasant fight for one or both relationship partners–especially knowing the end of that story was a messy divorce and broken home.

Most of us aren’t masochists who hate ourselves.

Most of us are just a little bit broken and a lot bit uninformed about the healthy and unhealthy behaviors that make marriage and dating relationships thrive vs. the ones that poison and destroy them.

Emotional Cyborgs and Fake Stoicism are the Life of the Invalidation Party

“Really? You want to talk about validating someone’s feelings? God, you’re such a pussy,” some internet tough guy might be thinking.

And I understand that because I used to be an internet tough guy too and throughout my life have pretended that things that hurt or upset me weren’t actually hurting or upsetting me. (That’s an example of validating someone’s thoughts and feelings even if you disagree with them.)

I thought if people knew the truth—that my feelings were hurt—that they’d view me as some wimpy bitch. Not a Real Man. Boys don’t cry!

Having my Man Card was important to me. It’s important to most guys, near as I can tell. The thinking seems to be: If you have your Man Card, the guys will accept me and the ladies will want me.

It’s funny how we ignore the obvious truth of how cowardly it is to pretend to be something we’re not because we’re afraid of what others will think about the Real Us.

We are ACTUALLY BEING the very thing we’re afraid of, or accusing others of being, when we put on our masks to hide our true and authentic thoughts and feelings.

To be sure, there ARE people who demonstrate a high level of stoicism and emotional consistency. People who seem consistently steady, regardless of what’s happening around them. People who are being authentically true to themselves amid their stoicism are awesome, and probably great behavior models to aspire to—because we probably shouldn’t let our emotions affect us as much as we do.

But in the interest of pragmatism, it’s pretty important to deal in reality. In real life, almost nothing influences human behavior as much as our emotions do. Just ask every successful marketing pro in world history.

So yeah. I want to talk about invalidating people’s feelings because it was routinely part of my conversations with my wife—EVEN when we weren’t disagreeing or fighting. It was my routine invalidation of the things she might have been thinking or feelings that ultimately CAUSED the fight or relationship-damaging moment. One of the thousands of paper cuts that would eventually cause our marriage to bleed to death.

Good People with Good Hearts Do This All the Time

Dudes often get bent out of shape about a series of posts called An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, as well as one called Your Wife Thinks You’re a Bad Husband Because You are One.

They lose their shit as if I’m attacking their character or not calling their mom again after our first date.

I understand this reaction also, because I too would lose my shit when I felt as if my wife was constantly telling me how I was failing her and our marriage despite feeling like a good human being who would do anything for her, and as if I’d sacrificed a lot on her behalf in order to share a life together. (More validation!)

Being a lousy husband like I was DOES NOT make you a bad person any more than an inability to prove advanced mathematical theorems like Will Hunting would make you a bad person.

We accidentally destroy our relationships. It’s an idea that’s been beaten to death on this blog and will be beaten to death some more in the book I’m writing. (For real, this time.)

I was reading through various psychology articles on invalidating others as a tactic for winning an argument, or as a means of trying to convince someone or ourselves that something is better or worse than what it is.

In doing so, I found eight common invalidation techniques people use in all kinds of conversations with everyone they talk to—not just their partners. I realized that people who are otherwise wonderful do this, and accidentally ruin their relationships with people who want to love them, but eventually stop subjecting themselves to that person’s invalidating bullshit.

8 Common Invalidation Methods That Accidentally Destroy Relationships

1. Misunderstanding What Validation Is

Sometimes my wife would tell me a story about one of her friends or something that happened at work. Sometimes, when she told me the story, I would find myself disagreeing with her assessment, and defending her friend, or otherwise taking a different viewpoint than she did. I thought I was “being fair.” I thought I was calling it like I saw it. Being real and stuff. But what I was doing was confusing Validation with Agreement. I didn’t have to agree with her to look for the very real reasons why she felt as she did, and then express that I understood her perspective.

“I get it, babe. I’m sorry you have to deal with that at work on top of everything else. I know it gets hard sometimes,” would have worked fine. Instead of “It seems to me you’re overreacting. Maybe if you did X, Y, and Z, your dumb girl feelings wouldn’t be interrupting my dinner,” which I didn’t actually say, but she probably heard.

2. Wanting to Fix Feelings

Sometimes people feel sad or angry. We don’t want them to. Maybe for unselfish reasons, but probably for selfish ones too. So we say, “Oh, don’t be sad,” or “You have nothing to feel sad or angry about. Everything is going to be fine. Don’t worry about it.” This is almost always done with the best of intentions, but it also almost always makes you a dick.

When you tell someone who is sad or otherwise upset (involuntarily) to NOT be that way, what they hear is (even from really nice, unselfish people): “Oh, that sucks that you feel that way. Let’s go do something awesome that I want to do instead so that I don’t have to worry about this thing that matters to you but doesn’t impact me.” The first cousin of trying to fix feelings is…

3. Minimizing

Dishes by the sink, yo. Didn’t matter to me, so they SHOULDN’T matter to my wife, right? Because how I experience the world should be indisputable, absolute truth and the unquestioned law of all human behavior, right? For the life of me, I can’t figure out why we’re so shitty about this. Every second of our lives, we experience things through our individual, first-person experiences, and so often it seems, we think EVERYONE—no matter where they’re from or what they’ve been through—should draw all of the same identical conclusions and have identical emotional responses as us.

If someone is acting like something’s important, that we don’t think is important, we minimize it. Make it out like it’s not a big deal and they shouldn’t worry about it. This is ESPECIALLY shitty when someone is upset with OUR behavior, but we disagree that what we’re doing should upset them. You should only do that if you love getting divorced.

4. Hoovering

According to Dr. Karyn Hall, “Hoovering is when you attempt to vacuum up any feelings you are uncomfortable with or not give truthful answers because you don’t want to upset or to be vulnerable. Saying ‘It’s not such a big deal’ when it is important to you is hoovering. Saying someone did a great job when they didn’t or that your friends loved them when they didn’t is hoovering. Not acknowledging how difficult something might be for you to do is hoovering. Saying ‘No problem, of course I can do that,’ when you are overwhelmed, is hoovering.”

We wear masks for all kinds of reasons in our relationships and in our interactions with others. We’re afraid of rejection. We want to be liked. A lot of bad things happen when we’re dishonest—even when they seem like innocent little white lies that are totally harmless.

5. Misinterpreting What It Means to Be Present

Sometimes people think that being in the same room, or the same house, is the same as being WITH someone. We’re not off doing something on our own away from home. We’re right there, watching TV, playing a video game, fiddling with our phone, or whatever. I used to play online poker, watch movies, sports, or TV shows my wife wasn’t interested in, and all kinds of other things that saw her doing things by herself, while I was doing things by myself. I thought it was fine. I always thought it was good that both of us were doing “what we wanted to do.”

But what she wanted to do sometimes, even more than what she might have preferred individually, was to be TOGETHER. Feeling present with each other, and the emotional connections that thrive from shared experiences was something she wanted. Turns out, this is also something NEEDED for relationships, including marriage, to thrive and function well. She knew it. I didn’t. And now we’re not married.

6. Judging

Judging isn’t so different than minimizing. But judging often adds an element of ridicule to the occasion, which can often cause a lot of damage. I already mentioned it earlier—if my wife told me a story, or even just liked or didn’t like something opposite of me—I would react with judgment. Not only was I disagreeing with her, but sometimes I was doing so in ways that made it clear that I believed all of my thoughts and feelings had more value than hers. As if I came to them from some pure and intellectually superior place, and hers were just some stupid girl feelings.

The more I tell these stories, the more horrified I am at my obliviousness through the years, and my blindness to what asshole moves these types of beliefs and behaviors are.

7. Denying

This one’s awesome. We invalidate other people by saying they don’t feel what they are saying they feel. They report what they’re experiencing in real-time, and instead of accepting that—we just tell them they’re mistaken. That they don’t know what they’re saying and feeling, as if we think they’re hallucinating or mentally insane. It’s hilarious in the saddest way possible how common this is.

8. Nonverbal Invalidation

Nonverbal invalidation comes in many forms. The shittiest are obnoxious eyerolls, finger-drumming, or yawning.

The more common and innocent ones are when we drift off during conversation, interrupt, change the subject, check our phone, or any number of nonverbal things that communicate to someone that whatever they’re saying couldn’t possibly be as important as whatever we wish we were doing or discussing.

Unfortunately, this is classic ADHD behavior, and OFTEN done with no intention or awareness of how it’s being received emotionally by someone else. I’ve spent a lifetime doing this, I think, but only in the last few years have had the mental wherewithal to check myself and achieve the self-awareness and focus necessary to keep my eyes and thoughts on the person with whom I’m conversing.

More than half of marriages fail (when you factor in all the still-married people who hate one another). I assume non-married relationships end at an infinitely higher rate, but I don’t have data to support that.

But I don’t need data to know that MOST of the ugliness that arises between two people who began their interpersonal journey totally infatuated with, and interested in, one another grows slowly from a million of these little moments.

Invalidation. It ended my marriage and has surely ruined a number of my other relationships, romantic or otherwise.

What has it done to yours?

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The 4th Wedding Anniversary (That Wasn’t)

Lucky 13 carnival

(Image/Halloween Forum)

Yesterday would have been lucky-number 13.

My wife and I celebrating 13 years of marital bliss.

Only we didn’t. Because we stopped at 9. In large part because the final couple of years were anything but blissful.

Also, I didn’t remember.

I hadn’t noticed until I flipped a daily calendar to today.

And all joking aside about my totally suspect ADHD calendar management, it’s significant that I didn’t remember.

Maybe some people feel completely fine and normal after getting divorced. But other people feel shitty and want to die a little bit and cry a lot more than they’re proud of while feeling like the world’s biggest loser and binge-watching a lot of shows on Netflix and assuming they will spend the rest of their lives celibate and alone while their exes are having orgasm parties with some wildly successful entrepreneur ready to sell their tech startup for a billion dollars and pretty much guaranteeing a lifetime of their children respecting and wanting to be with the other parent more than them.

I was a member of the latter group.

Even my grandma (the sweetest, most-prayerful and non-judgmental person I know) was probably like: “My #1 grandson seems extra-losery lately. If he doesn’t get it together, he’s going to die alone, because no woman will ever want to kiss him on the mouth, let alone play fiddlesticks in his nether regions. I’m demoting him to, like, #4 in the grandson ranking.” It’s difficult to know for sure how she felt and/or whether I’ve reclaimed by spot atop the family grandson rankings.

It’s significant that I didn’t reflect on my wedding anniversary yesterday, because that’s exactly the kind of thing you tend to do when you feel broken and depressed after divorce.

Every major holiday.

Her birthday.

My birthday.

Our son’s birthday.

The Fourth of July (our “engagement anniversary”).

There were all of these things that triggered the most powerful and unexpected emotions for the first couple of years following the end of our marriage. If you’d told me some date on the calendar had the power to trigger something within me that would make my entire body revolt, I’d have called you crazy.

But then I lived it.

I felt in the most intense ways what a particular anniversary could remind you of. If it wasn’t something on the calendar, it was one of those asshole Facebook memories that seem to randomly pop up and try to ruin your day, or it was me driving by a particular building or location, or maybe hearing a certain song, and then I’d feel all the things rushing in again.

It wasn’t just hard because it hurt.

It was hard because it reminded me that I wasn’t fully back yet. I hadn’t recovered. I remained weak and fragile. It reminded me that I didn’t have control over emotions, which meant I didn’t have control over myself.

Once every day stops hurting after a major life trauma, the next phase involves unpredictable and intermittent flare-ups.

Rock-bottom has one perk. NOTHING scares you anymore, because (even if it isn’t true) it feels like it can’t get any worse.

But once the healing begins, some of the fear returns, because the ability to just behave normally during the day without all of the hurt and fear and anxiety becomes this really important and valuable thing that you had always taken for granted until you knew better.

So when something sneaky triggers us into a mini-relapse, it can shake you up because you don’t know if that’s ever going to stop happening.

It’s hard to feel like you don’t have any control about your baseline state-of-being. As if you don’t know which “you” you’ll be when you wake up tomorrow.

I often wondered when these triggers would finally go away.

And Then Something Funny Happens

You don’t really notice because you forget to look for it.

The same way that resentment and shit-festival rides and funnel cake booths sneak quietly into our relationships and go undetected until we finally bite into some funnel cake we overpaid for and it tastes like goat piss, and then we pop three balloons with our skilled dart throwing to win that awesome stuffed monkey, but instead of giving us the awesome stuffed monkey, the carnie gives us the middle finger and divorce papers…

The same way that happens, goodness and normalcy slowly creep in when life feels like it’s beating us down.

I wanted so badly to hack the process.

I researched whatever scientific studies I could find on happiness. I went to guided meditation classes. I drank a little more beer, tequila and vodka than usual.

I wanted a shortcut, and if I couldn’t find one, I at least wanted to know when the terrible pain and sadness might end.

What is the thing or the time I can look forward to because that’s when I’ll know this is mostly behind me?

I took comfort in some of the stories and experiences of other divorcees.

But still. When will it be my turn?

And then the funny thing happens. You wake up one day and realize you’d stopped counting. You’d stopped looking for signs. You’d stopped wondering when tomorrow will come because, holy shit, it’s ALREADY tomorrow and I didn’t even notice.

There was no magic to evoke.

There was no exorcism or major therapeutic breakthrough (not that there’s anything wrong with leaning on psych pros—I’d have done so if I was financially comfortable enough to shell out $250/hour).

There was no one thing I can point to that took me from the painful and debilitating shit-festival to today. The day AFTER a wedding anniversary (that wasn’t) that I never got around to noticing.

The path to today wasn’t complex or hard to explain even though I hadn’t realized I’d arrived here. The path wasn’t around. There were no shortcuts or helpful detours. There was only one straight path that could only be traveled at the speed with which I move.

There were unpleasant and difficult obstacles from the get-go. And it turns out, Life doesn’t magically remove all those obstacles to make the path easier to walk. Dealing with each obstacle by climbing over it, or blasting my way through simply made me good at navigating them.

I wanted it to be easy and fast. But it didn’t feel that way. It felt torturously slow.

But as I look back today? Four wedding anniversaries (that weren’t) later? I don’t know where the time went.

But I’m here now. (Hi!)

The path was hard. But then it gets a little bit easier. Then a little bit easier. Then a little bit easier. Then you accidentally get so busy living again that you forget to measure the difficulty.

Hope is the carrot at the end of the stick, and it’s worth walking toward. When you’re emerging from divorce or some other awful life event, how much better tomorrow can be than today is so incremental, we’re unlikely to notice it. But it IS better.

And when you wake up and breathe enough times, you stop, look back, and really see how far you’ve come.

The only path was through.

Never easy. But always worth it.

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The 7 Life-Changing Benefits of Treating My Ex-Wife Well After Divorce

olive branch

(Image/Challies.com)

The worst day of my life wasn’t the day the divorce was finalized.

It wasn’t even the day she packed a suitcase and drove away with our little boy in the backseat while I watched from the kitchen wondering whether I might die, right then, just because I didn’t know if the human body could withstand what I was feeling.

The worst day of my life came later, when I learned that she was in a new relationship.

It wasn’t bad because I was sad.

It was bad because I was angry. Very. I think “rage” is the most precise word for what I was feeling. I didn’t understand how I could be feeling so horribly broken and miserable, and she could be investing emotionally in another person.

My pride was wounded. It seemed unfair that she could be enjoying life while I felt like dying. I was still coming to terms with my loss of parental control, and not knowing anything about this guy was making it worse. For all I knew, he was a serial child-abuser, and I was too pissed to rationally conclude that my son’s mother would not subject him to obvious harm, and I was still too shell-shocked to know what was real and what wasn’t.

I was so angry that I actually imagined something bad happening to her—this person I loved above all things—and felt nothing. No sadness. No guilt. Nothing. I was still blaming her, even though we now know how immature and foolish that was.

I still didn’t “get it” yet.

It’s hard to be angry and rational at the same time. It’s difficult to feel ragey and then make wise choices.

I now understand how crimes of passion can happen. For anyone comfortable with, or previously exposed to violence, and no children to worry about, I can conceptually grasp why that kind of person might lash out in anger, and how easy it would be for people to die in those confrontations.

But because I’ve been immensely blessed in life, I haven’t witnessed nor experienced much violence nor am I prone to behave violently. Because the adults in my life treated me with intense love and care, I’ve never had any trouble treating my young son with that same care.

Even IF I was capable of something as heinous as intentionally harming another person—let alone the mother of my son—I simply don’t do things (mindfully) that will make my son’s life worse.

That is a baseline non-negotiable core value.

And the conclusion is simple: The positive value of my son having his mother in his life—independent of my emotional state—cannot be measured.

And as time marched on, it didn’t take long for me to recognize the next logical conclusion: If my son’s mother provides him immeasurable value, doesn’t my ex-wife living her best-possible life benefit him the most?

And finally: As his father and her parenting partner, doesn’t me supporting her life as best I can—even in divorce—lend itself to me being the best father and parenting partner I can be?

Because I’m a single parent, most of the people I’ve met in a dating capacity over the past four years have also been single parents. I’ve been SHOCKED to see what massive dicks some of these guys are, and—full disclosure—it’s usually the first or only “bad” thing I learn about someone I’m dating. Fair or not, marrying and conceiving children with someone capable of THAT much assholery reflects poorly.

If you’re shitty to your former spouse and you don’t have children, I have to ask why you’re even in contact with them. If my wife and I had not been parents, I think I’d have moved far away shortly after the divorce was final and never speak to her again.

Maybe then I would have spent the rest of my life believing a false narrative I’d told myself to try to make sense of what—to me—seemed purely nonsensical.

Maybe I never would have grown, because I wouldn’t have had to.

And maybe I’d never achieve anything resembling a healthy or happy relationship, because I’d keep waiting for someone to “fit” into my life instead of knowing I must one day choose to create an entirely new life that won’t be mine, but “ours.”

If you’re shitty to your former spouse and you DO share children, then I’m forced to question who and what you are as a parent.

To have your kids suffer in order to scratch a sadistic itch to mistreat the person to whom you were once married strikes me as some of the worst kind of selfishness.

It’s fundamentally and undeniably bad for your kids to intentionally tear down their OTHER hero, and perhaps the only other person that grounds them and provides the necessary sense of safety they need just to function in life.

The benefits of, not just avoiding obvious acts of dickheadedness toward our exes, but actually treating them well, seem obvious to me. I understand that all individuals, their personal relationship experiences, and their current relationship dynamics, will vary.

I know there may be things about me or my ex-wife that gives us get-along advantages not available to everyone. And I know that if we didn’t share a child, things might be much different. But the following are very real and tangible benefits I experience regularly as a result of being good to my ex-wife.

How Being Cool to Our Exes Makes Our Lives Better

1. Reciprocated Cooperation is Very Helpful

Because my ex-wife and I treat each other kindly and respectfully, we both experience a steady dose of mutual cooperation.

Maybe one of your best friends is getting married in Mexico and asks you to be a groomsman and you have to leave the country for six days to be there, and it’s going to throw a major wrench in the pre-existing parenting schedule.

Maybe tomorrow is your child’s gym class at school or team practice afterward and you’re missing the shoes or specialty equipment they need to participate.

Maybe the holidays or a birthday or a life event is approaching where coordinating schedules and pooling financial resources makes the situation better.

That my ex-wife and I can hop on the phone or exchange texts asking one another about schedules or splitting costs or whether the other person can drop something off that our son needs for school activities changes the entire world.

If we acted possessive about who bought what for him, or blatantly refused to budge on the parenting schedule, it would mean that both me AND our son would suffer any time something unexpected happened.

Despite no longer being married, if my ex-wife and I couldn’t fundamentally count on one another, our lives would be immeasurably shittier and more-stressful than they are currently.

Communicate. Cooperate. Be helpful.

It matters.

2. I Get to Know Things I Wouldn’t and Freak Less

I care about what happens to my son. I care about his life, his whereabouts, and knowing that he’s safe. If his mother and I didn’t communicate about where he was, who he was with, and what he was doing, we’d be left to wonder and fear the worst.

As it is, when my son goes on vacation for a week, I know where he is, what he’s doing, who he’s with, and I can talk to him as much as I want.

The same, of course, is true when I take my 9-year-old out of town. His mom, always and forever, has unlimited I-Want-to-Talk-to-My-Son requests that I’ll honor. That was true even when we first separated and secretly wanted to stab each other in the face with rusty spears.

I know more about my son’s friends. More about his friends’ families.

And since I’m terrible with calendar management, I get a ton of support from my ex to get special events for school or sports on my calendar to keep me involved even on nights my son isn’t home with me.

3. Being Together Isn’t the Worst Time Ever

When we were first separated and I was harboring powerfully angry and pained emotions which probably simulated the physical sensation of hate, I DREADED being anywhere she was, or even just talking on the phone with her.

It was horrible.

Had we never made efforts to treat one another with kindness and mutual respect, every single event I’d attend as a parent might involve me feeling super-shitty. Maybe I’d even skip things my little boy wished I’d attend to avoid dealing with it.

Instead, we are often in the same place at the same time to support our son. There are likely still parents among the sports teams and extracurricular activities we’re all involved with that don’t realize we’re not married.

If our son is involved in something, most of the time, we’re both there to support him.

I think this has been HUGE for him as he’s adapted to the lifestyle change, and how he feels in any situation involving the families of him and his friends.

Which leads nicely into…

4. Our Son is Happy and Healthy

This is subjective. And I have no way of knowing how another kid with a different personality might react in an identical situation.

But I feel really confident saying that if you speak or behave in any way that is hostile or otherwise shitty to your ex-spouse, your perceptive children WILL know it and feel stressed and generally uncomfortable any time you’re all together, or even just in phone-call situations.

I think being intentionally shitty to your ex is—in many ways—being intentionally shitty to your children.

5. You Preserve Important Friendships

Divorce breaks things and severs relationships. Has always been true. Will always be true.

Friends will pick sides.

Others will try their best to maintain healthy friendships with both of you with varying success.

If you want to make sure you lose even more people in your inner circle, go ahead and be overtly evil and shitty to your ex just because you’re angry with them.

The good friends will keep their distance.

Anyone encouraging you to be an asshole to someone they once called a friend is probably not the caliber of human being you really want in your inner circle.

6. You’re Not a Messy, Walking Contradiction

Don’t act like you didn’t love—or don’t still currently love—your ex-spouse. It’s a lie and you can’t trick yourself no matter how much we’d all like to.

If you want to live a balanced, healthy life where things aren’t constantly shitty and dysfunctional, it’s important that your actions reflect your true values and feelings. When you dislike someone but act like you like them, it becomes this gross, slimy, fake and all-around inauthentic display that most healthy people can identify right away (and if you’re the kind of person who can trick people effectively, you might have bigger problems than trying to get along with an ex.)

You’re always going to feel, just, off, if you spend your life doing things that don’t reflect your true feelings and intentions.

So. Just own it. You loved, and to some extent, still love the person you chose to marry and have children with.

And every time you speak or behave in ways that don’t align with these true, honest, authentic thoughts and feelings inside you, you’re going to continue to feel a little listless and unhinged.

Identify truth. Whatever is real. Then honor that with the things we think, do and say.

Life’s never fun when you’re constantly struggling to find steady ground or sure footing.

Find balance by being the REAL YOU.

7. You Get to be You Again by Healing Much Faster

If you want to know what a depressed, almost-suicidal and totally fucked-up human being looks like, just go check out this blog’s 2013-2014 archived content.

They say time heals all wounds. And maybe it does. But my divorce could easily be a lifelong prison sentence if I chose to be super-involved in my son’s life AND a massive d-hole to his mother at the same time.

Every day might not suck, but ALMOST every day would if we hadn’t let go of all that pent-up anger.

I can’t speak for her, but I was broken. I say that a lot so maybe it’s lost its meaning. But I hope not, because it’s real and it matters.

I was broken.

My insides died and I wasn’t even the same person anymore. For a long time.

It was agonizing and miserable and I wouldn’t wish that experience on anyone.

Life can be so much harder than I’d ever known. And now I do know. During the dark days, the ones where I didn’t know whether I’d survive or whether I wanted to, I realized that no amount of money, no career success, no material possession—no nothing—could have saved me from that darkness.

It follows you around to tuck you into bed at night, and greet you when you wake. It’s in the shower, in the car, keeping you company at parties and at holiday gatherings. It distracts you while you try to work and taunts you when you can’t.

That was when I figured out that I’d spent more than 30 years prioritizing the wrong things, and that moving forward, my life needed to be about never feeling that way again, and helping my son and others avoid a similar fate.

The fear and anger and self-pity fed the darkness.

The accountability and introspection and self-reflection drowned it in light.

And in that light I found some truths. About me. About life. About the woman I’ll remain tied to for life despite our marriage ending.

And now I get to be me again.

Stronger. Smarter. Wiser.

More confident. More courageous. Less afraid.

Happy and hopeful.

In the truth, I found meaning. In the meaning, I found forgiveness. And in the forgiveness, I found love.

It looks nothing like the love we’d promised each other standing on that alter, young and ignorant.

But I’m pretty sure it can be enough.

In fact, I think it already is.

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Please Help Me Answer These Important Questions

your-big-questions-built with statamic

(Image/Statamic)

Of the many questions sent to my email inbox (some of which go unanswered—I’m so sorry for that), there are two that stand out as the most frequently asked.

1. How can I get my husband/wife to read your blog posts?

2. How can I get my husband/wife to understand these ideas you write about before it’s too late?

In a way, they are the same question, because they share a common desire and goal—to bridge a relationship divide. To help one person gain the ability to translate their partner accurately, or to acquire the ability to communicate an idea so clearly that the other person finally understands.

Just yesterday I got this question from a husband wanting me to help him find a way to get his wife to read the An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands series, which now stands at 14 volumes. He didn’t say whether he considered her, or himself, to be a shitty spouse.

I don’t know how valuable getting people to read the posts are. I have no way to measure how effectively they accomplish the goal of helping someone evolve their understanding of their spouse and/or marriage that “saves” a marriage, or better yet, makes one thrive.

But the big-picture question here is a significant one: How can we get our partners to understand the ideas that keep couples together?

I am asked these questions more than I know how to estimate. I’ve attempted to answer them more times than I can remember. I’ve tried a variety of answers. I don’t have a sense of how effective any of them really are.

I think we can all agree that we can’t make people love if they don’t love, nor care if they don’t care.

It’s often the case that one spouse has mentally and emotionally checked out of a marriage before their partner realizes it. That’s how it was at my house, only I was still too slow on the uptake to recognize she would actually leave.

I spent YEARS not reading Dr. Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages, even after my wife asked me to. She proactively wanted me to read a book she believed would help us connect. A book that might teach me how to exhibit intentional empathy in a way that would make our marriage a pleasant, safe, sustainable relationship for both of us.

But I was like: I already love her. I already promised her forever. What more does she want? What more do I really need to do beyond that?

And I just kept NOT reading it.

At some point during the 18-month shit show of us sleeping in separate bedrooms before the day she finally moved out, I discovered and adopted the Love is a Choice philosophy after being introduced to The Love Dares. I also randomly picked up a copy of How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It (which I credit most for putting me on the path of understanding what I think I do today)—which totally blew my mind.

It was an epiphany. Legit. I finally SAW it. The way two people imperceptibly pinprick and papercut one another over the course of many moments through the months and years. I finally saw the danger of two people (usually a man and woman) unable to understand one another, even though they both speak and read the same language.

I excitedly gave my wife my copy of How to Improve Your Marriage… and couldn’t wait for her to read it so she could understand that I FINALLY understood, like for-real this time. So she could see how the book so precisely nailed our relationship dynamics, and my realization that if a mainstream book was able to do that, it must mean that many couples—perhaps even most—experience these same dynamics.

Which means we weren’t uniquely dysfunctional or broken. Which means we weren’t hopeless.

Because common problems have common solutions.

We’re going to figure this out and save our marriage! I thought.

But then for a handful of months, that book sat discarded and ignored next to the bed where she slept. Every morning when I’d go up to the bedroom I no longer slept in to get dressed for work, I’d check her reading progress. If she’s reading, then she must care.

But the bookmark was always on page 53. That’s where she stopped.

I couldn’t figure out why.

But it’s easy enough to see now: She’d been done with the marriage long before I ever even had the ability to articulate the real problem.

She tried to reach me for years, and I was uncooperative and disrespectful.

Later, I tried to reach her, and she was mentally and emotionally spent. I’d exhausted whatever faith she’d had in me a long time ago. And I was getting a taste of my own medicine, as it were.

My wife did not WANT to divorce. Not philosophically.

But in the end, she concluded it was ultimately the best choice for her and our son, and it took me a long and painful time to understand and appreciate why that makes sense.

Because it DOES make sense. The truth hurts.

What’s Your Experience?

We’re not always going to reach everyone. Sometimes, a person isn’t—and can’t be—ready until they’re ready. But I think we’re still obligated to try. Right? To help? To do our best?

We must.

So, I’ve got to ask, and will appreciate immensely your feedback:

Have you ever successfully asked your spouse or partner to read blog articles here, or relationship-oriented books to the betterment of your relationship? If so, how did you do so?

What do YOU believe is the most-effective way to break through communication gridlock to reach a stubborn spouse and help him or her grasp these extremely important relationship ideas so few people seem to inherently understand? Have you tried and succeeded, or did someone successfully get through to you? If so, will you please share how?

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What to do When Your Spouse Isn’t Your Soulmate

soulmate spiritual

You can continue chasing that elusive Tron game of blue-ish transcendent love. Or you can simply create it with a couple of pretty simple choices. (Image/Ascended Relationship)

The person you’re married to—or will marry one day—isn’t your soulmate.

[Insert very dramatic orchestra music here.]

It sucks, I know.

How can I be sure?

If we begin with the basic assumption that soulmates are, in fact, real things, and that everyone has one, I can know you’re not with your soulmate because—math.

There are 7.5 billion people in the world. You’ll meet approximately 80,000 of them if you live the average human lifetime of 78.3 years.

That’s .001% of the human population. And that’s everyone you’ll meet over 75-80 years. We really get to know much fewer than that.

“So you’re saying there’s a chance!”

Nope. Sorry.

It means that neither the girl you like in history class, nor that guy you met at work is your soulmate. It means that neither your childhood crush nor Ryan Gosling is your soulmate.

It’s okay to feel disappointed because it is disappointing.

That you’re not “made for each other.”

That you’re not “perfect together.”

That you’re just two people who both happened to be in the same place at the same time and both wanted to have sex with one another. (Hopefully things like shared interests, shared beliefs, mutual admiration, and intellectual stimulation contributed to this attraction, but mostly you just wanted to do the hibbity-dibbity).

This disappointing realization that we’re not with our soulmates SHOULD NOT make us want to end our relationships in order to seek out our soulmates, but it does have significant implications for us whether we’re married, or planning on marrying someday.

The ‘Holy Shit, I Just Found Out I’m Not with My Soulmate!’ Emergency Guide

The Married Edition

First, take a deep breath. It’s really important to stay calm or else everyone dies. (Just kidding! Everyone dies even if you stay calm! But hopefully not soon.)

Let’s evaluate this predicament.

1. You got married

This means you exchanged spiritual and/or legal vows promising to be someone’s life partner forever. You did this in front of witnesses, probably your closest friends and family members.

Questions: Did you understand the basic parameters of this arrangement prior to doing this? Did you understand what you were agreeing to? Were you being honest when you exchanged vows? To what extent do you value adhering to your marriage vows? Is it important, or not really?

2. You have choices

Your choices are:

  • Stay married and invest in making the experience the best it can be.
  • Stay married and ignore, neglect, or intentionally sabotage the relationship.
  • End your marriage.

Unless your spouse breaches the legal marriage contract, or violates the spiritual one, ending your marriage requires some soul-searching and having to answer some tough questions.

Staying married but not putting in effort, or actively harming your marriage, more than likely violates the vows and promises you made on your wedding day. You’ll want to read the fine print to be sure.

Staying married and doing things to make it the best-possible experience seems like an obvious choice, but there’s A LOT of grey area out there that I’m not trying to swim in.

Questions: Do you want to be married? If so, what could you do differently to make the marriage a better experience for both partners? If not, do you think there are things you could have done differently throughout your marriage that might have led to a different result than a marriage so undesirable that you want to end it?

The Ultimate Mind Tool For Being Married to Your Non-Soulmate

Understand what hedonic adaptation is, because you can NEVER feel happy if you do it wrong.

Hedonic adaptation is the name for how our individual happiness levels tend to return to our “normal” baseline after either good or bad life experiences as we adjust to our new realities.

Money and material wealth are the classic example. We feel happy when we get a new job with a bigger paycheck. We feel happy when we get a pay raise. We feel happy when we get a new house, or new car, or new gadget at home. And then, we eventually get used to the new paychecks and the new stuff, and it doesn’t feel special anymore. So we chase MORE. (This is also called the “hedonic treadmill.” Always chasing, chasing, chasing, but never really going anywhere, no matter what it looks like on the outside to everyone else.)

Hedonic adaptation is a fundamental part of the human condition. You’re not a bad person nor especially selfish or ungrateful in any way that warrants singling you out because you experience it. You’re just a person like me and everyone else. And this is part of the deal. We get used to things and then they seem less awesome than when they were brand-new.

People like to say: “The grass isn’t greener on the other side of the fence!”

What that means is, if you start having sex and heavy-petting contests with someone who’s not your spouse just because you kind of feel like you like or want them more—OR, actually end your relationship to pursue a new one with someone who’s exciting your pelvic region—you WILL 100%, no-exceptions, experience hedonic adaptation with the new partner too.

And then, in order to serve that fickle little lust monster between your legs, you’ll eventually have to find a new person again.

This is HIGHLY impractical if you value being part of a lasting relationship.

As long as you’re honest with yourself, everything will be okay. When two people who love, honor and respect one another deal with this inevitable human condition together out in the open, it’s an opportunity to strengthen the relationship and build intimacy.

If one person acts like a dishonest child about it and shames the other person out of discussing this, everyone will just carry on in silence fantasizing about someone else and growing apart in ways that extend beyond the bedroom, until one day you discover you’ve somehow turned into some divorced asshole blogging about this stuff on the internet.

When you’re honest with yourself and your partner, and when you accept the fundamental truth of life that NO MATTER WHO YOU’RE WITH, you’ll feel something that feels a little bit like boredom and complacency creep in, you can approach sex and attraction in marriage with a useful and productive mindset.

Hedonic adaptation is entirely in our heads.

And so is the remedy.

Questions: Why did you marry your spouse? What do they do for you, and have done for you, that you appreciate about them? What is something about them, or something about how they make you feel, or something they do that improves your daily life that you could feel and express gratitude for?

One minute you want to beat your kids and send them to their room without dinner.

But then, while sitting in a doctor’s office the next day, you discover they have a terminal illness, and all the sudden you don’t want to beat and bedroom-banish them anymore.

How you FEEL about your child in such a moment changes radically, simply because of what’s going on inside your brain. Our thoughts change everything.  I’ll never take time with my child for granted again.

That very same thought process is what allows us to manifest feelings of gratitude and love for our partners to create a healthy, beautiful and lasting marriage.

People want it to be easy. People want it to feel “natural.”

But we all have mortgages; and debt; and healthcare expenses; and children who need us; and busy, stressful jobs; and unique pressures, fears, anxieties, guilt, etc. And we juggle all of this while the TV, radio and internet hurl “It’s the end of the world as we know it” headlines at us.

It doesn’t feel easy because it’s NOT easy.

It’s hard to remember to mindfully feel intentional gratitude and then take the next step of expressing that gratitude to the person we promised to love for the rest of our lives.

But that’s what it takes.

That’s what Love is a Choice looks like.

And if you’re not married but want to be, please think long and hard about making these promises to another human being you claim to love until you know what you’re signing up for.

You’re not signing up for a life of that person “making you happy” every day. Other people can’t make us happy, even when they try really hard.

But, when we feel and express gratitude every day for the person who gave the rest of their lives to us, and when that person does the same in return, we create something durable and life-giving.

Know this, and make sure they know it too.

Talk about whether you both want to sign up for a life of giving more to the other than you take for yourselves.

Because when THAT person says “I do,” you’ll have found something every bit as powerful, and someone every bit as significant, as a soulmate.

And even though they may not technically be your soulmate, no one will ever be able to tell the difference.

Including you.

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